by Leslie Robinson
In this period of expanding gay rights, individuals have the chance to be the first to do a number of things. You can be the first in your state to enter into a civil union, or be the first openly gay bishop of your church.
One notable “first” has now been officially achieved. Suzanne Mitchell of Shrewsbury, England, will always be the first woman convicted of bigamy under Britain’s new civil partnership system. I wonder if that will win her a place in Madame Tussauds.
Mitchell entered into a civil partnership with her girlfriend Caroline Beddows in 2006. Trouble was, she was still married to her husband Charles. What a thing to slip your mind.
The way the online version of The Mail on Sunday reported it, Mitchell, a 29-year-old barmaid, and Beddows, a 24-year-old secretary, met at a bus stop and soon became a couple. Mitchell led Beddows to believe she was divorced from Charles. The two women lived together, and decided to take the next step of joining in a civil partnership.
Three times during the official partnership process Mitchell claimed to be single. Not once did lightning nail her to the floor, and the newlyweds headed off for wedded bliss.
However, a domestic dust-up over furniture led to Beddows learning the truth. I wish the newspaper gave more detail than that–I’m so curious how the scene unfolded. Maybe the women were arguing over whether to keep a chair, and Mitchell declared, “I know it’s a ratty old thing, but I like it because Charles gave it to me. He IS my husband, after all . . . Oops.”
Mitchell was arrested, and pleaded guilty to breaching the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act. Her place in history was assured.
During the legal proceedings, Mitchell’s lawyer told the court, “Mrs. Mitchell is a naive individual with limited acumen.” In other words, a rock at Stonehenge has more on the ball than she does.
The Times Online carried bits from an interview Mitchell gave to a publication before her trial. Looking back to the start of her relationship with Beddows, Mitchell said she had been depressed and her marriage was troubled. She got involved with Beddows as a lark. But they became close and Beddows moved in with her, while Charles moved downstairs.
Apparently this was the modern version of “Upstairs, Downstairs.”
Mitchell said of the civil partnership, “I didn’t think it was a proper marriage. I thought it was just a blessing to show that I was committed to her. I knew I was still married to Charles. I just feel very angry that I ever got involved with her.”
Naturally Beddows no longer feels rapture over the relationship either. “When I found out she was still married to Charles about a month after our civil partnership ceremony I went ballistic. Before the ceremony Suzanne insisted I changed my name to hers so we would be a proper couple. Now I will have to change it back.”
I’m sympathetic to Beddows, but I suspect both women should be sent off to the Tower of London; Mitchell for gross deception, Beddows for gross credulity. Off with their heads! They don’t use them anyway.
In the end, Judge Robin Owens spared Mitchell jail, instead handing the illustrious Madam Bigamy, who’s now back with Charles, an eight-month suspended sentence and 100 hours of community service.
The judge said, “If there are any innocent parties in this unhappy little story it is the children.”
Oh, did I leave out the kids? Now pregnant, Mitchell already has five children–or three, depending on which story you read. Maybe she knows how to hide them, too.