Here Come the Brides?
By Marilyn Deegan
I’ve been following with fascination the debate about gay marriage raging in the UK as the government launches a 12-week consultation exercise to elicit views on changing the law. As a lesbian, I welcome the move to equality that the new proposals represent. I am old enough to remember a time when male homosexual acts in the UK were illegal and punished by prison! That gay people can now enter openly into legal unions and have children is a freedom I could never have imagined.
The right for gays to contract civil partnerships was introduced in 2005, and the new proposals give very few new rights to same-sex couples beyond what is conferred by civil partnership, but they do require a complete redefinition of the meaning of marriage—hitherto only referring to the union of a man and a woman. However, if the law is changed, gay people will only be able to have civil marriages—churches will not be forced to marry gay couples, even though some denominations and some individual clerics within the Church of England have expressed a willingness to marry gay people.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and many conservatives are in full support of this redefinition of marriage. Other Conservatives are against it, and some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs say that the proposals do not go far enough.
A number of other countries already allow same-sex couples to marry, including Spain, Canada, Argentina, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and Belgium. France does not permit same-sex marriage; it allows both heterosexual and gay couples to enter into a civil union (PACS Pacte Civil de Solidarité) which confers some rights, but many fewer than marriage. This is a topic being debated between the candidates in the forthcoming presidential election.
The UK proposals have caused a storm of protest from many religious leaders, especially in the Catholic Church. The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, accused the government of ‘grotesque subversion’ of marriage, and falling victim to ‘heretics’, for instance.
So what are the issues here? The Christian church and other religions generally advance the argument that homosexuality is unnatural and a perversion, and unions should not be sanctioned. But it seems that in all societies and at all periods of history there have been homosexuals, and whatever laws or strictures there are against homosexuality, it still exists, and in fairly steady proportions. And it is not a choice. Very few people actually choose to be gay, and many choose to attempt not to be gay and enter into marriages and other unions less than successfully because they are denying their true nature. Recent research suggests that being gay is actually biological, and some studies have shown that if one member of an identical twin pair is gay, there is a 50% chance of the other being gay, which suggests a strong genetic possibility.
Religious organizations are social structures which emerged throughout the ages to regularize human behavior in some way, and marriage is one of the regularizing acts, promoted for the stability it offers to families, children and state. Neither religion nor marriage can be defined as ‘natural’: they are just structures devised by human beings. Given that there are many gay people who wish to live in stable unions and have children, it would seem of benefit to society to recognize these unions as marriages and attach the same rights and responsibilities to them as to heterosexual unions. Surely that makes for a more stable society? There are far more similarities between gay and straight marriages than there are differences, as anyone who has seen the film The Kids are Alright would attest (see below for a clip of the movie). But there are very strong views on all sides about this issue—we would like to hear yours.
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