Lord Carey: Makes me want to bash the bishop, and not in a good way.
This week, in anticipation of an impending public consultation in Britain on marriage equality for same-sex couples, a group of influential voices, both secular and spiritual, have banded together to produce The Coalition for Marriage – an umbrella organisation for all those who aren’t keen on “gay marriage” becoming a thing. The most famous voice amongst this collection of bishops, MPs and peers is Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has recently published an article in the Daily Mail about this topic.
Now, as a gay guy, I’m sure my feelings about this are obvious. But I’m not going to bother responding directly to the points made on The Coalition for Marriage website – that has already been done beautifully elsewhere by Martin Robbins of The Guardian. Instead, I’m going to talk about the two reasons why I think gay marriage is a good, nay, necessary thing.
Good in many cases, but should it be the ideal?
1) Gay romance needs to be celebrated: In Lord Carey’s article, he cites the definition for marriage lying in an “ideal” formula for childrearing – the heterosexual couple. This is a pretty straightforward attitude – marriage is about children, and children require two parents, of opposite gender, who love one another, and are married.
Now, this definition has all sorts of problems with it. Lots of straight marriages are childless, for starters, and I don’t see Lord Carey campaigning for them to be forced into having civil partnerships instead. And certainly when a couple announce their engagement, the immediate question isn’t “Oh great! When’s the baby due?” As for children needing straight parents to come out well-adjusted, there is simply no evidence for this. Children need parents; the idea that the genitals of those parents are of any remote significance after the act of conception borders on the ridiculous.
What marriage is certainly about is romantic love. To get married, one should have a deep romantic connection with the other person concerned; getting hitched, living together, and (potentially) having children subsequently are all framed in light of this devotional norm.
However, binding this romantic aspect, childrearing, and heterosexuality into an “ideal” causes real problems, and not just for gay people. By taking the stance of “if everything goes to plan, you’ll be married with kiddies eventually”, a huge number of people are instantly marginalised. Gay people, celibate people, asexual people, people who don’t have children. A lot of my female friends who are post-menopausal, single, and childless express a great deal of sorrow about their situation, and fear the future. The reason they feel so destitute is the same reason why I stayed in the closet for years as a teenager; attachment to idealised heterosexuality.
When I was a kid, I didn’t even know what being gay was. Despite having had a great number of gay crushes from an early age (Aladdin was a particular favourite), I just didn’t link those feelings to sexuality. Instead, I figured love would suddenly make sense and just happen when I was older. When I hit puberty and put two and two together, I immediately rejected the possibility of being gay out of hand: I wanted to get married and have kids. I’m a romantic. How could I be gay? Homosexuality, to my eyes, was something not quite as good as fitting the “ideal”.
I never feared that my parents would reject me. I knew I could rely on their love and support, no matter what. The homophobia I had to deal with was internalised; a gift from a society that touted fecund heterosexuality as the ideal, and anything else as a bit of a shame. Of course, I now know differently. Gay love is just as romantic as straight love. Heteros and homos can be just as slutty, just as devoted, as each other. It’s all about choice.
Now, you might ask how gay marriage would change this. Well, it would allow me to send a signal. To shine with the love I may one day have for another man, in such a way that kids going through what I went through might see that the breeder ideal is only one story about love that can be written.
Of course, other people may disagree. My pain, and the resonance it might have with secret pangs felt by those they love, might be immaterial before the decree of a patriarchal god, an essentialist goddess, or tradition, or whatever. That’s fine. In a liberal society, they have as much right to believe that as I do to disagree. But the law should not choose for us. And at the moment, it does. I cannot scream out the truth of my love, and honour that which I feel to be right, in the same way that they can. And this brings me to my second point:
Handfasting: Older than Christian marriages, as it happens, which only became the norm in 1215.
2) The law currently breaches religious freedoms: This might seem an odd thing to claim, given the fact that the major argument given by many anti-gay marriage campaigners is that their religious right to disapprove might be infringed upon, but there’s real sense to it. Let me explain:
I’m Pagan. Although I don’t like describing my path as a “religion”, it covers much the same territory as the social forms most usually assembled under that term. So I have a right to practice my faith as well as I like.
We Pagans believe in marriage. We believe that the gods honour the commitments lovers make to one another through the rite of handfasting; where one can bind oneself to another/s for a year and day, for a lifetime, or for all eternity. We also believe (by and large) that gay relationships can be honoured in this way, drawing inspiration from a piece of inspirational lore known as the Charge of the Goddess, that affirms that “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” If a relationship is done in this spirit, it is sacred, and can be acknowledged as such in ritual space.
As the law stands, though, a Pagan handfasting of two men (say) cannot be legally binding in the same way as a Christian marriage. If I wanted to get married, even if I booked the handfasting at a registered wedding venue with a registered Pagan celebrant, I would nonetheless not be able to enter into a civil partnership at the same time, because according to the Civil Partnerships Act, there cannot be any religious activity of any kind during the process of registering the union. The same issue is proving problematic for gay Quakers and reform Jews; despite our religious communities believing gay unions to be as sacred as any, our beliefs and practices in this regard are not recognised, and are actively forbidden, because the law currently reflects the views of more powerful religious groups.
If there was any more blatant example of the infringement of religious rights, I’d like to hear it. And yet, we have bishops aplenty, bemoaning the potential ramifications for their homophobic, largely deserted sees if the law changes, despite the fact that current protections for freedom of religion would apply to any change in the laws on marriage. They can keep to their nasty, antediluvian principles – nobody is trying to stop them. They just need to stop standing in the way of the rest of us taking a different road.