This year saw a landmark bill legalising marriage for same-sex couples make it through Parliament.
The passage of the Same Sex Couples Act was a great success for progress and equality, but in the wake of this victory we should not rest easy on our laurels. For a start, there are lingering discrepancies between the finer legislative details for same-sex and opposite-sex marriages that must be resolved in order for the law to reflect true equality. But further to this, the public and political interest stirred up in the wake of the debate around the marriage bill presents an opportunity to push for greater change in the way British institutions recognise the many relationships we value as a culture.
The legalisation of civil partnerships, and then marriages, between same sex couples, forced the state to legally recognise the significance same sex relationships have for the respective partners, and the de facto legitimacy such pairings have in the eyes of wider society. Many would like to see similar legal recognition shown to a greater variety of relationship forms, and in ways that reflect the diverse nature of those relationships. This includes the legalisation of civil partnerships for couples irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation.
Whilst the possibility of civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was discussed alongside the Same Sex Couples Act's progress through Parliament, it seems the government maintained its conviction that such legislation is unnecessary. However, the issue is supposedly up for re-consideration next year, in which case the time is ripe to reiterate the arguments supporting the extension of civil partnerships.
These reasons can generally be distilled down to a question of equality. As human rights activist and co-ordinator of the Equal Love campaign Peter Tatchell succinctly puts it, "prohibiting opposite-sex civil partnerships violates the democratic principle that everyone should be equal before the law".
The inequality reflected in current legislation has numerous, subtle ramifications. For all those heterosexual couples who disagree with the many antiquated and somewhat misogynistic practices and expectations that history has entrenched in the institution of marriage, recognition as a couple in the eyes of the law comes at the cost of compromising principles. For couples that don't believe consummation dictates the validity of a relationship, or would prefer to think of their other half as a 'partner' - as opposed to giving them the loaded title of 'man' or 'wife' complete with centuries of implied duties and status - or question the inclusion of fathers' details on the marriage certificate, they can wave any legal recognition good-bye.
In addition to restricting heterosexual freedoms, a ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships adversely affects same-sex couples. As a consequence of long-ingrained homophobia in British society, for many the ban is a tacit endorsement of the view that civil partnerships are undesirable or superfluous, and ultimately inferior, to marriage and heterosexual relationships.
An alternative route to tackling this inequality would be to eradicate civil partnerships altogether, and attempt to modernise the institution of marriage to encompass a greater variety of philosophies and relationship dynamics. However, to stretch and manipulate marriage too far beyond any currently recognisable state would be doing a disservice to all those who do value the majority of customs and values associated with marriage as it stands. This is a particularly unfavourable option considering that a framework for a palatable alternative is already in place in the form of the civil partnership.
It is for these reasons that Equal Love is supporting four British same-sex couples pursuing the right to a civil partnership at the European Court of Human Rights, alongside four same-sex couples challenging residual discrimination in the new law. And it is for these same reasons that we must make it clear to our representatives in government that there is indeed a need to legalise civil partnerships for all couples.