Posts that Time Forgot: No.1 – Marriage equality

It sometimes happens that I will abandon a post I’m writing for this blog before it’s published.  That can be because something else happens that I want to write about instead, or because I’m going through a dodgy patch, mentally speaking, and temporarily lose the ability to write coherently, or sometimes because a post I write is a response to something someone else has written, and I decide that, for whatever reason, it would be unpleasant or trollish behaviour to post it at that time and in that form.  Quite often it’s just because I realise the post is so catastrophically dull or abysmally written I’d be embarrassed to put it up.  The upshot is that, over the 3½ years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve built up a folder on my hard drive labelled ‘Drafts’ that now contains well over a hundred partial posts that never made it into the wider world.

Most of the time, when I go back and re-read, I find that my judgement was sound, and that there were very good reasons not to publish.  I also often find that the post, whatever it was, was time-sensitive, and that it would make no sense to publish it once events had moved on.  But, just occasionally, I will find that there is some small nugget within a draft post that’s worth extracting, polishing as necessary, and posting.  So that’s what this occasional series – Posts that Time Forgot – is going to be: edited highlights of old posts that never quite made it.  I’m labelling them as posts that time forgot because, shorn of the context that gave rise to them, they might look a bit apropos-of-nothing and weird.

This first entry contains some material from a post I was writing earlier this year about marriage equality, with particular reference to the situation in the United States.  It covers some of the same ground as this post, but with more clarity and a sharper focus.

Marriage Equality

I tend to take a fairly simple-minded approach to the whole issue of equality: gay people shouldn’t be prevented, simply because of our sexual orientation, from doing anything that straight people can do.  It follows, therefore, that gay people should be allowed to get married if they want to.  I also think it’s unavoidably the case that, whether we like it or not, marriage equality has become the defining LGBT rights issue of the moment in the US, simply because the religious right have decided to focus so much effort and money on campaigning against it.  For this reason alone I think it would set a dangerous precedent if LGBT campaigners were to walk away from marriage equality, or decide not to prioritise it; it would encourage the opponents of equality to believe that they can win, and reinvigorating the opposition (on the back foot after DADT repeal) would not be a wise tactical move.

That said, I think there is a problem with the contemporary LGBT movement focusing so much attention on marriage equality – namely, that it encourages LBGT people to view a single romantic relationship as the cornerstone and pinnacle of their lives.  This is the way straight people have been encouraged to think down the millennia, and it has caused many of them (and their children) untold emotional suffering, historically in the form of indissoluble unions between people who hated each other, and latterly in the form of painful divorce proceedings.

The fact is, by being unfairly shut out of marriage, gay people have evolved a different way of thinking about our lives.  The standard ‘gay pattern’ involves thinking of a small network of intimate friends as the fundamental relationships in our lives, and romantic relationships, whether short or long term, as a nice additional bonus.  Because gay people haven’t been trapped in the ’till death do us part’ mindset, we have been able to develop a more psychologically healthy approach to romantic relationships.  We value them, and we work at them, and we don’t abandon them at the first bump in the road – but we also don’t pursue them beyond the point where they’ve become a net negative in everyone’s lives.

The exclusion of gay people from marriage is manifestly unfair.  The problem is that, in addressing that unfairness, we send out the idea that marriage is the be-all and end-all, and that anyone who isn’t married is less-than.  If we keep applying this kind of pressure to ourselves – and, especially, to the younger people among us, who are least likely to know anything about alternative ways of living a happy life – we may arrive at a situation where many gay relationships will be as dysfunctional as too many straight ones already are.  I like my straight friends, and I love my straight siblings, but I’ve seen them struggle on through dead relationships years after they should have said goodbye.  I don’t want that kind of misery for us.

I think LGBT people have found a better way of handling the fickle human heart, and it would seem a shame to lose all we’ve learned in a misguided attempt to remake ourselves in the image of the heterosexual mainstream.  Or, rather, the image of the 1950s heterosexual mainstream.  That tiresome joke about gay people being the only people left who want to get married?  There’s a ring of truth in there somewhere (no pun intended).

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2 Responses to Posts that Time Forgot: No.1 – Marriage equality

  1. Kapitano says:

    I think Dan Savage had it right. He said “I don’t want to get married for the state to tell me my love it real – I want to get married because I want my partner to be my next of kin.”

    The legal benefits of marriage are, as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to get married, for gay people, straight people, and everyone else. Civil partnership is at heart a legal document, just like any other form of legally recognised marriage, and it may be that in the future, gay and bi people will use it simply as that.

    In fact, there are cases of straight people (in the Netherlands) who’ve used gay marriage as a way to bypass the labyrinthine procedures for adopting a young adult.

    I rather doubt we’ll have the sense to treat it like that – we seem to like our bland mainstream status too much. But the option is open, for when we realise how much we’ve paid and how little we’ve bought.

  2. I think you’re right, Kapitano. I can certainly envisage a point in my future at which I might get civilly-partnered (assuming I find someone who’ll have me, of course!) in order to access the legal rights, but I can’t easily imagine getting married. For me the key difference is that civil partnerships only require a declaration to the effect that the couple want to be civil partners, while marriage includes the promise to stay together until death. Obviously that doesn’t actually mean anything in the era of quickie divorces, but I would still be uncomfortable making the until death promise – I’m weird about not making promises I don’t know I can keep.

    I’m not an expert, clearly, but I think the Dutch example would already be illegal with marriage or civil partnership in the UK, on tax grounds – they don’t want people using inter-generational CPs/ marriages as a way of avoiding inheritance tax.

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