I’ve been arguing on Twitter. I should know better. But I’ve let myself get riled about gay marriage.
Here’s the thing. Last summer, I went to the “civil partnership” of two good friends. It was lovely: the two brides looked gorgeous in white; the reception was in the fantastic Cotswolds home of one of their families, where the two fathers of the brides gave a hilarious-if-faintly-awkward-as-these-things-are joint speech. The couple were painfully obviously in love, and it was incredibly touching to watch them declare that love, before their families and all of their friends. Like it always is, at weddings.
But what made it painful was that, during the ceremony itself, the celebrant who took their vows was unable to describe it as a “wedding” or the two as “brides”. “We are here today to witness the joining in civil partnership of [A] and [B], who wish to affirm their relationship and to offer each other the security…” It’s the language of contract law. It made me both sad and furious. These two wonderful women wanted to tell the world they loved each other; what they got instead was Blairite third-way nonsense designed to avoid offending religious conservatives. She’s not your wife, she’s your civil partner. Please sign on the dotted line and initial here, here and here. Keep a copy for your records.
Obviously, for some religions, marriage is about procreation. That’s up to them – I don’t like the idea that it means infertile couples’ marriages are in some way lesser, but I don’t get to tell each church what their marriage ceremonies are intended to achieve. But lots of weddings, nowadays, are not religious. I’m getting married this year. It will be in a medieval barn, not a church, and it will be carried out by a county registrar, not a clergyman. Tens of thousands of people will be doing similar things. While churches should of course be able to decide who marries under their roofs, they should not be able to tell me which consenting adult I marry underneath the roof of a county council-designated venue.
Oh, but it undermines straight marriage, doesn’t it, all this gay marriaging? No, it doesn’t. There are lots of countries and states that have introduced gay marriage, and lots of people keen to show that it would be damaging. If there was the slightest indication from anywhere that legalising gay marriage reduced the rates of straight marriage, or of straight people staying together, or of kids growing up with fathers, then it would have shown up. Then I would concede that the point is not completely ridiculous, even though it is far from the whole argument. As it is, you need reasons to make something illegal, not reasons to make it legal. Libertarian-inclined small-state conservatives, like most of the readers of this site, should acknowledge that.
Is it homophobic to want to ban civil gay marriage? I think so, but I don’t care what you call it. People will no doubt scream “But homophobic means afraid of gays I’M NOT AFRAID OF GAYS” and so on. If you’ve got a different term that you prefer to use to mean “displaying prejudice against homosexual people”, then use it; “homophobic” is fine as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure most people who do not want to allow gay marriage do not think of themselves as prejudiced against gays, but they are acting in a way that displays prejudice. I’m sure people who didn’t want black people educated in the same schools as white people thought they really did believe they weren’t prejudiced, that you could be separate but equal. They were wrong. So are the churches seeking to ban gay marriage, not merely for their own congregations, but nationwide. Gay marriage won’t destroy the nation, it won’t leave children without parents, it won’t sabotage straight marriage, it’ll just mean that gays get married. Churches can get involved if they like. Or they can leave it to the rest of us. But they don’t get to tell us who we can and can’t marry.
A footnote: at the end of my friends’ civil partnership, the celebrant, bless her, having taken the vows and seen the documents signed, said: “And on a personal note, may I wish you both a long and happy marriage.” Amen to that.