Upon hearing the news, I turned to Mrs Sane and said “Well, that’s that then. Do you feel it? Do you feel the undermining of our marriage?” We got married in October 2008 and have since had two children. “Things were going so well. But now, now, well…. it all seems so hollow, so cheapened doesn’t it?”
For last night, the House of Commons approved same-sex marriage in England and Wales by passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with a majority of 225 votes (400 to 175).
“Of course not, you idiot” said Mrs Sane. “How could the private concerns of other couples possibly have any bearing on our own relationship?”
Of course! What a fool I was being, worried that my own, unique relationship with my wife could in any way be affected by other people – gays! – also entering into their own private, personal marriages. I heaved a sigh of relief and went back to staring blankly at the television.
A little over forty five years since homosexuality was legalised (in England and Wales, that is – incredibly, it remained illegal in Scotland until 1981 and Northern Ireland until 1982) this landmark legislation will ensure that marriage is no longer exclusive to heterosexual couples. It feels like progress to me and a step forward for equality generally, so of course I welcome it. Inevitably, however, not everyone does. Indeed, it has split the Conservative Party in half. Full credit to David Cameron for backing this legislation all the way: he recognises that this is essential to modernising his party and it’s reminiscent of Tony Blair tackling the dinosaurs of the Labour Party in the 1990s. Heartening to see for a liberal centrist such as myself, although the size of the opposition within the Conservative Party (139 Tory MPs voted against, 132 for) shows how much work is still to be done there. It also served as a nice reminder that, however disillusioned I might be with the current crop of political parties, the Tories are still toxic to me on issues such as this.
Opponents of the bill brought up predictable arguments:
- “Gay marriage will erode religious freedom.” But the bill allows religious organisations to opt out, indeed the Church of England is entirely exempt.
- “Marriage can only mean the union of a man and a woman, with the stated purpose of procreation.” Which is terrible news for those unable to conceive, or anyone who gets married in their advanced years or couples who decide that they don’t want to have children at all.
- “Gay marriage will dilute the institution.” I’ve never understood this one: how can more people getting married make marriage weaker? Marriage isn’t being redefined, it’s being extended to those who were previously excluded.
- “Marriage is ordained by God.” Well, mine isn’t – we were married in a registry office and had a Humanist ceremony afterwards. God wasn’t invited. The same is true for millions of other people. The objection on religious grounds really boils down to: “I oppose gay marriage because a wizard told me it was bad.”
I have yet to see an argument against gay marriage that doesn’t ultimately stem from prejudice of some description: at best, its opponents consider gay couples to be of less importance than heterosexual couples; at worst they think homosexuality is a filthy deviance or a “sin”. Of course very few would proclaim this outright. All kinds of intellectual arguments are offered to justify their position but they only mask what really lies beneath: naked prejudice.
It is a tenet of a modern liberal society that all citizens be treated equally. By removing the barrier to full equality of marriage we have just taken another important step towards that goal.