I was pleased to read of last week’s Supreme Court ruling, that reserving civil partnerships only for same-sex couples was discriminatory. It’s an option I can see many I know – of all orientations – consider as a serious alternative to marriage. But when speaking to a colleague about the news, I suddenly found myself lost for words.
This wasn’t an emotional response. Instead, it was the realisation that there’s something missing from our lexicon – a missing verb. ‘Marry’ is to ‘marriage’ as ‘______’ is to ‘civil partnership’ – try and fill in that gap.
So what are our options?
We could opt for one new term, that covers all unions. After all, in a world where we’re seeking equality, why have separate terms that emphasise our differences?
But the campaign for civil partnerships for heterosexual couples wasn’t just about equality with their same-sex counterparts. For many, it was about having an alternative to marriage, an institution they see as outmoded and still tied to historic connotations of women as property. If in trying to distance themselves from this custom campaigners for civil partnerships find themselves lumped back in with its proponents, is the battle really won?
In which case, what word do we use? While many will be pleased to have the option of civil partnerships feel one step closer, it’s undeniable that the process has somewhat dry and legal overtones – more contractual arrangement than romantic gesture. “Will you enter into a civil partnership with me” is not a phrase that will set hearts aflutter. Meanwhile ‘partner’, both as a verb or noun, already covers those who don’t want a formal union – so that’s not a viable option.
If you’re reading this for a definitive answer I’ll own up now – I don’t have one. But the issue it raises is an interesting one.
Our language advances more slowly than the rate at which we make social progress – look at how LGBT is evolving into LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA or LGBTQIAPK, depending on who you ask. Until we come up with the terms which are second nature to us, which fit neatly into our speech without seeming clunky or unfamiliar, is there not still a battle to be fought?
Alyona Levitin is a senior account manager at Camargue.