Erez Aloni (2011-2013 Center for Reproductive Rights-Columbia Law School Fellow) published in today's HuffPo (here) an op-ed entitled "The Future of Our Relationships." He writes about anticipated Scottish legislation would permit same-sex marriage in that country. Scotland currenly permits civil partnerships for same-sex couples (and only same-sex couples). Here's an excerpt from the piece:
With Scotland's recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage, it may possibly remove the option of civil partnership, as Norway, Vermont, and Connecticut did. However, Scotland could decide to mimic France, which offers its citizens a menu of options for the legal recognition of relationships. No longer are the choices limited to marriage or informal cohabitation -- all or nothing. Rather, couples can choose to marry, or, instead, to register their partnerships with the state and gain the benefit of state and third-party recognition of their union while avoiding some of the obligations and loaded symbolic baggage that come with marriage.
Think about it this way: civil union -- or state registration -- could be the perfect solution for people in a trial cohabitation period, for the elderly who prefer to avoid a new marriage, and for those who want to eschew matrimony for whatever reason. What is more, the state could set up civil partnerships (as Belgium has, for instance) benefiting other dyadic relationships -- friends, relatives, or caregivers. Under this system, you could design your legal commitment to suit your relationship ties while avoiding awkward societal, familial, and legal hassles.
Aloni makes two important points. First, there's no reason that civil partnership must be organized around sexual choices. (In other words, "civil partnership" could be available to two elderly sisters who live together and share all expenses, for example.) Second, from a legislative perspective, a jurisdiction could offer intended partners a choice between civil unions and marriage. In other words, each couple could make a decision about the level of legal benefits and burdens they wish to import as "default terms" of their relationship.