talkRADIO's digital editor Thea de Gallier explains why, like Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, she thinks marriage is too patriarchal for the modern age
When Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage in the Supreme Court, people, as they tend to do, had an opinion.
One viewpoint doing the rounds on social media was the question of why a straight couple couldn’t just do the traditional thing and get married like everyone else.
As a friend said to me: “Getting a civil partnership or getting married in a non-religious setting wouldn’t have the same romantic connotations for me.
“I want to be traditional and take my husband’s name.”
'So what if it's traditional?'
For people like my friend, the whole point of being in love is to demonstrate that commitment with marriage. But all the reasons she cites for wanting to get hitched are all the reasons that some people - like me - would opt for a civil partnership over a marriage any day.
Let’s start with the non-religious setting. Personally, I find it baffling that anyone who isn’t religious in everyday life would want to marry in a religious building - to me, that’s like getting a job as a horoscope writer even though you think astrology is balderdash.
Then there’s the taking the husband’s name. That’s not even a legal obligation, and I have to admit my heart sinks when I see newly-married women change their surname on Facebook before the cake’s even been eaten.
So what if it’s traditional? Why should your name be cast off like an old sock just so a bloke gets to carry on his family line? If having the same name is so important to some couples, why not have the husband take the wife’s, or make up a new one?
I feel similarly about being ‘given away’ by my dad. I was never his property in the first place, and I’m not being traded like a camel from one man to another.
Granted, you can get married without any of the above traditions. You could do it in a registry office, in jeans, with a randomly-picked person off the street as a witness, keep your name, and refuse to wear a ring or a white dress or make speeches.
But while the performative patriarchal traditions can be taken out of modern marriage, the history can’t. Rebecca and Charles, for the record, objected to marriage because of its patriarchal history.
Married women, until startlingly recently, were viewed as the property of their husbands, and had very few rights of their own.
Here’s some of the more unpalatable facts from the history of marriage: fathers almost always got custody of children in a divorce until 1839, when a woman campaigned for mothers to have custody rights.
Married women were not legal owners of the money they earned or their property until a law was passed in 1870.
Rape within marriage was legal in England until 1991.
Those things don’t represent what modern marriage is about, but they’re still woven into the institution of it, and historically, it was one of many institutions aimed at keeping women as subordinates.
A civil partnership provides legal protection, like the right to marital assets and parental rights, without having a long history of denying women basic liberties, and Rebecca and Charles have made an important stand in the fight for true equality.