The bride didn’t wear white — or anything new, borrowed or blue. In fact, there wasn’t a bride. Or a groom, for that matter. Neither were there bridesmaids, a best man, bouquets, buttonholes, breakfasts, cakes or speeches. You couldn’t call it a wedding at all. And that was exactly what we wanted.
Yesterday, my long-term partner Mickael and I got — in the words of our four-year-old daughter — ‘not married’. We became one of the first opposite-sex couples in the UK to have a civil partnership ceremony, on the very first day it was legally possible to do so.
We ‘made it official’ is probably the best way to describe what Mickael and I did yesterday. I certainly didn’t become his wife and he is not my husband.
Hilary Freeman and Mickael Lorinquer are one of the first opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership in the UK. Parliament only approved these couples in November after months of campaigning by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld
The event was decidedly unglamorous. We arrived on the 168 bus and there will not be a honeymoon. But it was a lovely afternoon. We had a simple ceremony conducted by an enthusiastic young male registrar, in front of a handful of family and friends. Everybody sat on wooden chairs in a sparsely but tastefully decorated converted office room in Tavistock House, Central London, which is substituting for Camden Town Hall while it undergoes refurbishment. Then we signed the register in front of two witnesses. And afterwards, we all went to the pub.
Mickael and I didn’t set out to be among the first straight couples to ‘civilly partner’, although it’s pleasing to be pioneers.
In November 2019, we heard that the Civil Partnerships (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations, which extended eligibility for forming civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, had finally been approved in Parliament, after years of campaigning by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, a heterosexual couple who felt the ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships was discriminatory. They had taken their battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
Knowing it was soon to become a legal possibility, our interest was piqued. Like Steinfeld and Keidan, we love and are committed to each other, but didn’t want to get married.
Hilary, who has been married once before, said the partnership is simpler, cleaner and more honest. She claimed: ‘Weddings have become such overblown exercises in consumerism — all about the party, not the relationship’
We had our personal reasons: Mickael has never seen the point of marriage. His parents were divorced, and his mother has lived with his stepfather for 30 years. I have been married before — a big wedding at the London Palladium in 1998 — and went through a long and tortuous divorce 13 years later, which, I’ll admit, has made me cynical about the whole institution.
Also, I didn’t want Mickael to become my ‘second husband’, an expression that makes it sound as if he’s the runner-up, less somehow than the first. I also wished to to differentiate this relationship from my marriage, as something distinct.
So we chose a civil partnership, as a way to formalise our relationship without all the baggage and ritual that comes with a wedding.
Her mother’s name and occupation would appear on the certificate unlike a traditional marriage certificate which only shows the father’s. This ‘antiquated nugget of sexism’ is separates the two types of ceremony and makes Hilary view civil partnerships even more favourably
A civil partnership seemed simpler, cleaner, more honest, not to mention cheaper (the whole thing has cost us £225). Weddings have become such overblown exercises in consumerism — all about the party, not the relationship. We also wanted our guests to be there without having to worry about buying a new outfit, or a gift.
Civil partnerships have no religious associations, which suits atheist me and secular Mickael, and no patriarchal ones. There was no expectation that I would take Mickael’s surname, or that anyone would ‘give me away’ — a ridiculously outdated notion, especially as I’m 48 years old and haven’t lived in my parents’ home for 30 years.
Also, my mother’s name and occupation would appear on the certificate, not just my dad’s: an antiquated nugget of sexism still attached to the traditional marriage certificate, which should have been changed years ago.
Mikael (pictured signing the agreement) ‘didn’t see the point to marriage’ and present Hilary with a ring on Christmas Eve last year. She has agreed to wear it on the third finger of my left hand, which is said to connect with the heart
We registered our interest in a civil partnership ceremony with Camden Council and less than an hour later, I received an unexpected phone call from a chirpy registrar.
‘How would you like to be one of the first and do it on New Year’s Eve?’ she asked. ‘Assuming, that is, that the law goes through the House of Lords in time.’
Surprised, I replied: ‘Why not?’ The law did go through and so, on December 2, we were invited to give our notice — the required 29 days before the ceremony, so the news of our impending non-nuptials could be inscribed on a board.
I’m told that seven other couples held their ceremonies in Camden yesterday, with a further 12 booked in so far. But the Government estimates there could be as many as 84,000 ceremonies countrywide in 2020 — which sounds a lot until you realise it’s only a tiny fraction of the 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK.
Still, I managed to feel sentimental about our special day.
Mickael and I met nine years ago in Nice, in the South of France, and have lived together in London for almost six years.
While many people see getting married as a new chapter, an adventure, neither Mickael nor I felt the need to transform our relationship. We’re happy as we are. For us, having a civil partnership meant cementing what we already had, formalising it, not changing it into something new.
The Government estimates there could be as many as 84,000 ceremonies countrywide in 2020 — which sounds a lot until you realise it’s only a tiny fraction of the 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK
Ultimately, though, we decided to have a civil partnership because we felt we didn’t really have a choice. Marriage may be going out of fashion, with half as many couples tying the knot as 80 years ago, but, contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as common-law marriage. That means cohabiting couples have no rights in the UK.
Had we split up, or had one of us died, we would have been faced with a legal and administrative nightmare, with no automatic rights to inheritance or bereavement benefits or pensions, and no tax relief. We felt we had to protect our little family.
Trying to explain the concept to our daughter, Sidonie, was tricky, though. Four-year-olds have conservative views, so she naturally assumed that, as her parents, we were married already. And, not having been to a real-life wedding, she can only imagine them as a fairytale, with a prince marrying a princess in a castle, after he’s fitted her with a glass slipper.
So the idea of getting on the bus to go to a council building didn’t quite compute.
‘It’s like a wedding but it’s not a wedding,’ I offered. The ‘not-a-wedding’ bit stuck and she started talking about it over the following days. ‘I can wear this to your not-a-wedding, can’t I, Mummy?’ she would say. And, ‘Are Grandma and Grandad coming to your not-a-wedding?’
Although we chose, mainly for Sidonie’s sake, to have a no-frills ceremony with vows to be ‘loving and faithful’ and traditional ‘I wills’ (you can have a standard ceremony based on a civil marriage, or write your own), it wasn’t necessary.
While a marriage is solemnised by saying legally prescribed words, for a civil partnership you merely have to sign a legal document in front of two witnesses — which is, frankly, about as romantic as making a will. We didn’t need a ring, either, but I’m not one to turn down a gift of jewellery, and it felt right. The ring I picked, gold with three intertwined circles, is both simple and quirky, a symbolic of our union. It’s not an engagement ring or a wedding ring, but I have agreed to wear it on the third finger of my left hand, which is said to connect with the heart.
The bride enjoyed the fact there was no expectation that she would take Mickael’s surname, or that anyone would give her away, a notion which she dubs ‘outdated’, as she said she has lived at her parents’ home for 30 years
Unexpectedly, Mickael got down on one knee to present it to me on Christmas Eve 2018, in France, in front of his family. I must confess, the romance of his gesture made me happier than I would have anticipated.
Never fond of convention — even at my actual wedding ceremony, in 1998, I opted for a red velvet beaded dress rather than a bridal white one — I found choosing what to wear for our ceremony quite difficult. Furthermore, just a week after Christmas, I was still the shape of a mince pie.
The couple, happily married with a four-year-old daughter, said some people still cannot grasp what a civil partnership entails
Usually I’ll find any excuse to buy a new frock but I didn’t want to get too dressed up, especially as I’d made it clear to our guests that this wasn’t a formal occasion. On the other hand, wearing jeans and a jumper or something equally casual felt wrong, as if I was making a mockery of the event. In the end I chose a long printed dress, a favourite I’ve had for years.
People’s reactions to our decision have ranged from delighted to bewildered to outright critical of us for being awkward or contrary. Some have treated it just like a wedding and heartily congratulated us, while others haven’t known what to say or even asked why on earth we’ve done it, as if it’s some sort of affront.
When people say ‘I hope you’ll be very happy together’, I have to answer: ‘We already are. It won’t change anything.’
Very few people seem to grasp what it entails, or how it differs from marriage. To be fair, there isn’t much difference. Originally designed in 2004 for gay couples, who weren’t legally allowed to wed for another decade, civil partnership grants the same rights.
One distinction is that you can’t annul a civil partnership on grounds of non-consummation, or because one partner has a venereal disease — which, to be honest, I didn’t realise was grounds (I guess people don’t admit to it nowdays, thank goodness).
Mickael and Hilary met nine years ago in Nice, in the South of France, and have lived together in London for almost six years. The 48-year-old mother said she picked a simple gold ring with , three intertwined circles as it was ‘both simple and quirky, a symbolic of our union’
The other difference is that you can’t use adultery as a reason for dissolving a civil partnership, and it’s called a dissolution order rather than a divorce.
Otherwise, ending a civil partnership follows the same legal processes and procedures as divorce, requiring a period of legal separation or the establishment of the breakdown of the relationship, with reasons, and is just as beset by difficulties and problems. And although I very much hope I never have to use it, it’s a real shame that the divorce law wasn’t reformed before civil partnerships came into being.
The Office for National Statistics figures suggest gay civil partnerships are less likely to be dissolved than marriages, perhaps because couples who choose to have them have already been together for a long time. Nobody yet knows if the same will be true for mixed- sex civil partnerships.
Since same-sex marriage became legal in the UK in 2014, there has been a significant reduction in the number of civil partnerships, with gay couples now preferring to marry instead. It is conceivable, therefore, that in the future, civil partnership will become something mainly chosen by opposite-sex couples.
They merely had to sign a legal document in front of two witnesses on their special day
Certainly, the semantics around civil partnerships need some fine tuning. What do you call it? Getting ‘civilly partnered’ is a mouthful and sounds as if you’re going into business with your love, not committing yourself and all your worldly goods to them.
At our notice-giving appointment, even the registrar kept getting it wrong and saying ‘When you get married’.
As for what to call Mickael, I joke that he is my ‘sometimes civil partner’ I wish there was a better word. Perhaps I’ll have to invent one.
And he’ll now have to stop calling me his girlfriend, or ‘ma copine’ as they say in France. But I do like the fact that he isn’t my ‘husband’ and I’m not his ‘wife’, there is no differentiation in our roles just because of our genders.
We are both each other’s partner, the same and absolutely equal.