Pride and Prejudice: Thoughts on Marriage Equality

February 28, 2012 by alicehaswords

Image from speakequal.com

Hello.

I am writing this blog in response to a petition put forward by the ‘Coalition for Marriage’. Sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? I quite like marriage. It has a bit of a shady past, and it doesn’t always work out, but when it does, it can be a wonderful thing. Romantic soul as I am, I find the idea of getting married one day quite appealing – all that security and commitment and support? Lovely.

Surprisingly for an organisation claiming to be ‘for marriage’, the Coalition for Marriage holds the strange belief that if, for example, I were allowed to get married, (to another woman, as I imagine I might some day want to do), society would somehow collapse around me as a direct result of this well-intended, loving union.

In a surprise (and I can’t help but suspect cynically calculating) move, David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, has stated his support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK. “Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other”, he says. His claim that this view is the basis on which Conservatism is built is just plain inaccurate (unless I have missed a recent, drastic Tory swing in favour of the ideals of the socialist left) – but regardless, I can’t help but agree with this statement. Which is why I think it can only be a good thing to open up the marriage field beyond its current heterosexual margins.

The Coalition for Marriage disagrees. This is the text of their online petition:

“I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.”

The thing that bothers me most is their reasoning. So I’m going to pick it mercilessly apart.

The following excerpts are taken directly from the Coalition for Marriage’s website:

1. “Marriage is unique: Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman. Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father.”

Well, that’s just not true. Throughout history and in virtually all human societies, marriage has had little or nothing to do with what we consider it to mean in Western societies today. It has been used as bargaining tool, to cement peaceful diplomatic relations between nations and families, to keep wealth within the realms of the already-wealthy; marriage as an entirely voluntary union between one man and one woman based on mutual love and commitment is, in the context of global history, a novel and peculiar notion. Don’t get me wrong, I think marriage is improved vastly by the attitude that women aren’t commodities to be exchanged in pursuit of wealth or power; I think the fact that marriage is no longer a necessity for one’s own physical and financial security is a good thing (much as I enjoy the works of Jane Austen for their wry, wordy humour, I can’t help but wonder if the intelligent and independently-minded Miss Elizabeth Bennett would have been quite so smitten with Mr Darcy had he not been fabulously rich).

Yes, children are important. Yes, there have always been and will always be single-parent families (I tend to believe divorce actually adds value to the institution of marriage – there’s no such thing as a voluntary commitment when it’s legally irreversible, after all) – but the argument that children do better when brought up by a married couple surely falls in favour of marriage equality. More married couples! More basic, stable societal units! Everybody wins.

2. “No need to redefine: Civil partnerships already provide all the legal benefits of marriage so there’s no need to redefine marriage. It’s not discriminatory to support traditional marriage. Same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.”

Civil partnerships are quite nice, I’ll grant. But you can’t pretend they’re not a compromise. For one thing, heterosexual couples aren’t allowed to have them. That seems unfair. Some straight people really don’t like marriage (possibly for some of the associations I’ve already mentioned), or are just cross that their gay friends don’t have to right to call their partnership the thing they feel it to be: a marriage. Why can’t everybody have a choice between the two?

And there’s that annoying word. “Traditional”. Again, whose tradition? How old exactly is this tradition? And why does changing this tradition to include same-sex marriages differ from changing the traditions that frowned upon marriage between people from different class and ethnic backgrounds in the past – (which, coincidently, were also widely disapproved of at first but gradually accepted as the norm. Funny how that keeps happening with stuff, isn’t it? I personally enjoy the way the centre ground is gradually pushed more and more towards the progressive left. I can vote AND go to hospital for free! Brilliant.)? The same arguments about things not being ‘natural’, as I recall, have been used time and time again to counter positive change. It’s a non-insult. The flushing toilet is not ‘natural’, but goodness knows I’m glad it exists. Whether or not homosexuality is ‘natural’ is irrelevant. There are gay people. Some of them want to get married to eachother. It’s not going to do anybody any harm, so let them.

3. “Profound consequences: If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People’s careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?”

I just. What? There is absolutely no basis for these claims.

And now they’re starting on polygamy too? But in many religions and societies, polygamy is traditional! Sticking with just one person for life? What a weird and unnatural thing to want to do. (That is, going by the Coalition’s own ideals of the all-importance of Tradition and Nature.)

4.  “Speak up: People should not feel pressurised to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness. They should be free to express their views. The Government will be launching a public consultation on proposals to redefine marriage. This will provide an opportunity for members of the public to make their views known.”

Well there’s an easy answer to this one. If a gay person approaches you and proposes marriage, you don’t need to feel pressured into going along with it! You can just say no. Like with any other marriage proposal from somebody you don’t want to marry. Maybe you’ve misunderstood the suggested change to the law. If so, good news! Same-sex marriage is not compulsory. You can carry on your happy heterosexual life utterly unaffected.

As a member of the British public, I am making my views known: marriage inequality IS discrimination. The definition of marriage lies with the specific individuals involved, and nobody has the right to take that away from them. Love is a fantastic starting point around which to build a shared life and a compassionate society, and it’s stronger than prejudice, and it’s stronger than intolerance, and if you think that a petty, narrow-minded, poorly justified petition is going to get in the way of that, you’re likely to find yourself on the wrong side of history.

Yours patient-yet-defiantly,

Alice x

Alice is a student of cultural studies, a blogger, an aspiring maker of stuff (including, but not limited to, music, films & cake) and an all round Very Nice Person. She has a rainbow hat (and quite possibly a rainbow jumper) that I am fond of.

You can find her on Twitter, or you can shake and shimmy over to her superb blog. I highly recommend it for insightful posts and general brilliance.


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