Category Same sex marriages

The men

201a Outside of the age range. Not included in the analysis.

201b Outside of the age range. Not included in the analysis.

202a Daniel is a 34-year-old, white, British man. He lives with his partner Robert in London. Daniel was 31 when they entered into civil partnership. They have been together for nearly 8 years, although they separated for a few months. They live in London. Daniel’s family of origin do not live locally.

202b Robert is Daniel’s partner. He is a 32-year-old, white, non-EU national. Robert moved to the UK to continue his relationship with Daniel. They have been in a civil partnership for nearly three years. Robert’s family of origin live overseas.

203a Mark is a 25-year-old, white, British man. He has been with Callum for less than a year and they entered into civil partnership just over a month ago. He and Callum live in the South of England and have been harassed by their neighbour. Mark’s family of origin live a long distance away. He fled his fam­ily home because of his sexuality.

203b Callum is a 21-year-old, white, British man. He is Mark’s partner. They entered into civil partnership just over a month ago after a short relationship. Callum is very close to his family of origin who live around the corner. They are in the process of moving house.

204a Andrew and Graham are partners. Andrew is a 29-year-old, white, non-EU national. He met Graham in the UK less than a year ago. They have been in a civil partnership for three months. Andrew and Graham live in London. His family of origin live overseas.

204b Graham is 35 years old. He is white and British. He entered into civil partner­ship with Andrew three months ago. Graham grew up in care and was ‘battered around’ the system as he describes it. His foster family live outside London.

205a Kevin is a 34-year-old, white, British man. He is Jorge’s partner. They entered into civil partnership just over two years ago. Kevin and Jorge live together in the South East of England where Kevin has lived all his life. His family of origin live locally.

205b Jorge is 28, white and an EU national. He and Kevin have been in a civil partnership for 25 months. This is Jorge’s first same-sex relationship and only sexual partner. Jorge came out to his family of origin when he entered into civil partnership with Kevin. His family of origin live abroad.

206a Jeremy is a 29-year-old, white, British man. He has been in a relationship with Stewart for about six years. They entered into civil partnership just under three years ago. Jeremy and Stewart live in the South East of England. They have a lodger. Jeremy’s family of origin live nearby.

206b Stewart and Jeremy are partners. Stewart is a 27-year-old, white non-EU national. He and Jeremy have been together for six years and in a civil part­nership for around three years. Stewart has no previous relationship experi­ence. His family of origin live overseas.

207a Outside of the age range. Not included in the analysis.

207b Outside of the age range. Not included in the analysis.

208a Jan is a 27-year-old, white, EU national. Jan and Diego met in the UK and have been in a civil partnership for 15 months. When Jan met Diego about three years ago, he was involved with someone else. Jan and Diego live in the South East of England. Jan’s family of origin live overseas.

208b Diego is a 26-year-old, white, EU national. He and Jan are partners. When Diego started going out with Jan, his best friend proved very ‘jealous’ and tried to put a ‘wedge’ between them. Diego gave her an ultimatum. He never saw her again. Diego’s family of origin live overseas.

209a Frederik is a 36-year-old, white, British man. He has been involved with Tim for about eight years and has been in a civil partnership for just over two years. Frederik has a chronic health condition. He and Tim live in the South East of England. His family of origin live ‘just around the corner’.

209b Tim is 33 years old. He and Frederik are partners. Like Frederik, Tim is white and British. He, too, has a chronic health condition. His family of ori­gin live in a different part of the UK.

210a Ben is a 32-year-old, white, British man. He was 29 when he entered into civil partnership with Oliver after a five-year relationship. They met abroad where they both worked. Ben was bullied at work and struggles with anxiety. They live in the South East of England where Ben’s family of origin live.

210b Oliver is Ben’s partner. He is aged 30 years, white and British. While Ben is receiving treatment to manage his anxiety, Oliver looks after most of Ben’s personal needs. They also had a religious blessing when they entered into civil partnership nearly three-and-a-half years ago.

211a Edwin is a 27-year-old, white, non-EU national. He met Ivan in London and they have been in a civil partnership for nearly three years. Edwin and Ivan live in a shared household in London. Edwin’s family live overseas.

211b Ivan is Edwin’s partner. He is 30 years old, white and British. Ivan entered into a civil partnership with Ivan almost three years ago. They find it difficult to make ends meet in London where they live. Ivan’s family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

212a Otto is a 32-year-old, white, British man. He met his partner Phil about eight years ago. They have now been in a civil partnership for 19 months. Otto and Phil lived separately for many years before they decided to share a home. They now live in Scotland. Otto’s mother lives locally.

212b Phil was 34 years old when he entered into civil partnership with Otto 19 months ago. Like Otto, Phil is white and British. Phil’s family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

213a Felix is 34 years old. He is white and British. Felix entered into civil part­nership with Cameron when he was 30. Before that they had known each other for nearly four years. They live in the North of England but are moving abroad. His family of origin live a long distance away.

213b Cameron is a white, British man. He is the same age as his partner Felix: 34. They have been in a civil partnership for almost four years. Cameron is taking up the offer of employment overseas. Felix is moving abroad with him.

214a Albert was 29 when he entered into civil partnership with his partner Duncan. This was four years ago. He is white and British. Albert and Duncan live in Scotland. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

214b Duncan is Albert’s partner. He is a 35-year-old, white, British man. Duncan and Albert have been together for over 11 years and in a civil partnership for four years.

215a Frazer has been in a civil partnership with Todd for 16 months. He is 28 years old, white and a non-European national. He and Todd live in Scotland. His family of origin live overseas.

215b Todd is a 31-year-old, white, British man. He entered into civil partnership with Frazer 16 months ago after a nearly seven-year relationship. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

216a Peter is a 38-year-old, white, EU national. He met his partner Victor in the UK about nine years ago. They have been in a civil partnership for just under four years. Peter had never been involved with anyone else before he met Victor. They live together in Scotland. Peter’s family of origin live abroad.

216b Victor is a 36 year-old. He is white and British and entered into civil part­nership with Peter when he was 32. Unlike Peter, Victor comes from a work­ing-class background. His family of origin live locally.

217a Henry is 32-year-old, white, British man. He entered into civil partnership with Kurt four months ago. They met almost two years ago. Henry fell seri­ously ill a few years ago and lost much of his mobility. Henry and Kurt live in the South East of England. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

217b Kurt is 34. He is Henry’s partner and they have been together for nearly two years. Like Henry, Kurt has a disability. Kurt’s previous relationship was ‘closeted’. Their neighbours persistently bully them. Kurt’s family of origin live a long distance away.

218a Ian is 31 years old. At 27, he entered into a civil partnership with Neil. Ian is white and British. He has been in a civil partnership with Neil for four-and – a-half years and lives in Scotland. Ian is the proud ‘parent’ of numerous pets.

218b Neil is Ian’s partner. He is 32 years old, white and British. Neil had been involved with Ian for nearly two years when they entered into civil partner­ship. Neil is unsure if it is appropriate for them to be in an open relationship, as they are, given that they are married. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

219a Benjamin has been involved with Leroy for around 10 years. He is 29 years old, white and British, and has been in a civil partnership for one year. Benjamin had a very traumatic coming-out experience and tried to com­mit suicide on several occasions. They live in the South East of England, but his family of origin live in a different part of the country.

219b Leroy is a 35-year-old, white, British man. He and Benjamin have been together for a long time and in a civil partnership for a year. Leroy suffers from a rare health condition and has been out of work for the last two years. His family of origin live a long distance away.

220a Eric and Nathan are partners. Eric is 36 years old, white and British. Eric and Nathan have been in a relationship for about 14 years and in a civil partnership for four. Eric works and partly lives in another European country. He has a chronic health condition. Eric’s mother lives in the UK. He has no contact with his father.

220b Nathan is a 39-year-old, white, British man. He described his previous relationship as an abusive one. Nathan and Eric have been in a civil partner­ship for four years. Nathan lives alone in Scotland. His family of origin live elsewhere in the UK.

221a Lucas is 34 years old. He is white and British. Lucas has been involved with his partner Theo for 15 years. They have been in a civil partnership for just over a year. This is Lucas’s first relationship with a man, but he was involved with a woman for nearly five years before he met Theo. Lucas and Theo live in the North of England. His family of origin live in a different part to the UK.

221b Theo is Lucas’s partner. He is 33 and entered into a civil partnership with Lucas 13 months ago. Theo, who comes from a strong Catholic background, has had no sexual relationship other than that with Lucas. After all the years with Lucas, Theo’s family of origin do not know about the nature of their relationship. They live in a different part of the country.

222a Eugene comes from a strong Catholic background. He is a 26-year – old, white, non-EU national. He has been involved with Haiden for nearly four years. They entered into civil partnership one-and-a-half months ago. Eugene and Haiden live in a shared household in London. Eugene’s family of origin live overseas. He still has not told his parents about the nature of his relationship with Haiden.

222b Haiden is a 30-year-old, white, British man. He met Eugene abroad when they were both studying overseas. Haiden has had no previous sexual rela­tionships. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

223a Miguel is a 28-year-old non-EU national of a mixed-race background. He has been involved with Robin for nearly four years, but they spent most of that time apart. Miguel and Robin entered into civil partnership four months ago, just after Miguel moved to the UK. Miguel’s family of origin live overseas.

223b Robin is Miguel’s partner. He is 35 years old, white and British. Robin’s parents were initially not ‘overjoyed’ about his civil partnership with Miguel, but they are ‘kind of’ happy for Robin now. Robin and Miguel live in London, but Robin’s parents live a long distance away, in an area that Robin describes as ‘conservative’. He has been in a civil partnership for four months.

224a Chung is a 33-year-old Chinese man. He met Warren nearly six years ago and they have been in a civil partnership for three months. They have spent long periods apart. Unlike Warren, Chung has an extensive network of gay friends, which has caused arguments between them. Chung’s family of origin live overseas. He is not out to his family of origin and they do not know about his relationship with Warren.

224b Warren is a 25-year-old, white, British man. He entered into civil partner­ship with Chung just three months ago after nearly six years together. Warren met Chung abroad and they have spent long periods of living apart. Warren has had no previous relationships with men. They live in London. Warren’s family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

225a Herman is a 21-year-old white EU national. He entered into civil partner­ship with OJ a month ago after they had been together for nearly two years. When Herman and OJ met, Herman was in another relationship. They live in London, but Herman’s family of origin live overseas.

225b OJ is Herman’s partner. He is the older one of the two, 27, white and Scottish. OJ and Herman just recently entered into civil partnership, but have been involved for nearly two years. OJ describes his previous relationship as ‘volatile’. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

226a Trevor is a 34-year-old, white, British man. He and Wayne are partners. They met just under a year ago and have been in a civil partnership for six months. Their relationship is heavily influenced by their intense work com­mitments. They live in London. Trevor’s family of origin live in a different part of the country.

226b Wayne is Trevor’s partner. He is 32, white and British. He and Trevor have been involved for less than a year. They entered into civil partnership six months ago. His family of origin live in a different part of the UK.

227a Garry is a 32-year-old, white, British man. He has been involved with Umberto for nearly four years. They entered into civil partnership four months ago. Garry’s father has never come to terms with Garry’s sexuality and has banned him from seeing his mother who is chronically ill. Garry and Umberto live in London, while Garry’s family of origin live in a different part of the country.

227b Umberto is a 30-year-old EU national of a mixed-race background. His family of origin live overseas and have never come to terms with Umberto’s sexuality. This is Umberto’s first relationship. They celebrated their civil part­nership with friends. He and Garry live in London.

Biographies of Interviewees

The women

101a Amina is a 30-year-old woman who identifies as Arabic. She met her cur­rent partner Josha less than two years ago and they have now been in a civil partnership for five months. Their marriage was instigated by Amina’s non – EU citizenship. Amina and Josha live together in Amina’s flat in North of England. She rarely sees her family of origin who live abroad.

101b Josha is Amina’s partner. She is a 22-year-old of Pakistani origin. On com­pletion of her studies, she is expected to marry a man. Her relationship with Amina is kept secret from her family of origin, and both she and Amina know that their marriage is temporary. Josha has never been in a relationship with a woman before.

102a Outside of the age range. Not included in the main analysis.

102b Outside of the age range. Not included in the main analysis.

103a Radinka is a 31-year-old white EU national. She moved to England where she met her current partner Kamilia. Three years into their relationship they decided to marry. Radinka and Kamilia live in a shared household in the South East of England. They want to leave the city. They have now been in a civil partnership for eight months.

103b Kamilia is Radinka’s partner. She is 29. Like Radinka, she is a white EU national. They have been in a civil partnership for eight months after a three – year relationship. Kamilia’s parents live abroad and did not make it to her wedding. Neither did Radinka’s parents.

104a Doris is a 35-year-old, white, British woman. She initially met her part­ner Maria at church, at a point when Maria had just conceived a child. She entered into a relationship with Maria some years later. A few years into their relationship they had a religious ‘blessing’ and entered into civil partnership four years ago. They live in London with their eight-year-old daughter.

104b Maria is a 33-year-old black woman of Caribbean origin. While her part­ner is middle-class, Maria is not. Maria has a daughter who was conceived through donor insemination. The biological father has never been involved in the child’s life. Maria has dealt with some serious health concerns, and this has impacted on the relationship, which has become more of a struggle recently.

105a Kathryn is a white British woman. She is 37 and has been involved with Louise for nearly eight years. They entered into civil partnership about five years ago. They wanted to have a family together and are now expecting their second child. Both children have been conceived through assisted insemina­tion. It is her partner Louise’s turn to carry their child this time. She lives in the South East of England.

105b Louise is white and British. She and Kathryn are partners. She is pregnant with their second child. Louise was 30 when they became civil partners.

Her family of origin lives in the North of England. Because of the distance from where they live, they do not have much contact. But Kathryn’s parents live closer. Louise does not like the area they live in and feels isolated.

106a Angela is a 31-year-old white EU national. She entered into civil partner­ship with Nancy a month-and-a-half ago. Before that, they had been involved for almost five years. They live in London in a shared household with two flatmates. Angela was initially very sceptical about marriage, as her parents do not have a good married relationship.

106b Nancy is a white, 29-year-old, non-EU national who lives in a shared household in London with her partner Angela. They entered into civil part­nership a month-and-a-half ago. Nancy feels she was blamed for her parents’ failed relationship. Her parents have divorced and live abroad, and this has led to a sense of estrangement from them.

107a Juliet is a 36-year-old, white, British woman. She entered into civil partner­ship with Veronica when she was 33 after a seven-year relationship. Juliet and Veronica live in the South East of England. Their relationship is an emotion­ally and sexually non-monogamous one.

107b Veronica is a 34-year-old, white, British woman. She met Juliet, her current partner, 10 years ago. They have been in a civil partnership for three years. Veronica has had a previous serious relationship, which she describes as very problematic. She feels lucky that Juliet has ‘no baggage’.

108a Hanna is 26. She is white and British. When she met Tammy, her partner, she was still living at home with her parents. Hanna and Tammy entered into civil partnership 10 months ago. They live together in the North East of England and have just applied to adopt a child. Hanna’s family of origin live locally.

108b Tammy is a 29-year-old, white, British woman. She is Hanna’s partner. Like Hanna she lived with her parents when they first met. Tammy’s family of origin, like Hanna’s, live locally. Tammy was ‘cheated’ on in her previous relationship. She initially struggled to build trust with Hanna, but over time feels they have done that.

109a Zoe is 26. She is white and British. Zoe became a mother in her teens. She had no previous experience of relationships with women before she met her partner Rebecca. They entered into civil partnership 10 months ago, after nearly five years together. Zoe, Rebecca and their three children live in the North East of England. Her family of origin live nearby.

109b Rebecca is a 34-year-old, white, British woman. She was married to a man before she entered into civil partnership with her current partner Zoe. Rebecca has two children from previous relationships with men, and together Zoe and Rebecca are raising three children. They have been together for over five years and in a civil partnership for 10 months. Rebecca’s family of origin, like Zoe’s, live locally.

110a Stacy is a white, non-EU national. She is 34 years old. Stacy first met her cur­rent partner Theresa nearly 10 years ago when Theresa travelled from the UK for a summer job. For the next six years, they lived in two separate countries. Stacy moved to the UK just before they entered into civil partnership about three years ago. Her family of origin, all devoted Christians, live abroad.

110b Theresa is a 31-year-old, white, British woman. She is in a civil partnership with Stacy. They spent the first six years of their relationship in two different countries, but have lived together for just over three years and been in a civil partnership for the same length of time. They live together in the South East of England, but want to move abroad. Theresa’s parents live locally.

111a Barbara is a 32-year-old, white, British woman. She had been involved with Nicole for just under six years when they entered into civil partnership. This was nearly one-and-a-half years ago. They live in London, but want to move to a larger property. Her family of origin live locally.

111b Nicole is a 29-year-old, white, British woman. She and Barbara are part­ners. They have been in a civil partnership for 16 months. Nicole has been involved with Barbara for over seven years. Nicole lives with Barbara in London. Her family of origin live close by.

112a Caroline is a 35-year-old, white, British woman. She met her partner Edith when she was working abroad. This was just over four years ago and for the last 17 months they have been in a civil partnership. Caroline and Edith live in London. Her family of origin live in the UK, but quite a distance away. Caroline would like to return to Edith’s home country.

112b Edith and Caroline are partners. Edith is a 35-year-old, non-EU national. She is from a mixed-race background. Edith and Caroline were flatmates before entering into a couple relationship. About three years later they entered into civil partnership, 17 months ago. Edith was 33 at the time. Unlike Caroline, Edith has had a ‘typical middle class’ upbringing. Her family of origin live abroad.

113a Fay is a 35-year-old British woman and a mother of two children. She entered into civil partnership with her partner Olivia two years ago when they had been involved with each other for nearly eight years. The children were both conceived by donor insemination and the biological father has agreed no contact. Fay, Olivia and their two children live in London with both of their families nearby.

113b Olivia is a 30-year-old, white, British woman. She carried both of her and Fay’s children. Olivia and Fay entered into civil partnership two years ago and have been involved for nearly a decade. She had no previous sexual experi­ence with women. The family live in London.

114a Ellen is a 31-year-old woman of mixed white and Asian background. She entered into civil partnership with Holly a year ago after being together for nearly three years. Ellen and Holly live in London, but neither of them likes the area they live in. Holly wants to move back to her home country, but Ellen is not convinced due to her mother’s chronic health conditions.

114b Holly is 26. She is white and a non-EU national. She met her current part­ner Ellen in the UK nearly three years ago. They have been in a civil partner­ship for a year now. Holly wants to move back to her home country where her parents still live. Her relationship with Ellen is her first relationship with a woman.

115a Cori is a 31-year-old, white, British woman. She first met Gillian when she was working overseas. She was 17. They have been together ever since, but spent many years living in separate countries. Cori and Gillian have been in a civil partnership for just over three years. They live in the North West of England. Cori has no previous relationship experiences with women.

115b Gillian is Cori’s partner. She is a 31-year-old, white, non-EU national. When she met Cori she was still living with her parents overseas. This was

Gillian’s first relationship with a woman. Cori returned to the UK and their relationship continued. When Gillian’s parents found out about it, they tried to put a stop to the relationship. Gillian eventually moved to the UK. They have been in a civil partnership for just over three years. Gillian’s parents still live overseas.

116a Isabel is white and British. She is 25 and entered into a civil partnership with her partner Samantha five months ago. They have been involved for just over two years now and are raising a child – who has regular contact with his father – together. Isabel finds it difficult to fit in with the existing family structure. Her parents live a long way away.

116b Samantha and Isabel are partners. Samantha is a 27-year-old, white, British woman. She is the birth mother of a five-year-old child. Samantha, Isabel and their son live together in the North West of England, near Samantha’s family of origin.

117a Linda is a 34-year-old, white, British woman. She met her partner Natalie around three years ago and within a year they had entered into civil partner­ship. Linda comes from a religious background and has limited experience of relationships with other women. She and Natalie live in the North West of England. Her family of origin live locally.

117b Natalie is Linda’s partner. She is 35 years old, white and British. Natalie has been ‘out’ since her early teenage years and has had a series of difficult rela­tionships with women. Within a year of meeting Linda, they entered into civil partnership, just over two years ago now. Her family of origin live nearby.

118a Andrea is a 29-year-old, white, British woman. She has been in a relation­ship with Helen for nine years. They entered into civil partnership four years ago. This is Andrea’s first and only relationship. They live together with Andrea’s parents. Neither of them calls it home but ‘the house’.

118b Helen is a 30-year-old, white, non-EU national. She and Andrea met in the UK about nine years ago and have been in a civil partnership for nearly four years. Helen comes from a religious background. She has much more experience of relationships than Andrea. They live in Wales. Helen’s family of origin live overseas.

119a Moreen is 31. She is white and British. At the age of 28, Moreen entered into civil partnership with her partner Pam. By then they had been in a relationship for nearly three years. They also had a religious blessing of their relationship. Moreen and Pam live together in Scotland, but Moreen’s family of origin live down south.

119b Pam is Moreen’s partner. She is 27, white and British. Before she met Moreen, Pam had had no previous experiences of relationships with women. They have now been together for six years and in a civil partnership for nearly three. Pam and Moreen met at church. Pam’s family of origin live around the corner.

120a Dawn is a 36-year-old, white, British woman. She met Hailee about five years ago and they have been in a civil partnership for 16 months. Dawn and Hailee have a four-month-old baby, who was conceived by anonymous sperm dona­tion. Dawn carried the child. They live in a ‘straight’ and ‘settled’ area, as they call it, in the South East of England. Dawn’s family of origin live overseas.

120b Hailee and Dawn are partners. Hailee is a 34-year-old, white, British woman, a mother of a four-month-old baby. Hailee and Dawn met through church and have been together for around five years. They entered into civil

partnership 16 months ago. Hailee’s family of origin do not live in the area that she lives in.

121a Brooklyn is 35. She is white and British. She met her partner Sara when she was working abroad. Within a year they had entered into civil partnership. This was 17 months ago. Brooklyn is 10 years older than Sara. They live in a shared household in London. Brooklyn has limited contact with her family of origin who live abroad.

121b Sara is a 25-year-old, black, non-EU national. She entered into civil part­nership with Brooklyn 17 months ago. At that point they had known each other for less than a year. Like Brooklyn, Sara has limited contact with her family of origin who live abroad.

122a Fiona is a 36-year-old, white, British woman. She and Iris have been together for nearly 10 years and entered into civil partnership close to five years ago. Fiona is both the older and more experienced of the two with a series of ‘bad’ relationships behind her. Fiona and Iris live in Scotland.

122b Iris and Fiona are partners. She is 30 years old, white and British, and has been involved with Fiona for the last 10 years. They entered into civil partner­ship about five years ago. Her family of origin live locally.

123a Jasmine is a 28-year-old, white, British woman who lives with her partner Pheobe in Scotland. They have been in a civil partnership for 18 months. Jasmine has had serious health concerns linked to chronic illness, which has placed both emotional and financial pressure on their relationship. Her fam­ily of origin live in England.

123b Pheobe is Jasmine’s partner. She is 27 years old, white and British. Pheobe and Jasmine have been in a civil partnership for 18 months. Due to Jasmine’s illness, Pheobe has been the ‘breadwinner’. They struggle financially. Her family of origin live in Scotland, but a long distance away.

124a Annabel is 29. She is white and British. She has been in a civil partnership with Kenzie for around three-and-a-half years. They have a nine-month-old baby, who was conceived by donor insemination. The donor is a friend of theirs. He is gay. They have a verbal agreement between them about his non-involvement. Annabel, Kenzie and their baby live in Scotland. Annabel’s family of origin live close by.

124b Kenzie and Annabel are partners. Kenzie is a 31-year-old, white, British woman. She is also the birth mother of their nine-month-old baby. Kenzie met Annabel about five years ago. They entered into civil partnership within two years. Kenzie described her previous relationship as an abusive one. Her family of origin live in England.

125a Emily is a 32-year-old, white, British woman. She and Gail met nearly seven years ago. They have been in a civil partnership for 21 months and are expecting their first child. The donor is a gay male friend of theirs. Emily gets frustrated when she is not recognised as a ‘mummy’ to be, like her partner. Her family of origin live locally.

125b Gail is 33. She is white and British. Gail and Emily are partners and have been in a civil partnership for 21 months. They also had a religious blessing of their relationship. Gail is pregnant and suffers from extreme tiredness. They live in Scotland but Gail’s family of origin live in England.

126a Mandy is a 26-year-old, white, British woman. She has been involved with Olga for nearly five years. They entered into civil partnership four months ago and live in the South East of England. Neither of them likes the area they live in and they describe it as ‘exclusive’ and ‘pretentious’. Her family of origin live a long way away.

126b Olga and Mandy are partners. Olga is a 32-year-old, white, non-EU national. She has lived in the UK most of her life. She met Mandy around five years ago and they have been in a civil partnership for four months. One part of Olga’s family of origin live in the UK and another part abroad.

Researching Same-Sex Marriage

This book is based on a research project, ‘Just like Marriage? Young Couples’ Civil Partnerships’, which was carried out in 2009 and 2010. It was funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, reference RES-062-23- 1308). In studying personal accounts of formalised same-sex relationships, and by focusing on younger generations’ experiences, we aimed to provide insights into historical continuities and changes in meanings and practices of commit­ment, and to link these to broader developments in marriage and same-sex relational cultures. Therefore, we sought to generate data which would allow us to analyse young same-sex couples’ formalised commitments from the per­spective of couples and individuals, and to situate couple accounts in terms of partners’ socio-culturally shaped biographies. This, we hoped, would allow us to explore the reconfiguration of same-sex relational life that we believe to be linked to broader reconfigurations of gender, sexual and marriage rela­tions. In this appendix, we outline our approach to the study (but see Heaphy and Einarsdottoir, 2012, for a more detailed discussion of our methodological approach).

The main body of our research was based on joint and individual interviews with 50 couples, 25 female and 25 male, who had formalised their relationships through civil partnership. The interviewees were aged up to 35 when they entered into civil partnership, and were aged between the early 20s and late 30s when we interviewed them. At the point of the interviews, the length of civil partnerships varied from one month to just over 5 years, averaging around 23 months. The length of relationships ranged from less than six months to over ten years. Fifty partners were aged between 25 and 35 when they entered civil partnership, 43 partners were aged between 30 and 35, and seven partners were aged under 25 at the time of the civil partnership.

The geographical scope of the research was mainland Britain. Couples were recruited with the help of registrar officials. We contacted local registrars across the UK to inform them about the study and to ask for their assistance in recruit­ing. In the main, the local offices were enthusiastic and helpful in offering their support. In practice, this entailed us sending them information sheets about the study that they would then forward to couples who had entered into civil part­nership within the previous year (they did not have access to information from previous years). If couples were interested in taking part in the study they would contact a named member of the research team directly. Despite the very specific nature of the sample we sought to build, this strategy was successful in recruit­ing 38 couples in England (three from the North East, five from the North West, 16 from London and 14 from elsewhere in the South East). We recruited one couple from Wales, and with the help of the General Registry Office for Scotland recruited 11 couples in Scotland.

While the majority of couples lived in cities and large towns, this was not always the case, and some couples lived in rural locations. The vast majority defined their ethnicity as ‘white British’ (70) or ‘white other’ (21). The remaining nine identified as Arabic (1), black (1), mixed black (1), Pakistani (1), mixed Asian (1), Chinese (1) and other mixed (3). In terms of income, about 50 per cent of the interviewees earned below the national average, about 25 per cent earned the national average income or up to £10,000 more than this, and about 25 per cent earned significantly more than the average (see Chapter 5 for more detail and discussion). In short, the study included a wider diversity of economic backgrounds and socio-cultural experience than is often included in research on same-sex relational lives.

As noted in the Preface to this book, our study took relationships as the pri­mary unit of analysis and not sexual identities. In narrating their relationships, participants often made reference to their sexual identity (and in some cases several identities), but it was sometimes the case that a specific sexual identity was not explicitly articulated as such. The study did not seek to impose or fix sexual identities. Nevertheless, we were interested in the ways in which part­ners discussed and defined their sexualities (or not) in narrating their relation­ships. Among the men, 44 partners described themselves or their relationships as ‘gay’, while six did not mention any sexual identity as such. Among the women, 28 partners described themselves of their relationships as ‘gay’, 13 used ‘lesbian’, two used ‘bisexual’, and seven did not mention a sexual identity as such. However, the ways in which these terms referred to sexual identity varied enormously. Some used ‘gay’ to refer to all same-sex relationships irrespective of their gender make-up. Others used ‘gay’ in a descriptive way to refer to women and men who were attracted to people of the same sex. Others still, but used ‘gay’ to refer to a fundamental sense of self. ‘Lesbian’ was also be used in a range of ways: to distinguish women’s and men’s same-sex relationships, to descriptively refer to same-sex relationships between women or to refer to women who were attracted to other women and to describe a fundamental self-identity.

From the outset, we were keen to study young couples’ relationships and expe­riences in ways that assumed as little as possible about their structure, organisa­tion and quality. Thus, we set out to explore how the transition from being single to civil partnership is made and experienced; how formalised same-sex partner­ships are defined, experienced and practised; and how same-sex ‘marriages’ are influenced by interlinked socio-cultural and biographical factors. In essence, we sought to explore young couples’ civil partnerships as complexly situated relationships by exploring how they were scripted (see Chapter 2).

Our rationale for interviewing partners together and apart was threefold. First, previous studies have suggested heterosexual marriages to be structured in accordance with gender differences and inequalities (for overviews see Duncombe and Marsden, 1993; 1996; Dunne, 1997; Jamieson, 1998). In contrast, studies of same-sex relationships suggest them to be highly negotiated and ‘more egalitarian’ because of the absence of gender differences (Dunne, 1997; Peplau et al., 1996; Weeks et al., 2001; for criticisms see Carrington, 2002; Ryan-Flood, 2009; Taylor, 2009). Unlike previous studies that have tended to rely on couple or individual interviews with one or both partners (for discussion see Carrington, 1999; Gabb, 2008), we were keen to explore how a combined approach might allow for a more nuanced view of relational power. Second, we sought to study how couples intersubjectively constructed their relationships, and couple interviews allowed us to explore couple interactions in scripting and ‘doing’ the relationship in a situated context. Third, we sought to explore how the script­ing and doing of relationships were embedded in partners’ (non-)negotiation of biographically rooted personal scripts for relating, and the individual interviews allowed us to explore these scripts. All three interviews were conducted by the same researcher during a single visit. The interview format was quite simple, starting with the joint interview which was split into two parts. The first part of the joint interview focused on the couple’s relationship story. It began with the following prompt:

We are interested in finding out the story of your relationship from the begin­ning to now, how you met, what attracted you to one another and how the relationship developed.

We would like to know the ins and out of your relationship and for the first part of this interview I would like you to tell us your own story in your own words from the beginning to now.

This task was fairly open-ended and allowed partners to ‘intuitively’ detail their story while the researcher was positioned as an active listener (Anderson and Jack, 1991). While the task was partly designed to minimise our influence on the couples’ stories, it did not, of course, neutralise this. The second part of the joint interview followed up questions that arose from the partners’ relationship story. We then moved on to the individual interviews that focused especially on finances, sexual and emotional commitments and family-making/planning.

The individual interviews began by asking participants about their previous relationship experiences and were then structured around a discussion of the above mentioned areas. For each of these topics, participants were asked to describe and provide examples of their personal approach; how their approach was similar to or different from the people they had grown up with and their partner’s; and how they and their partner’s approach had developed over the duration of the relationship. In analysis, making links between the individual interviews, and between the individual and joint interviews, enabled us to exam­ine the ways in which biographically embedded personal scripts influence the construction of the relationships.

The interviews were recorded and fully transcribed, and we conducted system­atic interpretative analysis of the data set in line with our major questions and the themes that emerged (see Introduction). NVivo software was used for data storage, rough coding and retrieval. This enabled us to carry out cross-sectional analysis to draw out commonalities and differences across the sample. This cross­sectional analysis was enhanced by analysis through case study. The findings were then compared to existing ones about heterosexual and same-sex patterns of relating and commitment, and the changes and continuities, differences and commonalities were identified and analysed.

Several stories can be told about any one relationship, and joint-couple and individual interviews generate three differently situated narratives: a couple one and two self ones. In terms of the research context, couple and personal stories about relationships are not simply told in interviews: they are activated, shaped and ‘co-produced’ in interaction with the researcher. The questions researchers ask, and the ways and contexts in which they are asked, are powerful in shaping the couple and personal stories that research participants tell. But it is not only the researcher who has the power to shape the narrative. Interviewees actively construct and perform their narratives for multiple audiences. They can be agents, and can be constrained, in telling their stories and in assembling stories to give their relationships meaning. Thus, interview narratives are the product of the situated interactional contexts in which they emerge, and involve the negotiation of agency and constraint: put another way, they involve complex flows of power (cf. Plummer, 1995).

While relationship stories as they are scripted in interviews are shaped by the research context, they do not come from ‘nowhere’. They are linked to relation­ships as they are lived, and can be analysed for the intersubjective and subjective dynamics that shape the scripting and doing of relationships in practice. As such, interview narratives about relationships can be analysed for the flow of power in relationships themselves and how this is linked to the socio-cultural contexts in which they are lived. By researching couples where both partners were aged under 35 when they entered into civil partnerships in the UK, our research explored relationships that are historically and socio-culturally distinc­tive. As noted earlier, our research was concerned with the ‘new’ relational possi­bilities that have opened up for formalised (or ‘married’) same-sex relationships. Established research-based understandings of the differences and/or similarities between marriage and same-sex relationships, and of the power dynamics that shape their scripting, are not straightforwardly applicable to these new rela­tionships. Likewise, established methodologies for exploring power in relation­ships are unlikely to grasp the complex flows of power that these relationships involve and how they are linked to changing socio-cultural contexts that are reconfiguring contemporary relational possibilities.

Hitherto, by relying mostly on couple or individual interviews, and by focus­ing on the ‘truths’ they generate, couple studies have contributed to two strong sociological narratives about relationships: that gender power determines how heterosexual relationships are negotiated and scripted in practice, and that the absence of gender in same-sex relationships is linked to ‘freer’ and more equal negotiation and scripting. Our joint approach to interviewing young ‘married’ and same-sex couples, and our narrative approach to analysis, suggest something else: that in light of changing relational possibilities, there is a need to rethink how we conceptualise and study the negotiation and scripting of relationships along with the power dynamics they involve (be they formalised, married, and/or same-sex relationships). Our study, and this book, implicitly argues the value of an interactionist methodology, based on joint and individual interviews and orientated towards narrative analysis, as a strategy for exploring changing relational realities.

Conclusion

Over the course of a few generations, the everyday possibilities for same-sex relationships in Western societies have altered in dramatic, but uneven, ways. In some contexts, it has become possible for same – sex couples and partners to live more mainstream lives than ever before. There are few contexts in which the mainstreaming of same-sex rela­tionships is more evident than those in which same-sex couples now have access to the ‘rights’ and privileges associated with marriage. In this book, we have taken a generational view of the mainstreaming of same-sex relationships by focusing on the experiences of younger gen­erations of women and men who have formalised their relationships by entering into civil partnerships, who mostly see themselves as married, and who model their relationships on the ordinary. In this conclusion, we revisit some of the core issues discussed in the preceding chapters to draw out further the theme of ordinariness and its implications for the sociology of (same-sex and heterosexual) relationships.

One of the striking findings of our research is the ways in which civil partnerships, along with the language and practices of ‘ordinary marriages’, have so quickly and easily been incorporated into the lives of some young same-sex couples (see Chapter 2). Given that civil partner­ships were only introduced about half a decade before we conducted our interviews, the support and encouragement that many couples received for their marriages, from their families and personal communities, is also striking. This could be linked to the ways in which – among couples themselves, and their families and communities – civil partnership or marriage was seen as symbolising an existing cohabiting relationship that was often already implicitly recognised as akin to an informal marriage. Put another way, partners themselves and their close networks often already understood the same-sex couple to be an ‘ordinary’ relationship which was not so different from those of their (heterosexual) cohabiting peers. Thus, it is not the entry into legally recognised partnerships or ‘marriages’ that makes same-sex relationships ‘ordinary’. Rather, it is the already ordinary nature of same-sex relationships in some contexts that has enabled ‘gay marriage’ to be so easily incorporated into day-to-day life. At the same time, for some couples the sense of living an ordinary life was enhanced by the increased visibility and acceptability of same – sex relationships that came with the broader cultural recognition of ‘gay marriage’. The emphasis that many of our young couples put on the ordinariness and acceptability of their relationships points to how the ‘heterosexual panorama’, the ‘heterosexual assumption’ or ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ has weakened in some contexts.

Despite the fact that same-sex relationships, and ‘gay marriages’, are increasingly becoming a more visible aspect of the contemporary rela­tional landscape (see Chapters 2-4), our interviews attest to the fact that same-sex couples and partners still experience instances of invalidation. While parents, families and personal communities mostly validated our couples’ formalised relationships, this was not always the case. For example, some family members did not make the effort to attend the civil partnership ceremony or the celebration, and (relatively few) others were openly hostile about the relationship and civil partnership. While partners mostly emphasised their acceptance over their marginalisation, some did recount instances of symbolic violence, where their relation­ships were explicitly deemed unworthy of recognition and respect. Also, while many of the partners we interviewed had had positive experiences of coming out, others recounted initially struggling with this because of the fear of rejection or hostility.

Where partners alluded to the impossibilities of living ‘fully’ ordinary relational lives, this was commonly linked to their multiple positioning in terms of sexuality combined with race and ethnicity, religion, disabil­ity and/or other axes of socio-cultural difference (see Chapter 2). In other words, it seemed that a sense of being fully ordinary was more easily achievable for same-sex couples on the basis of their being white, able­bodied and from religiously liberal or secular backgrounds. Economic resources could also facilitate a fuller sense of ordinariness. This was evident where depleted resources constrained the possibilities of achiev­ing the ideals of a mature, financially self-sufficient and home-owning ‘married’ couple. Given that some couples were better placed than others to achieve a full sense of their ordinariness, ordinariness could be seen as a privilege that is not simply or automatically given by virtue of the legal recognition of relationships. The situated circumstances in which couples and partners live their day-to-day lives clearly influences the extent to which they can choose or achieve the ordinary ideals of relationships. This raises the reconfiguring links between ordinariness and difference. Despite the commonalities between contemporary experiences of same – sex and heterosexual relationships that we have highlighted in this book, differences still matter in shaping experiences of and claims about ordinariness. This becomes clear when we consider the links between ordinariness and difference as they emerged as significant in the book.

Among our young same-sex couples, ordinariness was a claim about difference and commonality. Ordinariness was valued by those who believed they had been afforded its privileges and by those who believed they had not. Ordinariness is not only the ideal of the privileged; it is also the ideal of the marginalised, although they may be less well positioned to fully achieve it. Thus, claims about the possibilities or impossibilities of living ordinary lives and relationships are political claims about the (in)validation of lives and relationships as they are lived. Claims about ordinariness are not neutral ones, as Savage et al. (2000) have illuminated with respect to class identities (see also Heaphy, 2011). But the ideals of ordinariness as they concern same-sex relationships cannot simply be equated with the ‘normalisation’ or ‘assimilation’ of these relationships. The issue is more complex than this. In some respects, ordinariness is about claiming recognition on the basis of respectability (Heaphy, 2011; Savage et al., 2000). In the case of new generations of same-sex partners, ordinariness could be a claim to recognition via respectability on the basis of not being at the top or the bottom of a social hierarchy: a claim about not being like those at the bottom of the sexual hierarchy who lived ‘shameful’ sexual lives (hence, the disparaging ways in which ‘gay culture’ and partners’ own ‘promiscuous’ pasts were sometimes spoken of ), and a claim about not being like perceived elites at the top of the sexual hierarchy who could simply ‘consume’ sexuality and relationships without taking respon­sibility (hence, partners’ refusals to describe themselves as sexual and relational innovators). Put another way, ordinariness could be a claim about commonality: to be like the mass of people (heterosexual and non-heterosexual) in ‘the middle’ who must work at creating ‘mature’ and ‘responsible’ relationships.

Ordinariness is about relational embeddedness and agency. This came to the fore in Chapter 3 where we discussed in detail the idea of relational biographies which, in turn, were an explicit or implicit feature of all the subsequent chapters. In these respects, claims about ordinariness could be viewed as an ‘intuitive’ recognition that ‘who’ people (heterosexual and non-heterosexual) are and ‘what people do’ in relationships are linked to the relational circumstances and imagi – naries they grew up with, the changing circumstances in which their relating orientations developed over time, and the specific interac­tional contexts in which they now relate. On the one hand, partners emphasised the continuities between their parents’ relationships and their own relationships. They shared the core marriage ideals that their parents’ generation subscribed to: love, stability and equality. They also subscribed to the belief that all ‘good’ and ‘successful’ relation­ships and marriages (be they their own or their parents’, homosexual or heterosexual) required a joint commitment to making relationships work. This could involve the joint monitoring of relationships as well as fairly constant (explicit or implicit) communication and making time to simply be together. On the other hand, partners often believed that their relationships were different to their parents’ by virtue of the ‘fact’ that they, like their heterosexual generational peers, were better positioned than their parents’ generation to realise these ideals in prac­tice. Underpinning this was a belief that their own generation was less constrained by social circumstances than was their parents’ generation. In this respect, partners often believed that, compared to previous gen­erations, they had more freedom to choose their partners and the kinds of relationships they wanted. For the majority, this implied a greater degree of individual agency, and they saw it as ‘natural’ that they (like their peers, heterosexual and otherwise) should invest such agency in creating and maintaining stable couple relationships that would be at the heart of their relational lives and connections with others.

Drawing on the previous points, claims to ordinariness are linked to practices of ordinariness, and this raises the issues of convention and innovation. As far as relationships are concerned, convention and inno­vation only make sense if we accept the idea that there are hegemonic models and scripts for relating that circulate in the culture and that we are all familiar with. For the sake of argument, we provisionally accept this proposition. The links between practices of ordinariness and con­ventional practices were a central theme that emerged in Chapters 4-7. Not all couples adopted conventional approaches to their relationships, but that many did was evident in the ways in which they ceremonialised their commitments, tended to ‘choose’ partners from broadly similar backgrounds, assumed and were committed to sexual monogamy, and were focused on couple-centred relational lives. However, as opposed to seeing this as evidence of how younger generations of same-sex relationships are more likely than previous same-sex generations to simply or blindly follow relating scripts, we argue that it highlights the extent to which partners and couples today (same-sex and hetero­sexual) can be actively invested in convention. From this perspective, married couples are not ‘unreflexive’ followers of conventional scripts, but are active (and sometimes highly reflexive) scriptors of convention. Put another way, they are not without agency. Rather, reflexivity and agency can be focused on the production of convention rather than its undoing. In this regard, the majority (but not all) of the same-sex couples we interviewed actively refused to be at the vanguard of the kind of relational innovation and experimentation that have been associated with previous generations’ same-sex relationships. This, we suggest, is linked to the ways in which their biographies are anchored or embedded in the relational worlds in which they grew up.

The active investment in convention and embeddedness underscores the work or labour entailed in practices, ‘performances’ and claims of ordinariness. There were several dynamics unpinning this. As these were young couples who, for the most part, were in their first legally committed relationship, there was undoubtedly a pressure to be seen to have a successful relationship and to be doing it ‘right’. As we have seen, couples also linked their current relationships and marriages to their development as mature relational actors, and the capacity to com­petently perform convention could be read as indicative of maturity. Also, these were couples who had only relatively recently formalised their relationships and the intensity with which they approached their (mostly monogamous) relationships was undoubtedly linked to the afterglow of having formalised their commitment (often in very public ways). Along with this, they were narrating their relationships to an interviewer, and via her to a public audience, and this will have shaped the form and content of their personal stories. Many of these dynamics, combined with the culturally and biographically embedded nature of relational ideals and practices, are likely to have influenced the conventional stories they told, as well as the conventional lives they lived. Yet, the intense labour involved in doing, performing and claim­ing ordinariness via the production of convention underscores the ways in which convention itself is actively made. Partners also seemed to engage in a notable degree of work in smoothing the tensions between their subscription to the conventions that support the ‘naturalness’ of couple and married relationships and their implicit recognition of other possible realities (for example, they could in principle, but did not in practice, choose non-monogamy, to be single, to prioritise rationality over the discourse of romantic love in accounting for their choice of a partner and to acknowledge the ‘naivety’ of their faith in lifelong commitments in the face of the well-documented contingent nature of ordinary relationships).

This provides a perspective on the work or labour that contemporary relationships involve that is somewhat different to the ways in which these issues have tended to be framed in existing sociological studies of heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Put briefly, the emphasis in previous studies of conventional heterosexual relationships has been on the burden of physical and emotional work that falls to women in marriage and relationships with men. In studies of innovative same-sex relationships, the emphasis has been on the more equal sharing of the physical and emotional work that relationships involve. Our study does not necessarily contradict these findings but also suggests something else: that by shifting away from a reductive conception of gender we can begin to grasp the other kinds of work that relationships involve, and develop a vital conception of relational power that is perhaps more suitable for comprehending new, generationally situated, rela­tional possibilities. In this book, we hope to have illustrated the value of this with respect to the new generational experiences of same-sex couples, but we also believe it has value in examining the reconfiguring possibilities open for heterosexual relationships.

Couples and convention

Same-sex couples have arguably been burdened with the requirement to be in the vanguard of radical political change with regard to their personal relationships. The expectation that gay men and lesbians can or should transform conventions for relating to one another has been a strong one (Auchmuthy, 2004; Hull, 2006; Stychin, 2003; Warner, 2000). Yet, as we have shown, most of our couples just wanted ‘ordi­nary’ things for their relationships. They modelled their relationships on a concept of the ordinary rather than on the radically different. So rather than expecting to find, in an empirical fashion, dramatic changes in everyday living, we suggest that studying same-sex relationships provides an opportunity to rethink some of the conventions of socio­logical thinking. As Heaphy (2008) has argued, there is an important difference between a sociology of reflexivity and a reflexive sociology. In a similar vein, we are arguing here that the lives of same-sex couples provide hints and prompts for sociology to rethink personal life, rather than assuming that these couples must fit into a preformed vision of what a radical personal life should be like. For example, understanding how men relate in same-sex couple relationships offers the opportunity to rethink the rigid and somewhat stereotyped idea that only women do emotion work in relationships. While the men in these relation­ships may have a degree of freedom from the highly gendered expecta­tions that (still) rest upon heterosexual men, it is also the case that not assuming that gender difference is the difference that matters in couples allows the sociologist to see differently the interaction that is occurring. So the interaction may be slightly different, but significantly it becomes possible to develop a different sociological vision of what is happen­ing. This shift allows us to understand ’emotionality as contingent, rather than ‘essential’, contexualising it within [various] environments’ (Robinson and Hockey, 2011: 160). This means that rather than being fixed on finding gender difference, a sociological perspective can begin to see emotion work as contextual. As Bondi et al. (2005) argue, emo­tions can be understood to be relational flows between people. These relational flows are necessarily open to change across the lifecourse and in different contexts; they may be influenced by gender but they need not be determined by gender any more than by class or ethnicity.

While it is clear that the relational ideals, meanings and practices of young men and women were often gendered, it also seems apparent that comprehending their relationships provides support for an under­standing of gender as an interactional flow rather than just an acquired characteristic. The doing of gender in relationships is both subtle and complex as we demonstrated in Chapters 4-6. Same-sex couples can change the meanings of certain interactions and thus lift the overdeter­mination that can at times accompany the analysis of opposite-gender relationships. This means that what a same-sex couple ‘does’, does not have to be somehow intrinsically radical, but their ‘doing’ of it facili­tates a different understanding of the meaning of the interaction. Thus, the desire to simply sit on a sofa watching DVDs may not fit into the imagined radically alternative lifestyle wishfully associated with ‘queer’ living, but the recognition that such practices and the forms of intimacy they are linked to are so highly regarded offers a challenge to sociologi­cal frameworks on personal relationships which see little significance in the everyday. It also offers insights into how prosaic love works on a day-to-day level and, as Weeks (2007) claims, the radical potential of claiming to be ordinary.

Beyond the couple

We have noted that in partners’ narratives there is a tendency to locate their commitment to their current relationship in terms of a life stage (see Chapter 4). Most saw their marriage as arriving at a particular stage in both a relationship and in life more broadly. The couples were conscious of their peers (whether heterosexual or not) and of their siblings, moving through identifiable stages such as ‘settling down’ or parenthood, and they were aligning their own relationships with what was going on around them. They were also aware of their parents’ ‘traditional’ hopes and expectations about relationships. All of these factors meant that almost all the couples we interviewed had turned their attention to the question of becoming parents.

Eight of the 25 female couples already had a child or children but none of the male couples had children. Of the eight female couples with children already, five were planning (or hoping for) another child, and of the remaining 17 couples, nine had plans either to adopt or to conceive a child through sperm donation at some time in the future. Only four positively did not want children. The male couples were in a different position, however, because those who wanted a genetically related child could only go down the surrogacy route which for most seemed rather remote. Options to adopt or foster were mentioned by eight of the 25 male couples, but these were always rather tentative plans for action in five or ten years’ time:

[A]ctually we’ve even, and this is probably a bit premature but, we’ve even you know skipped over the subject of maybe one day fostering or something. You know we haven’t had an in-depth conversation about things like that ’cause it’s too early days for us to talk about that and we haven’t got the room anyway, but you know, I think longer term I’d be quite interested in that and I think you might be as well, so you never know.

Graham (204b)

Among these young men there were those who very much did want to have children but who felt that the process of becoming parents was rather alien and outside their possible scope of action. As Oliver (210b) puts it:

Just the ways of procuring a child for a same-sex male couple – all of them seem to be fraught with difficulties for the child and for the parents.

However, the majority of the male couples did not include parent­hood in their plans for the future. Some thought it might be wrong for gay male couples to have children. The main reason was their concern for how such a child might be treated in school, and this was often com­bined with the idea that there are enough children in the world already and that it would be better to adopt than to create a new life. Some simply said they thought children would not fit in with their lifestyle, particularly with holidays and ‘hedonism’, but one man felt even more strongly that it was wrong to have children:

I believe in a biological evolution sort of thing. I believe gay people are a control measure to keep the population down.

Ian (218a)

So although our male couples had thought about or were thinking about the possibility of having children, it did not seem as if they were influenced by a strong cultural narrative which associated civil partner­ship or ‘settling down’ with an inevitable desire to have children or become parents. The men could still find a comfortable cultural loca­tion outside the perimeters of parenthood (Stacey, 2006). The narrative of not having or not wanting children was still available to them, and for the majority this was perfectly agreeable space to occupy, as Otto’s (212a) comments indicate:

I don’t have a sort of need for my genes to be carried on in any way and the older I’ve got I think the more certain I’ve become in my belief that I just don’t think it’s part of who I am to actually want to have children.

It was rather different for the women for whom having children was more readily envisaged, and also more likely to be seen as desirable. Of course for the female couples it was not possible to leave getting preg­nant to chance or fate; they had to be active in taking steps to achieve a pregnancy or they had to start adoption proceedings. In doing so they often became reflexively engaged in negotiating diverse possibili­ties. Two of the couples had actually started formally down the adop­tion route and were being interviewed by social services. One couple had given up on adoption because it was too taxing, and instead had decided that one of them would have to conceive a child through sperm donation. Like the men, these women often thought that it was more ethical to adopt than to bring new life into the world, but few had any experience of really trying to adopt and many who spoke of it seemed rather ill-informed about the actual process. As with some of the male couples, the women often expressed a wish to have children but not immediately because they needed to be more financially secure or they needed to have a larger home to live in. For those who were postponing having children, there was no urgency to explore avenues to conception or adoption and so it is not surprising that their plans were vague. One female couple and one male couple were also facing the issue of mixed – race parentage and so were having to think about whether they could or would be able to adopt a mixed-race child. As noted above, only four of the female couples said that they actively did not want to have children, and although she too was in a minority, Olga (126b) expressed views not utterly unlike those of Otto’s above:

I think the logistics of how lesbians come to be parents really put me off. […] I really don’t like any of the donor insemination really, of those kinds of ways of getting pregnant […] because it’s not natural […] I feel like if somebody isn’t meant to get pregnant, then that is nature sending a strong signal that that it’s not to be. And to me that doesn’t matter about the sexuality of a parent. I feel the same way about straight people who are infertile. I don’t see why they have the right to have children, and I realise that’s quite an extreme view and a lot of people would be quite upset by hearing that. But I think that if you’re trying to get pregnant in that way and it’s not work­ing, there’s probably a good reason why, and it might be best not to interfere with it. And also this child, some day you’re going to have to explain to them how they came to be. And I can’t think of a way of explaining to them how we got the sperm, how we went about [it], I just don’t feel comfortable with that. It doesn’t seem like a very honourable thing to do in a way.

Nordqvist (2011a; 2011b) has outlined the kinds of problems that lesbian couples have to overcome if they are going to try to achieve a pregnancy through sperm donation, whether through private arrange­ment or through infertility clinics. Finding a sperm donor via the internet or through friends’ networks is not easy and is fraught with potential legal and interpersonal difficulties. For example, it is neces­sary to decide what role a known donor might have in raising a child, or it may be necessary to overcome many misgivings in acquiring sperm from a stranger in a purely financial arrangement. Equally, going to a clinic can become very expensive and the selection of donors may be quite limited. In addition, the process of trying to adopt can be quite soul-destroying not least because the couple may not meet the strict matching criteria set by a given local authority, or they may not be able to endure years of waiting for a suitable placement (Treacher and Katz, 2000). These difficulties place same-sex couples in highly stressful situa­tions if they want to have children or additional children. Two couples (Hailee [120b] and Dawn [120a], and Kathryn [105a] and Louise [105b]) seemed to be the exception to this because both already had a child and the sperm donors they used were willing to donate again so that they could have a genetic sibling. Kathryn said:

I think we’ll have two children and that’s probably going to be it, children-wise. I always only thought I wanted two children. In recent years we’ve actually said it would be really lovely to have more chil­dren but I think because I’ve had health complications before, touch wood everything’s ok with this baby, we just feel we’ve been really lucky, somebody donated sperm to enable us to have a family and it would almost be tempting fate to have any more and we shouldn’t be too greedy really; we feel very lucky to be in the situation that we’re in. So I think we just need two, it’s more than our share sort of thing really.

By comparison, Doris (104a) and Maria (104b), who also already had one child, tried to get pregnant again by buying sperm via the internet but it failed and so they decided to settle for just one child. In this regard, same-sex couples face an entirely different set of circumstances compared with the majority of heterosexual couples. For them it is much harder to move on to what might be regarded as the ‘next stage’ of a rela­tionship, and these difficulties create both opportunities and disadvan­tages. Among the opportunities for our couples was the sense of being unencumbered and the possibility therefore of travelling abroad or even settling abroad, especially where one partner was not British. Plans to travel were a strong theme in how these couples envisaged their futures. Another strong theme was the idea of moving to a more ideal location. This might be ‘to the country’, or to a more congenial city like Brighton, or just to a bigger city like Manchester. These joint projects were ways of mapping a future together so that life as a couple was also an active project, not simply a relationship.

Uninterrupted time

For all the couples, the best of times was when they were not work­ing so they could be together; but, more importantly than this simple proximity, it was when the stresses or worries associated with work did not intrude on their time together. They made the point that the time should be ‘stress free’, without external commitments, and without the frazzle of the working week leaking into their consciousness. That couples want to have time together is not in itself a new finding. As Warren (2003) notes:

Sullivan (1996: 96) has shown that the most enjoyable time for cou­ples is leisure time that is spent together. As a result, couples make efforts to ‘co-ordinate time’ to optimize their joint time. The couples interviewed by Hochschild (1997) also reported that they endeav­oured to arrange their schedules so that they could have ‘intense periods of togetherness’. Opportunities for such synchronized family leisure are linked firmly to the location of that leisure time over the day and the week; the chronologic dimension.

Warren (2003: 735)

However, it was not simply time that our couples wanted; there had to be a quality of attentiveness to each other during these periods. The yearning for ‘us’ time (as one couple put it) was incredibly strong and it was during those periods that the couples felt that they could harmo­nise with each other again after the stresses of paid work, sometimes child care, and time apart.

What was also striking in these accounts were the stories about ‘bad’ days which seemed to be the ‘flip side’ of the good days. Again almost universally, bad days in these narratives came about as a result of the overflow of work and stress. Very few couples saw their interpersonal conflicts arising from factors internal to the couple. Rather, they saw conflict as arising directly from the intrusion of paid work into their home and personal space. Thus, the typical story was one where one member of the couple was worried about something at work and he or she brought that worry home with them and ‘took it out’ on their partner.

Brooklyn (121a): It’s when I come home stressing about work and

money […] and infect Sara with my stress.

Sara (121b): Your stress is contagious.

Brooklyn: Yeah I know.

In this context, days off work or holidays were vital repair time because they allowed the couple to retrieve their relationship from the

distorting effects of too much work, feeling harried (Southerton, 2003) or feeling tired (Widerberg, 2006).

A great deal has been written on the subject of time in the context of work/family balance and also in terms of the harmful effects of a long – work-hours culture (Brannen, 2005; Fagan, 2001; Hochschild, 1997). Yet what appears to be a different insight arising from our interviews is the way in which ‘unpolluted’ time together is perceived as an opportunity to restore a relationship which is vulnerable to the excessive demands of life outside the couple. Without time together, the couples would, it seems, lose their compatibility. Indeed, it was common for them to say they became irritated with each other at times when they had not had enough time together over the previous weeks or months. This pure time together was a way of forging companionship and reminding the couples why they liked each other. It was very much a part of Swidler’s practices of prosaic love.

This is why we refer in this section to capsule couples because, at this point in their relationships at least, they clearly felt a need to be alone. At these times the presence of others hindered the consolidation proc­ess. In remarking on this, the couples routinely pointed to how ordinary or mundane or simple their needs and pleasures were:

[Laughs] We went for a big walk; went to the super­market [laughs].

Pam likes to go to the supermarket [laughter]. And then I cooked a nice tea.

And we watched a film.

Yeah. We’re the boringest people in the whole world [laughter]. It’s really disturbing. [Laughter]

The laughter which usually accompanied these ‘confessions’ of ordi­nariness is interesting and suggests that most couples were aware that there is a normative expectation that same-sex couples should be doing rather different, more exciting, things. But even the few who included trips to the theatre or museums were clear that the point of doing such things was to do them together. The sheer ordinariness of these week­end activities is difficult to align with the idea that same-sex couples shoulder the burden of creativeness and fluidity in their relationships. Indeed, it is possible to argue that these couples craved the mundane and the micro-personal rather than the fluid, the challenging and the macro-political canvas. They sounded similar to almost any young cou­ple, and their desire just to be together seemed so common that, in this
dimension at least, it appears more important to acknowledge sameness rather than difference across the hetero/homosexual ‘divide’.

Talking

The second defining element of the capsule couple, namely talking, may also be more suggestive of sameness than difference. We found that the lesbian couples thrived on talking to each other, while for the male couples talking seemed to feature not as a pleasure in itself but as a requirement of relationship ‘repair work’. Hence:

If we’re out and we go for a walk around the lake and that, we just talk. I don’t know, I think four years, nearly four years married and we can still talk.

We can still talk.

Constantly.

We never really run out of things to talk about. I know, it’s strange isn’t it?

Caroline (112a): We do spend a lot of time talking to each other you know?

But more rarely:

And – and we talk like – more than any other couple we’ve ever heard of.

Ian (218a)

The young female couples in our study emphasised the importance of talking for their relationships. Talking seemed to be pleasurable in itself and also a vital way to overcome differences and disagreements. While male couples stressed the importance of communication in relation­ships, talking during ‘couple time’ really only seemed to become impor­tant when they had misunderstandings. Ironically, they spoke more spontaneously about the absence of talk in their relationships while the lesbian couples spoke spontaneously about the presence of talk. This meant that with the male couples it was ‘not talking’ that carried a par­ticular significance rather than actual talking. This meant that if one of the men in a couple was worried or annoyed about something he would actively not talk. Silence or shutting oneself away was a clear demon­stration that something was wrong. Actively not talking was therefore quite different to companionable silence which seemed to be the pre­ferred condition for most of the male couples. The female couples on
the one hand engaged in both active-talking and active-not-talking in equal measure; it was as if this was a simple continuum. The men, on the other hand, seemed to operate more on a different continuum from companionable silence through to active-not-talking.

Talk takes many shapes and forms, however, and there are pitfalls inherent in reconstructing the stereotype of strong, silent men versus chatty, garrulous women. Giddens (1992), for example, has suggested that it is (heterosexual) women who seek disclosing intimacy in rela­tionships while (heterosexual) men avoid it. Mansfield and Collard’s (1988) study found the same phenomenon. So it might seem that the same-sex couples in our study are following the same gendered scripts of talking women and silent men. However, while gendered scripts may be powerful influences, what emerges from our interviews is a more complex picture of different sorts of talking and communicating. For example, ‘bickering’ between couples seemed to be a constant form of communicating and even bonding. Bickering is often seen as a sign of problems between couples, yet in our interviews it was reflected on quite positively as a safety valve and/or a form of humorous bonding.

Otto (212a): I think we bicker a lot.

Phil (212b): All right, we bicker. We’ve never had a major argu­

ment, never, have we?

Ian (218a): I mean we bicker ’cause everybody bickers. You know,

it’s like ‘Why haven’t you done the dishes?’ ‘Well, ’cause I can’t be bothered and I’m tired’. And I’m like ‘Well, I cook the dinner, you do the dishes’. [To] me, that’s healthy bickering because it keeps you going.

Barbara (111a): And so sometimes, you know, one of us will say a ridiculous comment or be a bit grumpy and then that’ll start, like, a bickery kind of fight which might then escalate into kind of accusing, ‘Well, you didn’t do the washing up and you owe me twenty quid,’ all that kind of thing.

Nicole (111b): [Laughs]

For both male and female couples, too much bickering was a sign that they were out of kilter with each other because of a lack of ‘us’ time. It was also a common response to see bickering as a way of complain­ing about different expectations or standards around housework and tidiness. In these situations, bickering itself was not necessarily positive but it allowed individuals to voice the things that got on their nerves, the other could retaliate and a kind of set piece of dialogue would ensue. The couples mostly seemed to accept that bickering did not change anything, but it allowed them to express irritation without it escalating into any­thing too serious. What is more, when speaking about bickering (especially about household matters) the couples inevitably laughed and were able to reflect on the process of airing gripes. Interviews themselves can induce a degree of reflexivity on the part of interviewees and this self-awareness may not always be part of everyday interactions; but in these cases it was nearly always clear that the couples had a shared understanding of the purpose of bickering. This does not mean that bickering could not be harmful or negative in a relationship. For example, some couples said that their definition of a bad day was when they bickered the whole time and could not get out of the cycle of complaint. But the majority experienced bickering as something that could be overcome (by a hug or a smile) and that was not damaging in the way that full-scale rows could be.

Bickering as a form of engagement or communication was something that both male and female couples engaged in. It was not scripted in gendered ways as talk in the form of disclosing intimacy might be. Moreover, it seemed to be just as important in the process of sustain­ing prosaic love as did disclosing intimacy or companionable silence. If everyday loving requires hard work, then dealing with bickering must surely be part of this labour. This raises the issue of whether the concept of a gendered ’emotional asymmetry’ (Duncombe and Marsden, 1993: 224) is as useful as was once argued. The idea of a gendered division of emotional labour has clearly identified women as the ones who carry the burden of managing emotions within a relationship and in that sense carry the burden of prosaic love also. However, when we look at the interiority of same-sex relationships, we find broadly the same kinds of issues occurring for men as for women. Both the men and the women had to learn how to manage their partner’s moods, both had to learn how to deal with degrees of incompatibility and both had to work to maintain the relationship. In effect, both parties had to work out a choreography of emotions in order to deal with the moods and feelings of the other. Most of our couples knew what to do when one of them came home stressed or was engaged in active-not-talking, and this usu­ally meant allowing the stressed partner time to relax rather than insist­ing on talk. Certainly, there were cases of considerable inequality in this choreography of emotion work. For example, one partner might have been seriously ill or trying to cope with unemployment which could give rise to additional emotional demands. However, the inequalities were not grounded directly in gender and, returning to Weeks et al. (2001), this does suggest an important degree of freedom from the conventions of heterosexual intimacy and relating. This suggests to us that it is a mistake to look for emotion work in only the obvious places and in the most conventional forms (e. g. in talk about feelings). Our interviews showed that men (in same-sex couples at least) were having to do the everyday work of prosaic love and they were having to work to accommodate the other just as much as the women were.

The concept of the capsule couple that we use derived from our analy­sis of what our same-sex couples had to say about good times and bad times. Because they expressed so clearly their desire to be alone together and to build their relationship through doing things together, they con­jured up an image of a fairly tight and inward-looking capsule. But, as we have seen in Chapters 4 and 6 where the prioritisation of the couple above other relational form was discussed, the strength of the ideal of the couple was apparent elsewhere in our data. In addition, we asked the couples to respond independently to a series of questions on who they would turn to in different moments of need. We gave four scenarios: the first was about whom they would turn to if they needed emotional support; the second was who it would be if they were unhappy in their relationship; the third was who it would be if they were physically ill; and finally who it would be if they needed to borrow money. We gave them a range of possible people including the open category of ‘other’ and we also said they could choose as many of the categories as they wished. On the question of who they would turn to if they needed emo­tional support, 96 per cent of the women and 96 per cent of the men said it would be their partner. Only four of the men said that they would also turn to parents or friends as well as to their partners, while one man said it would just be his parents, and one man and two women said it would just be friends. Overwhelmingly, therefore, these individuals saw their partners, and only their partners, as a source of emotional support. The same was true for the question on illness, with 98 per cent of the women saying it would be their partner and 96 per cent of the men say­ing this. This finding is perhaps less surprising because it is most likely that one would look to the person one is living with at such times. Nonetheless, it shows that there were the same expectations placed on the men as the women to provide physical care in times of illness. In the other categories, the picture was a little less stark but still showed a prioritising of the couple ‘unit’. If they were unhappy in their rela­tionship, 70 per cent of the women and 72 per cent of the men would turn to their partner with the remainder turning mainly to friends or occasionally sibling and/or parents. This finding suggests that there is a strong ethos of trying to sort out relationship problems together for these couples, which also fits closely with the practices of prosaic love discussed above. It also fits with ideas of disclosing intimacy because clearly the majority of couples felt they should deal collaboratively with the problems they might be having in their relationship rather than taking them to an ‘outside’ third party to discuss.

The final question about borrowing money revealed the significance of intergenerational ties and the importance of the family of origin. Although partners remained the largest category that individuals would turn to (44 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men) the next larg­est category were parents with 38 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men turning to parents and 4 per cent of each turning to siblings. It is striking that friends did not feature particularly significantly in any responses, with women mentioning friends only 11 times (across all four questions) and men only 16 times (see Chapter 3). Friends really only featured when relationship problems were the issue. But the over­all impression gained by this exercise is that the couple was essentially striving to be self-reliant, rarely looking outwards for external support. McGlone et al. (2004) found essentially the same when they studied the results of different social attitude surveys in Britain from 1986 to 1995. The respondents to these surveys would have been predominantly het­erosexuals. However, they replied to broadly similar questions on whom they would turn to in times of difficulty, and partners were found to be the main source of support when compared with other categories such as parents or friends. McGlone et al., though, found that at times of illness women were less likely to rely on their husbands and more likely to rely on family or friends than men, who relied on their wives at such times. They also found that families of origin became impor­tant at times of financial need more than at any other time of crisis. In this small domain of practices, it would seem that our young same-sex couples were rather typical or ‘ordinary’ and that they did operate as capsule couples, relying on themselves and seeking and finding com­panionship predominantly within their relationships.

The capsule couple

Weeks et al. (2001: 107) argue, on the basis of research with a very dif­ferent group of lesbian, gay and bisexually identified women and men in the 1990s, that same-sex relationships contained the potential for creativity and choice. This argument was founded upon the core idea that same-sex relationships had no institutional framework and thus gay and lesbian couples had a freedom to take their relationships into uncharted areas. The couples in our study, however, did have some­thing of an institutional framework based on vows of commitment, legal obligations, and state recognition. This does not mean that our couples necessarily felt these frameworks to be constraining and a few of the couples in our study felt they could still be ‘unconventional’. One example was Trevor (2226a) and Wayne (226b):

Trevor: And actually one of the nicest things about being a

lesbian couple or a gay couple is that you can make it [overlapping]

Wayne: You can make it up as you go along –

Trevor: – as you go along.

In this passage, Trevor and Wayne were talking about the choice of whether to double-barrel a surname on getting married, or whether

to defy convention by opting for the surname of one partner in the couple. So for them, the unconventional choice of adopting a ‘family name’ was understood to be a freedom of expression which still had the power to shock. Such actions alert us to the importance of active meaning-making in everyday life, because although in a heterosexual context the convention is of ‘man and wife’ taking one surname (his), for same-sex couples the practice is not a passive acceptance of conven­tion but an assertion of a new sexual citizenship.

The couples in our study did seem to have different priorities to those in the Weeks et al. study, however, and few seemed to be committed to the idea that their lives were an experiment. This can be explained by the fact that the two research projects took place in different eras, in which the cultural and political contexts for the formation of same-sex relationships were different (Weeks, 2007, see Chapter 1). Moreover, our couples were, by definition, in favour of legal recognition for their relationship while there was a more mixed and often more reluctant view among the earlier sample. It follows then that the young couples in our study shared a strong desire to consolidate themselves as couples and they were less concerned about differentiating themselves from heterosexual couples and practices. The strong motif apparent in Weeks et al. (and also Dunne, 1997; 1999) whereby same-sex couples not only saw their relationship as different to that of heterosexuals but as better (in terms of equality, freedom, communication etc.) is a much weaker theme in our interviews. As we noted in Chapter 3, our couples tended to take as their reference point their parents’ relationships rather than heterosexual couples in general. Clearly, these were heterosexual rela­tionships; however, our couples did not tend to generalise from these specific biographical experiences in order to construct a stereotype of heterosexual coupledom against which they set themselves. Often they borrowed readily from their parents’ practices, sometimes they chose to avoid some aspects, but where they saw their parents as happily married they tended to want to achieve the same quality of relationship regard­less of its heterosexual nature.

This focus on the quality of their relationship, rather than specific practices, manifested itself most clearly in the interviews when we asked the couples (together) to reflect on what would make a ‘good’ day in their relationship and what would make a ‘bad’ day. This question unexpectedly tapped into Swidler’s ideas about prosaic love and about the need for ongoing relationship-building. With the possible exception of two couples (one lesbian couple whose relationship seemed quite fragile, and one gay couple who were work-obsessed), all of the couples responded to the question about what a good day would be by offering a mixture of the following ingredients:

1. A day off work (typically a Saturday or Sunday)

2. Being alone together

3. Chilling, walking, watching a DVD or reading

4. Talking/ communicating/ cuddling.

It was as if they were all reading from the same script, and to that extent their responses were quite surprising. These two accounts are typical:

Holly (114b): Just getting to spend all day together and getting to

share experiences together that we enjoy. So whether that’s walking or if we’re at home it might be talking to each other, playing board games, we don’t do that very much right now, but we do enjoy it.

Ellen (114a): We sort of go through phases. Just curling up on the

sofa and reading.

Jeremy (206a): But I mean I just like, I like weekends where we can

both actually, where we’re not working or doing anything and it’s just me and Stewart and we can you know, buy the Sunday paper and just do normal things and do a bit of DIY together or, you know, make Sunday lunch together and just do normal, that’s me as a good day and you?

Stewart (206b): Yeah.

The couples almost universally preferred to spend the day in their own company doing (what they referred to as) simple or ordinary things. They embraced the idea of just being together in a companion­able way. Walking together was very high on the list of desirable things to do. Sometimes this would be with the dog, but the main attraction seemed to be the allure of experiencing things (even very little things) together. The togetherness made the mundane activity (e. g. making lunch, playing Scrabble) become infused with meaning and purpose. But there were two other vital ingredients in addition to togetherness. The first was uninterrupted time and second was talking.

Being a couple: Does civil partnership make a difference?

As we noted in Chapter 4, almost all of our couples were living together before they married. The only exceptions arose from the complications of having different nationalities where it was impossible for some cou­ples to live together for long because of immigration legislation. This meant that some had had to return home because visas had expired and the process of prenuptial cohabitation was either truncated or not pos­sible. For most, however, getting married did not entail moving home or even starting a home together as this had been accomplished before the civil partnership ceremony took place. Thus, the question we asked about what difference civil partnership had made to them inevitably focused the couples’ attention on the issue of changes to affect rather than on material or behavioural changes.

A common response was to proclaim that the civil partnership made no difference at all to their relationship (see Chapter 4). This response seemed to be a way of establishing that the relationship prior to the civil partnership was already strong, close and loving, and that the civil partnership itself did not alter or improve upon this. Thus, in stating that the civil partnership made no difference, the couples seemed to be affirming that relationships outside ‘marriage’ could be just as valid and committed as those that were legally recognised. But no one sustained for long the argument that civil partnership had made absolutely no difference and typically they went on to assert that it made them feel more secure. This concept of greater security (sometimes coupled with notions of seriousness, commitment and stability) ran through the majority of replies:

Oliver (210b): Yeah. I mean it did feel a bit different, I did feel you know, afterwards that – that – the way I – I saw my – myself and my relationship with Ben and the way I – we – I saw ourselves – you know, that, that, having done that then it does feel more Ben (210a): Secure.

Oliver: And serious.

Victor (216b): I think it feels more secure to me. Um, because it’s,

you know, it’s’, we have that legal bond. I think it’s given more stability, you know, it’s not given more stability, but it’s given a sense, a feeling of stability. You know, because it’s more formal.

Peter (216a): For me, none whatsoever; [it] does not make any

difference.

The couples often referred to an intangible feeling that they had expe­rienced (Mason, 2008). They suggested that something felt different but they could not put a finger on exactly what it was. This intangibility is not entirely surprising because many of these couples had not been mar­ried for long enough to have really concrete evidence that their relation­ships had become more secure or stable. It is possible to understand these assertions in the light of Swidler’s analysis of mythic and prosaic love. Our question about what difference the civil partnership made seemed to provoke responses based on mythic rather than prosaic love; that is to say it seemed to tap into the kind of certainties that attend upon ‘knowing’ one has made the right choice of partner. There was a magical quality to the ‘difference’ they identified rather than a mundane or solid element.

A second response to this question was to express pride. This feel­ing could be based on a loosely political idea that being married is a way of making a stand in a predominantly heterosexual lifeworld (cf. Hull, 2006; Shipman and Smart, 2007). Two couples, one female and one male, were quite fierce about using the terms ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ whenever they could. Four male couples and one female couple had opted to take the same surname as a way of publicly proclaiming their married status (and an additional female couple opted for a double­barrelled name). Others wore rings and found themselves drawing attention to them in public.

And we get to wear wedding rings [laughter].

Yes, which we play with endlessly. […]

But it’s nice to wear a wedding ring [laughter].

I thought, you know, if I was wearing a wedding ring then I’d feel, if people asked me, then I’d feel embarrassed about explaining that I actually, you know, that I share a civil partnership with a man. No, it’s the opposite; it makes me feel more confi­dent about the relationship. It makes me feel –

Umberto: More empowered, would you say so?

Garry: Yes, exactly. It’s, just because it’s a symbol of what we’ve done,

I think the whole getting married aspect was something which does empower you; makes you stronger in express­ing the facts in an environment which might be sometimes difficult; expressing the fact that you are in a relationship with someone of the same-sex. […] I think that feeling of empowerment is somewhat symbolised by the ring.

Others expressed this feeling as getting more respect for their rela­tionship which they also saw in terms of taking a stand (Smart, 2008). As Phoebe (123b) puts it:

And you know in terms of equalities and rights and so on we always feel that in a same-sex relationship you’re not given the same level of respect as you were [when] you’re in a heterosexual relationship. So it gave a bit of, you know, oh I don’t want to say the word standing but you know it.

These accounts reflect the extent to which a civil partnership can be a political act and not solely a matter of personal choice. This is not to say that any of the couples married for political reasons, but having decided to have a civil partnership there could follow moments of clear politi­cal consciousness in which couples felt they had a right to demonstrate their equal citizenship.

Finally, among those who felt the civil partnership had made a differ­ence, there was the feeling that it was a signal that they had ‘grown up’ (see Chapters 4-6). The civil partnership marked a transition for some from being a person who could be impulsive, or who could move on if things were not working out, to becoming a person with responsibilities who needed to start planning a future:

Thinking of more grown up things, now that we’re married, and not just because we’ve got a house but I’m constantly thinking ahead of our future. Where are we going to be in ten years time? We’re think­ing so much more about our careers now. [. ] after the ceremony I remember my mother talking to me about it and saying, ‘You’re not my little boy any more now, you know you’re on your own, you’ve got your family now’. And that sort of, was quite – what’s the word I’m looking for – quite woke me up.

Stewart (206b)

As noted in earlier chapters, the idea of being a ‘grown up’ also fea­tured in references to life stages which infused so much of the couples’ narratives. Weeks et al. (2001: 39) argue that ‘there are many strong parallels in the meaning of family practices across the heterosexual – homosexual divide’ and we suggest that one such parallel is the way in which young couples construct the biography of their relationship in terms of stages. Within this framework, the civil partnership becomes an acknowledgement that the relationship has moved into a different ‘phase’ which gives rise to a sense of satisfaction and also an ability to look forward. The couples all felt they had someone to rely upon which in turn meant that plans could be made for living somewhere else, for a new career, for having children and generally moving on. By contrast, staying single was seen as less desirable and a much harder option:

It’s nice to come home to somebody. I certainly wouldn’t want to be single, certainly wouldn’t want to be gay and single […] because I don’t see it as being really much of a life, do you?

Neil (218b)