I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA view of the world. I am myself interested in current affairs, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?
I must admit that during the holiday season the news bulletins have been more sparse – not least, the politicians are away on holiday! I did, however, see a story this week which I thought worthy of comment. My first reaction was just as a feel good story, but it took about a millisecond to start wondering how its subjects ever got to a place where they needed to jump through so many hoops to get to where they want to go.
I had always looked forward to having children, eventually. But it is one thing having that vague notion that I wanted to spread my genes, quite another navigating the minefield of finding somebody to spread them with! In my twenties, I had several rocky relationships. Ultimately, all of them were doomed. When I finally met my wife, the one thing which sticks out was how smooth it all felt.
Neither of us were religious, so marriage was never really at the fore. There was one milestone decision, however – just very basically, whether we saw ourselves with each other, for the foreseeable future. That one decision made everyhing else straightforward, for me at least. It was like a set of dominos.
Once we decided that we thought of the relationship as something permanent, we bought a house togther and decided to try for a baby. I was obviously pretty potent in those days, because she became pregnant very quickly. But marriage was still only an afterthought.
In fact, it was only really because I knew the law a bit that I realised that there would be some legal advantages to us being married. Traditionally in the UK, tax has been one of them. More importantly, it gave us both certain rights when it came to custody, inheritance and property. But most of all, we figured that life would just be easier for my daughter if her mum was married to her dad. Just in terms of taking some potentially-awkward questions off the table. Okay, we’d like to think that, in this day and age, it wouldn’t come into the picture. But we’d also like to think that, in this day and age, a woman would be paid the same as a man.
It has been so, in the UK, for generations. Life is just easier if, as a couple, you happened to be married. But, of course, marriage only ever applied to mixed-sex couples (at that time). And so, very recently (2004), our liberal politicians introduced a form of marriage for same-sex couples, and called it a civil partnership. In legal terms, a civil partnership was very similar to a marriage. (Actual marriage for same-sex couples also came along later.)
Great. End of story, right? We all live in this wonderfully progressive society! Well, not quite. There is a small minority of mixed-sex couples who have decided, for one reason or another, that despite being committed to each other, marriage is not for them. They’ve often been together for as long as married couples, raised children together and so on, done everything together, except for tying the knot. And all of a sudden, these couples had been left behind.
But still, not a problem, surely? Our forward-thinking politicians just needed to tweak the law to include both same- and mixed-sex couples. Wrong. Those liberal-minded politicians refused to act.
Consequently, when, five years ago, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan applied for a Civil Partnership, they were refused. Rather than this just being a theoretical problem, it was now a real one. But even so, our government stood fast and would not change the law.
Now, it seems quite clear to me, when you allow a one set of people to do something, but prohibit another set of people from doing that exact same thing, that some discrimination is going on. This couple obviously felt the same, and started proceedings.
But despite their case being obvious to me, the government did not want to change the law. This couple had to fight their case all the way to our Supreme Court, facing opposition from the government at every step along the way. It took them four years, but in 2018 the court finally ruled in their favour. Unable to construct any further hurdles, the government finally began the process of changing the law. The new law came into force just last week, on New Year’s Eve.
So, my main winners of the week this week are Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who last Tuesday finally became civil partners at Chelsea Town Hall, among the first mixed-sex couples in the UK to do so. I wish them and their young family many more years of happiness together.
And, my second, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which made their legal challenge possible. In fact the court ruled that the civil partnership law was incompatible with the ECHR, and while we are just about still in the EU, the ECHR takes priority. I always wanted to leave the EU, but the UK should see this as an opportunity to keep the good bits, and improve the bad bits. And not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should at least be grateful that their politicians have acted while our own have sat on their