Marriage certificates include the father's name, but omit the mother. Photo: Getty
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Why I refuse to get married until we have equality on the certificate

Marriage certificates only include your father’s name – to reinvent marriage as a twenty-first century institution, this must change.

A few months ago, my boyfriend proposed. I have dubbed his proposal the “nonposal”, a label he vociferously rejects. The words “marry” or “marriage” were not mentioned, making it hard to grasp what he was getting at. The next stage I entered into was denial, because the nonposal came off the back of a pretty intense argument. But eventually, I accepted that his casual “Well shall we get engaged then?”, was in fact his lovingly inelegant way of telling me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

I said yes.

And then the doubts set in. Not about my boyfriend – I know I love him, I know I want to make a commitment to him. The doubts were about the institution of marriage itself – and they took me by surprise. On the few times I'd vaguely thought about getting married, my concerns had been with the ceremony. I didn't want to “obey” anyone; I didn't want to be “given away” like I was a chattel. Having always considered marriage to be no more than a public declaration of commitment, by two people who love each other, I held no reservations about the institution.

But having got engaged, my concerns now were with the state of being married itself. Suddenly all I could think about were the hundreds of years where marriage was little more than an oppressive means of exchange, where women were worth no more than the property they represented and the children they could bear, where consent had no meaningful status. History weighed heavily on my mind. I felt deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing. I felt dishonest. I didn't want to pledge my allegiance to such an institution. I didn't want to assimilate my private love into a system that represented everything I hate about society. To get married, no matter how equitable and loving our own relationship was, felt like a betrayal of all the women who had gone before me, who had been sold into a system with no way out, who had been abused, beaten, killed. Whose names had not mattered, only those of their fathers, husbands and sons. How could I, in good faith, take part in such a charade? I thought seriously about giving up my embarrassingly traditional dreams of a church wedding with beautiful vows and a drunken champagne-soaked bash to follow.

But, over time, I became used to the idea. I talked away my concerns. I convinced myself that I was being ridiculous. I thought of all the marriages that I admire, that made me think “that's what I want”. I told myself that I, along with all the other people who get married today in full awareness of marriage's oppressive past, could reinvent marriage for the twenty-first century. And I knew that, for me, the central part of the whole event, the public declaration of commitment, was something I wasn't prepared to give up. It felt like such a beautiful and sacred thing to do.

I haven't really thought about marriage much since those early weeks. The actual wedding is over a year off, because there is no way either of us have time to plan anything before then. So we've just been muddling along, being happily engaged.

But this week, I read an article by Holly Baxter about civil partnership. Apparently, our revered prime minister, our dear leader in all things moral, has been expressing concerns about allowing civil partnerships for heterosexual couples. Such a step would, he gravely claimed, “undermine the sanctity of marriage”. And therefore he intends to veto such a step.

To be honest, I've never really considered a civil partnership – and not just because I can't have one. The term sounds so bureaucratic, so soulless. It seems totally at odds with the type of relationship it is meant to honour. For the same reason, despite my reservations about the patriarchal nature of the Church of England, I would never consider having a civil wedding. It is no doubt illogical, and obviously many people feel differently, but I personally find something comforting, awe-inspiring, about repeating words that are centuries old, in a building where thousands of couples down the ages have done the same. It reminds me how small I am, it reminds me of community, of the stretch of history. It feels solid – like I want my marriage to be.

But then Holly started explaining what the differences were between marriages and civil partnerships: “Civil partnerships also include the names of both parents of each partner on the certificate, rather than merely the names of the fathers,” she wrote. I read this simple sentence with horror and felt all my reservations rush back, with a new intensity. I can deal with the “walking down the aisle” thing – I can simply choose not to do it. But this? This was a legal document. And it would have a space for my father – and nothing for my mother. Like the woman who has brought me up, who has been an inspiration and rock for me all my life, who has taught me how to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep going, no matter what life throws at me, doesn't matter. Like she doesn't exist.

I cannot, in good faith, take part in an institution that, in the twenty-first century, thinks this is an acceptable state of affairs. I will not take any vow issued by a system that is complicit in the symbolic and cultural annihilation of women. I cannot sully a relationship that means so much to me, by associating it with an institution that renders my mother worthless, invisible, surplus to requirements.

In the meantime, kind friends have informed me that I have the option to draw up an agreement with a solicitor, which is what I'm currently looking at. But I still have hope. There is a petition on change.org asking the equalities minister to change this antiquated and needlessly discriminatory state of affairs. I have hope that, given we are in the twenty-first century, given there can be no possible objections to such a simple change and given, as I said, my wedding is a while off yet, we can change this before then, and I can stand up in front of my friends and family, and publicly pledge to spend the rest of my life with the man I love.

 

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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