New feature: In the name of the father…

// 21 August 2008

For many women, getting married still means changing their name. Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams has an alternate proposal

Very recently I was married. It was 10 years in the making, and still I did it with some trepidation – not because I was afraid of what it would mean to be legally bound to my husband henceforth, but what it would mean to me as a feminist.

Indeed, many couples still choose to get married. I say ‘choose’, because now more than ever, marriage really is a choice. I also choose the word ‘still’ very carefully, because, I am told (recently by a Cheshire County Registrar), that the Marriage Act has not changed since 1948 – despite the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

I was completely in ignorance of this fact – assuming that the general status of marriage had received a well earned shake-up with the advent of said civil partnerships – and so was left feeling slightly foolish and a tad wronged when I skipped into the registry office with my soon-to-be husband looking for something new and shiny out of the marriage contract. And why shouldn’t I, I thought, explaining to the registrar my ideas about the business of relationship contracts. Indeed, feminism is about expanding choices and certainly not about pretending that old ‘choices’ are in fact choices at all and I wondered how many women had been in there before me pondering the equality of what they were about to do, finger poised on the pen.

But I was already committed and in faint rebellion, I wrote a formal letter of complaint about the marriage certification (amongst other things) – why ever did it ask for father’s status and not mother’s – bearing in mind that the equivilent for newly minted civil partnerships asks for both? No matter, the Marriage Act had not changed, but I had already changed my mind. I lurched under the sense that filling out that form was an act of submission to the cosh of an insidious patriarchy that just refuses to die; that even when I thought I was making decisions and choices based on what was best for me – I was just bending over for some.

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