The possibility of Equal Marriage (or marriage, as I like to call it) took a tiny step closer today. And there has, of course, been the inevitable outcry that I’ve found depressing, saddening and infuriating.
Here then, for those who are still confused, are the ten reasons I’d like to be allowed to marry my Mrs.
(There are many others, these are the ten I’m prepared to share publicly!!)
1. Because I care about language. And the language that says, at every wedding I have been to “marriage is a union between a man and a woman” insists, every time, that marriage is not for the likes of me. And every time I hear that as a rejection of my partner and myself. No matter how happy I am for the happy couple I’m witnessing, that is what it does – it reminds me I do not belong.
2. Because marriage did not ‘traditionally’ belong to the church or the state. It existed before churches and mosques existed, it existed before synagogues existed, it existed before monotheism was even around. And monotheism is, after all, only about 5000 years old, so it’s a bit much for those who claim we’re subverting marriage by wanting in too, to say it’s ‘their’ institution. Marriage is all of ours, always has been. We tied the knot, skipped the rope, jumped the broom handle. Marriage is about being witnessed, and it needs neither church nor state to do that.
3. BUT, currently, in our society, the state DOES witness marriages. So I’d quite like it to witness mine. If it witnesses yours, why can’t it witness mine? (I’m not fussed about the church, the wife’s Jewish and I’m Buddhist and we could find both to witness us, if we wanted.)
4. Because IF I’d wanted to play the Beautiful South’s “Don’t marry her, fuck me” at my Civil Partnership (I didn’t! though it is a brilliant song) I wouldn’t have been allowed to, because it has the word ‘marry’ in it. Again, I care about language and I mind enormously when some good words are denied me.
5. Because I call my wife my wife and she calls me her wife, but actually, in law, right now, we can’t really truly legally do that. All we can call each other, legally, is Civil Partners. And it‘s a bit of a mouthful and not very lovely. And marriage is, should be, after all, about love.
6. Because yes, marriage has been, often still is, a sexist and old-fashioned and couple-favouring union (which treats single people like they don’t count) and it does have a very dodgy history of men owning women and women being seen as – and being – chattels. And we can reclaim that. We can take that history of oppression and remake it, just as we have done with so many other things (education for example) that used to favour only men and boys.
7. Because marriage is, at base, about being witnessed. And I choose to live in this society and to be of it and while my sexuality makes some people think I’m outside of it (some gay people as well as some straight people), and even though it sometimes makes me feel I’m outside of it, my own personal choice has been to work for change and difference from within that society, not from outside. I don’t want to live in a ghetto and I don’t think I’m any less queer for that.
8. Because I am a hard-working, tax-paying member of this community and allowing me Civil Partnership but not marriage is allowing me only some of the privileges that plenty of other people, heterosexual people, have merely by right of their sexuality. A heterosexual person does not have to do ANYTHING to be allowed to marry other than ask. I am asking.
9. Because it would also be great, if I choose, to have the option NOT to marry my wife, just as heterosexual people can choose to take advantage of their right to marriage or not.
10. Because I love her. And that’s what we’ve been doing forever, right? Standing up in front of our people, being witnessed by our community, as we said “I do”?
Well put Stella
I felt that the prime minister should have mentioned love and equality rather than the fact that he was pro marriage.
Best wishes sarah
I’m not wild about marriage (and I’m straight) so it took me a while to realise how important this question is. But I was fortunate enough to attend the Quaker Yearly Meeting where we decided (1700 of us!) that marriages happen regardless of the gender of the partners and that our role as a religious society was to bear witness to them in our meeting houses. I’m particularly struck by your point about witnessing because a key quotation from the C17th Quaker George Fox was “This is the Lord’s work and we are but witnessses.” So I’m now a member of a church which celebrates both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages (we don’t have a priest or minister and the couples marry one another by making declarations in the presence of witnesses and a registering officer). However some of the marriages we celebrate and witness are recognized by the state and others are not. At that Yearly Meeting I became aware of the kind of pain this caused. We also realised how very slow we had been to reach this point when a young Quaker said “You’ve been considering this for eighteen years – that’s longer than I’ve been alive.” I’ve not yet witnessed the celebration of a same-sex marriage (there aren’t that many Quaker weddings because there aren’t that many Quakers) but I’ve witnessed many same-sex couples who seem, to an outsider at least, to be living in a relationship which looks to me exactly like a marriage. I hope that at last society and the law start to witness marriages, whatever the gender of the partners – and to encourage people to live in the relationships (or single state) that best nurtures them and enables them to develop free from oppression.
Good wishes – I found your blog through a friend’s Facebook post and followed the link out of curiosity having recently enjoyed one of your novels.
thank you. it has been a huge relief to have the Quaker point of view heard in this debate, not least, I think, for other religious who find it painful that their louder churches are so vociferous in their opposition to the witnessing you and I describe.
This will absolutely happen, and not long after it does almost those who opposed it will be visited by appropriate embarassment, much as those who adopted a laissez-faire attitude to Apartheid (or supported it) have also gone quiet on that. Hang in there, Stella.
thank you Shelley.
You are right about matrimony being older than churches. However, have you looked up the etymology? Surely it is a social convention that is in some sense the ‘property’ of women who are or wish to be mothers, and gives them some protective status in society while they are pregnant and are looking after their young.
And, have you looked up the C of E’s Book of Common Prayer to see what the marriage ‘ceremony’ (…another good word to look up, btw).. is all about: the form of service known as the Solemnisation of matrimony .. i.e. not marriage per-se, as this has deemed to have already happened.
So given that the service is merely a public affirmation of the status of women who wish to become ‘mothers’.. and so is also protective of them and their children when at their most vulnerable ….. why do people who are not going to become pregnant, wish to parody this simple service? Is it not removing some protection from children? Taking a sense of Tabu from them, perhaps? And in a wider sense, taking something from those who have gone before?
The civil law on partnerships is very straightforward, and for some time now, the law has been extended beyond the strictly commercial, to give protection to all forms of adult cooperation. Therefore, in a secular world, equality has been guaranteed by the state. So, why is there this need for those who are not intending to enter the condition of motherhood, to ‘break-in’ on religious groups and their later rituals? Is it somehow sentimental, like older people getting ‘married’…. or is there a misplaced agressive impulse, that is being hidden by layers of intellectual and emotional arguments?
I’d like to hear your considered response …
This is such a good post Stella – they should get you on things like PM to destroy the kinds of bigot who turn up on there and make you cry 😛
As a married [sorry 😦 ] feminist, point 6 is my personal favourite here – I often encounter people who are completely anti-marriage for historical reasons, which I can understand only to a very limited extent because it seems so defeatist to me. I’d far rather feminism was about removing historical sexism from dominant societal institutions, not leaving those who are within them to continue to operate in a sexist way while that dominance all-too-gradually fades.
I totally agree with Shelley Harris above too. You’re not just on the *right* side of this argument but also what will undoubtedly be the *winning* side. That victory just can’t come soon enough.
I am a man, married to a woman. I agree with every single word. In fact, I find it hard to understand how anyone could disagree. I’m glad I don’t have to live in their heads.
To Tony Nordberg – given all the words you cite have such very different meanings in our own and other languages, I’m not sure it’s ever appropriate to discuss purely on etymological terms.
What disturbs me though is that you appear to be suggesting infertile people should also not be allowed to marry? Or older people past child-bearing age?
What the CofE does is neither here nor there to me, as a non believer. But this proposed law change will not force anything on religious. Religious institutions that want to marry same sex couples will need to OPT IN not to fight to refuse to marry same sex couples.
And no, we are not talking parody, or the more sinister intentions you would like to attribute. Rather the very simple and basic right to marry in my own state. Pretty basic really.
Tony, I don’t agree with any aspect of your argument but I am mostly struck by your assumption that because a woman is lesbian, she is not intending ‘to enter the condition of motherhood’. Are being serious?
I see your concern about my points, but they are made in an attempt to understand what is generally meant by ‘marry’, and your own meaning of the term. Is it a binding ( aka religious) ceremony of some kind that you want? If you are a non-believer, then clearly this ceremony cannot logically be held under the auspices of any theistic religion without it being at best, an absurdity.
Does your ceremony require a shamanic figure to lead the procedure? If so there may be a religion that would accommodate you, but surely even they require belief in spirits aka gods … as the word ‘ceremony’ itself implies. So, on reflection, it seems that your own unbelief may be the very thing that is not ‘allowing’ you to marry.
So why not a DIY celebration, with you as the spiritual leader of your own ceremony? A kind of personal handfasting? What exactly is the restriction?
PS, The C of E is the nearest we have to a nationally recognised religion, and their operating manual ( the BCP… authorised by a woman, in fact ) .. prescribes a form of solemnisation ceremony for ‘those of riper years’ i.e those who are infertile.
(And, I’d recommend a quick read of the BCP as an example of the best use of English; … poetic, even. )
ah, I’m fond of the BCP, and indeed the King James. both beautifully written.
No, don’t want a religious ceremony at all, simply a legal, state-sanctioned (and binding) legal ceremony, in which it is permissible to use the words wedding, marriage, marry and wife. What with those words being the ones our culture uses to signify ‘married’, and being happy to be part of that culture. These things are currently prohibited in CP ceremonies.
I’ve tried looking up the law, but can’t find any such restriction. Could you give a link?
It’s what I, and many other LGBT people have been told in registrar offices. Maybe you need to check byelaws?
Or, simply believe me when I say that calling my partner of 22 years my ‘civil partner’ – because that is all the law allows – is degrading and depressing, and utterly undervalues our relationship when we are, indeed, each others’ helpmeet. Each others’ wife.
Well, I went throught the whole of the act of parliament, plus amendments, and all I could find was a reference to a bar on religious readings and music when a registrar is presiding over the civil procedure. As this is in common with all registry office weddings, maybe it is worth following up.
Who knows, it might be that you are in common with all who have gone the registry office route, which is probably the majority of the population.
Could it also be, that as a poet, you might find it useful to draw a distinction between the meanings of ‘wedding’ and ‘marriage’?
Thank you Stella, I have always struggled to articulate what it is about the institution of marriage, as it currently stands, that I despise. You have explained very coherently the feelings that have niggled at me. Me and my partner were ‘civilly-partnered’ earlier this year and it was the most beautiful day, but to explain to people who were not there just how wonderful it was becomes difficult because everyone has preconceptions about CP’s ie they are second rate. So thank you for Sharon your thoughts, and I hope you don’t mind if I plagiarise them
Er,Tony, I’m not a poet. I’m a novelist and theatre maker. Did you think I was Carol Ann? Interesting given the ‘definitions’ terms of your argument! But I go back to the point, my original point, is that I want equality – CPs and marriage are NOT the same. Even if it’s ‘merely’ semantics (and I don’t think semantics are mere and, clearly, neither do you) we are currently using of one set of legal terms for one part of the population and another term for term for another, to say they are yet the same is disingenuous. I’d be perfectly happy if all unions were CPs, or if they were all marriages, but they’re not. Hence it feeling, and being, discriminatory and unfair.
Aha! I came to your blog not from any prior knowledge but via Twitter, and so may have assumed that as you are a writer, you would include the precision of the poet in your tool-kit, as it were.
Having done a bit more googling, it seems that in common with all other civil weddings, CP weddings are banned from using readings from sacred texts of any religion.
So, as in France for example, it is usual in this country to have a civil wedding conducted by a registrar, and then followed by a religious wedding conducted by a priest
The exception for historic reasons is at C of E church weddings where the church and vicar are authorised to act as a civil registrar as well as officiating priest. This has the advantage of being cheaper, but the disadvantage of requiring at least a nominal belief else the thing is a charade.
When you say:
“I’d be perfectly happy if all unions were CPs, or if they were all marriages, but they’re not.”
I think it is not as simple as that …. and I suspect that all unions really are the same in the eyes of the civil law.
So IF I understand it aright, there is not actually any problem; and no need for this lobbying to change the law. After all, we must maintain the clear separation between civil and religious spheres ( aka separation of church and state – for which a civil war was fought) … as you would agree.
I would like to ask any of your readers if they could dig around to find out if there really is any legal discrimination between CP wedding and Civil wedding procedures generally.
The reason is that OTOH it would stop people blunting their lobbying power (and incidentally making Cameron look silly); OTOH it would point to a perfectly reasonable request to modify the law.
Jesus Tony why don’t you move to Ireland? We allow ‘married’ pregnant women to die due to medieval laws and all justified in the name of religion.
Here in Spain the neo- fascist PP Party were made to look very ‘silly’ when they failed in their long legal battle to have Spain’s same-sex marriage laws revoked. But, on a positive note is has taught us that we can never become complacent and must continue to fight for equality.
Reading some comments here has made me very sad/angry today 😦
Michelle, I can understand why you feel so bad reading some of the comments.
I think that many of us in hetero relationships forget that it is not our place to question or judge the validity of the reasons those wanting to marry their same-sex partner give. We can support, feel sympathy, feel empathy, but we do not know what it is like to be told that the words ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ are not legally ours to use. As fascinating as the semantics may be, to me the primary importance of semantics is in relation to how they make people feel. I like the feeling that I might one day be called ‘wife’ by the man I love and adore. That’s enough for me to understand that another woman might want that too from the woman she loves and adores. Why is further justification needed? Two human beings with the same dream and desire, but only one of us at present has access to its fulfilment.
Stella has beautifully described many other reasons too!
So I won’t be wasting my time researching whether there really is any legal discrimination between civil partnership weddings and civil weddings. My fellow human being wants what I have. She has my every support and last drop of my energy in fighting to obtain what should always have been hers.
thank you Louise.
Louise thank you for being so sweet.
Some days I get fed up having to defend my life and argue to be allowed the same rights as everyone else in society. I know there will always be those with medieval mentalities, but things do change eventually.
I am lucky I live in Spain where we have equal marriage and good adoption laws. There will be equal marriage in the UK soon. However, I am not as hopeful about Ireland. I would love to get married at home, we have the most beautiful 19th C church. But, I think I will have to wait even longer than Miss Havisham for my perfect wedding day…
When you say;
” but we do not know what it is like to be told that the words ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ are not legally ours to use”
I think we all know what it would feel like to be prohibited from using certain words to describe ourselves and our relationships. The school experience teaches us that.
And there is another big BUT: … where does it say that these terms are illegal? By what authority? Show me you actually have a case! And frankly until I can see it, I’ll put it down as a kind of dance which the LGBT community needs in order to find a symbolic cause to bond around….. a religious issue of you like … and not a civil one.
So, show me the law!
Excellent arguments (I wish many of them were unnecessary and we could all just concentrate on loving partners, but apparently we can’t. Yet.) and fab shoes in that photo!
As a single woman I hope all is sorted by the time I find that special person who I want to spend the rest of my life with. You are lucky to have found your soul mate Stella.
Missed seeing you at the YLAF’s and gettin book signed.
Catherine after all these years of spelling it right. Lol.
I really need to update my reader and add your blog, at the moment I catch up every few months and miss so much! I love this post, it encapsulates the argument perfectly for me. Number 5 made me laugh – but be glad you’re not in NZ where it has to be Civil Union Partner or CUP for short. Yep, we got CUPped!