This morning Theresa May announced that all couples in England and Wales will soon have the option of a civil partnership as well as marriage. Currently, same-sex couples have the choice to enter into either a civil partnership or a marriage, while mixed-sex couples can only get married.
"This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don't necessarily want to get married," the prime minister told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
It could provide added security and inheritance, property and pension rights to the 3.3 million couples currently cohabiting in the UK, without having to get married, reported the BBC.
Since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales and the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 legalised same-sex marriage, same-sex couples have been able to choose between marriage and civil partnerships, but mixed-sex couples have not had the right to a civil partnership until now.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that the current "imbalanced" set-up breached European law after London couple Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, made the case that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The couple said the institution of marriage "treated women as property for centuries" and that the "modern, symmetrical institution" of a civil partnership would set the best example for their children.
Civil partnerships vs. marriage
The difference between the two is largely symbolic. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 as a "halfway house" solution for those campaigning for gay marriage. They allowed same-sex couples the same legal, financial and social protections as marriage.
But unlike marriage, a civil ceremony doesn't require the exchange of vows and there must be no religious component to any of the readings, songs or music included in the ceremony. Historically, marriage is also tied to traditional gender roles and many people consider it inherently patriarchal.
"It treated women as property for centuries, excluded same-sex couples until 2014, and still leaves room only for fathers’ names on marriage certificates," wrote Steinfeld and Keidan in a petition signed by more than 141,000 people. Refinery29 spoke to two British women who share this view and who have decided to enter into civil partnerships in the near future.
"A civil partnership is a more modern legal contract"
Amy Grant, 33, a digital content manager in London, has been with her partner Ben for six years and was "extremely excited and relieved" by the announcement and plans to enter into a civil partnership as soon as the law comes into effect.
"We’ve been waiting for this for at least three years, and already have our civil partnership party planned out. I’ve never really wanted to get married and neither has my partner. We both feel that marriage is weighed down with a history we aren’t comfortable with and doesn't suit us. A civil partnership is a more modern legal contract, offering us the legal protections we want as a committed couple who share our lives, and a chance to celebrate our partnerships, without all the traditions and religious associations of marriage.
"It finally offers people a choice in the kind of union they make with their loved one. Lots of people will still get married, but I suspect lots of couples in long-term relationships who are living together but don’t want to get married will choose civil partnerships instead, as this will offer them vital legal protections that they don’t have otherwise. It gives women the choice to go for something which is at its heart much more egalitarian. There are plenty of women who are uncomfortable with aspects of marriage, such as the fact that only the father’s name is on the marriage certificate.
"I'd say to people who are against this that it’s all about opening up choice. It takes nothing away from marriage and won’t affect anyone who still chooses to get married. It also corrects an inequality in the law – now mixed-sex couples and same-sex couples have access to the same options."
"Marriage has traditionally been unequal"
Jade Marie, 24, a writer and blogger from South Yorkshire, has been with her partner Chris for nearly two years and described today's announcement as "a long time coming" and plans on having a partnership instead of getting married if he agrees.
"We aren’t engaged yet, but hopefully we’ll be in a position to have one some time within the next five years. Marriage has never appealed to me, even when I was younger. I dislike religion and wouldn’t want to have a ceremony with any reference to 'God' in it. While I know you can get services that aren’t religious, I also don’t feel that marriage fits in with my thoughts and values.
"Marriage has traditionally been unequal, with the man being the 'head of the household' and a woman having to vow to 'obey' him. I'm a feminist and strongly believe that a woman should have the same rights and opportunities as a man. My relationship is a partnership, with both people equal within it, and I don’t feel that the institution of marriage reflects that.
"It will give people the choice to pick what they feel is right for them and will hopefully put women on equal terms with men. Lots of people never get married for various reasons, and this could hopefully give them an option that they didn’t have before. I know it does for me.
"I’d simply say that if you don’t like the idea of a civil partnership, don’t get one – it's as simple as that!"