Civil ceremonies were initially introduced as a poor cousin to marriage in order to not only demean LGBTQ relationships, but to heighten the virtues of marriage. Although this agenda still sits stiffly with the conservative preserve-makers of British society, it left the youth of the population juggling a problematic charge: are civil partnerships a better deal than marriage?
According to the 2011 census, 25% of the British population are atheists. Although weddings now take place in anything from a registry office to a bouncy castle at Bestival, the religious undertones of a wedding ceremony render several individuals to classify non-church weddings as secondary alternatives.
British society is obsessed with purity. Once-married, virgin, wedlock-canonised citizens are treasured possessions that are used to exemplify the excellence of our social stratification. Validation is found in innocence. The idea of deviating forms of uniformity frightens people. For me, moralistic agendas of exclusion frighten me more. As the joining of two people who love each other is a commitment of openness, patience and kindness, partaking in a ceremony that aims to celebrate the individuality of its wedded-to-be avoids the box-ticking, grandparent-approving catechisms of a religious ceremony.
However, the condemnation of religious narratives that are perhaps not our own is not the only issue. After all, marriage is an institution steeped in patriarchal conditioning. The bride in question would be used as a commercial bargaining chip, traded from father to husband in exacting pride. Hangovers from the tradition remain today. Whether its the jarring appearance of ‘obey’ in a marital vow, the offer of the father of the bride paying for the wedding, or the fact that the bride decides to present herself in the marriage ceremony alongside her father at all, proves to be an odd leaning of modern society.
This is a ceremony designed to celebrate the omnipresence of the nuclear family, which sits mother and father, brother and sister and husband and wife in artistic harmony. Nuclear families are in the decline, and there’s a good reason as to why — people no longer feel obliged to endure circumstances of a rigid unit that presents itself in Mills and Boon novels and 1960s textbooks.
To introduce civil ceremonies for every sexual orientation in the UK would democratise the manner in which we see all relationships, be it romantic or familial. To introduce heterosexual civil ceremonies is to accept a right to choice. It’s time to repossess the structures that aim to term us as inferior beings for celebrating all walks of life. Removing the shackles of capitalist and religious exchange in regards to who we love puts a finger up to social stigma. Whether the state has any right to interact with relationships as a whole, however, is another question.
“It just seems so logical and reasonable that any social institution in a democratic society should be open to anybody. A civil partnership is a much more accurate reflection of our relationship.”
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, a couple from London, are attempting to lobby the government to allow them to have a civil partnership, an option currently only available to same-sex couples in the UK. Steinfeld and Keidan cite the oppressive patriarchal traditions of same-sex marriage as the reason for the campaign. Their actions have included an attempted civil partnership at their local registry office and appealing to the High Court, but just how justified is their campaign?
While I agree with the need to adapt and change the traditional model of marriage, an opposite sex couple demanding to have a civil partnership on the basis of ‘discrimination’ seems very reactionary to me. After hundreds of years of oppression, I think it’s only fair that same sex couples have more options for partnerships than opposite sex couples.
The couple claim that the government continually ‘discriminate against the co-habiting of opposite-sex couples’, but this view to me seems very blinkered and unaware of where the real oppression lies. Sex between consenting males was only legalised in 1967, and even after this decriminalisation, gay and lesbian relationships were stigmatised and discouraged on the basis of being ‘immoral’. The age of consent for gay couples was only equalised in 2001 (2008 in Northern Ireland), prior to this you had to be 21 and later 18.
When we consider just how long it has taken for the LGBT community to hold the same legal rights as the rest of the population, it’s only right for them to have more partnership options. Heterosexual marriage does have a long history of being very misogynistic however, marital rape was only decriminalised in 1991, and everything a woman owned would pass to her husband until the late 19th century. Even today, some women pledge to ‘honour and obey’ their husbands in their wedding vows. But if it’s bowing to the traditional expectations of ‘marriage’ that worries heterosexual couples, it doesn’t have to be the patriarchal institution is used to be.
As previously mentioned, traditional expectations can be stifling, especially for women, but these don’t have to apply. You can alter your vows, or not have them at all. You can keep your surname or change it as you wish. The father doesn’t have to ‘give away’ his daughter and the groom doesn’t have to dominate the reception speeches if he doesn’t want to. You don’t even have to exchange rings. I know I plan to stray from the traditional path if I ever marry, but then again, I might even decide to go down the route of being given away by my Dad and taking my husband’s surname if it comes to it. It would be a matter of choice.
The options are open, and couples can have the ‘marriage’ ceremony as they want it. You don’t even have to get hitched at all. It’s not an obligation anymore, and plenty of couples are opting for this. To try and encroach on one of the few laws where the LGBT community have an advantage paints Steinfeld and Keidan as being against the improvements of rights for this demographic.