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Thursday, November 05, 2009


If you live in Maine, my condolences

Because once again, a state has voted against allowing same-sex marriages.

This is sad and discouraging and frustrating as all get-out.

On the same subject, a while ago I wrote to my MP asking her to support changing civil unions to same-sex marriage. Courteously enough, she replied to me, passing on a letter from the office of Jack Straw. For everyone's interest, here is what it said (typoes and punctuation reproduced verbatim, because I'm not feeling charitable):

Civil Partnership was especially designed to meet the needs of same sex
couples - offering a very similar range of rights and responsibilities to
married couples. The Civil Partnership Act was introduced as part of the
Government's wider commitment to ending discrimination against lesbian, gay and
bisexual people. It was especially designed to meet the needs of same sex
couples - offering a very similar range of rights and responsibilities to
married couples.

It directly addressed many of the injustices same-sex couples faced in
their daily lievs, because of a lack of legal recognition - for example, the
denial of survivor pension rights, the inability to register the death of a
partner, being refused the right to visit a their partner in hospital.

There is legal recourse in discrimination law if lesbian and gay copules
are treated differently from married couples either in the workplace or when
accessing goods, facilities or services, for example, couples' discounts for gym

The Government does not believe there is need to introduce same sex
marriage, because couples who form a civil partnership get a very similar range
of rights and responsibilities to married couples.

Well. Despite the defensive pride of authorship that rings through the letter - 'We thought about this before we did it, so it's impossible that there might be anything wrong with it' - if the put as much thought into the Civil Partnership Act as they did into this letter, that might explain a lot.

This was my reply:

Thank you very much for your letter of October 12 which I have just
received, passing on Michael Foster's response about the Government policy in
regard to same-sex marriage. I appreciate the communication.

However, I must state that I find Mr Foster's response on behalf of the Rt
Hon Jack Straw inadequate and unjust.

The letter rests on the phrase 'very similar range of rights and
responsibilities' when comparing civil partnerships and marriages - indeed, it
repeats the phrase three times. 'Very similar' is not the same. Unless
Mr Straw can find some extremely compelling reasons to the contrary, we should,
as a nation that considers itself fair, recognise gay citizens as not 'very
similar' to straight ones in their entitlements to rights and freedoms, but
exactly identical.

Marriage is not merely an issue of rights and responsibilities. It is also
an issue of community and recognition. By providing the right to marry, the
government is acknowledging a couple's status as full members of society whose
relationship deserves to be seen as part of the mainstream. A separate but
nominally equal alternative by its very nature excludes a same-sex couple
from the mainstream.

Exclusion from the mainstream, even with an alternative, is not and can
never be fair. Two separate states is divisive and undemocratic. I love my
country, but I love my fellow-citizens more, and it saddens and angers me to see
bigotry compromised with in this manner. I must ask that, as a representative of
Britain's gay citizens as well as its heterosexual ones, you do not accept this
shoddy half-measure and instead press for full and equal acceptance of same-sex
relationships as the legitimate marriages they are.

Thank you for your time and your courtesy in replying to me.

My MP offered to pass this on to Jack Straw, an offer I've accepted; I wait with limited hope to see what will happen next.

Two things really bleak me out about the letter I received. The first is the apparent pride the Government feels in ending abominations like the denial of survivor pension rights, a pride more or less analagous to to Volkswagen being proud their engines don't detonate after five miles.

The second is the apparent blindness to what marriage means. When my husband proposed to me, he didn't ask me to 'Enter into a range of rights and responsibilities of a legal contract, my darling.' He asked me to marry him. And I didn't say yes because I wanted rights and responsibilities. I wasn't particularly interested in his pension scheme or in the ability to register his death; when you're of marrying age, those things are, you hope, a long way off. I wasn't anticipating visiting him in hospital being a regular part of our relationship, and if I considered gym discounts worth the expense of a wedding I would have needed some serious lessons in remedial economy.

I got married for one very simple reason. I got married so I could call myself married. Not for tax breaks, not for access to records, not for legal rights and responsibilities. I got married so I could be that man's wife and so he could be my husband. I got married for a word. We went through the ceremony and said the words, and as the guests filed out we turned and said to each other, 'We're married!' No question over the word, no need to say, 'Well, we're married in the eyes of sensible people at least.' We could just delight in the word. Six months later, it's a word that still gives me a warm, happy glow every time I say it. If the Government had declared that, say, marriage was only for the religious and all secular people were allowed was civil partnerships, saying 'We're civilly partnered' would not feel nearly as nice.

And on the working assumption that I'm a fairly normal person and that most gay people are likewise fairly normal people, I find it hard to believe that it would be different for anybody just because they happen to be attracted to their own sex.

This, I think, is the main reason people oppose same-sex marriage: the word has tremendous symbolic meaning. That's why we all want it, and why some people think it'll be contaminated if those dirty gay people with their not-really-real relationships get their lavender hands on it. But wanting to deny it to other people so you can keep them all to yourself is unbelievably mean-spirited, and it saddens me terribly that so many people still think this way.

So, if you live in England, this is Jack Straw's current position, and I'd encourage everyone who can to send him an e-mail telling him why this is no good. We have a limited window here: distressingly, the Tories are probably going to win the next election, and the chances of them extending marriage to same-sex couples are even worse than Labour's. Let's keep reminding Jack Straw that he's supposed to represent the people, and that includes the people who happen to be gay.

It is discouraging, but at least here in the states it seems to be predominantly the older generation which keeps fighting for the status quo, and they're, well, going away.
May I thank you for this post? I'm British and bisexual. Though it was great getting civil partnerships, let's not kid ourselves; separate isn't equal. It's amazing how many times that's had to be said over the years.

The Maine result was atrocious. I've vented elsewhere at length, though, so I won't repeat myself.
To be honest, this issue really is about the legal rights and responsibilities. Because quite frankly, it's the only thing the government can really give me and my partner. They can't validate our relationship, that's not within their power. Our relationship is valid and real by its very nature. And I could easily call myself married now -- even go through with a ceremony and everything -- and those people who care about me would not question that. Yes, society says it's still not marriage. The government says it's still not marriage. But after years of chasing after society's approval, I got tired of it. That's just not a high priority for me anymore.

I like your response to your MP, however.
Thanks, Baron Scarpia. :-)

I hear where you're coming from, Jarred, and I quite agree that it's your call whether or not your relationship is real. The way I see it, though, the rights and responsibilities issue of marriage extends beyond the married couple into the whole of society. Being that marriage is a social contract, society is to some extent a silent partner. Hence, I'd argue, it's society's responsibility to acknowledge the legitimacy of the marriage; that's what it does in exchange for the couple taking on the responsibilities of being married. And right now, I think society is ducking out of that responsibility when it comes to same-sex couples. It seems to me that having a separate contract is society laying the responsibilities of marriage on the couple while simultaneously refusing its responsibility to validate that marriage as a social construct.

Basically, I think demanding the same responsibilities of a gay couple as a straight one, but only granting the straight couple the right to call themselves married, is totally unfair. It's society reneging on its half of the bargain when it comes to gay people. And treating people as people it's okay to cheat, to take from and not repay, is one of the classic stamps of second-class citizenship.

Obviously it's not my place to tell you what kind of arrangement you should be happy with in your private life, and if you're satisfied with how things are then more power to you. I just think that right now our society, as represented by our government, is asking more of committed same-sex couples than it's giving, and that's pretty shameful.
Don't give up hope: where I live, the Church of Sweden (Lutherans) approved of same-sex marriages only a few weeks ago. That's right, folks: gay couples can now get married in church. Our government is lagging behind and still calls it a civil union, but since the rights are exactly the same as for married couples, this isn't seen as high priority.

And think of the immense changes in only the past two or three decades. Think of the fact that today, "homosexual" is not an insult. "Homophobe" is. Granted, progress is slow, but it's a one-way street.

An observation: imagine if Straw's office had written a similar letter, only replacing sexual orientation with, say, Jewishness? "The law was especially designed to meet the needs of Jews - offering a very similar range of rights and responsibilities to Aryans."

I am 22 years old. I fully believe that if someone wants to do whatever they want sexually and relationally, that's on them. But don't force me to approve it. I won't. I'm young and so are a whole lot of other people that vote no to same-sex marriage every single time it comes up on the ballot. Even California voted it down. Repeatedly. Maybe the majority of the population just doesn't want it.
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