It’s the peak of wedding season and thousands of women across the UK are anxiously preparing for “the best day of their lives”. Diets, waxes, beauticians, wedding dresses “hen” parties, rings, photographers, the perfect venue, flowers, coordinating bridesmaids dresses, a lot of money and a lot more stress all to prove that the height of feminine achievement has been attained. It’s time to get married.
In its conventional format, marriage was a means of ensuring a man’s lineage, wealth, status and, ultimately, power. Today it remains an enduring tenet of patriarchal culture, remodelled by capitalist values; a mighty marketing tool that still manages to oppress women on multiple levels. Granted, whilst marriage can be, to quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “a source of joy and love and mutual support”, it’s outrageous that it’s socially acknowledged as the most important milestone in a woman’s life.
There are many reasons to have major beef with the practice of marriage in its traditional format, but I want to talk about something that is less well known. Currently, under UK law, only fathers are legally permitted to be included on marriage certificates, meaning that mums, in their very many forms, are publicly and historically erased from this culturally significant event. This is interesting considering the significance marriage is suggested to have in regards to womanhood.
Recently, my partner and I decided to dive into this ancient ritual. Yes, we got married, which in the UK requires giving an official 28 days notice to your local registry office. At this stage they interview you and the question that fuelled my great disdain pops up: “What is your father’s name?” Well, I didn’t want his name to be recorded. I was raised single-handedly by a devoted and intelligent working-class mother. Hence I responded, “I don’t wish to include his name, but by all means you can take my mother’s.” The registry clerk stopped me short, because mothers can’t be included on certificates. Why? Apparently changing the law would be a bureaucratic nightmare that would cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. So the lady I was speaking with couldn’t write my mum’s name on a piece of paper.
It’s not simply a piece of paper though is it? It’s a historical artifact. Our descendants might try to trace their family line with it, and my mum, regardless of the immeasurable impact she has on my life, will be erased from this chapter of my existence.
Whilst some might perceive this as a tiny act of exclusion, the reality is that it grossly undermines the role of women in raising children and is a public declaration of the lack of respect for mothers in the UK. According to Statista, in 2017 there were 1.6 million lone mothers with dependent children in the UK, and a further 830,000 women, like my mum, with non-dependent children. That’s over 2.5 million women who won’t be legally acknowledged on the marriage certificate if their children ever decide to tie the knot. It’s a mechanism for writing women out of history.
Marginalised people being written out of history is nothing new and my situation caused me to start thinking of alternative family setups. What if my mum had transitioned and she were now my dad? What if my dad were living as a transgender woman? Would they still be excluded from the document? If UK legislation is not progressive enough to include mothers in its constitutional practices, it seems highly unlikely that it should be considerate of the rights of transgender individuals. Alternatively, you may have been raised by a single father but have a mother who has passed away. Wouldn’t it be a fitting act of memorialisation to have her on your marriage certificate?
This isn’t about saying that fathers don’t, can’t or don’t want to contribute to raising their children. It’s about finally saying that women have been dominant in raising generations of people for the larger part of history and that they are still responsible for the majority of parental caregiving obligations. Women’s efforts in raising children is largely undermined by society despite this. Raising children is not simply ‘this woman’s work’, as Kate might put it, but the very foundation of civil society. This is something that is slowly changing.
Retailers, such as Paperchase, are beginning to acknowledge the efforts of single mothers and their unique circumstances, as expressed in their 2018 line of Father’s Day Cards.
Political progress towards the inclusion of mothers on marriage certificates is taking place. Following the 2014 Change.org petition, “Mothers’ names should be on marriage certificates alongside fathers’ names”, created by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, the subject has been debated in parliament up to as late as February 2018. Evidently, a change is still on hold, as my personal experience testifies to this. I got married in May 2018 and I left the space for my ‘father’s’ name blank since there is no space for mothers.
We need to reclaim marriage as something to symbolise two people’s love for one another, transforming it into a beautiful, diverse ceremony that celebrates the input of everyone who shapes the lives of these two people. Whatsmore, I want to take every opportunity to tell the world who the most important woman in my life is – my mum! The origin of marriage as a contractual exchange between men is archaic and insulting, it’s something that should be written out of marriage.
Written by Lora Jury