I recently submitted written testimony to the UK Parliament to support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which would expand on protections the LGBT community in Britain received in 2004 with the advent of civil partnerships.
My friends might be puzzled about the apparent turnaround in my thinking– because I originally thought ‘marriage’ was an unnecessary step. Now, however, I believe that civil partnerships provide us only with a token gesture, not true equality.
There is a reason that I feel so strongly about the need for a public affirmation of loving relationships between same-sex couples.
Twenty-five years ago my long-term life partner was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had just celebrated his fortieth birthday, and I was thirty two. We led a simple life, safe and secure in each other’s company and had plans to go into business together.
That future was not to be.
In the four months between diagnosis and Robert’s death, I was his sole caregiver. We shared a sad, exhausting and poignant time, but I am thankful I was able to be there for him.
At that time I worked in health care and my colleagues were the consultants who treated my partner’s cancer. As a result, I was given access to information about his case and was able to make decisions for him and look after him in our home during the last week of his life. As we did not have the protections offered by civil partnership or marriage, if his family had wanted him to be in the hospital that is where he would have died.
After he died, in the midst of all my grief, it quickly became apparent that I had no rights and protections. Our relationship was simply viewed by his family as a firm friendship between two men.
I was able to stand close to his coffin at his funeral – which was very important to me. But I was asked to collect my possessions and a few of Robert’s things that the family agreed I might have. Within a few weeks, it was expected I would relocate. As I recently had inherited my grandmother’s house, I was lucky I had a home to go to.
Fortunately for us, his family did not want to be involved in these decisions, so I was able to take Robert home. If these doctors and nurses had not known me personally, he and I would have missed out on the most important journey we were to make, caring for each other, as we moved towards his death together.
The effect of this experience was to make me feel alienated from the society in which I lived, because I was not afforded the same rights as other – heterosexual – couples.
Of course, my experience is not unique amongst gay and lesbian couples.
This is why civil partnerships, which were allowed under UK law in 2004, were a vital first step to provide equal protection under the law. If we had been civil partners, or married, those rights would have been available to us without my health-care connections. Gay and lesbian couples who enter civil partnerships are now protected in important legal areas, such as housing, finances and much more.
However, while such partnerships give security, they do not provide a couple with the opportunity to make a public declaration of their love, similar to heterosexual couples. In my mind, marriage confers something more than two people sharing the expenses of a home. People who really knew my partner and me understood the depth of our love and commitment. It was more than a simple housing arrangement.
Couples who are able to get married will be able to publicly celebrate and declare their love and commitment, while still having the benefit of the legal protections of civil partnerships. Yes, it is about protection, but it also is about equality in love – a universal need.
As I write, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has reached the report stage before final reading and submission to the House of Lords. My heart and mind trust that my country will ultimately pass this bill so that all couples may look forward to a time where loving relationships are equally recognised under the law – and by society.
** Steven Warren is a London-based author, psychotherapist and counsellor, specialising in loss, transition and change. Steven is currently writing a book on ‘The Power of Caring’. This article is based on testimony submitted to the House of Commons. email@example.com