Language and Equal Marriage
One year ago today Michael and I formed our civil partnership – that is to day we went through a process of signing paperwork in the presence of witnesses that made our relationship official in the eyes of the law. Had we been an opposite-sex couple, it would have been a civil wedding.
Being a loving and dutiful civil partner, I got Michael an anniversary card. I looked in various shops, and I saw cards that cost 50p and cards that cost £5. I saw cards with romantic designs, and cards with cartoons. I saw cards the size of your hand, and I saw cards the size of a small child. There was one thing I didn’t see. There were plenty of anniversary cards for husbands, and plenty of anniversary cards for wives, but I didn’t see any for civil partners.
“Civil partner” is a very peculiar term, in my opinion. If you didn’t know what it meant you could be forgiven for thinking that it was something to do with a business relationship, perhaps something that lies between being a sole trader and setting up a limited company. The Belfast city council advice and guidance for Marriages and Civil Partnerships has this as the declaration for a civil marriage:
I call upon these persons here present and to witness that I [name] do take you [name] to be my lawful wedded wife/husband
And it has this as the declaration for a civil partnership:
I understand that on signing the civil partnership Schedule I [name] will be forming a civil partnership with [name]
You have to admit that the latter is a little bit cold.
What does any of this have to do with anniversary cards? Civil partnerships have been around since 2005, and there have been roughly 40,000 since then. That’s a lot of anniversaries. That’s a lot of people who should be buying “Happy Anniversary, Civil Partner” cards. Yet those cards are pretty thin on the ground—I can’t even find any on Moonpig.com.
The greeting card industry is famous for producing cards for every occasion. Why isn’t it meeting this demand? It couldn’t be homophobia, because there are already plenty of cards that show two brides or two grooms. The greetings card industry isn’t meeting this demand because the demand does not exist. And why doesn’t it exist?
It doesn’t exist because, in popular usage, the word “husband” now also applies to a man in a civil partnership, and likewise the word “wife” now also applies to a woman in a civil partnership; the term “civil partner” just isn’t one that is used in daily conversation. Despite the language used by official documents, the definition of “husband” and “wife” has already been extended, not by an act of fiat by some out-of-touch liberal government, not in some conspiracy to change the nature of Christianity and its institutions, but because society is increasingly viewing same-sex relationships as being equal to opposite-sex relationships.
And if society views them that way, then surely the politicians should listen and the time for equal marriage has come.