Big Gay Marriage
Hmm, well, this is the tricky one at the minute, isn’t it? Lots of people kicking off in one way or another. Strong opinions all round. Delicate touch needed, I fancy. What a pity I don’t have one of those.
Some of the difficulty here is that people mean different things when they talk about gay marriage, the main problem being that they call it “gay marriage”, as opposed to just “marriage”, making it sound like even if it happened it would be a seperate thing to “normal” marriage. Something else to consider is that we have civil partnerships. Civil partnerships are weddings without the religious pomp and ceremony that “wedding” brings to mind. It was, until recently, apparently against the law to involve any religious iconography, music or writing in a civil partnership, let alone hold one in a place of worship, even if the religion from which it comes is happy with the idea. In the eyes of the law, there isn’t a great deal of difference between a civil partnership and a marriage, and you aren’t in fact allowed to be in both at the same time. But neither, however, are you allowed to call civil partnerships weddings, or call yourself married if you’re in one, and therein lies the biggest, ugliest problem: words have power. Civil partnerships look like ducks, walk like ducks and quack like ducks (metaphorically, you understand) but woe betide anyone who calls them ducks. They must only be referred to as “anatidae-adjacent animals”. Which in my opinion is a crappy bit of back-handed discrimination, for those of you who got tangled up back there in my mutilated duck metaphor. Not that I’m belittling anyone who has entered into a civil partnership, especially the friends of mine who are in them. Grading on a curve, civil partnerships are an amazing socio-political achievement considering homosexuality has only been legal for twelve more years than I’ve been alive and I’d welcome comments on this subject from you guys, but my stance on the subject is “could be a lot worse, but could be fucking better.” Let’s just call it marriage and have done with it. It’s going to happen sooner or later so let’s have no undue fuss and we can all get on with our lives again. Now, about words. Words like “wedding” and “married” have been around for a long time. They form part of our cultural bedrock. Opponents to gays marrying, such as Doctor John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, say it is not for the State to decide what the word “marriage” means. Marriage is a tradition, a historical, social and economic monolith that cannot be changed by fiat, by simply declaring that it is all of a sudden something else. Marriage is a union between a man and a woman and there’s an end of it. Civil partnerships will have to be good enough because you sure as shit cannot call them marriages and where exactly does the State get off trying to change that? He even goes so far as to say that the State, in trying to decree this, is acting in a totalitarian manner, the irony of which is clearly lost on the good Doctor as he is apparently fine with saying marriage is too good for gays and only straights can have proper marriage. Doctor Sentamu believes government can’t fiddle about with what marriage is (or is supposed to be). Unfortunately, Doctor Sentamu is wrong. As wrong as the wrong end of Wrong Street. It is the role of the State to implement the will of and govern in the name of the People (that’s us). If the People want two people who love each other to be able to marry in a church then that is what needs to go down. And here to demonstrate why and how this can happen without breaking any divine law is the power of words in action (now brace yourselves, because this is the clever bit):
the Queen of this country is the head of the Anglican Church. She is also the Head of State, and gives Assent to laws which Her Government, acting on behalf of the People, wish to enact. If the People, in the form of the Government, wish to enact a law which says marriage can join any two people who love each other, subject to the normal process of scrutiny which marriages are currently held to, then the Queen will give Assent. (This is how a Bill becomes a Law.) Now, the Queen is the head of the Anglican Church and custom has it that she holds her place by the will of God. (The motto of the British Monarch is “Dieu Et Mon Droit” literally meaning “God And My Right”.) And so it follows that whatever the Queen says can be thought of as being agreed with upstairs. Thus, whatever we the People compel the Queen to assent to in religious matters is effectively a command from God.
Told you it was clever, yeah? This torturously complicated relationship between the Queen, the Church and the State is what happens when you try and make people believe in fairy stories. Stories can be twisted and molded and shaped into anything by anyone who knows enough about the power of words. Of course, it doesn’t much work like that in the real world, but the real world is not a subject I know much about. Despite my faultless made-up logic, however, I must admit to being conflicted. As much as I want the flimsy paper walls between marriage and civil partnership torn down, the libertarian in me honestly believes that religions have the right to define the rules under which they grant membership. I mean, a Morris Minor Owners’ Club isn’t going to accept someone who blatantly thinks that Morris Minors are shit, are they? And why would someone who thinks that Morris Minors are shit want to join a club where everyone thinks they are the new hotness anyway? Makes no sense. The trouble is that religions don’t see themselves as private clubs. They see themselves as structurally integral to society. This may well have been true a thousand years ago but the church is no longer the bastion of defense it used to be, and society is outgrowing its comfort blanket. We don’t need churches to tell us how to behave. It is perfectly possible to be a good, decent and charitable human being and yet be totally godless. More and more, institutionalised religion is appearing backward and dogmatic in the face of the modern world. You can see this playing out pantomime-style in American politics, where the Exceptionally Religious Far Right is not only backward and dogmatic but also managing to pretty much strangle their entire system of democracy with enough agressive, mind-numbing stupidity to embarrass and dismay all right-thinking people who live there, godless or not. Now, a lot of churches do a lot of good work. Some of them do a lot of bad work, don’t get me wrong, (especially the ones that are involved with the Exceptionally Religious Far Right) but on the whole most churches are still forces for good. Some people may be surprised to hear this coming from me, but I do believe it to be true. However, I believe it’s true not because they are doing God’s work but because I believe humans naturally err on the side of good and lots of them working together to achieve something worthwhile is a force to be reckoned with no matter what the woollyheaded reason they think they’re doing it for is. So despite my rabid athiesm I am more than willing to let people believe whatever they like as long as they are doing good in the world and I’m allowed to believe that they are both wrong and silly and that the Earth should be cleansed of their belief systems, with fire if necessary. (A post on my beliefs is probably on the cards now, I’ve got myself all riled up.) So, how do I reconcile homosexuality with libertarianism? Simples. Churches have to stop thinking they are special. They can continue preaching whatever it is they want to preach and doing all the good (or bad) work that their fevered brains can contrive, but they have to stop believing that their special books should decide how humans should behave and give up their roles as societal nannies (as well as their tax-exempt status). Once they do that and accept that in a diverse and multi-cultural world they are no longer at the top of the pile them I am more than willing to let any number of them deny membership to anyone they like, because in their new status of private clubs they will be subject to market forces. They will schism and schism and schism some more and the inclusive ones will survive and stay vaguely relevant and the non-inclusive ones will turn into cults and fade away. I think not only is this solution elegant, it is also sensible, and I commend it to the world at large to be implemented immediately, for gratis. Call it my gift. Let people marry who they may, because we’re all grown-ups and we should really start acting like it.