I don’t want to live in a society where discrimination is hard-wired into the institutions that surround us.
I don’t. It’s as simple as that.
I don’t want to be discriminated against, and I don’t want the people I share this island with to be discriminated against either.
As lovely and wishy-washy as those sentiments are, I am drawn to this topic, on this occasion, by the rumpus surrounding the UK government’s proposed changes to marriage.
The 2004 Civil Partnership Act gave same-sex couples the option to enter into a legally recognised and binding partnership with all the same rights and responsibilities afforded through marriage. But it’s not marriage, it’s a civil partnership.
Now the government wants to open out the scope of marriage, so that it is available to same sex couples. Not surprisingly there has been a lot of negative reaction from some quarters, the obvious ones being the Church and the right-wing moral majority lobby. But I’ve also heard criticism of it from gay men (ok, one gay man) claiming that this attempt at equality will just push people to more extreme oppositional points of view.
The Church – Catholic and Anglican – is against marriage being made available to same sex couples. This should not surprise anyone. Nor, frankly, should it concern anyone.
I respect anyone’s right to follow their religious beliefs right up to the point where they impinge on the dignity and freedom of other people. So, this is not an attack – even a mild one – on organised religion.
However, I think the Church needs to wind its neck in – as they say in Liverpool. It doesn’t own marriage. It didn’t invent it. It existed during the pre-Christian Roman Empire, and further back was evident in Ancient Greece.
Traditionalists… behold the wound-in neck of the Church and prepare to follow suit. Anyone in the “we shouldn’t tinker with important societal traditions” camp needs to consider the changes to their precious tradition in the past. For example, women no longer lose all property rights when they marry. This is a good thing. It is also a good example of why things like marriage need to keep changing over time.
Marriage exists today as a legally binding state of personal affairs between two people, and has been modified over the years to ensure it is – broadly – in step with wider social and economic concerns. And when, as some people do, you’ve had enough and you want out, you don’t get divorced in a church, you get divorced in a court of law.
Arguments about marriage being about a natural state of affairs between a man and a woman, or that the best environment for raising children is in a happy, stable home with married parents – one of each gender – are all well and good. But they start from a set of assumptions that are plainly unrealistic. After all not every marriage is happy and not all children are raised by loving parents.
Whatever your vision of an ideal world, chances are we don’t live in it. But that’s no reason to do nothing, or to adopt an entrenched oppositional stance.
Replacing the current two-tier approach of marriage for straights and civil partnership for the gay and lesbian community is an indication that the UK is committed to eradicating discrimination.
To me, that can only be a good thing.