THE BLOG

Civil Partnership, Civil Wedding, Marriage: Many Words But One And The Same Meaning?

01/03/2017 11:52 GMT | Updated 01/03/2017 11:52 GMT

Once upon a time there used to be marriage, the relationship until death of a man and a woman. I'll not trouble you with the legal and social ramifications, they are well known to all. There never was such a thing as Common Law Marriage, which is a myth, I mention that in passing in case anyone out there still isn't aware of this fact, because a surprising number of people still labour under the illusion it exists.

Then civil partnerships were created so same sex couples could have all the legal rights and responsibilities, protections and tax benefits of marriage - but without being actually married. The government of the day felt marriage for same sex couples was too contentious - it might upset too many people. So we had civil partnerships and marriage. This was always going to cause trouble and sure enough it did. Gay couples wanted to marry - why couldn't they marry? The fact they could not do so was felt by them to be discriminatory.

However, times move on and social attitudes change - and the fact same sex couples were being treated differently from heterosexual couples led to increasing pressure they should be treated the same. Some religious groups campaigned against being forced to offer religious marriage to gay couples, as being an infringement of their right to religious freedom and so a breach of their human rights.

Meanwhile gay couples campaigned to be able to marry, saying they were being discriminated against and their human rights were being infringed. Onlookers were wondering how you decide which human right prevails - religious freedom or the right to family life and not to be discriminated by reason of sexual orientation. Not easy.

Perhaps inevitably, the next move was to legislate to permit gay couples to marry and on 13 March 2014 The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force. Same sex marriage was legalised. Now of course hetero-sexual couples want the right to have civil partnerships - and the government of the day has a problem of its own making on its hands - and may have to legislate to allow them to have civil partnerships.

So somewhat accidentally what gay couples originally perceived as the 'second class' compromise they had to accept instead of being allowed to marry - becomes the latest 'must have' relationship for heterosexual couples who don't like the 'baggage of marriage.' So the government is likely to have to legislate to let everyone to do anything they like - which is what we should have done in the first place. We would have done if anyone had listened to me at the time they passed the Marriage Act for gay couples.

At this point I'm going to take some smug satisfaction at the plight of the current government - and repeat my original solution as recommended by me at the time. We should have had the simplest, shortest piece of law ever passed. It would have avoided endless debate and trouble at the time and all the difficulties we have now with three appeal court judges basically saying the government is breaching heterosexual couples' human rights not allowing them to have civil partnerships. It's all caused by problems of definition and logical thinking.

Is anyone aware of the difference between a civil partnership and a civil wedding in a Registry Office? No, neither am I. That's because there isn't one - the legal effect of these relationships is identical. The problem exists in the words alone. What is so fascinating is the vehemence generated by the use of the words 'marriage' or 'civil partnership' or 'civil marriage' and the supposed baggage attaching to one and not the other, intrinsically regarded as desirable or not - depending on your point of view.

The fact is the legal consequences for marriage and civil weddings or marriages (whether conducted at Registry Offices religious or non-religious venues) and civil partnerships are identical - save in one respect and that relates to the grounds for a petition for dissolution in relation to adultery for gay couples, on which I do not propose elaborating. Perhaps I'm missing something, but if the consequences and legal effects of these legal relationships are identical why are we worried about the wording?

So given all the palaver over The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act - and the current vehemence over possible infringements of any human right, it was predictable there would be similar ructions from heterosexual couples wanting to enter into civil partnerships. I think people will always want what they can't have - it is part of the human condition. What we could and should have done a few years ago is avoid all this with the simple expedient of the following law:

"In future all couples whether the same or opposite sexes, can marry or enter into civil marriages or civil partnerships and the legal consequences of all these legal partnerships will be the same and the words marriage, civil partnership and civil marriage can all be used interchangeably." End of.

Anyone agree with me?