Today, MPs in Westminster will be having a free vote on whether to pass the Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill, which the coalition government really want to push through as soon as possible.
As many of you who read this blog regularly will know, I am gay. My partner, Denise, and I have been together for nearly 12 years now and celebrated our civil partnership in October 2006. When we formed our union, we treated it just like a wedding. We invited over 50 guests, had a ceremony in the registry office and then had a big party followed by a honeymoon. We and all our friends and family refer to us as “married” – because to all intents and purposes, we are. Civil Partnerships give us exactly the same legal rights as a heterosexual married couple. The only difference is what they are called.
You might think, therefore, that changing the law to allow us to refer to ourselves legally as married wouldn’t be that important. Why should it matter to us whether we are married or in a civil partnership? The answer is simple: equality. Our relationship is no different to any heterosexual couple. We love each other, we live together, our two families have become one family. We squabble over the dishwasher, whose turn it is to do something, whether it was me or her who left the downstairs light on. Sometimes we irritate the hell out of each other. Most of all, we are a partnership, facing life’s challenges and triumphs together. If you’re in a happy heterosexual marriage, do you recognise anything different there? So, why can’t we call our partnership a marriage?
Every time I am asked, by someone in authority, whether I am married, I have to say: “I’m in a Civil Partnership”. When I’m asked what relationship Denise has with me, I have to say “she’s my Civil Partner”. Not only does this immediately “out” me (which is not always necessary, particularly in the first situation) but it also sounds like we have some sort of business arrangement, rather than a loving, committed, long-term relationship behind us. It also implies that we are different, and it feels like our relationship will be regarded as second-class – not as important as that between a husband and wife.
I’m hoping that, by now, most of you are thinking that because Civil Partnerships are legally no different from marriages, and because same-sex couples feel like second-class citizens due to a simple name difference, we should just change the name. Right?
So why is this new Bill causing so much controversy? The answer is, again, very simple: sex. The people who are opposing this Bill are obsessed with what same-sex couples get up to in bed. This morning, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, I heard just such a person. He used the argument that same-sex couples would be “ruining the institution of marriage” because they have sex purely for pleasure and not for procreation. That sex between homosexual couples is somehow more sordid because it can never result in a child. His opposite number calmly reminded him that there are plenty of heterosexual couples who can’t have children, or choose not to. Were their marriages invalid too? Were the marriages of couples who were asexual?
Regular readers will know that I suffer from chronic pain. As a result of this, our sex life has dwindled significantly over the last few years. However, our relationship has remained intact. This is because of all the things I have mentioned before – love, companionship, partnership. We still love each other and can’t bear to be without each other, despite our lack of a sex life. We feel no less married because we aren’t having sex at the moment. In other words, marriage really has nothing to do with sex.
You may have noticed that I have yet to mention all the religious arguments against equal marriage. This is quite deliberate, because they are simply irrelevant. This Bill has nothing to do with religion. It is a law designed to change the rules governing civil marriage. If a religious community has objections to marrying same-sex couples in church, then that’s fine. They don’t have to perform a marriage ceremony. This Bill is not forcing them to do anything which undermines their beliefs, it is simply aimed at changing civil law.
It is high time that all couples, of whatever gender mix, are given the right to marry in the United Kingdom. I sincerely hope the process of making this happen will begin today. I’m looking forward to us being wife and wife at last!