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Heterosexual Civil Partnerships and UK Law
September 20, 2012 6:06 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I want to do that 'public display of commitment' thing, but we don't want to get married. Heterosexual Civil Partnerships are not yet available in the UK. Can we do it elsewhere with legal status? Or should we wait?

Marriage has always been a problem for me. I'm adamantly non-religious, and cannot ritualise my love for someone under a set of legal obligations committed to law in the name of God/The King etc.

What's more, having now been to a lot of apparently secular weddings, the issue of female/male equality has also become a nagging problem. One that both my partner and I share. Basically, even our most secular friends have had ceremonies where the registrar has uttered the awful lines, "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride." Patriarchy is alive and well and my generation seems to be ignoring it.

So, we want to get a Civil Partnership, because it is not as rooted in a history of religion ad patriarchy (and other reasons). But in the UK this is only regulated for homosexual couples.

Civil Partnerships for heterosexuals are legal in other countries. In Holland it is legal, but one of you must be a Dutch citizen. France has a whole bunch of different ways to wed, but none resemble the UK civil partnership and are not legally binding. I remember reading somewhere, that Belgium or maybe Denmark, and New Zealand have Civil Ceremonies that would be legal in the UK, but I can't find evidence of this upon looking again.

It looks as though Civil Partnerships for heterosexual couples might make its way to the UK in the not too distant future. Should we wait? How do we make it known to the courts that we want this law passed?

So, my question is twofold:

- Which countries can we get Civil Ceremonied in that are applicable in UK law?
- Are my reservations unfounded? / Should we wait?
posted by bollockovnikov to Law & Government (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
under a set of legal obligations committed to law in the name of God/The King etc.

The legal part and God part are separate. Legal marriage is in no way religious unless you make it that way.

You can be legally married in the eyes of civil law and not have it be religious. My sister is legally married and it is in no way in the eyes of God to her. In fact, all of my academic friends are exactly like this.

Just have a judge marry you in public. Don't have the judge utter the lines you despise.

You have way more control over this issue than you realize you do.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:13 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have a civil marriage at a registry office like I did!
posted by veids at 6:18 AM on September 20, 2012


Marriage has always been a problem for me. I'm adamantly non-religious, and cannot ritualise my love for someone under a set of legal obligations committed to law in the name of God/The King etc.

If you have a civil marriage ceremony in the UK, they don't mention God or the king in the ceremony - in fact you are specifically forbidden from having any religious references in the official legal ceremony (no hymns, no religious readings, no religious music playing - you have to submit readings and music beforehand so they can check).

What's more, having now been to a lot of apparently secular weddings, the issue of female/male equality has also become a nagging problem. One that both my partner and I share. Basically, even our most secular friends have had ceremonies where the registrar has uttered the awful lines, "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride." Patriarchy

Our registrar let us customise our ceremony (info here). I don't see why you couldn't just have a civil marriage ceremony without any references to "you may kiss the bride" etc?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:23 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ceremonies can be adapted. I now pronounce you married. You may kiss each other, etc.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2012


This doesn't solve any problems you have with the history of the institution of marriage, but you seem a bit confused about what happens in a present-day non-Church wedding ceremony.

Neither the Queen nor God will be mentioned in a non-Church wedding, unless you ask them to (and depending on who/where the ceremony is being performed, they may well refuse). And they don't have any theoretical, unspoken role either.

Re: "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride.", you can (and most non-Church couples do) have those removed from the ceremony or changed to be more symmetrical/less proprietorial. To be honest, I don't remember the last time I heard them outside a Church.
posted by caek at 6:25 AM on September 20, 2012


If you are willing to travel, go to Massachusetts in the US and find a friend to be your celebrant. They can register for one day each year to be a legal marriage celebrant and can perform your ceremony for you. They are not required to say any particular words (our celebrant for the legal side of our marriage mostly had us vow to jokey things) and all they need to do is sign the official marriage certificate to say it's all good. They can have you vow to install the toilet paper roll the correct way and pronounce you Pony and Unicorn if that's what you want. They can lead you in a call-and-response or a singalong round or whatever you want, whatever is meaningful to you.

Bonus: Massachusetts was the first US state to legalize gay marriage, so as marriage vs civil ceremonies go, Massachusetts is at the forefront of making it an equal, feminist, good thing.
posted by olinerd at 6:27 AM on September 20, 2012


To clarify, our problem is with the history of the institution of marriage. It was founded on principles we do not ascribe to, as @Caek alludes to.

A civil partnership represents a fresh start, a blank(er) slate onto which we feel more comfortable inscribing our own rituals.

I hope that clears it up a bit. I mean no offence, and understand everything said here. But it's not enough. History is history.
posted by bollockovnikov at 6:30 AM on September 20, 2012


EndsOfInvenions is bang on. My brother's was secular, non-patriarchal, delivered by someone young, hip and tattooed, and hilarious.

Just find a registrar who's happy to work with you on wordings and whom you'd really like to have lead the ceremony.
posted by dowcrag at 6:33 AM on September 20, 2012


Small world - clicking on their link shows EndOfInvention got married where my brother did. Hie ye to Brighton!

The link shows that the legal declarations - the middle bit in the link - has no built in cultural baggage that I can spot, just the fact that you're declaring that there's no legal reason you can't, and you want people to witness that you do.

Aside from that's it's all up to you. Make it what you want.
posted by dowcrag at 6:38 AM on September 20, 2012


Also, understand that even non-religious, feminist people have varying degrees of tolerance for tradition stemming from the patriarchal history of our society and the role marriage plays in it. I am extremely uncomfortable with the prospect of being "given away" by my father, I'm keeping my last name, and I think the symbolism of the veil is distasteful, but all that said, I'm still wearing a white dress for my wedding, even though that's also rooted in some uncomfortable tradition. So while you find "I now pronounce you husband and wife; you may kiss the bride" problematic, other people who would consider themselves feminists do not necessarily and may want it as a nod to tradition. (I'm personally okay with "husband and wife", but not "man and wife." I'm also okay with "I now pronounce you married.")

You say you don't like the "principles on which it was founded" -- you know that tons of cultures had lifetime commitments between two people before English-speaking, Judeo-Christian individuals called it "marriage" and codified it a certain way, right? Because your argument that marriage was founded "on certain principles" is exactly the problematic argument so many people use to justify opposition to legalized same-sex marriage. "Marriage" has evolved in our society over millenia and each generation has made it their own. Our generation is making it a feminist, equal, same-sex and opposite-sex and generally queer thing. My white dress, to me, is a cultural signifier of a Western wedding and also it's pretty, so that's why I'm wearing it, even though not all that long ago it was outwardly signifying my chastity and virginity (which is of course laughable now).

Even a "civil union" will have elements of What A Western Wedding Is. Two people, standing up in front of friends and family, making commitments to each other. It's a "separate but equal" institution. And if you want to look at problematic histories, the fact that civil unions didn't really exist as a concept in the mainstream until we needed something to let The Gays do so that The Straights could have Real Marriage, well, I personally feel that's a problematic history of the civil union institution right there.

Look, I don't want to argue that you should make your commitment to your partner in a way that makes you both comfortable and happy. But you asked whether your reservations were unfounded, so that's the side I'm addressing.

The tl;dr version is: ceremonies to make a commitment to your partner are wrought with awkward and painful and offensive traditions and histories and will involve other sorts of personal drama for you no matter what you choose to do. That's just the nature of it. I personally have opted to embrace and make my own the parts of the institution that I think are worth celebrating or redefining, and to drop or ignore that parts I don't. And I encourage you to do the same, whether you decide on a civil marriage ceremony or find a civil union solution that will work for you. Because it's a far bigger challenge than what it's called.
posted by olinerd at 6:45 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


(err... "wrought" should have been "fraught" in that last paragraph)
posted by olinerd at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2012


My non-same-sex partner and I share a lot of your feelings about marriage, weddings, civil partnerships etc. We were based in the UK and now live in Switzerland.

I came in to say that from my research into the question, it seemed to me that the French pacte de civil solidarit√© was the best we were going to get—I'm not holding my breath for marriage/civil-union equality in the UK anytime soon, although I hope I'm wrong. You've prompted me to double check, though, and you're right that the PACS isn't recognised in the UK for opposite-sex couples or at all in the USA. Very disappointing, as we would only want it to make any future non-EEC emigration simpler.

I guess I no longer have an answer for you but I wanted to add that you're not alone in seeing civil partnership as a blank(er) slate or in unequivocally not wanting even a civil marriage. Some of the advice you've got is great and all of it is well meant, but if you're opposed to getting married in the first place, ideas for customising the marriage ceremony aren't necessarily the most helpful.

I'll be watching this thread, hoping you find a good solution (that we can then copy!). Good luck.
posted by daisyk at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2012


I cannot really resolve your issues with the history of marriage but I/we were equally certain that we wanted neither God not Government involved in our personal relationships.

We found the Humanist society very supportive. We were able to write our own ceremony, the only legal requirement being that we both agreed when asked if we wanted to be married. Nothing gender specific, no proscribed vows, as much or as little history/tradition as you want.

Unfortunately they do not have legal authority in other parts of the UK but you could always come to Scotland; speak to Tim.
posted by BadMiker at 6:58 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


A civil partnership represents a fresh start, a blank(er) slate onto which we feel more comfortable inscribing our own rituals.

Then why bother? What you want is the public seriousness of the marriage ceremony without the history that gives the marriage ceremony its seriousness to begin with. You really can't have one without the other. Cultural institutions aren't really the sort of thing you get to pick and choose with.

You want to get married in a civil, non-religious ceremony? Great, do that. There's actually a long tradition of that which has zero religious overtones.

You want to get "legally connected to a person of the appropriate sex which is permanent but really for reals not marriage, no sir!"? Sorry. That is the definition of marriage, and calling it something different is window dressing. The legal and historic significance of marriage is pretty inseparable, especially in a common law jurisdiction like the UK. But there really isn't a way for you to claim the benefits of a particular historical legal institution without participating in said historical legal institution. Doesn't work that way.

So again, my question is, if you're really opposed to marriage as such... why bother? What exactly are you trying to accomplish here? You're already saying that you want to do your own thing, so bloody well do it. Have a ceremony with your friends, held on your own terms, with whatever meaning you ascribe to it. Go nuts.
posted by valkyryn at 7:02 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


You may already have seen it but Equal Love is the main body campaigning for access to marriage and civil partnerships for all in the UK. That could be a good place to start getting an idea of how close it is and what you can do to help bring it closer.
posted by daisyk at 7:09 AM on September 20, 2012


My guy and I are getting married in a civil ceremony where a friend of our is officiating. He has been ordained online and we're writing our own vows. Can you do this in the UK?
posted by patheral at 7:16 AM on September 20, 2012


Thanks for answers so far.

olinerd, your point that "the fact that civil unions didn't really exist as a concept in the mainstream until we needed something to let The Gays do so that The Straights could have Real Marriage" is very valid, and one I had not thought about in those exact terms before. I suppose the positive spin to place on that, is that the civil partnership's very externality to marriage is what makes it appealing. It is a union in law that was devised so as to be outside of, and not offend, religious temperament. This makes it extremely appealing to me.

daisyk, thank you for your support. You've attended to the fact that a lot of this is subjective, just an uneasy feeling, and that sometimes that's reason enough to want or not want something. Good luck in your own search!

valkyryn, you've exposed a contradiction! If it were completely up to me, there probably wouldn't be a marriage or marriage-like thing between myself and my partner. I want to be with her forever. That's enough for me. But... she does feel that committing in law does have something about it that's distinctly different from just having a big commitment party. I love her and want to make her happy. Thus the contradiction arises.

I am a huge believer in the importance of ritual, and feel that ritual needn't go hand in hand with church or state to have long lasting, far reaching significance. But completely escaping church (and especially state), without diluting the binding efficacy of ritual, seems increasingly impossible. Yet, something tells me to fight for my beliefs regardless.

Please keep your comments coming. You've given us a lot to think about already.
posted by bollockovnikov at 7:27 AM on September 20, 2012


completely escaping church (and especially state), without diluting the binding efficacy of ritual, seems increasingly impossible.

I wouldn't say "increasingly" impossible. Indeed, it seems more possible to do that than ever.

But let's leave religion out of it entirely for the moment. Here's the thing: the state is, one can argue, ultimately just an expression of the polis or polity. What you really seem to be saying is that you're happy with your relationship as a private affair. What your fiancee seems to be saying is that she wants your relationship to be publicly solemnized. You really can't do that without participating in the polis. It's what the polis is for. Like it or not, you are (presumably) a citizen of your particular jurisdiction, which in this case appears to be the UK. Your society has created for itself certain ways of participating in public life. Like voting and getting married. These are ways of participating in the body politic, and it really doesn't matter what you call it: civil partnership, civil union, marriage, whatever.* The effect is similar, i.e., a public, legal solemnization of the relationship in keeping with the traditions and institutions of your particular polity.

So what you really need to ask yourself is not whether you can find a particular ceremony that doesn't offend your sensibilities. You can't. Your objection does not seem to be to the form or content of the ceremony, but the fact that the ceremony is inextricably connected to participation in public life. Your fiancee seems to want that.

You need to decide whether or not your relationship with her is important enough to you to declare it, officially and publicly. That's the real question.

*Which is why a lot of people opposed to gay marriage are also opposed to "civil partnerships" or whatever. It's largely a distinction without a difference, particularly if the same legal status attaches to both. The key here isn't what we're calling the relationship, but its public and legal significance. And that, not the terminology, is where I think your problem arises.
posted by valkyryn at 7:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel a little different because here in Canada same sex marriages are not really remarkable anymore, common-law marriages are hugely popular, and god/queen doesn't come into the equation unless the partners want them to. Since you are looking for something new would Alberta's Adult interdependent relationship work? You can be any combination of genders and do not need to be romantically involved (family members or friends can be joined together).
posted by saucysault at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2012


I am gay, and a feminist. Civil Partnerships are seriously not all that. They were a stupid compromise to avoid offending a bunch of bishops. What's progressive about that? Everything about them was defined by the wishes of a small group of religious people. Now, I actually think it would be cool for us to develop new models of kinship and a legal framework for customisable partnerships that implemented various features on an optional basis. The options would be like

Sexual partnership[Y/N]
[Exclusive/Primary/Secondary/Open]
Common property [Y/N]
[Perpetual/Fixed-term automatically renews/Fixed-term automatically expires/Quick-termination]

.. and so forth. Civil partnerships ain't that. They're a full implementation of traditional marriage that was given a stupid placeholder name until the government gets up enough gumption to call them what they are. What I'd suggest you do is have a minimal legal transaction in a registry office with a couple of witnesses, and then take the time to create a ceremony to enjoy with your friends which will allow you to express the things you really want to express about the nature of your partnership. Another advantage of this plan is that it will work out a lot cheaper.
posted by Acheman at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm from New Zealand, where, as you say, civil unions are available to heterosexual couples. And some hetero couples do have civil unions rather than marriages, for similar reasons to yourself.

As regards recognition in the UK: NZ civil unions are certainly recognised as valid for immigration purposes. That might not say too much though, as long-term de facto relationships are also recognised as valid for immigration. Sorry, you'd have to do some more research. I had a quick look through the NZ legislation and as far as I can tell you don't need to be NZ citizens/residents to go through a NZ civil union ceremony.

Second question, how to introduce hetero civil unions in the UK? Lobby your MP. Get your friends to lobby theirs. You could try writing to other MPs, but as you can't vote for or against them, they might not care much what you think.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2012


Just to make it clear, I think you should be legally married because that carries a whole host of benefits you will not get if your partnership is not legally registered. It may be wrong that that is so, but it is so.

But completely escaping church (and especially state), without diluting the binding efficacy of ritual, seems increasingly impossible.

It's not impossible at all. Ritual is an incredibly powerful tool and if we buy the line that only certain people are able to use that tool we deny ourselves a great deal.
posted by Acheman at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2012


I don't really see how you can commit in law, without getting the state involved- aren't laws things laid down by the government? You seem to be tying yourself up in knots unnecessarily.
posted by KateViolet at 9:29 AM on September 20, 2012


valkyryn, you've exposed a contradiction! If it were completely up to me, there probably wouldn't be a marriage or marriage-like thing between myself and my partner. I want to be with her forever. That's enough for me. But... she does feel that committing in law does have something about it that's distinctly different from just having a big commitment party. I love her and want to make her happy. Thus the contradiction arises.

This is really a human relations question.

Your girlfriend is absolutely right. Have you looked at the rights that marriage confers? If she were dying in a hospital right now, you may have trouble being granted access to see her. If you had children together, you would not be assumed to be the father unless she specifically registered you as one. She will not automatically inherit any of your property if you die. One of you could be evicted from your home with no matrimonial right to stay. And so on. And so forth.

You really want to deny her these rights because of your abstract principals? You think getting none of the above is "enough" for her? These are the very rights that our queer brothers and sisters are fighting tooth-and-nail to get. Withholding them for her doesn't seem loving to me at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:20 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this is splitting hairs. You can say you're in a civil partnership and your neighbors will say you're married. Have any sort of ceremony, event, party you want. Write your own commitment statement and poof! you're an item. My husband and I went through the whole Russian Orthodox ceremony to please his mother, but we skipped the license and blood test. Since we pay married people's taxes, no one has ever asked to see my official document.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2012


Does the UK allow an adult to adopt another adult? That is a solution to the family inheritance issue for some gays and also a way for drunk driving millionaires to shield their assets from civil suits.
posted by vespabelle at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2012


I think you need to work out what you (both) want from this.

As an opposite sex couple, the only way you can access the relevant legal benefits is to have a legal marriage. The bare minimum required in ceremony in England and Wales takes less than 5 minutes in a register office, all you have to do is make the legal declaration and contracting words in front of a registrar and 2 witnesses, and then sign the register. You may add additional words etc to this, as long as there is no religious content whatsoever. (Your friends have effectively chosen to have the "I now pronounce you man and wife", which may have been because they did not realise that it is not compulsory.)

I am not familiar with marriage laws in Scotland, but it is possible that the words required are even more flexible. In some US states including Colorado, you can get a self-uniting licence, which means that you marry yourselves, without a celebrant or any witnesses. This may help you if you want the legal benefits with even less tradition than you can get away with in England and Wales.

As you know, there is no valid opposite sex civil partnership in the UK. And I think that means that if you went abroad to get a civil partnership it would have no validity in the UK - so you'd be out the money, but you still wouldn't have the legal benefits. If you wish to make a semi-political point, though this might be the best approach.

On the other hand, if you don't want the legal benefits, but you want the public commitment aspect, then you can organise this yourselves. You can have as much or as little ceremony as you would like, with the words that you would like to use. You can ask the humanists to help you with the ceremony, or your mate Dave or whatever. And you can call it whatever you need to, to get people to come and celebrate with you.

Overall, you need to talk this through with your girlfriend a lot more. It sounds like you have a fixed idea of what legal weddings are like, and I think they are more flexible than that. Of course, you still might not want one, but it's worth exploring them - as well as non-legal ceremonies and foreign civil partnerships - in case you can do something in a way that satisfies all parties.
posted by plonkee at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a huge believer in the importance of ritual, and feel that ritual needn't go hand in hand with church or state to have long lasting, far reaching significance. But completely escaping church (and especially state), without diluting the binding efficacy of ritual, seems increasingly impossible.

Have your ritual. Make it meaningful for you. Call each other spouse. Don't bother filing with the state. (Go to a lawyer and get your wills, power of attorney, etc. set up.)

If think that not filing with the state dilutes the significance of your promises to each other...well, I don't know what to tell you, because that contradicts what you're saying.
posted by desuetude at 5:52 PM on September 20, 2012


Yes, you can put a "positive spin" on the origin of Civil Partnerships, but you can do that for good ol' Marriage as well. If the ancient history of marriage is so troubling to you I have a hard time seeing how you can whitewash the far more recent offensiveness of Civil Unions.

Fundamentally, is it "getting married" that concerns you, or "being married"? Is it the wedding or the marriage? Those are two very, very different things, and they can and should be addressed very differently.

Look. I think you and your partner need to have a talk about what you want out of a ritualized commitment. You seem to be at a starting point of "I want something that's called something else" but you haven't been clear about what you want the end game to be, because that is a big deal. A thirty minute ceremony on one day is one thing, a lifetime of consequences (good and bad) is another. And as several people up above have said, no matter what you do, people will still refer to you as "married", as a "husband and wife," etc, no matter how much you insist it's a civil partnership and you're partners and whatever else. Even if she doesn't change her name, they'll still call your partner Mrs. YourLastName occasionally. The fact is you'll be dealing with the "baggage" of marriage in our society no matter what you do on one day. Have you discussed how you'll deal with this and how this will make you each feel?

But you have to think about what you actually /want/. Things you may want out of it include:

(1) An emotional commitment to each other privately
(2) An emotional commitment to each other in front of family and/or friends
(3) Legal recognition of your commitment by a civil authority that does not necessarily have standing in your country
(4) Legal recognition of your commitment by a civil authority that is treated as equivalent to marriage in your country
(5) Particular rights (inheritance, hospital visitation, children, property ownership, immigration status, ...?)
(6) An established legal infrastructure in case you wish to dissolve your relationship fairly and address ownership of your joint assets

Depending on how many of those you do or don't care about, maybe you just have a commitment ceremony. Maybe you also do a bunch of (expensive) legal paperwork to give each other Power of Attorney and do other things to address some of the legal status automatically conferred upon you by civil marriage. Maybe you can register as domestic partners somewhere, just for the sake of the symbolism, but not have that status follow you back to the UK.

It is still fundamentally a ritual, even if you do go full marriage. The only reason the government is involved is because they have an interest in encouraging stable relationships and a desire to protect the rights and welfare of both parties if the relationship is dissolved; they just give legal recognition to a ritual the vast majority of humans would be doing anyway. Which sounds like what your partner wants -- legal recognition and for something you'd be doing anyway. And that, for better or for worse, is called civil marriage. Which is why the GLBTQ community are fighting so hard for it.
posted by olinerd at 12:17 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can now do it in Milan, Italy.
posted by aqsakal at 6:42 AM on September 21, 2012


Having shown this discussion to my partner, and talked through the issues raised here, I think we are even more resolved in making our commitment to each other. This is surprising, in that perhaps marriage isn't such a bad option after all. If we tied the knot privately, with no flourishes and absolute secular attention, I think we may fulfil the desires I expressed here.

Maybe...

In the meantime we will wait for the civil partnership to become more than a way to appease the church. For the sake of equality - heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise - I hope this happens soon.

(A civil partnership in the UK would still be our first choice. Thank you for helping cement this opinion.)

Once again, many thanks to you all. You really did colour my question with some superb insights.
posted by bollockovnikov at 6:34 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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