So I go away for a lovely birthday weekend with our friends who have moved to the south of France, and come back to a religious storm over my (lack of) right to marry.
And the thing is, what none of the opponents in the debate seem to understand, is how incredibly hurtful it is to be constantly singled out. To be constantly valued, not as the whole, rounded, human being I am, but by merely one facet of my life – the fact that I happened to fall in love with a woman and not a man. The fact that I chose to be true to my own emotions and understanding. That I chose to be true to the ‘Stella’ who was was created (the religious would insist) – in this way – by (their) God. I might find it hard to understand why someone would want to be ‘married to the Church’ (as young women have been for centuries when they become nuns, to the extent of wearing a wedding ring), but I would no more question their right to do so – nor to use the same terminology – than I would suggest they are mistaken in their belief of a vocation. That they are wrong to make the ‘lifestyle choice’ of following a religious vocation.
We ALL make our choices. Generally, heterosexual people do not feel they are making a choice because, presented with a world view of the heterosexual binary as the norm, to go out with, love, and perhaps marry a person of a different gender doesn’t actually feel like making a choice. But of course they are. Anyone who chooses a partner – whether as their life partner in marriage, or as their bed partner for tonight – makes a choice. It is a choice based on our understanding of themselves and our understanding of the other AND our understanding of the world in which they live. (We have a Buddhist phrase about the 3000 Realms in a Single Moment of Life – it’s a complicated concept but, on one level, is about noticing that we never make any choices randomly or purely in the single moment, that all choices are related to all others, that everything we do is part of an inter-related whole, conditioned by our past experiences and the experience of the present.)
But let’s unpick this just a little more – the Cardinal’s main concern seems to be around providing children with a mother and a father. And the problem here goes back to the Catholic Church’s insistence that marriage is for procreation. But the truth is, we don’t live in that world any more. I can assure the Cardinal that we didn’t live in that world in 1976 when I was at a Catholic girls’ school and knew girls who were using contraception – not least because the Catholic boys they were having sex with thought using a condom was a sin – but they were fine to be sleeping with girls who had to take care of their own fertility. There have been marriages that didn’t result in children for one reason or another – would the Cardinal deny the infertile the right to marry? Would he say that Jesus (arguably brought up in a one-birth-parent family) would have a worse chance in life than one where Jesus had been the biological son of Mary AND Joseph? The world is full of people brought up by one parent or none, who have managed to become good human beings. The world is full of people brought up by two parents – a mother and a father – who have become the kind of human beings who committed atrocities – Hitler had a Mum and a Dad, folks. Jack the Ripper probably did too, you don’t see me suggesting all children of heterosexuals went on to become serial killers.
Yes it is easy to get carried away and extrapolate all sorts of absurd consequences from one argument. Funny that.
Personally, I’m all for children knowing their biological parents. Or at least having access to that knowledge. It’s why Shelley and I, when trying to have children, tried with a good and trusted friend. (It didn’t work, lots of reasons, cancer being one of them, another story.) But is the lesbian couple using a sperm donor really that different from a heterosexual couple using a sperm donor? Well yes, in one important part – the lesbian couple will, eventually, have to explain to their child where the ‘daddy’ is. They’ll have to offer some explanation, as the child grows and understands that biologically it didn’t come from the two mothers. The lesbian couples I know with children have done this easily and simply, from the beginning, so it’s never been an issue. But take the example of the heterosexual couple who use a sperm donor – they never have to reveal to their child that the man on the birth certificate, the man the child grows up calling Daddy, is not the biological parent. We allow heterosexual parents to lie to their children IN LAW.
Gah. I could go on. But I have a book to copyedit.
In the meantime, here’s a few points for those of you finding yourselves engaged in the debate today :
1. the Church was NOT always, historically, the marrying body in this country (or any other). The reason we marry in front of witnesses, the reason we still have the phrases ‘tying the knot’, ‘jumping over the broom’ and many others, is because two people used to marry simply (and far more cheaply!) in front of their community. With no priest present or needed. And then get back to work. (There are many who suggest the Church first brought priests into the matter of marriage as a way to make some money from the people – I couldn’t possibly comment.)
2. The marriage equality lobby is not asking priests or rabbis or anyone else who doesn’t want to, to marry same-sex couples. The marriage equality argument is asking for it to be permissible IN LAW. Then we can be like the many other countries (Holland for eg), where the couple – any couple – have a civil ceremony first, and go off for a religious ceremony/blessing after, should they choose and their faith allow.
3. It’s not gay marriage. It’s marriage equality. Gay marriage suggests it’s a different thing. And that’s the whole point (and why Civil Partnerships are not now, and never have been, ‘enough’) – it’s marriage equality or it’s not equal. It’s marriage for all or it’s not equal.
4. In apartheid South Africa whites and blacks were not allowed to marry. Until the American Supreme Court passed a 1967 ruling deeming anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional there were still states in the US where black and white people were not allowed to marry each other.
One day the law that prevents my partner and I marrying will be seen as absurd and painful as these anti-miscegenation laws.
Until then we do need to speak up, we do need to stand up, and we need our allies – heterosexual, non-marrying, avowedly-single, profoundly religious, utterly atheist, WHATEVER – with us. I’m grateful to those working hard within the LGBT community for marriage equality, and I’m grateful to those with-out it for your support, because every time I hear the phrase ‘gay marriage’, every time another spokesperson denies my right to a humanity-wide, humanity-long union, yes, it really does hurt.