Earlier this evening, my eye was caught by this blog post about the recent legal flip-flopping in Indiana about gay marriage. It got me to thinking, yet again, about something that I have never been able to understand.
Why do people have a problem with gay people getting married?
I mean, seriously. I can’t comprehend it. I know intellectually that some people have a problem with the concept of homosexuality at all – depressingly, this includes some members of my own immediate family – but I know that in the same way that I know that the universe is infinite and expanding all the time. I accept it to be true, but I simply can’t begin to wrap my mind around how that can be the case. Unfortunately, the nature of the universe, whilst being very interesting and obviously crucial to my mere existence, doesn’t have as much impact on my day-to-day perception of myself in society as the reality of homophobia.
Just a few months ago, gay marriage finally became legal in the UK. I say finally but in context of UK law in general it actually happened pretty quickly. Section 28, a despicable law which made it illegal to tell children in schools that gay people were, y’know, real and allowed to exist and (gasp!) sometimes even had families, wasn’t repealed in the whole of the UK until 2003. For the first twelve years of my life, it was illegal for my teachers to tell me that not all men loved women or vice versa. No wonder I was so muddled when I realised that I didn’t only like boys.
So the fact that just over a decade later it became possible for gay people, whose existence was no longer treated as a dirty secret, to make the same legally-binding public declaration of their love is significant and rapid progress. But what baffles me is that this progress had to be made at all. I know all the arguments that people make about why homosexuality is wrong or unnatural but they just don’t ring true in my experience. Well, they wouldn’t, would that? It’s not unnatural for me.
I was deeply saddened when I watched a video in which the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that gay marriage would “damage the fabric of society”. Apparently, this is because marriage is intended as a covenant and the foundation of the family, the “cornerstone of our society”.
Now Archbishop Welby’s argument is not the foaming-at-the-mouth tirade that we often see from individuals in the USA. He supports the concept of a “separate but equal” form of same-gender relationships, but he doesn’t want it to be called marriage because that, somehow, weakens the concept of a mechanism around which to base a secure family unit in which to raise children.
And I can’t help but think, what does he think gay marriage is? I can’t speak for anyone else, although I have a pretty good idea that I’m not alone in this, but the reason I want to get married, to a woman or to a man, is so that I can form a secure family unit and raise children. I’ll even take those children to church regularly, which is more than can be said for a lot of heterosexual married couples (and that’s fine, of course – but it seems bizarre that the head of the Anglican church would prefer atheist heterosexual marriage to Christian homosexual marriage).
Apart from anything else, I don’t really see why it matters to anyone else who I marry. If your own marriage is so fragile that it can be damaged by the marriage of two men or two women, then I think you need to look closely at your priorities and maybe seek some relationship counselling. If your argument against gay marriage is that two gay people (always assuming that they are cisgendered, a caveat that is often overlooked in this debate) cannot reproduce in the standard biological manner, then I would like to know what you think of marriages between heterosexual but infertile couples, or couples who are childless by choice.
I fully intend to have children. I’d like to do so in the “normal”, biological, pregnancy-then-labour manner. I might need some kind of medical assistance to do so, but that’s the case no matter the gender of my partner. I’ve never been pregnant. I don’t know whether I can get pregnant. Maybe even if I marry a man, I will be unable to grow a person in my uterus. Would that invalidate my marriage? Would it invalidate yours?
At the end of the day, my view is that my relationship is the business of me, my partner, and no one else. I try to be respectful of my relatives’ discomfort with my “unconventional” lifestyle, but I can’t deny that I get frustrated. I want to talk about my girlfriend; I want to share my excitement about holidays we have planned or wonderful days out we’ve enjoyed; I want to ask for advice when I’m not sure how to deal with issues that arise. It’s saddening to have to tiptoe around people’s prejudices before I can even begin to share this aspect of my life with the people I love. It doesn’t make sense to me that those prejudices even exist.
I was trying to explain to someone today how the knowledge of the existence of homophobia is a constant presence that follows non-hetero people around even if, like me, they have only ever experienced it in a very vague and minor sense. Every time I meet someone new, every time I have a conversation that touches on relationships, every time someone asks me whether I have a boyfriend, I have to make a snap judgement about whether they will react badly to the answer. I have to constantly choose between lying to protect myself from a potentially negative reaction or being honest and opening myself up to hurt. Straight people don’t have to do this. Straight people don’t have to think “will it damage my professional relationship with this person if I disclose to them that my partner is female?” whenever the labouring woman they are caring for asks them whether they’re married. (OK, most people don’t have that problem whatever their orientation – but feel free to substitute whatever career-relevant situation is most appropriate to your life).
Two hundred years ago, slavery was legal. I wasn’t around at that point, so I can’t speak from experience, but I am assuming that it was considered normal to keep slaves. I presume that the majority of people didn’t see a problem with categorising one group of people as less worthy of respect, equal treatment and freedom than another. Now, it would be rare indeed for someone to publically announce that they believe that slavery should be legal, because treating black people the same as white people damages the concept of being a free citizen. Certainly any person who espoused such views would not be allowed to be part of the country’s legislative body*.
I hope that in the same way, two hundred years from now, or preferably much sooner, people will be staggered to think that it was generally accepted that it was ok to treat relationships between two people of the same gender as somehow different from, and less valuable than, relationships between two people of the opposite gender. It makes me optimistic to recall that children born in the UK from now on will grow up in a country where gay marriage is legal and exists, even if there are still some people who don’t like that fact. But I wish that I had been one of those children. I wish my parents had been. I wish Archbishop Welby had been. If nothing else, it would have made my adolescence a lot easier.
* For anyone unfamiliar with the British constitutional system, the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as 24 other bishops, sit in the House of Lords, the upper house of the legislature. This means they have significant influence over whether legislation is passed.