Marriage, equality and rights, via the Iron Curtain

I wrote this earlier in the year, after the first reading of the Equal Marriage Bill and have re-posted it here following today’s news. Feel free to link.

Next to lap-dancing, drug-trafficking, politics, running a detective agency and working for MI5, I can’t think of a line of work conductive to a more jaundiced view of love and relationships than journalism or the media. Most of the people you meet during your work (and you yourself) probably sit close to one or the other end of the wealth and power spectrum. Being near either of those extremes makes it pretty tricky to hold together a relationship. The well-off and powerful don’t have the time for each other, the poor and vulnerable don’t have the money. That kind of a biased sample makes you tend to believe – even if you grew up around one – that happy marriages are the exception rather than the rule.

I don’t believe marriage is a tonic for all social ills. I don’t believe it’s an inherently better or worse environment for bringing up children (there are too many variables in a child’s life to prove that, and, besides,“better” is subjective). I’m glad my parents are happily married, (31 years and counting), but if ever they decided they were better apart I’d respect their feelings. Before the mid-20th century, marriage had squat at all to do with love anyway. It was about progeny and property, being able to stand the person you were marrying was a bonus, and being married for life meant until you were 45. And these days, if we’re really honest with ourselves, marriage is about who we happen to be in love with at the age when settling down is socially expected of us. As an outspoken, divorced hack has pointed out in her blog, it’s easier to get a marriage licence in this country than a driving licence. Most churches offer pre-marriage courses which are supposed to ensure you’ve thought about what you’re doing and are prepared for the life ahead. From my memory (via a Christian housemate who got engaged at university) what they actually consist of is a pop-quiz which is mainly about how you plan to teach your children religion, and some airy-fairy bits about “managing disagreement.” They’re not too hot on specifics: what happens if your partner ends up losing their job, working a 90-hour week, hitting the bottle or finding Radio 4 preferable to talking to you. Or on compatibility (My folks bicker like children about trivial day-to-day things but when it comes to the big questions “Is there a God?” “Is Nadine Dorries a dangerous prawn who shouldn’t be let near crayons?” they tend to agree. I’ve always wondered how people with huge political differences manage to overcome them permanently – wondered to the extent I’m writing a novel/screenplay about it. Evidently it happens).

But, whatever your general view of marriage, it’s inescapable. Past our mid-twenties we’re bombarded with it, our lives defined in relation to it. You can be as bohemian as you like; you can live in a polyamorous BDSM commune with shared Chianti if you like, but if you want next of kin rights for your partner, you need that piece of paper from the state. And, while it is the system we have, all consenting adults should be equals within it. That’s why same-sex marriages are right and why it’s beyond my comprehension that anyone, of any orientation, would think differently. Social conservatives (note small c, and as opposed to fiscal ones who I can have interesting debates with when I’m in the mood…) turn me into a flailing ball of incandescent, incredulous anger that wants to eat my own face off. What ‘validates’ a marriage? Love. What ‘invalidates’ it? The absence of love. How – honestly, HOW – can it be any more complicated than that?

What has all this to do with me? Well, for one thing, a good 50% of my friends (possibly more than that) are either L,G, B or T. That’s a lot of people to root for. For another, for several years during my late-teens/early 20s, there were two people I’d have married on the spot if either of them had asked me – one of whom was a man, the other a woman (The fact that neither of them did, or were even attracted to me at all, is neither here nor there in this instance…). Then there’s this; another quirk of my background: My mother grew up in East Germany, a dictatorship at the time, where citizens were spied on and forbidden to leave the country without state permission. Before she was allowed to marry my English dad and live here, they were repeatedly interrogated, sneered at, broken into, followed around and accused of lying by state police. Their application for marriage was turned down twice before they finally appealed to the highest office in the land, invoking the Geneva Convention, and won. I grew up in a country which condemns dictatorships, but which still doesn’t allow people who are in love to be equal. Just as my parents eventually won their right to marry on human rights grounds, so will same-sex couples. Bluntly, either you support a fundamental human right or you don’t (as dad pointedly said when Ann Widdceombe appeared in panto over Christmas: “Why does she have the right to dress up and enjoy herself when she’d deny other people the same?”). It’s your prerogative to be uncomfortable with other people, but not to politicise your discomfort. You can’t legislate against people not being you. Doing that puts you in a bracket of people nobody on earth wants to be in. So, let’s be sensible about this, eh?


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