University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Civil Partnership Ceremonies: (Hetero)normativity, Ritual and Gender.

Peel, Elizabeth (2014) Civil Partnership Ceremonies: (Hetero)normativity, Ritual and Gender. In: ‘Marriage Rites and Rights’ Cambridge University Socio-Legal Group Workshop, 1st - 2nd April 2014, Trinity College, University of Cambridge. (Unpublished)

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The Civil Partnership Act (2004) came into force at the end of 2005 and, for the first time in the UK, provided a legally recognised status for same sex relationships. It marked a historical shift in the legal and societal landscape for same sex couples from being able to undertake the ceremonial aspect of marking commitment (Lewin, 1998) to ostensibly having civil marriage (Jowett & Peel, 2010). The empirical research that this chapter draws on was conducted around the time civil partnership was introduced, and comprised of interviews (n= 52) or qualitative questionnaires (n=72) with 124 lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) people either planning or having had a civil partnership. The 47 civil partnership ceremonies the participants had experienced were mostly conducted in 2006. With regard to the demographic characteristics of this sub-set of the “first wave” of civilly partnered couples 59% were women, of which 94% identified their sexuality as lesbian. All of the men identified as gay. Their mean age was 42.6 years (range 20-83 years) and the average length of their relationship was 11 years 4 months (range 1.5-36 years). Nearly all participants were white and did not classify themselves as disabled, 85% self-identified as middle class (15% working class) and most (75%) had experienced University level education and were employed (78%). Nearly half the sample reported their religion/belief was Christian (49%) and most did not have children (76%). Utilizing the qualitative questionnaire data and semi-structured interviews with these couples, I unpack some of the gendered dimensions embedded in lesbians and gay men’s understandings and enactments of civil partnership ceremonies. In so doing, I begin to theorise the intersection of gender and sexuality with regard to relational practices, and highlight the status of lesbians as de facto women and gay men as men.
Most participants did draw on various aspects of wedding rituals when discussing the creation of their own civil partnership ceremony. As one male participant suggested: ‘I think civil partnerships have offered a really good opportunity for people to be creative and for people to do the things they want to do and not to be bound by a marriage ceremony’; another male participant encapsulated the “smorgasbord” approach in saying ‘we’ve just cherry picked mercilessly’. However, male and female participants often talked about their civil partnership ceremonies differently and displayed a variant ideological and practical stance on ‘wedding rituals’. For instance, gay male couples described creating lavish weddings embodying both the trappings and the language of heterosexual marriage. The materialism that inhered to this more extravagant approach was commonly redirected as a resistance to ‘camp’, for example ‘pink limos or anything “too much”‘. By contrast, lesbian couples were more critical of the heteropatriarchal associations of marriage and often articulated a preference for ‘low-key’ civil partnership ceremonies; not wanting a ‘big do’ or ‘large bash’. The women were generally more critical of the consumerism and materialism associated with public relationship celebration than the men, and stressed differences between heterosexual marriage and civil partnership. But for some their ceremony ‘escalated’ into a larger scale event than originally planned.
Same sex relationships are typically conceptualised as devoid of gender and gendered power relations, however, lesbian and gay male couples’ accounts of, and approaches to, their own civil partnerships demonstrate the implicit but thoroughgoing gendered nature of civil partnership. This crucial gendered axis also intersects with class and fiscal privilege, as well as women’s and men’s differential relationships with marriage norms and practices. I argue that radical and assimilationist politics can be ascribed to lesbians and gay men’s enactments of civil partnership ceremonies, and that gender dynamics are infused with other forms of privilege and marginalisation. This analysis highlights the importance of intersectional analyses of same sex relationships and the need to position lesbians and gay men within matrices of sexuality and gender. I also point towards the ways in which weddings and marriage, as archetypal indicators of heteronormativity, may be being reshaped as no longer invariably heteronormative (or indeed “homonormative”), and the creative remodelling of wedding ritual could signal a transformative shift in business of doing marriage rites for all.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: civil partnership ceremonies, sexuality, gender, marriage, heteronormativity, ritual
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Divisions: College of Business, Psychology and Sport > School of Psychology
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Elizabeth Peel
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2014 09:38
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 17:05

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