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On equal marriage

Liberals are a funny bunch. We can be powerfully and passionately political, but get so bogged down in earnest discussion that we forget the very basics. I am guilty of this sometimes – I overthink the linguistic implications of trying to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’, and miss out on some fun-sounding slutwalks.

But we should never forget why the basics are important. Last night I had a timely reminder, when I met a friendly, liberal guy in a pub who argued against equal marriage:

“If we let gay people get married then we legitimise the institution of marriage. And aren’t there more important things to do, like fix the economy? Oh, and if gay people can get married then what’s to stop polygamous groups asking for multiple marriages?”

Put on your hard hats, people: I’m about to throw some rocks.

We shouldn’t ‘let’ gay people get married

It is not a question of ‘letting’ anyone do anything – you’re not giving gay people your permission to get married – you are obliged to give them the same rights and freedoms as you’d give anyone else.

If someone is released from prison because they’re found innocent you’re not ‘letting them leave’ you are obliged to give them their freedom back.

There’s a beautiful picture doing the rounds on the internet showing some idiotic right-wingers from 40 years ago protesting against mixed race marriage. It’s contrasted with a contemporary picture of people protesting gay marriage with the slogan “Imagine how stupid you’ll look in 40 years

Fuck whether you’ll look stupid in 40 years – you look stupid right now. You’re failing to recognise that, regardless of who someone loves, shags and visits Ikea with, they are still fundamentally a person.

So it’s not a question of ‘letting’ gay people do the same as straight people. We are morally obliged to give all people the same basic freedoms. So let’s get on with it.

There are more important things than gay marriage

Yes, there are many things more important than the human rights of those in the western world who are already blessed with rights aplenty. If you’re worried about that then be my guest – pick a charity and open your fucking wallet.

But in the meantime it’s so rare – so heartbreakingly rare – that we have the opportunity to make such a monumental difference. It’s a teeny tiny legislative change, and it’s simple. Compared to dismantling the NHS or reviving a sluggish economy, it’s as simple as breathing in and out.

You could wake up one morning and find yourself in a society that is fundamentally fairer than the one in which you went to bed. That is an opportunity so fantastic that not seizing it seems wilfully destructive. So get on with it.

We’re opening the door to polygamy!

Leaving aside the question of whether we should actually legalise multiple marriages, this is a huge, ridiculous, stinking red herring. Why? Well, legislating for multiple marriages is infinitely more complex and ethically challenging than simply removing the gender specifications from a current marriage law.

It’s not a ‘slippery slope’ – it’s a completely different mountain. We can discuss polygamy another time, but right now we’re talking about legalising gay marriage. Let’s get on with it.

Gay people shouldn’t legitimise the institution of marriage

I am unlikely to ever get married. The party appeals but the rest leaves me cold with horror. I won’t get married – I think marriage is shit. But if some people have the legal right to eat that shit then I don’t see why anyone else shouldn’t have the same goddamn right to chow down on it too.

If you think that marriage is so bad that gay people shouldn’t do it, and you’re waving banners calling for an end to all marriage – gay and straight – then good on you. I won’t march along on your protest but I’ll respect your slightly odd opinion.

But you’re not, are you? You’re not. You’re saying ‘marriage is shit, leave it to the straights’. Which sails so far and fast past the point that the point itself is but a tiny dot on the horizon.

Here, I think, is the key – we should legalise gay marriage even if gay people don’t want it. Because I am straight, I can make a stand against the institution of marriage by choosing not to get married. At the moment some people don’t even have that choice – they can’t actively reject an institution that they were forbidden from joining anyway.

So even if every single gay person in the whole world decides that marriage isn’t for them, they should have the same right as I do to say ‘I don’t’. The act of marriage isn’t as important as the choice itself – a choice which should be offered to all people equally. So let’s get on and offer it.

Being gay is fundamentally wrong

I’m not going to get into this. If your religion or your personal ethics are so viscerally anti-gay marriage then you’re not going to change your mind after reading a rant from a sex blogger. You probably clicked off the page a long time ago, so this post isn’t for you.

It’s for the liberals who argue that there are more important things, for the lefties who say that gay people should boycott marriage because the institution itself is flawed. It’s for the people who say ‘we’ve got civil partnerships, that’s close enough’. It’s for those who aren’t interested one way or another because they know that gay marriage will become legal eventually, so what’s all the fuss about?

This post is for you. At the moment the UK government is holding a consultation on marriage equality. And although I love a good pub debate, I don’t want to sit arguing about the nuanced implications of our individual viewpoints while one of the best opportunities to advance equality slips through our fingertips.

So we can fight about the detail over a pint, or we can recognise that no matter what our liberal quibbles, all people should be treated equally. Let’s just get on with it, shall we?


  • rny says:

    Hello, I’m new here. I think your blog is great.

    Firstly though, can I be nitpicky and point out that it’s not just gay people who are affected by this? I’m sure that hadn’t passed you by, but I think it’s important that this isn’t forgotten.

    Anyway now that’s out of the way, you make lots of good points. It also rankles with me when people moan about how allowing same-sex marriage will ‘change the definition of marriage’. That’s sort of the point, and it’s not as if marriage is this great immutable thing anyway *coughmarriageactof1836*.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thanks for pointing out, but it’s probably not necessary =) I know it affects everyone, I just hate having to write a list. It makes a post really onerous to read and I think that the very act of writing a list of all the different people it affects means I will inevitably leave someone off and they’ll be offended. That’s why I put the ‘people’ point first – because this basically affects all people.

      The ‘changing the definition of marriage’ is a bloody odd one, and one I’ve only usually heard from right-wingers. It won’t, for a start. And for a finish – who the fuck cares? If we have to change the definition of a word to give everyone equal rights then I for one will happily take a biro to my dictionary.

      • rny says:

        fair enough!

        and i’ve got my biro ready!

      • Kay says:

        I have another linguistic grip over this issue. I object to gay marriage, not because I have anything against two gay people marrying but because the issue also affects lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people too. A marriage is a socially and legally recognised union of two people. If two bisexual people want to get married would they have a gay or bisexual or straight marriage? The answer depends on their gender. Can an intersex person even get married?

        I’m fine with same sex and different sex marriages, but I think the better term is marriage equality! While I have no personal difficulty with polyamorous groups celebrating their love with a public ceremony, I don’t think society is ready for that. Let’s go for marriage equality for adult couples now and worry about the rest in another 20 or 30 years :-)

        • Girl on the net says:

          Hi Kay – you’re right of course. The phrase ‘equal marriage’ is better, and probably one I should have used. See my answer above – basically I don’t want to write a huge list of all the people this will/should apply to – essential point is that we’re all *people* and should have rights the same as other people – hence why I put that point up front. ‘Gay marriage’ is a handy shortcut, and one that most people seem to use to encompass everything, but I’ll try to use ‘equal marriage’ in the future, for linguistic clarity =)

          The good news, though, is that the consultation wording around this is broad – the only thing specified is ‘couple’ and then ‘regardless of their gender’. This sounds broad enough that it should encompass everyone (although any lawyers reading – do correct me if I’m wrong!) so I’m nervous about getting too bogged down in linguistics in this case. The important thing is that we recognise the equality of all people rather than what they identify as, and how we label those identities.

  • Jamie says:

    Yet again I find I agree with every word you’ve written, including “and” and “the”.

    And that “change the definition of marriage” thing? That would be the relatively modern definition of marriage anyway, yeah? Coz before that, we were marrying our adult king to 9-year-old girls they’d only seen in a portrait and calling that a good thing. And biblical kings often had several (if not thousands) of wives.

    “Changing the definition of marriage” from ‘two people who love each other’ to ‘two people who love each other’ really seems less of a hurdle compared to the far more radical Marriage Act 1836.

  • Mr Archer says:

    What I put up on the post on the survey website.

    ‘Does it REALLY matter. REALLY? I really don’t think that it makes much difference either way. It’s all the same BLOODY THING. No, really, it is! Think about it. I know two people that are in a civil partnership, and they refer to their partner AS THEIR WIFE. Same with two males, they call the other half their HUSBAND. because once you sign that contract, that’s what you are. From Wikipedia, the definition is as such:

    “Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship.”

    Nothing there says anything about man, woman, whatever. Wikipedia doesn’t care. Why should I?’

    Now, what they seem to be saying here is that, while the Government are for same-sex marriage, they can not (will not and should not) force religious institutions to marry a same sax couple. As much as I have the current Government, I think that this is fair enough. Forcing the religious, nay, any institute into doing something that goes against their ethos is unfair and unjust (provided it doesn’t harm anyone).

    That’s my opinion on this anyway.

    • Mr Archer says:

      I also said this for question 14:

      “Civil Partnerships should have, if they are not allowed to “Marry”, per se, ALL equal opportunities that marriages enjoy, as that is their fundamental right as a person, and that is how it should be for anyone. It’s only fair, and just, right?”

    • Dave says:

      If it was against a religious belief for a black person to marry a white person, would you allow them their right to practise that belief?


    • Totally anonymous username says:

      They could at the very least allow the religious groups (Liberal Judaism, Quakers, Unitarians, I think?) who want to marry same sex couples to do so.

  • rny says:

    Mr Archer –

    “Nothing there says anything about man, woman, whatever. Wikipedia doesn’t care. Why should I?”

    being this deliberately obtuse harms your argument just a tad.

    and no, it’s not the same bloody thing. two types of legally sanctioned partnerships, two names. the very distinction reinforces the division and prevents true equality

    once you sign that contract, you are civil partners. anyone in a civil partnership is of course free to consider their partner to be their husband or wife, as appropriate. but legally, no, that’s not what they are.

    • Totally anonymous username says:

      Indeed, people who haven’t had any form of official ceremony are free to *think* of each other as wives/husbands/husband and wife, but legally they aren’t, either.

  • Giselle says:

    I am so glad you wrote this post. This is how I feel and it makes me so mad when someone has not thought through what they are espousing but still makes themselves out to be the fount of all wisdom. That normally sets me off in a very passionate tirade but I guess my coherence leaves much to be desired.
    Your post is giving me some clear points to mention, so hopefully I won’t sound quite so jumbled in future.

    About polygamy: what really gets to me is that anyone who mentions it does not put up an argument of why they do so. It is usually posed as: ‘well if we let abc happen, then what about xyz?’. It is never phrased as: ‘because of abc I think we should also have xyz’ which would at least be a clear statement that they will hopefully be able to follow with sound arguments. But that’s just it: you can’t get a sound argument out of someone doing this. And that really annoys me. Polygamy is just completely different to the relationship of any couple, straight or gay. Someone wanting more than one partner isn’t going in for a bilateral relationship of the mutual support that one person gives one other person but a sort of spiderweb of relations with him (well, let’s just say him) at the centre of what’s supposed to be several adoring sister wives. No sorry, I am not all happy about someone trying to bring up that scenario when we are actually talking about relationship recognition for all couples. And all of that just makes me so mad!
    Sorry for the rant, it’s the injustice and the unfairness that gets to me. Why should I have the ‘special right’ to marry when my friends only get to ‘civilly unionise’ with someone, or however you have to phrase that. It’s not just, it’s not fair and it’s not on.
    Yes: let’s get on with civil marriage for all couples. (PS: I’m also in favour of religious groups who want to to be able to marry same-sex couples, it’s not exactly religious liberty for them to not be able to, is it? Any faith group who doesn’t want to: you’re not getting forced into this – after all, who would want to get married by a homophobe? Not exactly what the most joyous day of your life is supposed to be like)
    Okay, I think I feel better now.

    • Jennie says:

      I live in a polyamorous relationship with my two male partners. No, you’re right, it’s not the same as a monogamous bilateral relationship. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an equal, committed relationship in which we all love each other very much. Just sayin’.

      • Girl on the net says:

        Agree wholeheartedly. I’m not in any way questioning your polyamorous relationship – I know and have known many people who are in very loving and committed ones. All I’m saying is that it’s a completely separate debate, and muddying the waters won’t do us any favours in the short term. Legally it’s much more complicated to legislate for multiple marriages compared to the simplicity of opening up coupled marriage to any gender. It’s also ethically a difficult area, as there are many things that could become infinitely more complex such as issues surrounding child custody. That doesn’t mean I don’t think poly relationships are committed and loving, etc, it just means that I think the discussion must be had outside of the equal marriage for couples debate.

        • ShinkenG says:

          So now we are in 2015 – perhaps time for the debate on polyamorous marriage to begin ?

          • Girl on the net says:

            I think polyamorous marriage is a very different kettle of fish. Not that I’m saying it should necessarily be illegal, just that there are hugely different issues to deal with, and the idea that it’s a ‘logical’ next step from gay marriage is fallacious, I think.

  • grizzlybaz says:

    Great post as ever, G. The thing that always annoys me about this debate is the rank hypocrisy of the religous right. Christians have a fundamental belief that homosexuality is morally objectionable, based largely on the story of Sodom in the Bible. The same book, let’s not forget, that advocates the stoning of adulterous wives but I don’t see too many Christians clamouring for their right to do that. Now I’m being lazy here by quoting the one example that sprung to mind but I’m sure I could find a few more if I really put the effort in.

    The other element of this debate that really rankles with me is the hypocrisy of our “democratically elected” representatives. There seems to be no end to those on the Conservative right queueing up to tell us that it would be a waste of tax payers money to enact a law “allowing” gay marriage but they are quite happy to piss our hard earned away on duck houses for their moats to the tune of £100 million a year.

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