Sunday, March 11, 2012

The phony debate over secular “Gay Marriage”

I have been in a Civil Partnership for 42 years. It started on 30th September 1969 when Ann and I went to Acton Registry Office in West London and, in front of close friends and family, we made vows to commit ourselves to one another. God was not invited (although I agree than some may feel he was there anyway). The vows we made were broadly the same as we would have made if we had chosen to have a Church wedding but without the God bit. In précis we agreed to stay together until death us did part forsaking all others – and so on.
Now the Civil partnership that Ann and I concluded all those years ago is generally called a marriage and as such I am Ann’s husband and she is my wife. It has a special meaning under the law in that being married brings with it rights and responsibilities. The Civil Partnership Act of 2004 grants same-sex couples legal partnerships in the United Kingdom with rights and responsibilities which are identical to civil marriage. So if instead of Paddy and Ann getting married in 1969 it had been Paddy and Peter entering into a Civil Partnership in 2005 the legal construct would have been identical. Which means, of course, that to all intents and purposes a “Civil partnership” and a secular “Marriage” are exactly the same thing.

So why the current debate about “Gay Marriage”? First it is about semantics. If everything other than the name is the same between a “Marriage” and a “Civil Partnership” than it is frankly absurd to cavil about the use of the term “Marriage” (or the term “Civil Partnership” for that matter) to describe both. A rose by any other name. Secondly there is Religion. If some religions, notably Roman Catholics, take the view formally that same sex couples cannot be referred to as “Married” that is there affair. They cannot, and should not, be forced to say otherwise – but so, of course, is it the right of followers of these religions to ignore the ecclesiastical instruction and do and say what they want - and what the nation’s laws allow. The RC church still frowns on contraception – but millions of Catholics around the world take no notice and plan their families within the law in what they believe to be a responsible way.

The debate is phony. To refer to a Gay couple who have gone through a Civil Partnership formality as “Married” seems utterly uncontentious. If that couple prefer not to use the term (for whatever reason) and continue to refer to their soulmate as a “partner” rather than a “spouse” that is surely fine as well. Similarly if a couple (same sex or opposite sex) prefer to eschew the legal bonding completely and just live together that is also fine – it’s a free society. Under some religions “Marriage” brings with it certain duties and responsibilities which are additional to those of a secular Civil marriage (or partnership). Providing these duties and responsibilities don’t contradict secular laws that is also fine – it’s none of the State’s business.