Friday, March 16, 2012

Same-sex marriage, and deep comfort

Subrosa wrote a piece the other day expressing scepticism about gay marriage. There are a few key points I want to take issue with -

"...the subject of same sex marriage continues to feature prominently in the media. It can't be because it features highly on the radar or most of us who are far more concerned with the economy and making ends meet. Who are pulling the strings here in order to change society so radically?"

If that means a change in the law will only benefit a small minority, that's absolutely true, but it's also absolutely the best reason for ensuring that we accord it the highest priority. Equality before the law for supposedly 'low-importance' individuals and minority groups is the very bedrock of true liberal democracy.

And of course 'change society so radically' is a false premise. It's a small change that will make a huge difference to those people whose relationships are finally recognised as having equal validity and value to everyone else's, but will make diddly-squat difference (whether good or bad) to the lives of the heterosexual majority.

"It would seem there is a tiny, but highly vocal, SSM minority in society which insists upon having the best of all worlds and to hell with the consequences. They don't speak for the many thousands of people who quietly live with a same sex partner and who are very uncomfortable with the gay lobby's insistence that they should be legally entitled to possess a marriage certificate."

Is there any particular reason for believing that's true, other than that Subrosa feels her assessment is the sensible and correct one, and therefore there "must" be many thousands of gay couples who silently agree with her? I don't doubt that there are a variety of views on this subject among gay people. I have a friend in a same-sex relationship who, in spite of supporting equal marriage rights, is nevertheless ambivalent about becoming part of a 'heterosexual institution' for which she has some distaste. There may, on the opposite extreme, be some gay people who hold socially conservative views, and believe that their own relationships (while valid) shouldn't be accorded the same legal status as heterosexual relationships. But where the principle of equality is at stake, the people we should be most concerned about are those who are being actively discriminated against - those who actually want to get married, but can't.

And then there's the flip-side of Subrosa's coin - what about the many millions of heterosexual couples who are 'deeply comfortable' with the idea of sharing the institution of marriage with people of a different sexual orientation? Indeed, what about those heterosexual couples who may be deeply uncomfortable with the institution of marriage in its current discriminatory form? Shouldn't we be taking some heed of them as well?

"Marriage has mattered little to me but I felt - and still do - that it was important from the view of protecting children. My generation always regarded marriage as the only way in which to legitimise children and I, along with others over the centuries, took my responsibilities seriously."

If the subtext here is that marriage should not be an option in any relationship that is bound to remain child-free (leaving aside the obvious possibility of adoption), then a great many heterosexual weddings shouldn't be happening, either because the woman is beyond child-rearing age, or because one or other partner is infertile. In truth, there is no rational reason for thinking that a marginally greater number of child-free marriages will result in marriage doing any better or worse a job at protecting children than it currently does.


  1. I've never been able to understand why something which doesn't hurt anyone else should not be allowed.

    I suppose that looking back to a world where the churches ruled the way of 'public' life of the people from castle to croft, as it were, it would not have been unreasonable for the will of the churches to hold some say in government legislation.

    But today when (despite the UK government harping on about the UK being a Christian country with the Church of England at its very heart), as Private Eye pointed out...

    Here is the church;
    Here is the steeple;
    Look inside,
    There aren't any people,'s hard to imagine why they should exert such a huge influence on the law. (Of course I understand and respect that they may still heavily influence individuals’ ways of life, but that’s a very different thing. No one is demanding that anyone enter into a homosexual marriage against their will.)

    I don't think that the population at large gives much of a fig about whether or not the word "marriage" is applied to gay relationships. A large section of the population don’t seem to be terrible interested in marriage in any form, call it what you will.

    There may be some people who still think that homosexuals should be set to hard labour or given the hot poker treatment, but the world hasn't fallen down because civil partnerships have been introduced and by and large people are less and less bothered by something which, after all, only seems to have been banned by churches. (I'll avoid making the obvious comment about some churchmen [or indeed politicians] and gay relationships of a somewhat more transitory nature.)

    Any adjustment now, is merely cosmetic: a name change: like Post Office to Consignia, although maybe that is an unfortunate example, it having been indecently short lived.

    But calling it marriage instead of civil partnership can only be, surely, about giving gay people equality. And why, one might ask, if they pay the same taxes as everyone else must one section of society’s “joining together” be given the cold functional name of “civil partnership” (which after all is what it, and heterosexual “joining together” is, given that it is the state that sanctions or legitimises it) whilst their neighbours are allowed the altogether warmer sounding “marriage”.

    Because the churches say not, that’s why. ..Which is where we came in.

  2. I noticed Alex's post here: