Published: 15:53, 31 December 2019
| Updated: 15:53, 31 December 2019
Mixed-sex couples are getting civil partnerships for the first time today after a change in the law earlier this year.
Vince Maple was one of the first to become a civil partner in Medway. Here's all you need to know about the process.
What is a civil partnership?
A civil partnership is a legal agreement that holds all the same legal protections as marriage. It was first introduced for same-sex couples in 2004 so they could have legal protection without having a traditional marriage.
How do you get a civil partnership?
To get one you need to inform a registry office or any venue that is allowed to hold civil partnerships - which is also any venue that can hold marriages.
There is a 28-day notice period, then the partners will need to sign a document to register their civil partnership with two witnesses and a registrar present.
What is the difference between marriage and a civil partnership?
Legally, there are very few differences between the two. Both contracts share the same property rights, pension benefits, next of kin rights, inheritance tax exemption and rules on parental responsibility.
There are only a few key differences. For example, if a couple decide to split up it is called a dissolution in a civil partnership and where marriages can be validly ended due to adultery, civil partnerships cannot.
The main difference is the history behind civil partnerships.
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.
A marriage certificate also requires the names of both fathers whereas civil partnership require the names of all parents.
Historically, marriage is also very closely tied to religion, but with 53% of British adults being non-religious - according to the British Sociological Association - most of the population will not identify with a religious tradition.
Even if you decide to get married somewhere other than a church and with different vows, the history and some traditional expectations are still attached to the idea of marriage.
For some people this is too uncomfortable, so getting legal protection without it is important to them. Civil partnerships are a non-traditional way to do this, free of religious and historical connotations.
If I can't say they're getting married, what should I call it?
The most popular terms so far seems to be "getting civilly partnered" or "civilled". However, terminology may be different between couples.
When civil partnerships became available to same-sex couples, many used language related to marriages because they wanted to be seen as married, even if it was not legally available to them.
Mixed-sex couples are now rejecting marriage for a civil partnerships, so the terminology will be more geared towards wanting to be seen as civilly partnered.
It's all about choice and context, so if you're confused go for "civilled" or ask the partners what they call themselves.
Why could same-sex couples not have a civil partnership until now?
When civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, they were seen as either a foot-in-the-door for same-sex couples to achieve marriage equality or an appeasement so that same-sex couples didn't need marriage equality.
Now that marriage equality is achieved in the UK, civil partnership equality was a loose end that some people wanted to tie up.
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.
After years of campaigning, 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 today.
How many people are taking advantage of the change?
In Medway, less than five people are getting civilly hitched today. Less than 10 are getting one next year, with most of them being same-sex partnerships. However, awareness of the change at the moment is rather low so there's no way of telling how uptake will change in the coming years. In the Netherlands, it took 20 years of steady growth for civil partnerships to take up a quarter of mixed-sex unions.
Is there a ring? A ceremony? A honeymoon?
Maybe. Some partners might want a wedding experience without marriage's historical baggage; some may want to just sign a form. Depends on the couple.
But you can have that choice with marriage too. Why not just get married?
When marriage was the only option, partners could choose everything except the type of contract they wanted to sign. Partners getting married could not opt out of the tradition of marriage completely as they would still be legally married.
Civil partnerships gives partners the option to avoid marriage completely if it's not for them.
Civil partnerships could also be used as a stop-gap between legal protection and marriage. If you can't afford to get married but need to make sure your family is safe, a civil partnership could be the way to still stay motivated to save up for a ring, wedding and honeymoon.
For Vince and Mary a civil partnership simply suited them more.
He said: “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."
More by this authorSophie Bird