Monday, 20 February 2017

The wait is over – please join us outside court tomorrow morning to hear the judgment

Dear supporters,

We’ve waited a long time for this moment. In less than 24 hours, the judges will hand down their ruling in our appeal against the government’s ongoing ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships.

Please join us outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London at 9.30am on Tuesday for breakfast and a photo call, before coming with us to Court No. 74 for the judgment. Please see our Facebook page for details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1387999787908716/ 

Whatever the judgment, we need to show that opening civil partnerships to all is not just fair and popular, but also the right thing for so many families and children across the country.

Let’s get the biggest crowd possible outside court on Tuesday to show our strength of feeling. 

Whether you’re there in person or in spirit, we thank you for all your solidarity. Your support over these last few years has brought us all closer than ever to making this change possible. 

Thank you again for your support.

Warm wishes, 

Rebecca and Charles

Friday, 18 November 2016

#equalcivilpartnerships petition hand-in

Yesterday was a wonderful day for the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign: We handed in our more than 70,000-strong Change.org petition to the Minister for Women and Equalities, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP. 

We were joined outside the Department for Education by supporters from across the political spectrum, including the Rt Hon Tim Loughton MP (Con) and Baronesses Lorely Burt (Lib Dem) and Liz Barker (Lib Dem). With us in spirit was our fabulous constituency MP Andy Slaughter (Lab), who has supported our efforts since the outset. 

There are over 3 million cohabiting couples with 1.9 million dependent children in the UK. These families urgently need access to the legal and financial safety net that civil partnerships can offer. It is simple for the Government to extend civil partnerships to all in order to protect those families - just remove the words limiting civil partnerships to couples "of the same sex" from the Civil Partnership Act 2004. 

We've shown that opening civil partnerships to both same-sex and mixed-sex couples is popular, fair and good for families. 

Now, let's hope the Minister for Women and Equalities lives up to the promise of her office, and does the right and simple thing - opens civil partnerships to all. 





Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Upcoming talk at UCL - 'Genital alteration and gender equality: the future of policy' - Wednesday 23rd November

At UCL next week, I will present my research on gender and genital alteration. My talk is entitled 'Genital alteration and gender equality: the future of policy.' It is part of the Institute of Advanced Studies' Gender and Feminism Network's seminar series. 

In the talk, I will critique contrasting global policies toward female and male genital alteration. These policies focus on eliminating female genital mutilation, or FGM, while tolerating or even encouraging male circumcision. 

I will explain that, on the surface, this seems unproblematic: Within global health and human rights circles, FGM is almost universally regarded as a barbaric manifestation of the patriarchal drive to control female sexuality, whereas male circumcision is seen as benign. 

Yet, I will point to the mounting empirical evidence and ethical critique that calls into question these contrasting perceptions and policies.

I will argue that maintaining policies premised on sex-based distinctions seems unsustainable and incompatible with gender equality. Instead, I will suggest that meaningful age-based distinctions between those unable (children) and able (adults) to give informed consent could constitute better policy. 

I will evaluate the merits of permissive and restrictive approaches to female and male genital alteration, assessing the advantages of specific policies. In so doing, I will argue for gender equality in genital alteration policies.

My talk stems from a wonderful collaborative partnership with my brilliant bioethicist friend and colleague, Brian Earp. We spent last summer conducting research at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva on a project entitled 'The Science, Politics, and Ethics of Male Circumcision: An Interdisciplinary Take on an Emerging Global Controversy.'

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Event details:

Date: Wednesday 23rd November
Time: 4:30-6:00 PM 
Location: IAS Seminar Room 19, First Floor, South Wing, Wilkins Building
For more information, see the Institute of Advanced Studies' event page here.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Join us ON THURSDAY at the Department for Education to hand in our petition

Over 71,000 people have signed my partner Charles Keidan's and my Change.org petition to open civil partnerships to all. Now it’s time to hand it in to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening MP, to show her that opening civil partnerships to all is popular, fair and good for families. 

Join us this Thursday 17th November at 10:00am outside the Department for Education (20 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT). Our wonderful MP Andy Slaughter will be there, together with reporters from the national press, who would love to speak to you about your own reasons for seeking a civil partnership. 

If you can’t be there, please show your support by tweeting @JustineGreening on Thursday to demand #equalcivilpartnerships 

If possible, please also donate so that we can continue putting pressure on the Government to extend civil partnerships: https://www.gofundme.com/ecpcampaigns 

Update on the court case

The Court of Appeal judges clearly recognised the importance of this issue. Sadly, the Government remained intransigent. Now we await judgement. 

Thank you to everyone who joined us outside court – it meant so much to us. Our fearsome, all-female legal team did a stellar job! Thank you to Sarah Hannett, a brilliant rising star of equality law at Matrix Chambers, to Karon Monaghan for her incredible stamina over the two-day hearing, and to our dedicated solicitor Louise Whitfield, of Deighton Pierce Glynn. 

We will let you know the result as soon as we can. 

In the meantime, let’s celebrate the ground we’ve covered: over 71,000 signatures, backing from MPs across the political spectrum, civil partnerships on the Isle of Man, and more than £40,000 raised in crowdfunding. The wind is in our sails… 

Please help us to keep up the pressure. 

Thank you all so much,

Rebecca and Charles

For regular updates, please:
- Like our Facebook page
- Follow us on Twitter @EqualCPs
- Check out our website 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Tomorrow is our BIG day

No, my partner Charlie and I are not getting married!!!

Instead, this time tomorrow, we’ll be at the Court of Appeal making the case for civil partnerships for all.

We could not have come this far without our wonderful supporters: over 70,000 people have signed our Change.org petition! Thanks to their commitment and personal stories of why they want a civil partnership, the press, policymakers and the public now appreciate the importance of this issue. 

They understand that there are over 3 million cohabiting couples with 1.9 million dependent children. They realise that these families urgently need access to the legal and financial safety net that civil partnerships can offer. They recognise how simple it is for the Government to extend civil partnerships to all in order to protect those families. 

We need to repeat that message until the law is changed. If you support our efforts, please help us by doing these things NOW:

1. Join us outside Court tomorrow. Details: 9am, Wednesday 2nd November, The Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, London WC2A 2LL. 

2. Please donate to our campaign fund so we can continue to push for #equalcivilpartnerships until this change is made: https://www.gofundme.com/ECPcampaigns

3. Tweet us and we’ll retweet you! Tweet your reasons for supporting #equalcivilpartnerships and/or wanting a civil partnership yourself to @EqualCPs. We’ll share your tweet with our followers. 

4. Please ask your MP to add their name to an Early Day Motion that was tabled in Parliament yesterday. You can ask your MP to support civil partnerships with just a few clicks via this link: http://fast-plains-92257.herokuapp.com/campaigns/equal-civil-partnerships-edm 

Thank you all so much,

Rebecca and Charles

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Politics of Birth Certificates

Should birth certificates include details of genetic and gestational parentage? I argue yes. 

In the blog below, written after a fascinating and, at times, difficult and moving panel discussion I attended last night about possible legal reforms to birth certificates in the UK, I argue that a child's "right to know their parents," enshrined in Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, trumps parental interests in preserving the privacy of their child's conception. As a result, I suggest that we should state mandate disclosure of genetic and gestational parentage to the child via compulsory biological information on their birth certificate. I recognise that such mandatory state disclosure might seem heavy-handed to some, and of course there are legitimate concerns about what the state could do with such information. But the alternative – denying all children the equal right to know who are their genetic and gestational parents – seems worse. Have a read of my blog, if you have a moment, and let me know your thoughts!

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Last night, I attended a fascinating and, at times, difficult and moving panel discussion about possible legal reforms to birth certificates in the UK. Organised by the Progress Educational Trust at the Institute for Child Health in London, the event was prompted by the Law Commission's suggestion that it might consider birth registration and birth certificates as part of its next law reform project.  

The discussion first explored the broad question of the purpose of birth certificates. It then homed in on more specific questions about the impact of assisted conception and changing family forms on birth registration. Dr Julie McCandless, a legal scholar at LSE, began by highlighting “the multiple, and sometimes competing and contradictory understandings that people have of the purpose of birth registration.” She asked: "Does it record a person? An event? Legal relationships? Is it meant as a permanent record or merely as a snapshot of a particular moment in time?" Sarah Norcross, Director of the PET, asked whether birth certificates are for the state’s benefit – to enable it to monitor fertility rates, predict population growth, and plan pension provisions – while panel chair Professor Peter Braude asked whether they are instead for the individual’s benefit – to enable them to access public services, like healthcare and education, that are contingent on proving age and nationality.

These are all important questions. And certainly, as McCandless argues, “These questions need to be addressed if law reform in this area is to be principled and forward looking, rather than merely piecemeal and reactionary.”

But perhaps as important – and certainly more difficult, as evidenced by the tense exchanges that emerged during the Q&A last night – is the question of whether birth certificates should detail only a child’s legal parents or if they should also provide information on that child’s biological backstory. Specifically, should birth certificates detail a person’s ‘journey of conception and gestation’ by including information about their genetic parents (egg and/or sperm donors) and gestational parents (surrogates)? This is not easy to answer, and it raised strong emotions amongst panelists and audience members alike.

Some panelists argued that conception and gestation information is private, and that parents should not be forced to disclose personal details about their child’s conception to either the state (via a public registration document) or to their children – unless and until they are ready and willing to do so. As panelist Kate Litwinczuk, herself donor-conceived, put it, “Openness and honesty are crucial. But smashing this information onto a birth certificate might scare people. It could be used as a way to threaten people into telling their children. That should happen when within yourself, as a parent, you’ve made peace with it.” Craig Reisser, speaking in his capacity as a father of two donor-conceived children, concurred. “The details of conception are a private family matter,” he said, “not a matter for the public record or that a parent or child should have to show to a passport officer.” US attorney Steven Snyder took a similar stance. He agreed that “family secrets are destructive” and that “those who participate in third party reproduction should be open and honest.” But the question, for him, was whether such disclosures should be mandated by the state and/or via the birth certification process. In his view, such forced disclosure could give rise to litigation regarding issues like inheritance. Consequently, he concluded, “All parties should disclose, while ensuring that parties are insulated from unintended legal consequences. Encourage disclosure, don’t state mandate it.”

Others disagreed with this approach. Dr Marilyn Crawshaw, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers’ Project Group on Assisted Reproduction, countered, “Human rights of donor-conceived and surrogate born children should be paramount, trumping parents. Knowing your identity and parents should apply to genetic parents, gestational parents, legal parents and those raising you. As citizens, we have a right for the state to facilitate information about us.” Two donor-conceived audience members agreed. They spoke movingly about the detrimental effects on an individual’s sense of self and identity of having conception information withheld from them, and from donor-conceived children in general, until early or late adulthood. “It is not enough to leave it to the goodwill of parents because it doesn’t always happen. Donor conceived people want to know,” said one. “But what is the purpose of knowing?” countered a panelist. “So you can know your genetic code? So you can prevent or cure disease? So you can be part of your donor’s family?” “Because a donor-conceived person has a right to know, and doesn’t have to justify that with a reason,” the audience member answered emphatically.

There was an evident and uncomfortable power dynamic at play during this exchange: The intended parent, atop the podium, fully aware of all the information concerning his children’s conception, arguing for his right to control the flow of that information; the donor-conceived child-now-adult, sitting below in the audience, insisting on his right to know, whatever his legal parents’ preferences, but ultimately powerless to access such personal information.

Over the course of their discussion, I became increasingly convinced of the paramount importance of a child’s right to know, of the parents’ responsibility to disclose – of course, in age-appropriate language, and at a time when the child is able to comprehend and process the information – and, in the absence of that voluntary parental disclosure, of the state’s duty to provide the information. As numerous contributors pointed out, the child’s right to know is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Article 7, which states “All children have the right to a legally registered name, officially recognised by the government. Children have the right to a nationality (to belong to a country). Children also have the right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their parents” (my emphasis). By contrast, during the evening, I was not pointed to an equally weighty, universally-applicable right to privacy of either the intended, genetic or gestational parents. Is there one? Consequently, framing the issue as one of merely “competing interests,” as Snyder did, ignores the primacy of the child’s right in Article 7. Meanwhile, framing it as a “balance of rights” issue (of parents, children, and other third parties involved), as Reisser did, does not seem backed-up by competing equivalent parental rights. For me, then, the child’s right to know trumps mere parental interests, whether those are the interests of the legal, intended, genetic and/or gestational parents.


Plus, as was pointed out, voluntary disclosure cannot guarantee openness and honesty. Some parents may never be ready to disclose. Some may fear alienating their children, of creating emotional distance between them and their children, or of enabling potentially rival parents to enter the picture. Others may be concerned about their children’s status in, or acceptance by, a particular community, perhaps especially a religious one with fixed ideas about kinship and family ties. Some parents may want to disclose but not have the words to express the complexity of their emotions around the issue. What if some parents are never ready? What if they die without disclosing, taking this family secret with them to the grave? Is that fair on the child?


My sense is that it is not fair on the child. And so, perhaps along with the other pains of assisted reproduction – invasive testing, financial costs, the emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy and pregnancy loss – will, sadly, have to come another pain for the intended parents: mandatory disclosure to the child via compulsory biological information on their birth certificate. Such mandatory state disclosure might seem heavy-handed to some, and of course there are legitimate concerns about what the state could do with such information. But the alternative – denying all children the equal right to know who are their genetic and gestational parents – seems worse.


The next questions are about application and enforcement: Should there be an additional long-form registration form with a mark on the first, shorter form to direct donor-conceived children towards their biological backstory? My sense is not. Such a mark could be stigmatizing, implying that this kind of information is shameful or abnormal and therefore ought to be hidden away from public view in a long-form version. Also, an individual would have to know what the mark signified, rendering the information inaccessible. Instead, I would suggest additional boxes be inserted on ALL birth certificates to include information about genetic and gestational parents, as well as other co-parents. With increasing rates of assisted conception and changing family forms, this would soon be normalized. Those engaging in transnational surrogacy or sourcing genetic material from abroad should be similarly compelled to detail their child’s genetic and gestational parentage on their birth certificate when returning and registering in the UK. Going abroad should not be seen or used as a way to avoid disclosure, thereby violating a child’s right to know.


The event’s hashtag was #petrecord 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Join us at Court!

It may be getting colder outside but things here at the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign are hotting up. In less than a month, my partner Charles Keidan and I take our case to the Court of Appeal! 

We would be honoured if you could join us outside the Court of Appeal in London as the hearing begins on Wednesday 2nd November. Let’s celebrate our shared cause together and show judges and policymakers alike how much this means to us all. 

We’ll be gathering outside the court at 9.00am for breakfast and photos, complete with lots of giant cut-out hearts! You can sign up here or just turn up on the day. The press may ask to interview couples who want a civil partnership, so if that’s you and you’re happy to be interviewed, please drop us a line: hello@equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk 


Date: Wednesday 2nd November
Time: 9am
Place: Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, London


We want to make the day as colourful as we can so we’re going to be putting our art skills to the test by creating lots of large cut-out hearts for the occasion. Please join us for that if you can on Tuesday 18th October - otherwise make your own at home and bring them along. Sign up here

Positive Progress 

There’s been lots of positive progress over the last few months. The Isle of Man has introduced same-sex marriage and different-sex civil partnerships, showing how easy and possible it is to attain full relationship equality. Why can’t England and Wales be next? 

The number of MPs and other prominent people backing our cause has also continued to grow. MPs from all parties are calling for civil partnerships to be open to all. So too are public figures, like the writer Owen Jones, as well as organisations including Liberty and TUC Women. 

Every ounce of pressure counts. That’s why we would dearly like to see your show of support during our hearing. 

It’s only with all your support that we’ve come this far - and that we’ll be able to go further. 

Thank you all and warm wishes from all of us here at the campaign, 

Rebecca and Charles 

@beccasteinfeld & @charleskeidan

#equalcivilpartnerships #equallove 

PS - If you haven't already done so, please consider donating to the campaign via this link https://www.gofundme.com/ECPcampaigns

Monday, 22 August 2016

My talk on 'Genital Alteration: Towards More Empirical, Ethical and Effective Policies' at Keele University, 14 September

I am looking forward to sharing my research on policies towards female and male genital alteration at the 14th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy at Keele University on 14 September 2016.

As I explain in my abstract, global and Western states’ policies toward genital alteration tend to focus on eliminating female genital mutilation, or FGM, while tolerating or even encouraging male circumcision. On the surface, this seems unproblematic: Within global health and human rights circles, FGM is almost universally regarded as bad and barbaric – as a savage and severely harmful manifestation of the patriarchal drive to control female sexuality – whereas male circumcision is seen as benign or even beneficial. Yet mounting empirical evidence and ethical critique calls into question these contrasting perceptions, and, in turn, the divergent policies they underpin. In this paper, I argue that maintaining policies premised on sex-based distinctions seems unsustainable, as well as incompatible with gender equality. Instead, I suggest that meaningful age-based distinctions between those unable (children) and able (adults) to give informed consent could constitute more empirical, ethical and effective policies. I evaluate the merits and demerits of both permissive and restrictive approaches to female and male genital alteration, and assess the advantages and disadvantages of some specific alternative policies.

My talk stems from a wonderful collaborative partnership with my brilliant bioethicist friend and colleague, Brian Earp. Together, we have spent the summer conducting research at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva on a project entitled "The Science, Politics, and Ethics of Male Circumcision: An Interdisciplinary Take on an Emerging Global Controversy."

For more information about my talk, see here

For more information about the symposium and its programme, see here.

For more information about Brian Earp's and my research together, see here


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Upcoming research with brilliant bioethicist Brian Earp at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva

I am extremely excited to soon be joining my brilliant bioethicist friend and colleague, Brian Earp, at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva for a month long residency of researching and writing about male circumcision. 

Our project, entitled "The Science, Politics, and Ethics of Male Circumcision: An Interdisciplinary Take on an Emerging Global Controversy," will involve our planning and organising an academic conference on male circumcision featuring the leading researchers on this subject from ethics, history, law, medicine, religious studies, and across the social and political sciences. We hope that the output of this conference will form the basis of an edited collection of essays on a range of circumcision-related topics and debates.

For more information on the research we have planned during our joint residency, please see my researcher profile here






Monday, 20 June 2016

Presentation on 'Gender in Israel' at Brandeis University's Summer Institute for Israel Studies

It was both a pleasure and a privilege to present my ideas for teaching about 'Gender in Israel' to the fellows of the 2016 Summer Institute for Israel Studies at Brandeis University.

As I explained in my talk, research on gender in Israel emanates from multiple disciplines and addresses numerous contested questions. These include:
  • The extent to which kibbutzim have lived up to their egalitarian promise
  • The impact of the military on gender roles and relations 
  • The effect of religious beliefs and institutions on ideas about and practices relating to gender
  • How gender has intersected with socio-economic class, ethnicity, race and religion in Israel
  • The historical roots and contemporary sources of Israeli pro-natalism, or encouragement of childbirth
  • The factors offsetting Israel's pro-natalism
  • The implications of Israel's pro-natalism for women's reproductive health and rights
If you would like to read my syllabus, which includes an overview of the scholarship both on gender and on reproduction in Israel, together with my recommended readings, please click here

Thank you to the director of the Schusterman Centre for Israel Studies at Brandeis, David Ellenson, and to the associate director, Rachel Fish, for not only inviting me to present, but also giving me such a warm welcome. Thanks also to Anina Selve, Rise Singer and Abby Huber for all of their hard work in helping and supporting me in myriad ways.