Civil partnership: a hollow institution

Jul 8, 2018 by

by Jon Holbrook, spiked:

The Supreme Court ruled last week on an issue that pitted individual rights against collective interests. Arguing for more individual rights were two claimants, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, who wanted to enter a civil partnership, an institution not open to heterosexual couples. The claimants’ arguments were rooted in their wants. They did not want to get married. They argued that the right to enter a civil partnership should be extended to them because it would ‘perfectly capture the essence of our relationship’.

Standing in the claimants’ way was marriage, an institution that has stood the test of time and remains popular. Marriage has evolved over centuries to represent the state’s acquired wisdom on family life and social stability. It exists as an institution without competitors because there can only be one best unit of family life – its status is unique. The state, and before it the church, has for centuries supported marriage. While individuals could hitherto seek other forms of relationships they could not expect the state to back them in doing so.

The government ought to have had an easy task in opposing this legal claim. At the outset it could have pointed out that the claimants’ individual rights were adequately protected by their right not to marry. Those who don’t like marriage can cohabit, live as singletons or set up their own commune. In fact, within reason, they can do whatever takes their fancy – so long as they do not expect the sort of state support that is reserved for marriage. Next, the government could have defended the institution of marriage. It would not have been difficult. Marriage is an institution that has endured for centuries, is popular with millions and is widely seen as the bedrock of family life and social stability. If the government had defended the uniqueness of marriage, then this case should have ended in a resounding victory.

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