Thursday, 16 August 2012

Countering The "Civil Partnerships Are Enough" Argument

One of the most persuasive and effective arguments opponents of marriage equality (and oft-quoted marriage equality agnostics like Christopher Biggins) use is that civil partnerships are so close to marriage that there really is no reason to pursue marriage equality*.

If we ignore the, sometimes glaring, differences between civil partnerships and marriage, civil partnerships do offer extremely strong protections for same gender relationships. Gone are the days of long term partners being denied hospital visitation or inheritance rights. Those heartbreaking moments that were once so brutally common are now consigned to history.

Civil partnerships were successful enough to dampen the call for marriage equality, and it's one of the reasons I still have a bit of a downer on them to this day. They truly do undermine, when dealing the issues superficially, the case for marriage equality.

So it is important to take a step back and consider: are we just being greedy? Are we seeking to "redefine" marriage, as our opponents claim, just because we are selfish and ungrateful? Are we placing a great deal of importance in just a word? Is the "cost" worth it?

One thing so often forgotten (or ignored for ideological reasons) by our opponents and agnostics alike is the plight of transgendered people and their partners in marriages or civil partnerships when getting gender recognition. The wonderful Sarah Brown describes the problem here, and the paragraph below shows the heartache caused by keeping civil partnerships and marriage separate entities.

This trans woman was me, and I made that faustian bargain in 2009, surrendering my marriage of eight years and, after much bureaucracy, converting it to a civil partnership. I now bitterly regret doing that. We had both convinced ourselves that it was just paperwork, and didn’t really mean anything, but we were wrong. It hurt deeply, and it still does. We had a wonderful civil partnership ceremony with friends, but I wish I could take it all back.
So civil partnerships certainly aren't enough to stop people having their marriages dissolved forcefully by the state. 

Then we have international recognition and the protection of the rights of British citizens abroad. The case of Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger represents the slap in the face caused by the current downgrading of one's perfectly legal marriage in another country to a civil partnership here. If we recognise opposite-sex marriages under the same foreign laws, then how can we pretend people aren't married under those same laws just because their genders don't meet our requirements? It's totally unfair.

Even more concerning are the problems (and they will grow as marriage equality becomes more widely recognised in the coming years) caused when someone in a civil partnerships visits or lives in a country with equal marriage laws. Because civil partnerships, unlikely marriage, aren't an internationally recognised standard it is highly likely that they will not be recognised as marriage in those countries. It is bad enough that civil partners won't be protected in countries without same gender partnership rights, but worse that because we don't have marriage equality they might not be registered in countries that do protect those rights! Following what will, fairly obviously, be an internationally recognised standard makes sense.

So civil partnerships are a typically British fudge that are not enough to avoid insult to those married abroad nor avoid the risk of non-recognition of the rights of British ex-pats and travelers. 

This argument also suffers from another problem. If civil partnerships are so similar to marriage what is the issue with marriage equality? Surely it makes sense to bring such similar institutions together in a simplified way to make sure case law applies equally. And Rupert Myers has a similarly probing question for proponents of this argument:

If civil partnerships are sufficient for gay couples because they provide the same package of rights, is that significantly different from saying that Rosa Parks should have been happy to sit at the back of the bus because it took her to the same place as the white people at the front?
Are civil partnerships enough to allow religious freedom? Some might say that those religious organisations wanting marriage equality so they can marry members of their faith should just accept their, newly won, right to conduct religious civil partnerships. Unfortunately for those wishing to stop marriage equality, local authorities have conspired to make the cost of being allowed to register civil partnerships much greater than marriage. This is putting an unfair burden on churches that support same gender partnerships than those who don't. With a properly worded marriage equality law allowing freedom of conscience for the religious this problem would cease to exist.

So civil partnerships aren't enough for those who believe in religious freedom. 

There are other examples of how civil partnerships aren't good enough, feel free to add them in the comments if you so wish!

Those, such as our "friend" Ben Bradshaw, who make the "civil partnerships are enough" argument must be challenged on it. They are often simply uninformed on the issues, usually blind to trans issues and make the remarks in an off-hand manner. It is important to correct them loudly to stop this lazy argument in its tracks. It is simply wrong. Civil partnerships were not enough in 2004, and they are not enough now. Marriage equality is the only way to resolve all these issues in a clean, clear-cut fashion.

*Another way this argument is put is that people do not understand why gay people would want a marriage in a church when they have civil partnerships and Christianity hates them. 

There are so many faults with that argument it is worth pointing them out.

1) it assumes LGBT people want to marry in a church. Marriages, in this country, don't have to be performed in a church. 
2) it assumes all churches are against LGBT relationships and that all LGBT people are atheists. Do I really need to point out this is fairly obviously untrue?
3) it takes a rather evangelical and Protestant view that Christianity is a cohesive whole when we all know it is far more complicated than that. 

I have to say that whilst I try to treat opponents with as much respect as I can muster, if you make the mistake of assuming all LGBT are atheists or all Christian churches think the same thing then I tend to dismiss most of your other arguments without further consideration. So let's stick to sensible arguments only please. 

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

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