Heterosexual couples have been given the green light to have the same civil partnerships that same-sex couples can have. And Facebook hasn’t launched a special rainbow banner and no-one’s partying in the streets and it’s all a bit confusing, because when have we last seen heterosexual couples fight for their unique rights? Plus, imagine being a heterosexual couple that has, together, fought for years for the right to have their love recognised and not celebrate by getting married?
It’s far more technical than the gut instinct telling us that civil partnership, considered less-than for same-sex couples long denied their rights because of homophobia, adds nothing to the lives of straight people.
Civil partnerships used to be the consolation prize for same-sex couples who wanted to legally recognise their relationships. Gays and lesbians were buying property and having families with other gays and lesbians, why shouldn’t they be allowed to have the legal recognitions straight couples did? Mainly, well, religious institutions weren’t so keen on it. So in 2004, the Labour government introduced civil partnerships. The moment that was allowed, straight couples piped up to ask, to paraphrase, why can’t we have what those lot have?
And now they do. So what’s the added value? Civil partnerships and marriages are both legal contracts allowing inheritance rights. The major differences between the two are that civil partnerships can’t take place in religious buildings, and civil partnership doesn’t carry the un-feminist baggage that traditional marriage does. Although many wedded couples never set foot in a religious establishment when they tied the knot, and plenty of co-habiting couples repeat all the patriarchal tropes that married couples do alongside the indication that the man simply won’t commit to his girlfriend…civil partnerships can be shaped in a new way. Yes, there are weddings that defy traditional norms, and if Meghan Markle, can walk down the aisle on her own and gave a speech at her wedding to an actual Prince, there’s hope for the rest of us. But in a civil partnership, there’s no expectation of a costly knees up, which now cost an estimated average of £27,161.
Further down the line, a civil partnership offers certain protections. Currently there are 3.3million co-habiting couples in the UK, many of whom believe they have common law marriage rights because they live together, or have property together, or have kids together. That is not the case, and the result tends to be that one half of a couple that has been together for years, decades even, but never got married, will find out, on their partner’s death, that they have very few inheritance, property and pension rights.
If couples who, for whatever reason, felt averse to marriage, have a civil partnership, they’d be more protected as and when the worse happens. Death is inevitable, and while taxes also are, inheritance tax, in this instance, doesn’t have to be.
The paradox of modern co-habitation is that it’s an escape from the clutches of traditional marriage, away from the notion that women must be trussed up and given away like chattel in order to have an adult relationship. But how feminist is it to be left with no rights, no rights over the money that your partner left to you in their dying wishes? Considering that women still do so much unpaid labour in the home - 26 hours to men’s 16 hours per week, regardless of theirs and their partner’s employment situation, and reports suggest that entering into a relationship is always going to hurt women, financially, every little really counts.