Having had to apologise twice in the last week for comments that were patronising or condescending, I’m quite sensitive at the moment about the manner in which I express my views. At the same time, the campaign for Equal Marriage is hotting up in Scotland, and I don’t really approve. Its not the Equal stuff that bothers me, its the marriage bit.
In one respect, I feel like I should really keep my mouth shut. I have friends who have been discriminated against the whole of their lives because of their sexuality, which is why the campaign for equal marriage exists, but at the same time, same sex partners do now enjoy legal entitlements that they were unable to until very recently. And in all honesty – that is my problem. I feel like by losing the LGBT movement to marriage we are losing a valuable ally. Marriage is more than a bit of paper. The campaigners see that, that’s why they are fighting for it. But look carefully at what you wish for.
Marriage has a specific set of legal requirements and a more fluid set of social assumptions. The legal framework sets out the parameters in which you are obliged to conduct your marriage (it must be consummated; must take parental responsibility for any children sired, until 1991 must consent to sexual intercourse, may not marry another), but it is the social assumptions that dominate.
The ring signifies the marriage state. Soppy wedding sites and of course jewelers will tell you
Wedding rings embody the continuous flow of love, a circle that symbolizes eternity where there is no beginning and no end
…but what is it really? What is its meaning?
Very few people will have not have checked the wedding finger of someone else. The most obvious reason is of course to find out if someone you would like to have a relationship with already has one with another, but there are far, far more reasons than that. In business a finger will be checked for propensity for having or having had children. This will occur with both men and women, but with very different intentions. For women it questions whether they will take time off for pregancy or childcare responsibilities; for men whether they have a family to financially support. In a social situation, a finger will be checked to ascertain the background of the person, do they have a stable home-life, a support structure, interdependent living space?
Marriage is a buy in to a specific set of assumptions – it signifies an acceptance that marriage is a more desirable state than non-marriage, that the ideal relationship is lifelong and exclusive, that seeking a permanent and lifelong partner is the aim of anyone without one. And this affects relationships beyond marriage. Within social security legislation there is the status of quasi-marriage (living together as husband and wife) where in some circumstances unmarried partners can be treated less individually and with more assumptions made about their relationship than people who have chosen to get married; within social and business engagements there is the presumption of a significant other, and the social assumption that anyone without a significant other must be seeking one.
And this is where I feel the LGBT movement have let me down. By refusing and challenging the one of the assumptions of marriage – that people wish a relationship with people of the opposite sex, and refusing to enter such a relationship, it questions the whole assumption that marriage is a desirable aim or goal; by seeking marriage equality it tacitly endorses that goal and requests the right to buy-in to it.
At one level I am unaffected whether people can marry people of the same sex or not. I have no desire to get married to either sex; I have no desire to get married at all, but while marriage rates are falling across the Western World and marriage is increasingly becoming a preserve of the middle-class, I find the endorsement of marriage as a desirable state which is being promoted through the Equal Marriage campaign distasteful. Marriage has little to do with love, sexuality or romance and everything to do with social structures. It is an institution created to bound relationships and bind people to one another in a specific socially approved manner.
Marriage although an international institution is legally enacted in different ways across the world. In some parts, adultery is a criminal offense, in some parts polygamy is quite legal; in some parts same-sex marriage is legal while in others child marriage is legal. There are equally different social assumptions made about marriage in different parts of the world – from residency, economic relationships other kin relationships. Mainly based in religious ideology, endorsed through the medium of the nation state, the relationships that people choose to have are restricted, bounded and constrained.
I wish a world where people are free to choose their own relationships: social sexual and emotional. Where relationships are not measured against an ideal promoted by church or state. Where people are treated as individuals and there is free association of those individuals based on their desires rather than legalistic frameworks. As long as marriage exists, all other forms of relationships between unrelated people are measured against it and found lacking.
As RL Stephenson said “Matrimony is…a sort of friendship recognised by the police” …and who wants their friendships policed.