In the UK at the moment there is a debate going on about whether or not to amend the law to allow for civil marriage to be contracted between two parties of the same gender. Currently the law prohibits this although it does allow for civil partnerships to be contracted between single sex partners. Civil partnership though is not currently available to be entered into by two people of the opposite sex. There is currently a government consultation going on with regards to this and the Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly backed the change. There is still though a fierce debate between supporters and opponents of this change.
Let me make it 100% clear that I am fiercely supportive of this change. I think it is about time that this was done and that there are numerous reasons for doing so, not the least of which is one of fairness and equity. Marriage is an ancient institution, the impulse of human beings to come together with another person to enjoy a deep and meaningful publicly acknowledged relationship is deep and long-standing. Marriage is not though a static institution, it has adapted in the past as different tastes and customs have evolved and then dissipated. Marriage is not the preserve of any individual religion or worldview it is a universal institution and is entered into in different ways in different cultures. In the United Kingdom marriage hasn’t been static either adapting over the years according to the prevailing wisdom of the time. I don’t see the adaptation of marriage now to include partners of the same gender to be anything other than a natural step in the development of marriage.
There is of course opposition to this proposal and much of it comes from a religious stand point. I can accept and appreciate that, it will not be to the taste of all religious groups with their tighter and more restrictive sense of morality. I suspect this is why the government is going out of its way to exclude religious groups from this new proposal. The first main argument against seems to be that it will change the fundamental understanding of marriage, I have kind of foreshadowed that above. In some senses they are correct it is about changing the understanding of marriage. The trap I think opponents fall into is that they presume that marriage has remained constant when it has been an institution that has constantly adapted. In the pre-Norman era it was common place for people to be engaged in two marriages; one a church marriage and the other a marriage of custom known as mare danico or Danish marriage. Even Harold II had this bi-fold situation and it wasn’t his church married wife that scoured the battlefield for his body. Indeed until relatively recently there wasn’t the facility for anyone to contract a non-religious marriage and that amendment to the definition of marriage didn’t destroy the institution but merely widened it to people who were rapidly secularising.
The second argument that is deployed is that if we open up marriage to two people of the same gender we might as well open up marriage to any combination of people. What about 3 people contracting a marriage or 2 people and a dog? Well here we are really getting into the realms of the absurd, because that is one part of the definition of marriage that nobody is changing. Marriage is still going to be between one person and one other. All that is being proposed is that it be changed from one person and somebody of the opposite sex. In that sense it is simply a widening of the scope of marriage rather than a change in the fundamental nature of marriage.
A third argument that is deployed and one that is slightly more seductive is that people of the same gender already have Civil Partnerships so don’t need marriage. The argument is that Civil Partnerships are to all intents and purposes the same so there is no need to make the change. It is superficially an argument with some attractions, however when I think about it it really isn’t a very good argument. It would be like a cafe deciding that everyone could have Heinz Tomato soup unless you are an emo in which case you get Boggs’ own brand Tomato soup. The cafe owner would be well within his rights to say to complainers that they are still getting Tomato soup but the fact would remain that they were being treated differently. In the same way people are perfectly correct to say that gay and lesbian civil partners have an officially recognised relationship in the same way that married people do, but it just isn’t the same and different people are still being treated differently.
That to me is the crunch argument I don’t want to be treated differently to anyone else. If as a society we have decided to recognise that some loving relationships are between people of the same gender then recognise it in the same way we have always recognised relationships through marriage. I don’t like the concept of equal but separate that is enshrined by having a different mechanism for same gender partners to opposite gender partners. It has overtones of apartheid, society doesn’t mind us getting together providing we stay in our own township. If you are truly equal then you cannot be separated from the institutions of society and if you are separated from those institutions you are not truly equal. I for one don’t want to be fobbed off with an own brand alternative to marriage, I want the real deal not a pretence at it. I can understand that for some people the concept of marriage is anathema and that they would prefer a civil partnership. This goes for couples of opposite genders as well as for those of the same. It is why in the final analysis I think the government should do the only credible thing when it promulgates its legislation. It should open up marriage and civil partnerships for everyone.