As heterosexual couples gain access to Civil Partnerships, why not offer legal partnerships to platonic couples, too?by Julian Baggini / July 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
Every now again I see a senior citizen at cafe counter responding to a bewildering array of options with a pleading “Just an ordinary coffee, please.” Such encounters are fractals of a pattern that recurs in every corner of the modern world. There is a proliferation of choices in almost every aspect of our lives, including ones as intimate as gender and sexuality. Believing that people are either gay or straight is now as naive as thinking that coffee is either black or white.
When it comes to the legal arrangement for cohabitation, however, we’re closer to the world of instant or ground than the one in which people recognise their cisgender privilege and understand why even LGBTQ+ leaves some people out.
Same-sex marriage only became possible in 2014, following the introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex, and same-sex only, couples in 2004. Now, following a Supreme Court ruling last week, anyone wanting to make a legal commitment will soon be able to opt for marriage or civil partnership.
This greater inclusivity is to be welcomed. But the current two-option menu is in one sense remarkably restrictive: it is designed only for couples in what is presumed to be a sexual relationship. Start to ask why this should be so, and it’s hard to find a good reason.
Marriage and civil partnership laws have evolved haphazardly out of historically and culturally ubiquitous social conventions for human pair-bonding. Religious morality has often been the official justification for these conventions but the more fundamental reason for their existence across cultures with different religions (or none) is surely children. Any functioning society has to make parents responsible for their offspring. Marriage is a way of binding parents or parents-to-be together in a way that is publicly visible, thereby making them accountable.
Relatively recently, the connection between pair-bonding and reproduction has weakened. There have always been couples who did not reproduce—rarely out of choice; mainly because of the lack of one. But as soon as humans found reliable forms of contraception, many decided to use them indefinitely. Once the link between sex and reproduction was broken, homosexuality came to be seen less as an aberration and more as simple…