On Not Having a Civil Partnership: Some Personal and Methodological Reflections

Article excerpt


The introduction of civil partnerships in the UK, in late 2006, was generally greeted very positively by the LGBTQ community. However, civil partnerships are not without controversy. This brief commentary reflects on the process and challenges of collecting "queer data" on the views of same-sex couples who have not had and are not planning to have a civil partnership. I explore personal motivations for conducting the research and discuss some of the challenges of data collection. In particular, this research raises questions around the nature and conduct of research on sensitive topics. Lee (1993) described how research on sensitive topics presents threats of intrusion, sanction, and political difference or conflict, and it is argued that all of these are relevant to this research study. However, an additional challenge may be found in research that explores ambivalent or contradictory views. These may lead to inter- or intrapersonal conflict and participants may then feel the need to try to make sense of apparent contradictions in their narratives.

Key words: Civil partnership; same-sex marriage; reflexivity; researching sensitive topics


This brief commentary provides a reflection on the process of conducting qualitative research on civil partnerships. The study on which it draws (Rolfe & Peel, 2011) was conducted in 2008, a little over 2 years after the first civil partnerships were registered in the UK. At that time, civil partnerships were still relatively novel, but had nevertheless become a real choice for same-sex couples. Contemporaneous media accounts were largely couched within a liberal framework, seemingly adopted wholesale from a heterosexual discourse of "marriage" and "weddings" (Jowett & Peel, 2010). Meanwhile, feminist academics criticised the legislation for being both too "marriage-like" (Donovan, 2004; Lannutti, 2005) and at the same time, not marriage-like enough (Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 2004). Empirical research conducted around the time of their introduction similarly indicated that, whilst the Civil Partnership Act was welcomed and generally viewed very positively by the LGBTQ community (Peel, 2009), there were also mixed and more reserved responses (Village Citizens Advice Bureau, 2007; Harding, 2008; Mitchell, Dickens, & O'Connor, 2009; Peel, 2009). However, there has been limited exploration of these more ambivalent or critical perspectives from within the LGBTQ community.

This paper provides brief reflections on a small research study carried out to explore the views of people who choose not to have a civil partnership. Previous research suggested that the reasons for this would be a varied mix, reflecting the complexity and inherent contradictions in civil partnership legislation itself. Here, I reflect particularly on some of the personal motivations and methodological challenges in collecting "queer data" on civil partnerships.

Personal Reflection

The advent of civil partnerships felt, for me, liberating, affirming and potentially exciting. In the months following their introduction, now stretching into years, my partner and I intermittently considered what our civil partnership ceremony might look like. We have thought about where it might take place, what music we might play, and what we might eat afterwards - something special, yet nothing too pretentious. However, we have yet to have a civil partnership. There always seems to be something else to do with the time and money - a holiday, a new roof, a new boiler, another holiday. I also have to confess to some ambivalence about civil partnerships: I find them suspiciously marriage-like, when I had never seriously considered having a "wedding".

In the early days of thinking about having a civil partnership, I briefly searched for venues on the web. I was disappointed to find most to be publicity based on an assumption of heterosexuality, but with an image of a same-sex couple, dressed in wedding finery, apparently to show willing. …


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