Civil partnerships: How we are celebrating getting 'not' married

By Katie Wright
BBC News

Image source, Chrysoulla Kyprianou Rosling
Image caption,
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan began the campaign to allow mixed-sex couples to get civil partnerships five years ago

The big day has almost arrived for some couples.

As of New Year's Eve, getting married will no longer be the only option for those in mixed-sex relationships in England and Wales - civil partnerships will also be on the table.

So how to celebrate the new legal binding? Three women give us the lowdown on their not-so-traditional plans for the occasion.

Kristy, 40, an artist from Birchington, Kent

Image source, Kristy
Image caption,
Kristy says she's grateful to the couple who campaigned for mixed-sex civil partnerships

Kristy has been with her partner James, 43, for 14 years and they have a nine-year-old son.

What are you calling your civil partnership?

We are going to be "civilly partnered".

Why don't you just get married?

Marriage was never something I wanted - the conventions and vows of the traditional ceremony never seemed a good fit and the patriarchal roots didn't seem appropriate, given my world view.

It's funny as we always used to ask each other "will you marry me?" and answer with a smile: "no, but I'll love you forever".

When we learnt about the Equal Civil Partnership campaign, we felt really excited.

Yet as romantic and right as this all feels to us, I did feel that my initial call to the registry office made everything feel less than special as I was asked if I "was sure I didn't want to get married instead".

What's happening on the day?

From the beginning, we wanted to involve our son as part of the process. He'll be at the ceremony and he will also be getting a ring to mark the occasion - we've all chosen wooden rings made from recycled skateboards in different colour combinations.

We won't wear them all the time, or even on a particular finger, but we wanted something special and a bit different for the day.

We sent only one invite to two friends, who will be there as witnesses.

Dressing for the occasion?

The invite specified the dress code for the day: jeans and trainers. I'm currently looking for a sparkly pair of trainers in the sales.

Are you celebrating afterwards?

We wanted the day to be about us and have chosen not to have a big ceremony or party. We plan on taking our witnesses out for a celebratory lunch.

However, one traditional thing we're choosing to have is a honeymoon in the Canary Islands. We're keeping this a surprise for our son who loves to go on aeroplanes and will be very excited that he gets to share this special adventure with mum and dad.

Elaine Tarling, 49, a garden centre worker from Cheltenham

Image source, Elaine Tarling
Image caption,
Elaine and Matt say that they never wanted to be a wife or a husband

Elaine has been in a relationship with Matt, 52, for nearly 31 years. They don't have kids, but do have Dave the cat.

What are you calling your civil partnership?

One of our witnesses suggested that rather than referring to our forthcoming "union" as a marriage, we were at last going to be civilised!

Why don't you just get married?

The whole idea of marriage seems to us to be archaic and outdated as it is based on patriarchy and gender inequality. Our whole relationship is and always will be, equal, whilst remaining individuals.

This gives us the opportunity to commit to one another legally, without the fuss and palaver of the conventional getting hitched.

The legal benefits provide our future security - despite popular conceptions, currently co-habiting couples have no legal status in law concerning rights that married couples have over each other's legal affairs.

What's happening on the day?

We didn't want a ceremony, as to us it's just a piece of paper, nor will we exchange rings. We are only having two witnesses - the minimum legal requirement - both of whom are our oldest friends.

Dressing for the occasion?

I was coerced into buying a (non-wedding) dress, although jeans and a sweater would have sufficed! Matt pushed the boat out and bought a new shirt.

Are you celebrating afterwards?

Initially we didn't want a reception, but then decided to mark the event and the advent of a new decade with a few close friends we have known for most of our adult lives - and in some cases longer - in the pub with a slap-up meal and a good old New Year's Eve knees up.

Dorne Edwards, a teacher from Cardiff

Image source, Dorne Edwards
Image caption,
Dorne and David, who are both in their early 50s, met online in 2003

Dorne has been with her partner David, who has a daughter from a previous relationship, for 16 years.

What are you calling your civil partnership?

Formally, our civil partnership ceremony. It doesn't exactly trip off the tongue though, so we use "getting civilled" to replace "getting married".

Why don't you just get married?

Marriage in the traditional sense, with its patriarchal historical connotations, wasn't for us, so we're doing what feels right.

We're so excited that we can at last protect each other in law and celebrate our lifelong partnership.

But we must stress that in no way do we wish to denigrate marriage - we've been to some wonderful weddings and wish everyone happiness, however they choose to mark their love for each other.

What's happening on the day?

Only immediate family are coming because we really wanted to keep it small, but we wanted to celebrate. There will be around 20 of us.

We're holding our ceremony at a beautiful mansion house in Cardiff. They have a lovely reading room and we plan to "get civilled" against a backdrop of books. There'll be no giving away; we'll walk in together.

There'll be music - including the Ramones, vows chosen from the register office's standard pack, readings, and an exchange of low-cost simple silver rings - which we'll wear on the traditional finger.

Dressing for the occasion?

We have no dress code as such - ties are optional, and my dress is dark green and came from a high-street shop.

Are you celebrating afterwards?

After the ceremony we'll have champagne and nibbles. Then we're all off to a cosy pub around the corner for a meal - how else to celebrate?!

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