Sally Hall: Time for civil partnerships to be extended to straight couples

New calls have been made to offer civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
New calls have been made to offer civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
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When the first gay couple in England and Wales walked down the aisle last March, it was quite a momentous occasion.

It also reminded me of how much has changed since my student days in the Nineties, when same-sex marriage was pretty unthinkable.

At that time there wasn’t even a glimmer of conversation about gay weddings, let alone national debates about whether two brides should wear ‘pants-pants, pants-dress, or dress-dress’ for their nuptials (as I recently heard on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour).

Weirdly though, the discourse that dominated my university days was in many ways more radical. 
One of my most interesting modules focused on ideas of ‘transgressive sexuality and cultural dissidence’.

This involved some pretty eye-popping reading material – and a way of seeing the world that really challenged my own prejudices.

The perspective of many of the writers I studied was that heterosexual identities were constructed to promote conformity to a patriarchal hegemony.

In contrast, gay people were free to construct their own identities; to be playful about gender and sexuality, and to elide the oppressive institutions and expectations that straight people allowed themselves to be imprisoned by.

Marriage? It was almost a dirty word.

Why would people choose to subject themselves to a conformist state-sanctioned union, itself carrying the weight of hundreds of years of religious oppression, when they could remain free to explore their sexual identities in a transgressive and creative way?

Twenty years later, I think I know at least one answer to this question.

A loving, happy partnership with someone you adore is much more satisfying (and less exhausting) than pursuing a thrilling transgressive identity which almost certainly involves years of heartbreak and break-up ice cream eating marathons. 
So the conversation has moved on – and so have I. But my doubts about the institution of marriage remain.

I don’t take a hard line on the issue. I’m the first to get the hankies out at my friends’ weddings – and I’m a sucker for a gorgeous frock.

But something about marriage, and weddings, makes me feel ideologically uncomfortable.  Maybe it’s the language of ownership and obedience; the historical idea of women as little more than vessels of exchange.

Sounds far-fetched, till I remember that women of my Mum’s generation still required their husband’s permission to get a credit card.

So in a way, ever since gay marriage became a reality, I’ve experienced a niggle of discord.

When civil partnership became legal in 2004, it seemed to me an exciting way of sidestepping the baggage associated with marriage.

But ironically, in creating equality between gay and straight relationships by sanctioning same-sex marriage, an unequal situation has arisen.

I agree totally with Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfield, who filed a judicial review at the High Court last month calling for civil partnership to be opened up to heterosexual couples.

As Rebecca Steinfield says: ‘It just seems so logical and reasonable that any social institution in a democratic society should be open to anybody.

‘A civil partnership is a much more accurate reflection of how we see each other and our relationship, in a way that being husband and a wife just wouldn’t mesh.’

My wish for 2015 is that the campaign is successful.


A novel way to solve your debt problems

Lots of us will be left with credit card bills bigger than our hangovers after the revelry of last week.

So here’s a suggestion for cutting the debt down – start a girl group.

That’s the raison d’etre for Japanese band The Margarines, which was formed specifically to cut the personal debt of each member.

Comprising nine girls in total, the band owes a whopping £700,000 between them. A big proportion of the cash is owed by Mami Nishida, 30, who needs to cough up almost £500,000 following the collapse of her family’s business empire.

‘Tough times bring opportunity,’ she said (probably between gritted teeth).

The band members auditioned for their place in The Margarines – although unlike some other Japanese girl groups, they haven’t had to sign a ‘no dating’ clause. 
In order to clear their debts, the band will need to sell at least 10,000 albums. Their first record, Goodbye Debt Heaven, is set to shoot up the charts soon following its release last month.


Solution to post Christmas trauma of ‘beauty and the bin’

Here’s a way to solve two post-festive season annoyances in one go.

Firstly, January’s pasty winter skin, made almost translucent in my case by lack of sunshine, late nights and unhealthy eating habits.

Then there’s the second niggle – overflowing bins. Even if the bin trucks have been down your street, remembering to put out the rubbish is trickier when your routine’s been set out of whack by Christmas and New Year.

So, how about combining the two things?

A beauty advice blog recently advocated digging out the coffee grounds from amidst the detritus of sprouts trimmings and party poppers. 
Caffeine is frequently used as an ingredient in eye creams, as it tightens the skin and reduces puffiness.

Don’t drink coffee? A tea bag works just as well, if not better, as there’s extra antioxidants in there - and it’s less messy too.

(Although if you’ve managed to dig out those coffee grounds there’s another use for them too – as a cellulite-busting thigh scrub.)

A more glamorous option for those who’ve managed to get down some of the green stuff over the past week or so is an avocado face mask.

Apparently Victoria Beckham swears by this treatment, which is rich in Vitamin E.

But if the thought of rifling through the rubbish for beauty solutions leaves you cold, maybe it’s time to spend some of that Christmas money on a facial (and how about putting the bin out on your way to the appointment while you’re at it?).