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Civil partnership – why Alastair Campbell and Fiona Millar tied the knot

Posted at Apr 04, 2021

I have never been the marrying type. Thankfully, nor has the woman with whom I have now lived for twice as many years as I lived without her. I am 63. So is she. We met 41 years ago, moved together into a flat in Tavistock, Devon within a few weeks of meeting as trainee journalists, and have been more or less together ever since.

Marriage, to me, has always been about religion. Two people, in a church, with a minister or a priest in charge of proceedings, making unbreakable vows before God. But I don’t believe in God. I don’t much believe in hypocrisy either, and I have seen enough of other people’s marriages to know that the vows all too often have the solidity of a Boris Johnson manifesto promise. Or, indeed, a Boris Johnson marriage vow, or promise to a mistress.

Fiona is also an atheist but more importantly, in this context, a feminist. There was a period in our 20s and early 30s when we seemed to be going to a white wedding every other weekend, and while I raged about friends I knew to be somewhat detached from godliness doing the God thing, Fiona would smile quietly throughout, but in the car home wonder how a modern woman could “go along with all that being ‘given away’ by one man to another, like a bloody chattel”. As for “obey!” – don’t even go there.

So on we pottered, happily unmarried, ups and downs, the joys of having children, the ups and downs of family life, years rolled into years, decades rolled into decades, and I don’t think anyone who knows us would say we were anything other than a “couple”.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, with their children Ariel and Eden, outside Kensington and Chelsea Register Office, London, after becoming one of the first heterosexual couples to register for a civil partnership. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

With a new volume of diaries out last week, forgive me a blatant plug, but anyone who has read the latest or the previous seven volumes will know that it has not all been unalloyed bliss. Indeed, when the first volume was published, Fiona wrote a piece about her index entry, full of references to being cross, angry, fed up, hostile. No fewer than 15 references to rows about when to leave Number 10, and one reference to her being “happy and relaxed”, on page 755. The book ended two pages later.

She has written that “on balance, I am pleased we stayed together through it all”. On balance – how romantic, like, on the one hand, it is sometimes bearable, and on the other, it’s not.

By volume four – Iraq, protesters and photographers outside the house, the kids fed up with us bringing arguments home, no such thing as a quiet weekend or an uninterrupted holiday – we were close to breaking point, but thankfully didn’t break. Good job really. On balance, I am not sure I would survive the practicalities and vicissitudes of life without her. Is it OK to say I don’t know how to access online banking, change a plug, use the coffee machine, let alone make a moderately sized decision without talking it through with her from every angle? So, the commitment always having been clear, why did we decide to put pen to paper, and take part in a ceremony to confirm that commitment legally at Camden Register Office in front of – Covid restrictions meant only four witnesses – our three children and our elder son’s partner? The answer is really quite simple – because we could. The spur was the change in attitudes, and then the change in laws. The Blair government legalised civil partnerships for same-sex couples, David Cameron then brought in the right to same-sex marriage, leaving heterosexual couples disadvantaged in law.

The only choice for us was what my mother used to call “living in sin” or marriage, and even though it meant less protection under the law, we both continued to see the former as preferable. There was the option of a non-religious civil marriage ceremony, but it was still “marriage”.

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On a long drive to Scotland a few years ago we happened to hear another unmarried couple, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, being interviewed on the radio about their legal challenge to the UK government about this injustice.

Fiona immediately got in touch with them, and for the last six years has been part of a campaign for equal civil partnerships, which has meant we and many other couples and families can enjoy the same rights and protections as the married, but without the cultural baggage of marriage.

As our friend and fellow former Mirror trainee Lindsay Nicholson put it on Instagram: “Such a Campbell-Millar way to go about things … first we campaign for equality under the law!”

In practice it will make very little difference to our lives, and we opted for the most minimal ceremony – as have many other couples, it seems – with vague plans for a post-Covid celebration ceilidh. But when our turn came, the sun shone brightly and we were able to have a Rule of Six celebration in the garden with the family on what felt like a midsummer day. It was a genuinely happy occasion and even the land of Twitter, which can be harsh, seemed to enjoy the photos we shared. More than 20,000 likes, and barely a snarky comment. Perhaps, though we don’t do God, God was doing us.

Alastair Campbell Diaries: Volume 8: Rise and Fall of the Olympic Spirit is published by Biteback (£25)