by Tanyaradzwa Mwamuka

Civil partnership is a term usually associated with same sex couples It was, until 2013, the only real option for same sex couples for legalising the status of their relationship. 2013 was when same sex marriage was legalised in the UK.  Fast forward five years and something new has been brought onto the market. Civil Partnership is back, but this time for mixed couples too. Most instant reactions are questioning why. If civil partnerships have the same legal rights as a marriage, then what’s the point?

It could be that marriage can be seen to be religious. Whilst the UK is considered a Christian country, in this day and age we are in reality, in a melting pot of varying religions. Though 50 years ago, the majority of White Britain would have identified as committed Christians, now, there seems to be a growing number of atheists or at the very least non-practicing Christians.

Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan accidently become campaigners for the civil partnerships for mixed sex couples. Having had 130,000 people sign their petition after a four-year campaign, they tasted success when The Supreme Court ruled in their favour this year. The implementation of this will not come into action until 2019 in England and Wales, but for them it certainly is a step in the right direction.

To get a real understanding of why civil partnership has become available to mixed couples, we have to look at the legal differences between cohabitation, civil Partnership (for both mixed and same sex couples) and marriage in the UK. 

What is a Marriage?

Marriage has varying definitions across the world and in different cultures. It is commonly seen as a social and ritualistic union between two people. It establishes obligations between the spouses and resulting children (whether biological or adoptive) and other extended relatives. When getting married you can choose between a civil or religious marriage. There are however some religious marriages that will not be recognised without a civil marriage. If you have a joint bank account, the money becomes joint property regardless of who puts money into the account, which becomes important on death of a spouse or on separation on the couple. Marriage also effects parental responsibility for example If you are the husband of child’s birth mother you automatically have parental responsibility.

What is a Civil Partnership?

Civil partnerships were introduced to give same-sex couples a way of obtaining similar legal and financial security, that marriage did. To my amazement this has only been a legislation since 2004, and in 2013 new legislation allowed the choice of marriage in England, Wales and Scotland. Unlike marriage, you cannot bring a civil partnership to an end until it has lasted for at least one year. Much like a marriage the same banking rules apply to civil partnerships. Civil partnerships also allow the exemption of inheritance tax.

Why Civil Partnership Over Marriage?

Religion was the main reason people were against marriage, and yes that is certainly true for many people are getting married outside of a church, minister or the traditional Christian values. But even then, religion couldn’t be the sole or even the most important reason to want civil partnership, surely. As I began to investigate it began clear people had issue not only with the religious link but the legacy of gender imbalance and roles which were routed with the traditions of marriage. Many women and men don’t like the idea of marriage because of the sense of ownership that comes with it.

When dissecting the rituals, it’s easy to see why people think this. Firstly, the suitor must ask for permission from the bride’s father for her hand in marriage and in many traditions a price for the bride is agreed upon; in my own culture this is called lobola. From the modern perspective the idea of transferring ownership from father to husband, certainly seems archaic. The bride as a prize makes it almost seem like the women is a commodity being purchased. This ideology of transfer of possession can be interpreted within wedding in the ceremony itself, when the father walks his daughter down the aisle “to give her away” to her future husband.

Within the marriage, historically, the husband is the head of the house and decision maker and the sentiment of a wife respecting her husband trickles down as friendly advice from mother to daughter and other female elders. An example of this sense of ownership is shown in the form of marital rape only coming into existence in recent years. Historically, as a woman you were obliged to provide your husband with sex, without consent from the other spouse being strictly needed. Currently, in modern laws, consent is essential and whether non-consensual sexual intercourse happens violently or non-violently it is considered marital rape. Whilst respect of one another is certainly good for a union, the emphasis on the woman in the marriage to uphold this rather than the man is an example of the gender inequality and imbalance which many modern couples see only civil partnership can resolve.

The Steinfeld-Keidan couple argued saying that “the legacy of marriage … treated women as property for centuries…we want to raise our children as equal partners and feel civil-partnership – a modern, symmetrical institution – sets the best example for them”

With this to consider, you would think just not getting married would be enough.

Wrong; whilst marriage may not be an option for many, simply living together isn’t either due to the lack of clarity of legal status cohabitation comes with.

Rights As Cohabiters

Living together with a partner sometimes referred to as cohabitation doesn’t actually have a legal definition. Many couples are disappointed on separation or death of partner to find they don’t have many if at all any legal, financial and parental rights. Civil partnership and marriage offers legal securities which cohabitation does not. At best a cohabitation contract can be formed outlining obligations and rights of each partner, but there isn’t clarity about whether this can be legally enforced. In terms of finances if you have separate accounts, neither has access to each other’s accounts. If you have joint accounts however, the money belongs to both of you. If only one of you however, has deposited money then it becomes difficult for the partner who hasn’t, to claim any of money – which differs to marriage and civil partnership where you are entitled regardless.

For me, I don’t necessarily see marriage the way many modern millennials do (perhaps I’m too much of a traditionalist). Some of the rituals dating back may very well be archaic for this time and age, but I choose which aspects of marriage I wish to celebrate and since there isn’t an exact set of rules, I see no problem in exchanging out of date traditions for ones that suit me. Nonetheless having the option for civil partnerships certainly makes sense and allows those not for marriage, an incredibly important thing; choice.

For more information on the differences between marriage, civil partnership and cohabitation then visit the citizens advice website

Tanyaradzwa Mwamuka is currently studying Biomedical Sciences at the University of Manchester and hopes to pursue a career science communication, media and African development. She is a lover of fashion, travelling and has a keen interest in racial- social issues. She enjoys learning languages, being fluent in two and is currently adding Spanish to her resume.