Love and Marriage

Image © Ryan Somma

Dan Walsh

It was a sign of the times when Ian Paisley jnr was almost ridiculed, for his staunch opposition to gay marriage. However, he is not alone in his reactionary views. Tory MP’s did their best to block the bill they detest so much by tabling an amendment because of the contrived ‘injustice’ that a civil partnership is not available to heterosexual couples. It seems highly doubtful that any couple would actively desire a civil partnership over a marriage. After all, registry office weddings between heterosexuals are called marriages, not civil partnerships. Civil partnerships, an important step on the road to gay rights are essentially a Tesco-value marriage for gays underlining the notion (still held by the church in its various guises) that gays aren’t quite as ‘ok’ as heterosexuals. So even if the amendment proposed was genuinely put forward for the reasons claimed, which logic suggest it wasn’t given the unsound reasoning at the heart of the proposal, the Tory amendment was in fact an old fashioned filibuster and therefore hardly a coincidence that the amendment would delay the bill by years and possibly destabilise it altogether.

The truth behind the amendment was that many MP’s still refuse to admit defeat to gay marriage. The arguments against gay marriage are generally twofold – the supposed danger of redefining marriage and the apparent sin of going against the prevailing orthodoxy. The latter argument is particularly tiresome – as if it’s always such a terrible idea not to leave something the way it is. How exactly would women getting the vote, the abolition of slavery or the end of racial segregation have happened if we took this attitude? The blunt reaction to the statement ‘marriage has always meant a union of a man and a woman’ ought to be ‘so what?’. The vote used to mean just for men, should that have stayed the same? It was Roy Jenkins who introduced legislation to decriminalize homosexuality creating the so called ‘permissive society’. Right wing commentators look upon this as the beginning of a decline in traditional values, conveniently overlooking the fact it introduced significant rights for many people. Things change and the world evolves, sometimes for worse and sometimes for better admittedly, but to suggest that change must always be dangerous is totally preposterous and unjust.

As for the argument of redefining marriage, it’s difficult to fathom what danger another section of the population being able to get married poses to those already married or planning marriage. Frankly, it’s rather difficult to figure out how any marriage other than one’s own affects people. Is opening up the legal institution to two people to declare a lifetime commitment to one another really so ‘dangerous’ when applied to homosexuals? If it were not open to black people would that be ok? Sexuality is as inherrent as race or gender and in itself does no harm to anyone so why disallow homosexuals the right to marry? This is where the subtext comes in – it’s called being scared of homosexuality or worse actively disliking it. Whether  out of fear or hate, it’s bigotry. Thinking that gay people shouldn’t get married is effectively saying they’re not quite good enough for it. It would be more believable that these opponents were genuinely concerned about the institution of marriage if they hadn’t also opposed civil partnerships, the repeal of section 28 and indeed virtually any other breakthrough for gay rights. Phillip Hammond is a rather good example of this.

Anthony Ozimic’s views on This Morning were shockingly homophobic, but at least he made a slightly different claim which is that homosexuality isn’t actually real but a temporary imbalance that shouldn’t be encouraged. His view is of course rendered rather daft by the fact that homosexuality is highly prevalent. His argument that the homosexual lifestyle is forever promiscuous and therefore education should eliminate mentioning homosexuality seems to miss a blatant point – perhaps if someone’s inherrent sexuality wasn’t denied by default, suppressed and therefore released in adulthood perhaps it wouldn’t take the form of promiscuity. And I assume he thinks all heterosexuals are staunchly committed ‘one partner’ types as well…

A commonly held view is ‘they’ve got civil partnerships what more do they want, it’s the same anyway’. For one thing, it isn’t the same. They do not have the same pension rights for example; if one civil partner dies, the pension share that the surviving partner receives is often lower and lasts for less time than with married couples.  While many of the legal rights are the same, the reason they ‘want more’ is because as mentioned earlier, it is also divisive. It breeds the idea that gays don’t quite deserve to be looked at as equals but they can be content with their version of marriage. It’s interesting that many say ‘soon we’ll reach a stage where I’m branded homophobic if I think that homosexuality is wrong’. What these people fail to realise is the correct response to this is ‘quite right’. People aren’t allowed to say white people shouldn’t marry black people’ without being castigated and branded racist so why should homophobia be any different? The law of course cannot change the hearts of men and women and individuals may hold whatever view they like but homophobia is at long last on par with other forms of discrimination and rightly so.

Many Christians (and it’s important to note certainly not all of them) are outraged that marriage is about to become open to all and are equally indignant that they can no longer celebrate their beliefs. Let’s decipher that and translate the subtext – what they really mean is they’re upset that the whole country doesn’t agree with them anymore and that therefore their belief system does not dictate the law. And they can celebrate their beliefs – what do they think churches are for? And the bill even allows churches (indeed under current plans forces them) not to perform the ceremonies so where’s the problem? Again, what they really mean is they can’t accept that the world is moving on and homosexuality is not wrong, it is very real and is about to move a big step further to being accepted. Marriage is not just a religious ceremony but a legal union between two people; to exclude homosexuals from such a vital aspect of civil life is to discriminate against them whilst unconscionably denying them their human rights. The honest message to give to those who refuse to countenance gay marriage is quite simple – get over it.

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