An Austrian straight couple wants to get a civil union, which just started in that country in January:
A heterosexual couple in Austria is fighting for the right to enter into a registered civil partnership - introduced for homosexual couples in January 2010. Under current law the couple will be denied that right - but they have vowed to take the case to the country's constitutional court to overturn what they says is a discriminatory legislation.
Austria introduced civil unions for gay couples on January 1, affording them some of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. The new legislation, passed after weeks of wrangling between the ruling Social Democrats and their conservative coalition partner in government, gives same-sex couples a status similar to traditional marriage but different in a number of respects. For instance, there are less strict rules in the event of a divorce.
The heterosexual couple in question argues that this is a more modern form of union - which simply suits them better than a traditional marriage. And if it's offered to gay couples, why shouldn't it be an option for them as well? The issue at stake, they argue, is standing up against discrimination.
This reminds me of a couple in Britain that did the same late last year:
A couple who want to become the first heterosexuals in Britain to have a civil partnership said they would begin a legal challenge after a council refused their request today .
Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, both 25, want the same legal rights as any husband and wife, but said they did not want to be seen to be "colluding with the segregation that exists in matrimonial law between gay civil partnerships and straight civil marriage".
The couple applied for a civil partnership at Islington register office, in north London, but were refused because UK law bans opposite-sex civil partnerships.
Freeman and Doyle, who are supported by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, plan to seek legal advice.
"If necessary, we are ready to take our appeal all the way to the European court of human rights," said Freeman, a civil servant.
In a joint statement, the pair said they were "saddened and disappointed" that they had been refused because of their sexuality.
"In a democratic state, all institutions should be open to all people," the statement added.
In France, where civil unions (aka PACS) are already open to straight couples, plenty of straight people are joining in the fun:
According to a recent government study, same-sex couples now make up less than 7% of the people entering PACS, even though we were 43% of those people in 1999. While the number of pacs being signed has increased each year to 77,000 in 2006, the number of marriages in France hasn't decreased in the past seven years, so these unions are probably coming from people who would otherwise not be married.
It sounds like the legal situation in Austria is similar to that in France, in that civil unions are easier to get out of. When I was looking into the PACS last year and asked for the papers, and one of the things you have provide to get a PACS is, for lack of a better term, a pre-nuptual agreement. While no one particularly wants to think of the end of a relationship at the beginning, but it's a smart thing to do nowadays and having the government force you to do it gives the more nervous half of any relationship an out.
Also, doing it the way they did in France, with PACS for straight and gay couples but marriage only for straight people, makes the lack of same-sex marriage and the discrimination involved in creating an institution for straights only all the more obvious. When it's "gays have civil unions, straights have marriage," it sets up a clear two-tier legal system that has the imprimatur of fairness, or at least naturalness, attached to it.
Not all relationships are equal, but the Christian right is wrong when they say the distinction is only along the line of sexual orientation. Some relationships are just interpreted in different ways by the people in them and should be easier to get out of and have different rights and responsibilities attached to them. Add to that the fact that marriage has an enormous amount of cultural baggage for many people, baggage that's negative to many people, and it makes sense to provide people with several options to protect their relationships.
Either they're approaching it from that angle or the Austrian couple are just some straights making asses of themselves. But, as the couple said, echoing gaystream messaging to a T: "The issue is equality - nothing but equality."