Seven years ago this month my partner and I got married. Well, at least we thought we did. The reason I say ‘thought’ is that for us, entering a civil partnership was indeed the same as getting married. For us the implications were the same. Yes, it was a legal contract, but it was so much more than that. It declared to the world our hopefully lifelong commitment to each other and it meant something. It meant a lot. And it was a perfect day.

Believe it or not, we held it in a castle. How gay is that!? Admittedly it was quite a small one. It could only take 104 guests, which led to some very difficult decisions on the guest list. To this day there are one or two people who still haven’t forgiven us for not being invited. The sun shone, the formal part of the ceremony went perfectly, the speeches were moving and funny and the food was superb. It was over in a flash, but it is a day neither of us will ever forget.

Seven years later we thought about doing it all over again. Like many other gay and lesbian couples who have entered civil partnerships, we’ve thought about whether and how to convert our civil partnership into a marriage, now that the law allows us to. I say ‘convert’ rather than ‘upgrade’, which is a rather unfeeling and emotionless word to use.

The question we have asked ourselves, though, is this. Why, when we already considered ourselves to be married, would we do it all over again? So we’re not going to. Sort of.
We had thought about doing the full works again – nice venue, invite loads of guests, have a celebrant. Everything. We even looked at a couple of venues in Norfolk. But one evening we both sat down and said to each other, why are we doing this? We’re not American. We’re not renewing our vows, so why go through all of this rigmarole?

So what we are going to do now is nip down to the local registry office on a Friday in June*, sign the conversion papers and pay our £11 – yes, £11, that’s all it costs. And the next day we’re inviting twenty people to dinner in a rather nice pub just up the road from our house near Norwich. No ceremony, no speeches, just sharing it over a meal with some friends. For us that’s the right thing to do. For others, it may be different.

Figures for civil partnerships seem to have stabilised at around 3,500 male and 3,500 female couple per year. That doesn’t seem a lot really bearing in mind there are around 250,000 heterosexual marriages each year. If 10 per cent of the population is gay, you might expect the figure for civil partnerships or gay marriages to be six or seven times the current level. Is this evidence that the 10 per cent figure isn’t right, and that it’s nearer 2 per cent? Or does it mean that gay couples are less likely to want to commit to long term, formalised relationships? It’s certainly food for thought.

Figures for dissolution of civil partnerships i.e. gay divorce are pretty meaningless when civil partnerships have only been around for a decade, but one interesting fact is that lesbians are twice as likely to divorce than gay men. Insert your own joke here.

Around 150,000 gay people are now in civil partnerships or marriages, which is far more than government statistics boffins predicted ten years ago. That should be a matter for rejoicing, not just by gay people, but society as a whole. Stable relationships make for a stable society, and gay people are just as capable of entering into long term, stable relationships as straight people, contrary to popular rumour. Ann Widdecombe once said to me that one of the reasons she opposed gay adoption was that it had been proved that gay relationships generally didn’t last longer than two years. “Really?” I said. “In my experience it’s usually about twenty minutes!” To her credit, after looking shocked, she did laugh. Sadly, she didn’t ask for further details. Maybe just as well.

  • We’re actually getting married tomorrow in Norwich.

This article first appeared in the June issue of Attitude Magazine

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