On 29th March 2014, equal marriage entered the statute books in England and Wales. I am using the word “equal” here advisedly, as I have had just about enough of it being called “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” in the media and elsewhere. In effect, Civil Partnerships were/are “gay marriage”, in that they single same-sex couples out as different to our heterosexual peers.
Recently, this view sparked a debate with a friend. She has always loved being a gay woman partly because of our ways of doing things differently from the mainstream, forming our own families and friendship groups and rejecting the social norms of heterosexual society. For her, “marriage” is something the “normals” do (I’m paraphrasing her comments here) and wouldn’t work for her. In fact, the whole history of marriage as an institution (handing over ownership of the woman, subjugating her to her husband etc) puts her off. She loves civil partnerships because they’re different, and she likes it that way.
In contrast, I have always wanted to be married. In fact, if my partner and I had known that equal marriage legislation was a mere eight years away, we never would have formed our civil partnership in 2006. At that time, we called it our “wedding”. We refer to ourselves as “married”, and call each other “wife”. But every time I say any of those words in relation to that wonderful day, I feel little parentheses forming in my mind saying (well, we’re in a civil partnership, actually). Whenever we have to fill out legal or official documents, we have to write “civil partnership” under marital status, which not only “outs” us to all and sundry, but also makes me feel a little bit less “married” than my heterosexual counterparts.
What has struck me the most since this legislation came into force (and since that conversation with our friend) is that we’re still doing it differently. We’ve changed the definition of “marriage”. When the registrar explains what marriage is now, he/she says “a union between two people” not “between a man and a woman“. We become “husband and husband” or “wife and wife”. Neither owns the other, there is no inherent inequality here. All the questionable history behind the institution and its definition becomes less important and the true definition of this lifelong commitment can shine through.
Recently, I read this blog post by Amanda Kerri, a transsexual American woman, about the infighting which goes on within the LGBT(Q) community. She’s referencing the community she knows in the USA, but what she says fits any community of people anywhere in the world. We all want to criticise each others’ choices. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of wanting everyone to see the world as you see it. After all, this blog (and indeed any public expression of a personal opinion) is doing just that – trying to get people to see my particular point of view.
What I think Amanda says so eloquently in her blog post is that there is room for everyone. We can all learn to respect what’s important to the people we meet and engage with, without it becoming an “I’m right and you’re wrong” situation. The best arguments are always those where everyone’s opinion is respected rather than the discussion becoming black and white.
So, for those in my community who don’t want to get married, or who think we’ll somehow be “letting the side down” when we change our civil partnership to a marriage on our tenth anniversary in 2016; all I can say is: I respect your opinion and the reasons behind it, but I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.