Most families welcome civil partnerships, study shows

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The first major research into attitudes to same sex civil partnerships since they were legalised in December 2005 has shown general acceptance from families and friends, with some exceptions.

The study, carried out by sociologists at The University of Manchester, was based on interviews and focus groups with 91 gay men and lesbians who are either planning or have had a civil partnership.

Professor Carol Smart, who lead the research said: “We found that the reasons couples enter into a civil partnership can vary according to their age, whether they have children, their need to access certain legal rights and their views on the institution of marriage itself.

“Little attention has been paid, however, to what getting married means for the couple’s relationships with their family of origin or with their friends.

“We found an overall level of acceptance of civil partnerships from families. The new in-law was welcomed as a member of the family and this was a cause for celebration.

“However, at the other extreme some gay men and lesbians experienced telling their families of their plans like ‘coming out’ again.

She added: “The reaction of friends could also pose problems. While some could be entirely supportive, others saw it as a capitulation to heterosexual norms and to straight society.

“And for some parents it meant that they could no longer assume that their son or daughter was going through a ‘phase’ that they would grow out of.”

The research also found that couples held a wide variety of ceremonies including Shamanic, Pagan, Christian and Humanist while half of the respondents hoped that legally recognised religious marriage would one day be available to same-sex couples.

The University of Manchester’s Head of Academic Services for Humanities, 53-year-old Neil Ferguson, formed a civil partnership with Helge Hoel, 51, in March this year. Mr Hoel is a lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester Business School. They have been together for 16 years.

Mr Ferguson said: “Civil Partnerships are a huge advance as they give same sex couples similar rights which heterosexual couples have enjoyed for many years. It also enables same sex couples to make a public commitment to each other.

“Before, couples would have been forced to make all sorts of complicated legal and financial provisions and would not have been able to be legally classed as “next of kin”. Now everything is a matter of course and that really makes a difference.

“We experienced no negative reactions from family and friends at all and were very open about it. We also had a party at the university which was great fun.

“Helge’s sister Hilde, a civil servant in Oslo, is actually working on a new marriage law in Norway which is based on the Spanish model, giving the same rights to all couples regardless of sexual orientation.

” But having said that, religious recognition is not really an issue for me.”

University of Manchester Professor of Dental Health Services Research Liz Kay, 47, formed a civil partnership with her partner Stella Tinsley, 40 in April. Ms Tinsley is an equestrian business woman.

Professor Kay said: “We didn’t want any fuss as we did this mainly for legal reasons. If anything happened to me, Stella would previously have been liable for inheritance tax.

“We also wanted other rights that heterosexual married couples enjoy, such as the right to be each others next of kin. After 14 years together I think that’s the least we could expect.

“So the rights conferred by civil partnership makes life so much easier.”

She added: “But it’s not about wanting to ape heterosexual couples and for that reason we didn’t want a white wedding with lots of fuss.

“We were immensely touched by the excitement and pleasure all our heterosexual friends seemed to feel for us”.