Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan do not want to get married – but they want all the legal protection it affords. They have now taken their case to the Supreme Court to fight for the right of heterosexual couples to enter a civil partnership. What does the Torah say about this?
Genesis states that man should leave his parents, “cling” to his wife and be “one flesh”.
This indicates a unique relationship, which describes a partnership that is carnal, but with no hint of the institutionalisation of marriage.
During the era of the forefathers, Isaac takes Rebecca as a wife into the tent of his mother, Sarah, and after that loves her; here, the setting up of a marital home precedes even emotional attachment.
The Talmud bases Jewish marriage upon the “taking” or acquisition of rights to a spouse, actively distancing itself from spousal unity as essentially carnal.
The modern Jewish wedding ceremony is therefore both contractual and about home-making, the latter symbolised by the wedding canopy.
In Judaism, civil partnership is closer to pilagshut, or Jewish concubinage, an option where marriage is not a feasible option and a Beth Din must agree to the partnership and register it.
In English law, civil marriage is a legal partnership, while the requirement of divorce is a throwback to the religious roots of marriage.
By contrast, civil partnership is totally secular in nature and only requires dissolution of partnership.
Although marriages are always more romantic, if a heterosexual couple are unsure about how far they want to go in cementing their togetherness, a civil partnership is certainly a good option to take, if nothing else as a first step.
There is no point in a greater commitment when unsure.
ω Ariel Abel is Padre to HM Forces and rabbi of Liverpool Princes Road Synagogue