Last week I was asked to take part in Newsnight’s ‘debate on gay marriage’.
Well, it wasn’t a ‘debate’ as I know one – very hard to debate when you’re sitting on a high bar stool, placed at the back of ten people, and looking at people’s heads.
It was very difficult for any of us to engage with each other – to dialogue – whichever side we were on.
And, a week after all the great stuff for International Women’s Day (esp this, A Thousand Reasons, the compilation from Linda Grant‘s twitter feed), while taking our seats for the not-debate, the (perfectly nice) floor manager said “Mr Bone? You’re over here. Stella? You’re over here.” Unpick that one folks, for the age/status/gender problems of our society in 9 simple words.
I would actually have liked to have a conversation with some of these people, but telly prefers shouting matches to rational discussion of differing viewpoints and we all realised, the moment we walked into the studio, that we’d been set up to be shouting.
Still, in a 20-min slot, I got my 35 seconds-worth in. And, well-trained Catholic girl that I was, I didn’t even need to look up my gospel reference (Matthew 22:21) – though it didn’t occur to me until later that I was saying this, not only on the ides of March, but also to a whole lot of people’s backs! I do like an unintentional Shakespearian reference in my political agitation.
Here’s the half-minute :
nb – thanks too, to my many faith-full friends, among them Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, all of whom are entirely in favour of equal marriage, very happy to say so, and a little tired of the established/big boy churches saying they speak for them.
It was great to see you on Newsnight. I’ve been thinking about the ‘debate’, and the seating plan, and agree on the tiring shouting matches on TV! Anyway, I thought you were brilliant, and I heard you talk about equality and I was thinking about it on a walk this morning, having read a recent column by David Aaronovitch who argued that there won’t be equality between men and women while men have a sense of entitlement ….to women…and, I think, control of the seating plan. But I want to raise my sons to be men who know how to live with equality, rather than men who talk about it but don’t know how to live it.
I was thinking about this having dropped my kids at their Dad’s, and then went to get a coffee, which gave me some time to clear my head, having been up to the 6.00am punch-up over which programme to watch on the TV. The morning had then deteriorated into usual Saturday morning single mother chaos with me waving bits of laundry in the air, and them wandering round with their pants on backwards discussing whether they’re going to live forever. They are 8 and 5: it’s OK! But my question is, when will it go? When will they start to notice the other people around them, notice the signs, just a woman looking tired for example? Or must we be more clear? Must women speak louder to get ourselves heard?
I’m not a domestic rag and I do try to get them to share the chores because it seems to me that I will only have myself to blame if my sons grow up thinking they are entitled to anything. But even men raised in households of equality still, it seems to me, lack the basics for noticing how another person is doing…feeling.
Amusingly, I was thinking about this when I walked into Cafe Rouge, and asked if I could use the loo. The woman said yes, and I walked upstairs, through the door with the Man sign on it, past the urinals, which I did notice, but not fully, and into a cubicle. I believe I had seen the sign on the door but not fully taken it in because I was thinking about other things. Usually you can of course because of the stink but this was early in the day so I’m not sure the facilities had been used yet…There was a sign, but no bad smell, therefore no crucial warning signals. And this got me thinking again about signals and how women can make their needs more clear so that men will anticipate rather than react.
Anyway, thanks for leading me to your blog. Any advice you can give to me on how to grow good men who live equally would be much appreciated.
I’m not best-qualified person to speak on how to grow sharing and kind and loving men, what with not having any sons of my own, BUT, as a human being I do believe we can all make a difference to each other through the quality of our openness, our honesty. I do believe that complete honesty is valuable and can make a massive difference in lives. Honesty that is about being out about sharing, out about the demands we put on ourselves on others, out about expectations and failing those expectations. We can all hold ourselves to the highest of standards around equality and we can all admit when we, on occasion, being human fail to make the grade of of those high standards. I guess it’s about always-thinking, mindfulness, being conscious as much and as often as possible. About not beating ourselves (or others) up when we don’t manage it, but keeping on, trying more, trying harder. Specifically, I know Jenni Murray wrote a book about raising sons and I suspect it’s well worth a look for you with two boys still quite young. I also think we will make the major feminist changes required when we enlist men in the struggle, just as race issues are better solved when we (ie, me) white people don’t expect people of colour to do all the work themselves, same for disability, gender, sexuality etc etc. ALL of us in ALL the fights for ALL the equality – we’ll have it sorted in no time!!
Good luck Natalie, and thanks for your thinking about thinking.
Steve Biddulph has written a book called Raising Boys, also very interesting. Can I say to mothers of sons I am heartened after a phone call from my 26 year old son who has just left the nest and moved in with his girlfriend. Can I say he’s never been the best at tidying, or household things…he’s a Gamekeeper, he’s hardly home etc and these things he tell me don’t matter when you spend most of your day outdoors. I have failed I had always thought until this morning…
Me :’What are you up to today then?’ ..
Him : ‘Oh well L’s at work so I’ve done the washing up, bought us a floor mop so I’ve done the floor and got the washing on, then I’m going to get us a hedgerow casserole in the oven…rabbit and pigeon’
Concealing my shock as only a mother can…
Me : ‘You could pick some of those daffs off the hedge and put them on the table, that would look nice when L comes home…’
Him :That’s a good idea mum, thanks I’ll do that…’
Me (tongue in cheek) : ‘You know I always thought I’d failed with you…’
Him : ‘No mum, I was just watching and taking it all in until I really needed it…’
I have been quietly following this debate for a while now. Trying to keep my questions and opinions to myself.
I feel I no longer can hold them to myself, so will put them down here, hoping to get some satisfying answers…
When you talk about equal marriage, what is it exactly you want it to be for you? Is marriage something established by the religions? Why can’t you marry outside those religions? If it is marriage within a religion you are asking for, I don’t really get it? As I understand most (if not all) condemn or deny homosexuality? Is it their approval you are looking for?
Personally I wouldn’t ever want to get married with a same sex partner, if I wouldn’t have to, because of the legal side of the story, finances etc… I wouldn’t seek approval (because that’s what I feel it would be to me) from any religion. If they don’t agree with the way I am, so be it. To me marriage is about commitment and love and I don’t specificly need anyone to approve of it. There are so many other ways I could confirm my feelings to the one I love.
My feelings towards this do not stop me from supporting those people who are working so hard to get there. After all it is equality I do wish to get, but then I can think of other matters that would mean much more to me in daily life as equal wages etc…
Hoping you can help me sort out my puzzled mind,
Hi Karen, thanks for your questions. At the moment the consultation docs are simply requesting equal CIVIL marriage. So that is, like Sweden, Portugal, Spain, South Africa – and several other countries – the call is only for civil marriage for all. That, to me, seems like equality under the law. Interestingly, the document proposals would actually prohibit religious equal marriages. That is, if this bill goes through, in it’s current form, even religious groups who WANT to marry same-sex couples (eg Quakers, liberal Judaism, many liberal Christian orgs) would not be allowed to. For many then, this proposed bill does not go far enough, as it limits religious organisations who WANT to support equal marriage. So – the bill itself is not a simple doc, and – for some, as ever, does not go far enough – for me, a civil marriage, as every heterosexual couple in the country is entitled to, would be a great example of equality.
Ps – I’m not asking for ‘approval’ either. Simply what anyone asks for from a marriage ceremony – the WITNESSING that our public ceremonies have always been, as human beings, long long before organised religion got involved!
Thanks so much for that lynne. Brilliant! X
Thanks, Stella for your quick reply!
It leaves me with another 2 questions 🙂
What exactly is the difference between Civil Partnership and marriage. Is it just the title, or is there more to it?
Why do you find it important for the state or religion to whitness the ceremony?
One more question: sorry 😉
If the law would stop the religious establishments to perform the marriage ceremonies, and if the people feel the need for them to perform them, why don’t the Imam’s, Rabbi’s, Priests, etc., stand on the front row, when it comes to those debates?
Why can we only hear the voices of the ‘big, traditional ones’, saying they dissaprove, etc…?
Sadly I don’t know. I guess, as the consultation has only just begun, we can only hope that ALL those in favour will step up and say so. I certainly know that my liberal Christian friends are a little tired of the catholic church purporting to speak for all.
And on the what’s the difference question – there are some minor legal differences between CPs and Civil Marriage – tricky stuff I’m not entirely clear on but I do trust my legal friends! But for me the main point is that language does matter. Ah long as we use difference language for one type of people and another, as long as we have two different legal frameworks, it cannot be said that we’re treating all equally. I would LOVE to sit back and not care about this. To feel that good enough (civil partnerships) is enough. But I simply do not feel it is ok, in 2012, to have a 2-tier system, treating gay partnerships as different to heterosexual ones. I honestly think it’s both basic – it’s not equal if it’s not the same, and profound – human beings have always used witnessing each other as a rite of passage, and the language we use around those rites does matter. Phew. I’d also love to just get on with my own work, but sometimes issues matter to much to ignore.
Well, maybe some of the Christians will stick their neck out. I have a hard time imagining any Rabbi or Imam doing the same.. As long as you don’t have those people helping you, I’m afraid there is a long way to go still if you want religious backup.
Btw, you mention the other countries where marriages between same sex couples have passed the law. if I’m not mistaken it’s all Civil marriage we’re talking.
If what you say is right (I don’t claim to know the truth) that marriage has been there way before the religions mixed in, why the heck would you want them there in the first place?
And again, we have Civil Partnership now, isn’t that the same, only under another name?
Sorry, somehow I missed your last post about the CP question.
Ok, so if I get it right, we should be debating about levelling it all out to EQUAL marriage, straighten out the differences that are existing now. And this to me would be far more possible if we just leave out the religious part of the story. Hasn’t history proved to us that law and religions couldn’t survive if it was all one?
If some religions feel they do want to perform marriages between gay couples, don’t you think that they have to be able to decide that without the law mixing in? Which also counts for the opposite?
Sorry to keep you from your work.
For some reasons I can’t write down here, I have not yet read any of your books, but am surely planning to do so very soon!
Please keep on writing more good stuff and sticking out your voice for the people who are not able to do so!
Thanks for answering my questions so patiently!
Only trying to understand….
The current debate has nothing to do with making any religious do anything they don’t want to do. The problem is that they are jumping th and down about a CIVIL issue, when it has nothing to do with them.
Karen, I suggest you check out the Stonewall website, which has far more detailed and legalistic explanations than I’m able to give here.
I will do that, hoping to find it written in a language I understand :-). Another thing that pushes itself into my busy schedule, preventing me from finally getting down to your books 🙂
Looking forward to read your future blogs!
I loved your final punch, “the gospel will tell you to butt out”. Excellent Stella.
thank you. I wish I’d used more elegant language, but I could feel myself going for something entirely inelegant and ‘butt out’ was the best I could manage at the time! that’s what comes of being in a 20-min ‘debate’ and finding a mere 35 seconds in which to make a relevant point!
I still don’t understand what they were trying to get to. Why the representers of the church were sitting there and why the heck did you let them call you over just to fill up the space and not let you speak longer than 35 secs?…
because I wasn’t in charge of the programme!
Sorry, didn’t accuse you. Was wondering what the programme makers had in mind when they called you over…
Good for you Stella, sharp and succinct.