My partner and I recently got engaged, but there are two main reasons why we won’t be moving forward just yet.
One of those reasons is, of course, money – I’m a recent graduate working as an intern, he’s still studying, and we have other things we’d like to do (like, gasp, move into our own place!) before we start paying for anything else. The other reason is my dislike of traditional marriage.
Before I begin, I’d just like to point out that I have absolutely nothing against marriage as an option. If two people choose to get married, that is their choice, and it is nothing to do with me. But, in the same breath, what I choose to do is also nothing to do with others. Although greater minds than mine have much more interesting things to say, I want to discuss why I would like the option of a civil partnership, in an attempt to open some eyes and minds to this topic.
A Sexist Institution
“The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.”
– Sir William Blackstone, 1765
In 2014, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan launched a judicial review into why civil partnerships are not available to heterosexual couples, after attempting to hold such a ceremony and being turned away. Their arguments make reasonable sense to me:
“Our objection to marriage is partly to do with its history, a union in which women were exploited for their domestic and sexual services. There are still sexist trappings to weddings: there’s only space for the father to sign on the registry form.”
Not only that, but the whole tradition of the father “giving his daughter away” to her new husband is quite frankly disgusting. That’s a harsh word, I know, but hear me out. I know that many (most?) women, who have a close relationship with the father figure in their lives, choose to have him walk her down the aisle, as a sign of her love for him. Absolutely fine, please continue. But the sexist undertone is something I severely dislike. You may say, “well, you don’t have to do that!”, and you’d be quite right, but for society to change, attitudes must change, and I’m more interested in the bigger picture here.
A husband “cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife,” according to 1736 treatise on the common law by Sir Matthew Hale. “[B]y their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband,” Hale wrote, and this consent was something “she cannot retract.”
– When ‘Redefining Marriage’ Meant That Woman Had To Be Treated Like Human Beings by Ian Millhiser, Think Progress
Who Will Think of the Children?!
Traditionally, two people entered into marriage in order to procreate, in a way sanctioned by God (and so they wouldn’t be living in sin, the ruffians). But not all women want to have children. I am one of those women. But does that mean I should be prevented from entering into a marriage or civil partnership? No, it does not. The purpose of marriage is not exclusively to have children; it is in fact the joining of two people in a recognition of their love and respect for one another.
Historically, marriage was a way of controlling the general public, particularly women, when it came to sexual freedom (or lack thereof).
“In [Margaret] Sanger’s time political and religious authorities were outraged by her challenge and labeled birth control as part of a dangerously radical rebellion against marriage and motherhood. Sexually independent women might not marry; they might not center their lives on motherhood; or they might want to leave sexually unsatisfying marriages.”
– Birth control, marriage, and women’s sexuality by Christina Simmons, Oxford University Press
Those pesky women, wanting satisfying sexual encounters, shunning their motherly responsibilities, and rebelling against their traditional wifely duties. Although this may not be the case in many cultures today, the shadow of sexism looming over the idea of a traditional marriage is just too heavy for me to bear.
Threatens the Sanctity of Marriage
The “you’re threatening the sanctity of marriage!” argument has been bashed over our heads far too often for me to ever take it seriously. It was used (and, thankfully, ignored) in an attempt to stop same-sex marriage from becoming legal in England. David Cameron was even guilty of using it (you’re shocked, I know) when arguing for the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships. But why? What does the sanctity of marriage even mean?
“The introduction of heterosexual civil partnerships will inevitably discourage some opposite sex couples from marrying, and result in greater instability within families, by offering a parallel institution that provides all the legal rights and privileges of marriage without the need for lifelong commitment.”
– Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre
Well, that was enlightening. Relationships are not committed because they didn’t involve a religious ceremony? And religious marriages are always for life? As much as I respect the people who choose such paths, we need to rid ourselves of these outdated notions. Not everyone subscribes to a religion, and not everyone believes in “the sanctity of marriage”. I, for one, believe in the sanctity (defined as of the ultimate importance and inviolability) of love, and the freedom to choose one’s own path, regardless of gender norms or social constraints.
I call him my partner because that is, in essence, what we are. We make joint decisions, we consult each other, we communicate, and we work together (on top of cooking together, sharing chores and having passionate discussions). Is that not what two people in an adult relationship should do? And so I would like our relationship to be legally recognised, one day. I don’t need a ceremony to prove that I’m in it for the long haul, but nevertheless it is something I’d like to do, for many reasons.
“[A “consent-based view is one] that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment — marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction — between two persons.”
– Justice Alito in United States v Windsor
Which, in short, is called love.
“Opening up civil partnership to mixed-sex couples is the unfinished business of the equal marriage legislation. Complete equality must mean ensuring that all couples have the same choices and rights when it comes to formal recognition of their partnerships.”
– Tom French, policy and public affairs coordinator for the Equality Network