Gay Marriage is now legal in the UK, but should we stick with the civil partnership?

Guest post by Stripey

Gay marriage has just been made legal in the UK. Prior to this, gay and lesbian couples could only have a civil partnership but not be married. Civil partnership ceremonies are very similar to wedding ceremonies but cannot be performed in a church, although they can be performed in a local register office (usually in a town hall) or at licensed venues such as hotels and country houses.

The legal rights enjoyed by civil partners is very similar to married straight couples but there are a few small legal differences. All the civil partnership ceremonies I have been to were weddings in all but petty legal technicality, and in each case the registrar performing them did so exactly in the spirit of their being weddings.

I am due to be civilly partnered (rolls off the tongue doesn't it?) to my female partner next year. When we booked our civil partnership this year, gay marriage was not legal.

The bill that passed allowing gay marriage was just being talked about in parliament, but it was anybody's guess how long it would take. We decided to take whatever was available on the date we wanted and not wait for the law. We were fairly sure it would pass eventually and that a provision would be included allowing anyone who had already had a civil partnership to convert to a marriage if they wished. My partner had the genius plan of going back to the town hall a year to the day of our civil partnership to get the conversion, making our anniversaries match

As the bill gathered momentum through parliament, details emerged that the hope was that the bill would pass and the first gay marriages would take place in Summer 2014, so it was definitely going to miss us. However the bill ended up passing really very quickly and, after being okayed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it gained royal assent on 16th of July meaning it is now law. UK gay rights group Stonewall is pushing for gay marriage to be available as soon as possible — hopefully by January 2014. The Government has not yet made any comments on the date when gay marriage would become actually available.

This is the point where my brain starts to fry…

Every civil partnership I have been to has been so special because it really had been made into a wedding. Each one was a total triumph over the shitty system that was denying the people involved the same right as straight couples. But by finally gaining the thing we were denied, it's like the injustice of the previous system has been truly exposed… that what was offered was second rate in that it was a different system for different people. Although I know many who have celebrated that differentness, but “different” as applied to you by someone else is not the same as “different” as claimed by yourself.

But if I choose marriage (assuming that the choice is available within my time frame), is that saying a civil partnership isn't good enough for me? By extension, what does it say that about my friends' civil partnerships?

Many other couples I know who are already civil partnered are beginning to have conversations about whether to — what everyone is jokingly calling — “upgrade.” Instinctively the term “upgrade” rankles, but after much deliberating I do think that in in a sense it is an upgrade. Not because there is anything wrong with a civil partnership in itself, but because there is something wrong with not being able to choose. In this sense it would be an upgrade to a choice. But it still feels odd.

We have these choices now in the UK, which is undeniably wonderful, but as with all choices it can be bewildering.

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Comments on Gay Marriage is now legal in the UK, but should we stick with the civil partnership?

  1. If a marriage is what you want and you can do it, then DO IT. Why not? Because it wasn’t available when you started planning to spend your life with your partner? If you get married instead of civilly partnered (you’re right–super awkward) it says absolutely nothing about your friends’ civil partnerships. It says nothing about civil partnerships at all. It says YOU and YOUR PARTNER wanted to get married, so you did. That’s it.

    Tons of people fought so that you could have options. Now you have them! That’s freaking great! You have the chance to choose what kind of legal arrangement you have with your partner. Yay!

  2. I don’t think going for the full marriage in ANY way downplays the importance of your friends’ civil partnerships which were available to them at the time they had their ceremonies… they did the most significant thing available to them at that time. Now is your chance to do the same… it’s like asking “just because my friends were only allowed to climb halfway to the top of Everest, even though now they allow people to go all the way, should I only go halfway?” This is the chance of your lifetime to do what is most significant to you… if that means honoring your friends’ relationships, I respect that, but I would think you’d be more interested in honoring your own.

  3. There was a post the other day about a couple who was choosing to have a wedding but not get legally married. That was their choice, based on what was right for them as a couple, and I didn’t get the impression that they chose to do it that way as any kind of commentary on the unions of people who do choose to legally entwine themselves. They didn’t get handfasted AT anybody. Similarly, you and your partner aren’t getting married AT your civilly partnered friends, and (I assume) you aren’t going to act like your wedding is somehow more real or more important because it’s a wedding and theirs was not.

    (Also you are not stopping your civilly partnered friends from getting married at the earliest opportunity; there is not a maximum quota of marriages and you are not therefore removing one from the available pool.)

    One couple’s marriage does not affect someone else’s marriage (in an abstract sense; your best friend’s marriage might affect you, but your marriage doesn’t impact mine, for instance). That’s one of those weird thought exercises engaged in by conservatives that don’t make any sense – gay marriage destroying straight marriage! Gay marriage… damaging gay civil partnerships?

  4. There are lots of different elements that make a wedding a wedding, and each couple chooses a different “point” in the process where they consider themselves married *in their own eyes*. Some people need to go through the act of signing a license; others need to go through a ceremony, some consider themselves to be married when they move in together, or even just decide that they want to spend their lives together. The same-sex weddings you went to, on an emotional level, are not invalidated by the fact that they were for civil partnerships. Each couple, I’m sure, went through the channels they needed in order to feel that they are, in all but name, “married”.

    But the other player in this drama is the government, who rightly or wrongly ALSO have criteria for who they consider to be married…and that criteria affects other aspects of a couple’s lives. (I’m not sure how it is in the UK, but here in the US it affects taxes, immigration, hospital visitation rights, custody and adoption, etc.) The government’s criteria has no bearing on whether a couple is allowed to view and treat themselves as married, but it does have bearing on what legal rights and responsibilities the couple is allowed to exercise.

    Choosing a civil partnership will not make you and your fiancee (or any of those other same-sex couples) any less *emotionally* married, but it will make you less *legally* married. And for me, I would absolutely say that a civil partnership is not good enough, *in that respect*.

    It doesn’t say anything negative about your friends’ relationships. They are emotionally married, and did the best they could on the legal front with what was available to them. If they are satisfied with the legal actions they undertook so far, there’s no need for them to change their status. But if you need/want the opportunities given by a legal marriage, and/or you psychologically need/want to sign a marriage license in order to feel truly married, there is no shame–either directed at you, or directed at your friends–in applying for a marriage rather than a civil partnership.

    • First of all, congratulations!

      Secondly, I absolutely agree with Rev. Caitlyn. The entire DOMA case here in the United States was because a surviving partner of a same-sex Canadian marriage got slammed with an inheritance tax bill that a straight surviving partner wouldn’t have gotten. A LOT of federal benefits were denied to same-sex couples that heterosexual couples got.

      After your big day, your wife will be your wife no matter what. Just make sure whatever paperwork you apply for — marriage or civil partnership — that you and your partner are comfortable with the legal side of it. You’re not saying anything negative about your friends who are civilly partnered. In fact, you may even be attending a few anniversary conversion parties like the one your partner suggested!

      • As an example of that, once NJ got civil unions instead of merely domestic partnerships, my sister and her wife had a much smaller and more informal “wedding” to celebrate getting a civil union.

        They sent out invitations with the following inscription: “Once we got a domestic partnership and were domesticated…now we’re getting a civil union and getting CIVILIZED!”

  5. It doesn’t say anything about anyone else’s relationships. It doesn’t mean civil partnership isn’t good enough, it just means you’re going for marriage. It’s like saying it’s better than being a girlfriend, or a common law wife. It doesn’t matter, different strokes for different folks. If anyone else does take it personally that’s their problem. I have an uncle who has been common law married forever because it just makes them happy. I have other relatives who have been happy with being with their boyfriend/girlfriend for over 20 years. It’s all in what you want, and at the end of the day you’re committed to the person or you aren’t, regardless of labels. I’m going to get married because I want to, not because it’s some sort of standard.

    Do you really want to? This may be a deeper issue. You may be happy with a civil partnership, not “just” a civil partnership (because that word denotes some sort of inferiority), but -A- civil partnership. There’s no shame in that, and no shame if you want a marriage with all the trimmings.

    Being concerned that getting married with affect other relationships negatively, by the by, is the argument that conservatives have against gay marriage. At the end of the day, no, people getting married to people have no affect whatsoever on anyone else.

  6. I think your friends will be honored if you decide to get married… it took people like them standing up and saying that they wanted to be with their partners no matter what that created the environment that allowed the law to change. You don’t have to voluntarily accept the same not-quite-married-under-the-law status that was all that was available for your friends. You can stand up and say, yes, we deserve this. It doesn’t invalidate your friends marriages, and they will be proud to see you gain the benefits that so many have fought for. Congratulations, and be proud of your marriage.

  7. I’m in a very similar position – our wedding is booked for next summer, and we had actually started going through the legal process of booking a civil partnership, when the law changed.
    Now we’re going to the registrars asking how and when our process will turn into arranging a marriage (do we need to specifically ask to switch? Do we have to pay our fees again?) and they don’t yet seem to know!
    I guess when we’ve gone to friends’ civil partnerships, we’ve all been so intent on stressing how for the couple it’s a proper wedding, that now we have a choice it can leave people confused as to what the difference is!
    I think in the coming years a real distinction should begin to emerge between civil partnerships and weddings. Civil partnerships, especially if opened up to straight couples, could be a really valuable way for couples to gain certain rights without having to enter an institution many see as archaic or patriarchal.
    Hopefully this will end up with there being a real choice between the two, and not a situation where one is seen as inferior to the other. Which one is right for you, I can’t really say, but I think we’re going with marriage.
    Congrats by the way!

  8. Congratulations to you both. My finance and I are in the same situation. I campaigned so much for same sex couples to have the right to marry – because I believe in equality. I still feel that we need to make Civil Partnerships available to straight people too.

    For us, we want to have a celebration and be able to tell our friends and family, as well as the state, that we are committed to each other and we want everyone to celebrate that with us. We have chosen not to have a marriage due to a lot of the rhetoric from the church and government over this debate. I don’t want to be a part of the system of marriage if the people fighting to keep it are the representatives of it!

    However we have friends who feel that a marriage reflects more of their relationship with each other and I am so happy for them and that they have chosen what feels good. At the end of the day your friends love you and will celebrate your choices. Everyone loves a wedding because joy is infectious. I would say just go with your gut and stick with that decision. You will have a terrific time because your vows are what is important – not what political title it is given.

    Good luck!


  9. Thanks so much for all your comments!

    I think we will definitely go for marriage if it is available, I just felt very odd about it for a while…. You are all right, I know it won’t actually change anything about my friends marriages, it just seemed so terribly unfair all of a sudden that I got a choice that was denied to them. Which assumes of course that they would have all chosen marriage were it available, which I don’t at all know!

    Meanwhile, I have been trying get some information out of the register office where we are booked in and they know nothing. When civil partnerships first came in it took a year from gaining Royal Assent to being available. It took a long time to draw up the new ceremonies, new giving notice paperwork and the rest of it, not to mention training all personnel involved and explaining that it is part of their job to perform these ceremonies for gay people, which was big issue at the time. To my mind gay marriage shouldn’t require starting from administrative scratch like civil partnership did but I can’t help but think that adjusting all the existing straight marriage paperwork, ceremony templates, council websites etc to be gender flexible (and the debates about how to do it) is surely not going to happen overnight….

    But I can’t make this the sum total of my happiness or I’ll go mad so I’m carrying on with the planning for our day whatever it is we actually end up doing on it! If anyone in the UK finds out anything official though I’d love to know….

  10. Just for clarification, same-sex marriage is legally a devolved issue in the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland do NOT fall under this particular law, so I just wanted to acknowledge that same-sex couples there will not understand why people in other parts of the world are congratulating them. They still don’t have these options (though something has been tabled in Scotland). England and Wales, however, will have legal same-sex unions once it goes into effect next year.

  11. That’s a very good point Bette Noire, thanks for picking me up on it. I should have been clearer!

  12. Be grateful you have the chance for genuine legal equality
    We very unhappily got ‘civil partnered’ (what the hell does that even mean?) in 2009 after 14 years together – simply to provide some second class legal security for our child – we will have to emigrate from Northern Ireland as marraige equality will not come in here – UK same sex marriages will be ‘downgraded’ to CPs for the lucky few who might choose to move here – we will be thrilled to be able to finally get married after all the years & gain all of the legal protections that brings – it doesn’t change our relationship etc one bit – but it does mean we are equal, not almost equal

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