Straight Couples Fight For Right To Domestic PartnershipsS

A British organization is fighting for "heterosexual equality" in domestic partnerships — and they say this will be good for gay couples too.

According to a press release from the campaign Equal Love, Stephanie Munro and Andrew O'Neill are going to apply for a civil partnership on Wednesday — they assume they'll be turned down, because in Britain, these partnerships are only available to gay couples. Once they are, they plan to file a lawsuit along with three other opposite-sex couples and four same-sex ones. Their goal: to extend the same civil partnership and marriage rights to everyone.

The term "heterosexual equality" — and, indeed, a complaint of discrimination against straight couples — might initially smack of homophobia. But that's not what Equal Love is about; it was actually conceived by LGBT organization OutRage!. Says coordinator Peter Tatchell of the straight couples' applications for civil partnerships:

We support their bid for heterosexual equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. There should be no legal discrimination. The twin bans on gay civil marriages and on heterosexual civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid. There is one law for straight couples and another law for gay partners. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Munro and O'Neill have their own reasons for eschewing marriage. Says O'Neill, "The handing over of the bride from one male to another is enshrined in the marriage ritual and, to a degree, in law. That's one reason why marriage doesn't seem right for us. A civil partnership has none of this historical baggage." Is their desire to avoid this baggage on a par with gay couples' fight for equality? Surely Munro and O'Neill haven't faced the same discrimination gay couples often suffer — but comparing the two situations may be beside the point. As Tatchell explains, designating civil partnerships for gay people and marriage for straight ones creates an artificial segregation and perpetuates the false idea that the genders of two committed people are somehow more important than their commitment.

Some US states have recognized this and offer domestic partnerships to couples regardless of gender (though, interestingly, some states that allow gay marriage don't provide the partnership option). And it's possible to imagine a two-tiered system in which any couple could choose either marriage or domestic partnership depending not on gender but on their individual needs. We're very far from that in the US — and the UK seems far away from it as well — but Equal Love makes an important point: as long as sexual orientation determines the kind of relationship people can have, we haven't achieved equality.

Equal Love [Official Site]

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