Recently, we heard the good news that France and Scotland are about to legalize same-sex marriage. Beyond the obvious lessons about the importance of this step, there is another significant lesson for the U.S. from these two countries’ experience.
Both nations already recognize civil partnerships that confer all or most of the benefits of marriage, except the name. These civil partnerships provide an alternative to couples who want more certainty respecting the legal ramifications of their unions. But there is a big difference between their partnership systems. In Scotland, as in most other countries, the intent of establishing civil partnership was mainly to impede the legalization of same-sex marriage; civil partnership was restricted to same-sex couples.
Hence, civil partnership in Scotland is a kind of “separate but equal” arrangement — or marriage with a different name. In France, by contrast, civil partnership is open also to opposite-sex couples and provides a kind of registered cohabitation — a flexible arrangement built on a contract determined by the couple and registered with the state. It has become extremely popular among heterosexual couples. Recently, for every three marriages, two civil partnerships were registered; and in the past ten years more than a million have been put on the books. In fact, the current prime minister, Francois Hollande, was once registered as the partner of Segolene Royal, another French politician.
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