Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Gay Marriage (my tuppence worth!)
It is 10 weeks today until our civil partnership, so we’re very much getting into the detail of planning. Quite a lot of things to do, of course, and plans to make. However, by and large the big details of the day are done.
The day itself is of course not our wedding day. Civil partnerships in the UK are specifically and legally separate but (almost, but not quite) equal.
However, there are plans afoot by the Government to bring in equal marriage – not gay marriage, which would be separate by fully equal – but instead extending existing marriage rights to gay couples. A decision that Sir Humphrey Appleby might describe as ‘courageous’, nevertheless a few weeks ago the proposal passed the first stage of the legislative process in the House of Commons.
The legislation had a tough ride, and the debate was marred perhaps by some rather pompous and insensitive remarks. Among the usual “what next? Siamese twins marrying narwhales?” brigade who are so far off the map (a) their minds cannot be changed and (b) they are Mostly Harmless in that most people recognise they are frankly barking, there were some rather more pernicious naysayers.
One argument ran that this change would force people like teachers to act against their conscience and compel them to treat gay relationships as equal when they don’t believe this is so.
Well, the previous Conservative government had no difficulty enacting charming legislation forbidding teachers discussing homosexuality in positive terms (section 28 which banned the “teaching in any [state funded] school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”)
Another, frequently made, argument was that extending marriage to gay people devalues straight marriage and anyway we have civil partnerships and those are the same.
To me this is like saying Rosa Parks was wrong on 1 December 1955 to refuse to give up her bus seat to a white man, as she was required to by law. After all, she was still on the same bus and still heading the same place, at the same speed as white people and in almost, but not quite, the same comfort. Now, instead, all this civil-rights nonsense has devalued bus travel for white men!
It’s not a very good argument, and vanishingly few could rationally support it. But even if they did, the argument might be said to be missing the point.
And let us not forget that ‘gay marriage’ has been legalised in countries on every continent (if we include Nepal where the Supreme Court has ruled it must be enshrined in the new constitution). There does not appear to have been a collapse in morality and family life in any of those places. Nothing that has rocked them like the recent scandals to affect a certain Church currently searching for a new leader…
But I think it is the third, broad argument – one made of many strands - that demonstrates the blindness some people have when it comes to gay rights and tells us how LGBT people are still not quite seen as having the same validity as straight people. For all the arguments around religious freedom; the value of marriage; the future of children – how can anyone who values marriage as the bedrock of society or argues in favour of personal freedom be logically against everyone having the freedom to enjoy it?
The future of the legislation is uncertain but I think it is unlikely to be completely derailed. The politics around it will become increasingly toxic, I fear. The largest party split its vote 42% for and 46% against. If the Government’s own party can’t muster a majority either for or against its own policy… well, there may be trouble ahead.
But we shall persevere.