I can certainly say that my friends would have voted me “least likely to get married” for a variety of reasons, not least because of my track record with as well as attitude to relationships. I have been described by them as a cynic, misery and curmudgeon, etc, and I would hesitate to disagree with any of that. Like a lot of gay people, even when civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, I felt marriage had little to do with me.
When it’s not an option it’s easy for us to consider traditional marriage with a critical and cynical eye. I viewed it as “just a piece of paper”, not a basis for a relationship. I had even more disdain for weddings, having seen friends get worked up for months over seating plans and flower arrangements, leading to a long, stressful day, where friends, family and work colleagues all get together for a bad meal to politely tolerate one another until they can get out and salvage what’s left of the weekend … Well, maybe that’s not how everyone sees things, but there is a strongly held view that either a wedding or the concept of marriage can seem to take prominence over the relationship, which is so much more important.
My cynicism concerning civil partnerships was challenged when I attended one – I must confess the ceremony was actually sweet and effective, not much different from a civil wedding and it certainly didn’t feel second best to a traditional wedding. I was happy to be wrong in that, but remained uninterested in it for myself. I guess if there’s a lesson here to be learned, it’s “never say never”, because a month ago I got married.
After a long time being single, I started seeing a lovely man from overseas and things just took off. Although I knew my partner’s visa was coming to an end, he had a strong case to renew his working visa and, anyway, that was his business. People may question the validity of our relationship (and that is why I’ve asked to write anonymously) but the two issues are coincidental – you can meet and fall in love with someone at the same time as their visa is running out. And that is what was happening.
If the possibility of being separated has any effect, it is to focus your mind on the future of a relationship. I felt we could have a great future together so when it became apparent there was only one way forward, I suggested we get a civil partnership.
I don’t mean to sound as if getting a civil partnership with a foreigner is as simple as getting an Oyster card or a lottery ticket – you have to really want it and the Home Office obviously must be satisfied it is valid. It took six months of applications, travelling, meeting relatives, and missing each other. Not to mention all the expense that goes with that. Through it all, I only ever felt stronger about the relationship. The truth was, we were getting married to be together, which is genuine, practical and romantic, even if it isn’t the traditional hearts … and flowers … and honeymoon … and confetti.
People asked lots of questions leading up to our civil partnership – what we were going to wear, that sort of thing – and it brought up interesting questions about traditions. Gay weddings don’t have traditions; I’m sure in the future, they will emerge, but for now it’s nice that we can pick and choose, i.e. disregard. So out went confetti and drunkenness, although we did have cake.
Given the purpose for getting married, it seemed inappropriate to make it an “event”. In any case, we both hate to be the centre of attention and if you didn’t twig by now, we just aren’t that into weddings. So, it was all very quick and quiet. The registration takes about 5 minutes – long enough to print an A4 sheet out and sign it. Then my new husband and I, together with our witnesses, went for lunch. Instead of going on honeymoon, I later had to revise for an exam on Kafka the following day. If it doesn’t sound romantic, it was never going to be, but it had its own off-key, relaxed charm – and the Registrar was lovely.
I had informed my friends and family in the months leading up to our wedding how it was going to play out and I think they understood why it wasn’t a big event. The only really difficult decision was choosing a witness from my close friends. I half jokingly came up with a plan to have one friend pretend to be the carer of another, but there really wasn’t room in the office for even half a person more.
I realise I have used the terms “marriage”, “wedding” and “civil partnership” interchangeably, and for many people marriage does not equal civil partnership. While I understand that view, it is interesting to note that “marriage” is what is colloquially used by my peer group, my parents, my colleagues, fellow students, people I’ve known for years and people I hardly know.
A civil partnership early on a Monday morning in a south east London registry office may not be everyone’s dream, but a strong enough reason persuaded a weddingophobe like myself to take the plunge and I am glad I did. It feels totally “right”.
There are plenty of other reasons why one might consider marriage including (but not limited to) enhanced rights on property, inheritance, pensions, life insurance and recognition as next-of-kin rights in hospitals. Or perhaps you’re the type that wants to watch your friends get sun burnt while hundreds of photos are taken.