Today, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will face its Second Reading in the UK House of Commons. On one side, those in favour of the bill to grant gay men and lesbians the right to enter into a marriage; on the other, those in favour of marriage remaining the exclusive preserve of one man, and one woman. The latter are the dinosaurs standing against human progress.
What is Equal Marriage?
The Bill currently before UK parliament might not be considered equal marriage. It extends the possibility of marriage to same sex couples, but is purely an ‘opt in’ exercise for religious institutions. No one will be forced to conduct marriages of same sex couples. So this bill does not grant gay couples the right to marry on the same basis as heterosexual people. It is not the final say in equal marriage, but a step in the general direction.
The Church of England, the Catholic Church and the Muslim Council of Great Britain stand opposed to the bill as institutions. However, the laity appears much more divided. While some members are handing out anti-gay postcards, others are setting up Catholics for Marriage Equality groups.
But opposition to the Bill is not the sole preserve of religious institutions or people of faith.
Why are people lining up to prevent women marrying women, and men marrying men?
“You’re Undermining Marriage!”
This is normally the first salvo fired by the Forces Against Gay Love Brigade (or the FAG Love Brigade for short). Members of this by no means homogenous group, when appealing on TV, radio and in the papers cry plaintively at their audience: if you let gay men and lesbians marry each other, where will it end? Will cats marry dogs? Sisters marry brothers? Will teddy bears marry Barbies?! You might think this something of an embellishment. But is not nearly as much an embellishment as I wish it were in the 21st century. This is argument is only legitimate to homophobic people who seriously consider gay relationships as at best ridiculous and at worst disgusting.
In a paper entitled “Redefining Marriage – The Case for Caution” Julian Rivers sets out what he describes as a secular case against equal marriage. He includes arguments that allowing same sex couple to marry will undermine the exclusivity of marriage –claiming that polygamists and polyamorists are forming a militant queue behind the gays for their rights.
Firstly, a bill cannot be judged on some bigoted persons imagined fait accompli of hypothetical future bills.
Secondly, if society develops to embrace a wider range of relationships as legitimate, then future bills may well appear before parliament, but they will only be reflecting the changing priorities of civil society.
Allowing consenting adults to marry each other undermines marriage, like allowing women to play cricket undermines cricket. The threat is only perceived by people with a bigoted mindset. To anyone else, there are just more people sharing in something wonderful.
“Marriage is About Men and Women Bringing Up Children”
Confronted with the fallacy of the ‘marriage extended is marriage undermined’ argument, the FAG Love Brigade actually redefines marriage themselves. Marriage is no longer about two consenting adults committing to spend the rest of their lives together. No. Now marriage is actually nothing to do with the relationship but part of a biological imperative to produce children and bring those children up in a ‘stable’ (read:’ heterosexual’) environment. Hence, it is not applicable to same sex couples.
This argument is so specious it is almost difficult to know where to start in responding to it. Married couples have been NOT having children through choice or circumstance for as long as marriage has existed. Are we going to start revoking the marriage licenses of the childless couples of the land? Are childless couples somehow bringing the institution of marriage into disrepute? No? Then shut up. Just shut up.
Perhaps the most offensive line in the Julian Rivers paper, reads:
“Only a man and a woman can form the biological unit capable of pro-creating another being ‘free and equal in dignity and rights’. No new human being can exist as a living expression of the intimacy of a same-sex couple.”
This seems to imply that a human being is produced solely through conception. Most of us must be aware, surely, that a human being is an expression of sex, not intimacy. A person is a living expression of their life experiences. There need be no intimacy involved whatsoever to conceive a child, but to raise a child into a considerate, confident, loved and loving adult requires an intimacy of the highest order.
There are already thousands of children growing up in the UK with same sex parental units. There is clear evidence now from studies delivered by University of Cambridge among others that this, in and of itself, does not disadvantage the child developmentally. What studies have shown conclusively, is that a child benefits from being brought up in a home by loving parents in functional relationships.
So, What’s All the Fuss About, Really?
The truth is: the institution of marriage has been continually rescued from becoming an outdated concept by progressive legislation that redefines it to meet with the standards of the society it sits within.
If we had retained the definition of marriage used by the Anglo Saxons fathers would still be marrying their sons and daughters to form strategic alliances. Before the Divorce Reform Act 1969, it was nigh on impossible for a woman to divorce her husband. It was only 1991 in England, that marriage was redefined by law to make rape of a spouse illegal.
Times change, and so must marriage.
As society changes, so too must the way we recognise relationships within it.
For me, this bill does not go nearly far enough. One of the things I was struck by when I and my wife (I do call her that) had our civil partnership (I call it wedding) was that we had to have two ceremonies. We wanted a civil partnership with a humanist ceremony, which meant we had two weddings – a legal one, and a real one. Our wedding ceremony was not considered a legal or real civil partnership. That struck me as faintly ludicrous. This is not the sole preserve of gay people, but of all those who choose to express their life-long commitment outside the boundaries of the current law.
I’m in a civil partnership. I resent that when I call my life commitment a marriage, refer to our ceremony as a wedding, or refer to this wonderful woman who chose me as ‘my wife’ – people can undermine our commitment as a second class relationship. This bill is only one step toward equal marriage and we need to support it if we want to live in a place where love as a commitment, not simply a feeling, is honoured and encouraged.
So do watch the debate today, and as dinosaur after dinosaur takes to their shakey feet and squawks against the progress of humanity – do consider who you vote for come the next election.