Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Thoughts on gay marriage

Gosh, it is tough to be an Anglican Tory at times. Today being one of them. But as the opponents of gay marriage try to get all Christian Conservatives labelled as frothing loons, I hope it is understood that not all of us - not even a majority of us - are so uncaring. Anyway, here are a few random thoughts of my own:

I didn’t get married in order to have children, although it was part of our hope for the future. Plenty of people, after all, are magically able to have children outside of marriage, not least Joseph and Mary who were merely “espoused”, or engaged to be married, when Mary discovered she had been made pregnant with the Spirit of the Lord. The religious right always seem to miss that.

Nor did I get married for tax reasons and much as I could do with some extra money these days, it is not the hope that George Osborne might bless our union with a few quid that keeps me married.

I married for love, crazy unorthodox fool that I am, and the belief that it was important to solemnise that love in a religious setting, surrounded by friends and family, and to make a public pronouncement of our long-term commitment to each other. We had moved past the pilot episode and decided to give it a full series. Marriage gave a solid base to our lives, but it could not have been laid without love.

Marriage these days should only be about love. It is no longer about the financial advantage of uniting families or the transfer of a woman, along with other chattels, into a man’s care. It is an adventure embarked on by equals.

Which is why it baffles me that there is such vehement opposition to extending this beautiful ceremony and status to those who love each other but are of the same gender. What actual harm is caused by letting gay people marry?

The opponents talk a lot about gay marriage “undermining the institution of marriage” but never go farther and say why. How is their marriage or that of any other straight couple made less valid by two gay men or women expressing the same commitment to each other?

Surely the institution is reinforced by more people wanting to make that commitment? Is it not, instead, the two million unmarried couples who are undermining the tradition?

Or how about those couples who divorce and then remarry and then divorce and remarry again? The Katie Price principle. Are they not undermining the institution of marriage more than a couple of loved-up gay guys?

Why are the Peter Bones and Gerald Howarths of this world not campaigning to ban procreation outside of marriage and outlaw divorce? It would be outlandish but at least consistent with their argument.

And what about those who get married and either cannot or choose not to have children? Are they not violating that principle that Charles Moore and the rest of the anti-gay brigade keep banging on about that marriage is all about the kiddies?

Yes, there is part of the wedding service that talks about the hope that the union will be blessed with children, but that can be as easily glossed over, or edited out, as the “wives submit to your husbands” bit that my wife insisted we excise.

Marriage has evolved to reflect society but the root purpose of it, the thing that drives many of us instinctively to wanting to make that public statement, has not changed and that is the same innate impulse whether you are gay or straight.

I do not believe that churches should be forced to offer gay marriage, although I am disappointed that this is not to be an option to individuals within the Church of England. I know plenty of Anglicans, including priests, who would be happy to see a gay marriage celebrated in their church.

The rights of those who have religious objections must be respected. It confuses me, though, why a gay couple would want to get married by a priest who does not wish them well.

The opponents are on stronger ground when they complain that the Bill does not recognise the consummation of a gay marriage and thus will not allow for divorce on the grounds of adultery. This is an odd error of drafting or a great failure of imagination.

Since hardly anyone these days — surely — is a virgin when they get married, is it not just assumed that straight marriages are consummated? No one has to provide evidence that they had sex after marriage and it can hardly be tested in a court. Similarly, when people divorce because of adultery they are rarely found in bed with their lover. It is either admission or enough circumstantial evidence of an affair that gets them and why can those assumptions not be made for gay couples?

David Cameron is to be admired for making this stand of principle. He did not need to do it. I doubt it will win him many extra votes in the gay community and they may be offset anyway by those who escape to Ukip over this. There was no campaign of pressure that forced him to this point, he simply went for it because it is right.

In doing so, the Prime Minister has shown much more courage than two previous Labour Prime Ministers did. I have always thought that the introduction of civil partnerships was a cowardly fudge that somehow sent out the message that gay people couldn’t make the same commitment as straights. It is time to correct that distinction. To do so would be the kind, and I suggest, Christian thing.


Charis Croft said...

Bravo, well written, well expressed.

In a debate that has been largely characterised by frothing (on both sides, but it has to be said more on the extreme religious or right wing side), it's a joy to read something measured and balanced.

And that agrees with me as well, of course ;)

William said...

“The opponents are on stronger ground when they complain that the Bill does not recognise the consummation of a gay marriage and thus will not allow for divorce on the grounds of adultery”.

The opponents may or may not be right that the Bill not recognising consummation for same-sex couples is a bad thing. However, this is not clear. It may be bad because it symbolically desexualises same-sex relationships and because THE definition of sex in law would remain the patriarchal one of penetrative penile-vaginal sex only. It may be good because consummation is archaic and it is not clear why state sanctioned marriage should be more linked to sex than say care giving. In different-sex marriages the law is moving away from adultery as grounds of divorce in that it is much easier to prove “unreasonable behaviour” and so very few people opt to prove adultery. There are some relationships which are couple based but non-monogamous (such relationships are slightly more prevalent amongst male same-sex couples). Such couples would be put in more of a precarious condition once married if adultery were grounds for divorce.

“There was no campaign of pressure that forced him to this point, he simply went for it because it is right.

In doing so, the Prime Minister has shown much more courage than two previous Labour Prime Ministers did”.

The former two former Labour PMs did much more for gay people such as repealing section 28, equalling the age of consent, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in goods, services and employment, and allowing same-sex couples to adopt and have surrogates. It is questionable that the last two Labour Prime Ministers were forced into all these things. With about three quarters of the country supporting same-sex marriage Cameron does not need much courage to make it legal. For Tony Blair it would have been a different matter.

Matt Cooper said...

Patrick - I read this when you posted it and really enjoyed it, but forgot to post a comment. Randomly it just popped into my head on a run/jog/stumble through the trees.

PS Through those trees is a house often said to be the inspiration for Blandings Castle. It actually looks like the new TV version, which hasn't really worked for me.