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.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue