Published: 06:00, 31 December 2019
A councillor and his partner will be the first mixed-sex couple to enter a civil partnership in Medway today.
Labour Councillor and recent parliamentary candidate Vince Maple and his partner Mary Tate, who have been together for 17 years, worked with campaign group Equal Civil Partnerships, to get what many call the 'last piece of the equality puzzle' in place.
As from today, mixed-sex couples all over the country can now choose civil partnerships over marriage after legislation was passed in November.
Cllr Maple 42, is the leader of the Medway Labour group and Chatham central ward councillor.
He said: “When civil partnerships were first introduced in 2004, I think it was seen as a gateway process in recognising same sex couples without perhaps bringing forward marriage as an option.”
Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, giving same-sex couples the choice between marriage and civil partnerships. However, this did not include giving mixed-sex couples the option of civil partnerships.
Cllr Maple added: “The campaign was about having that choice and availability. Two individuals would have had to either get married or have nothing, which has not been the case for same-sex couples.”
The Equal Civil Partnerships campaign began after Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld were denied a civil partnership in 2014 because they were not the same sex.
Years of campaigning later, they took the matter to the Supreme Court, who ruled it was discriminatory for same sex couples to not have access to civil partnerships and the UK law was incompatible with human rights laws.
In November Parliament passed an act which allows mixed-sex couples to get a civil partnership - as early as today.
Cllr Maple said: “There was certainly hesitation from the Conservative government at points. But actually, by the end of it, there was a strong cross party consensus, which was very good.
"It was a Conservative MP that used a private member's bill to move this forward, which I think is to be welcomed.”
There are hopes the myth of 'common law husband and wife' will be dispelled through the new law.
Cllr Maple said: “I'm concerned about the common misconception that if you live together for some time - some think two years - you become common law husband and wife.
“That's just simply untrue. We've seen very difficult circumstances where people thought that was the case then when one of them tragically dies, the legal protections aren't there for them.”
Different couples have a range of reasons for getting a civil partnership rather than choosing marriage.
Some are not comfortable with marriage as it comes with hundreds of years of patriarchal baggage, for example the concept of the father giving the bride away or pledging to obey your husband.
Cllr Maple added: "It's a very modern process. It gives you some of those legal protections which come with marriage, but without the hundreds of years of history that come with it."
The language used in civil partnerships is one of the few things that makes it different. The couple are referred to as civil partners, rather than husband and wife.
Cllr Maple and his partner chose to have a civil partnership because they didn't think marriage was for them.
He added: “We didn't think marriage was for us particularly.
"So having our son Ned come along last year certainly made Mary and I even more focused on the need for those legal protections for us as a family.
“We will be having a very quiet straightforward process in the morning, with just a couple of witnesses, my dad and Mary's mum will be there.
"We're not having a big ceremony and then we're having a small open house for people to come over and recognise what a good process it's been.
“But we've just chosen to do it at the registry office because we're looking for a very simple and straightforward legal process, without sounding too cold and heartless. And that's a lovely thing to do on New Year's Eve. Start the new year with a new bit of paper.”
To apply for a civil partnership, couples can go to their local registry office or speak to someone licensed to provide a marriage.
More by this authorSophie Bird