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Why civil partnership for heterosexual couples could be a good thing

Harry Benson from Marriage Foundation explains why he thinks the latest court ruling enabling heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership will not damage the institution of marriage

You would think highly paid grownups would have more important issues to consider.

I'm talking about the Supreme Court judges, lawyers, politicians and other assorted worthies who are having to debate and resolve the simple question of whether heterosexual couples should have the same rights as same sex couples to sign a civil partnership.

The issue is all about a historical anomaly. After introducing civil partnerships for same sex couples from 2003, the government added the ability to marry from 2014.

So same sex couples who want to commit to a life together now have two options that are essentially legally identical.

But to a handful of heterosexual couples, this is not fair. They only have the one option: to marry.

These ‘children’ have complained to the adults that other kids have red or green sweets and they can only have red. It's not fair!

A society that was more confident in its own skin would tell these complainers to stop whining. The obvious and simple solution to the anomaly is to abolish new civil partnerships while letting the existing ones stand.

But now the Supreme Court has had its time wasted and been forced by law to say that everyone must have access to the same ‘sweets’. Government will now have to decide whether to waste it's own time translating that into law.

So what impact will this new ruling have? Should government change the law?

Well, at one level it will do no harm and - for the very tiny minority who want to get married, but really can't stand the word "marriage" - it may do some good.

Civil partnerships and marriage are not just legally identical but also psychologically identical.

Relationships that last are built on commitment. And commitment means making a decision to spend a lifetime together. Whether you call lifelong commitment "marriage" or "scrambled eggs" matters not one jot.

I think it spectacularly unlikely that it will dent or damage marriage in any way. Few people, if any, grow up dreaming of being "happily civilly partnered". Aside from the monumental waste of everybody's time, if there is a downside it is that the ruling may perpetuate the myth that marriage is patriarchal.

It is anything but. Power in a relationship rests with the person least committed. In a marriage, commitment is explicitly equal. If you want patriarchy, look at unmarried cohabitation where asymmetric commitment is common, with the man being the least committed more often than not. That's patriarchy.

But there may be a silver lining to this. A change in the law should put to bed the misguided campaign to force marriage-like rights onto cohabiting couples, whether they want them or not.

There are some genuine injustices here, where women, for the most part, are left in the lurch by horrible men. But changing the law in this case would remove the need for anyone to make an intentional commitment at all and do a lot more harm than good.

With civil partnerships, if the government does its thing, cohabiting heterosexual couples will have a way to express their commitment and protect each other's rights in law whilst not getting married. While not a perfect solution, surely that can only be a good thing?

Harry Benson is director of research at Marriage Foundation

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