Hands up who’s bored of the equal marriage debates rumbling through virtually every country in the west at the moment? It seems every other US state is currently having a referendum on the matter – with some voting for, and some against – the UK bill just hit parliament, and Paris was invaded by hoards marching both for and against. SCOTUS briefs are currently being filed in advance of the hearing on DOMA.
Whatever your political position – for, against, ambivalent – you can’t escape it. I’ve heard arguments every which way recently, opinions and surveys and outright lies in some instances spread across the media. The most common complaint I’m hearing is that – in most places – us gays already have civil partnerships, so why are we banging on about marriage?On the face of it, they might have a point. Isn’t a civil partnership just a rose by any other name? And if religious institutions are (for the most part) exempt from performing marriages where they are legalised, then really what’s the difference between the ceremony between two men or two women, and your average straight couple in a registry office?
Well, let’s look at it a slightly different way. Rather than introduce equal marriage, let’s scrap it altogether. You can have a religious ceremony if you want (and your church permits), but every couple wed in any venue that is not religious is no-longer married. We’ll call them all civil partnerships, shall we? That’s equal. Marriage is a religious term for a religious rite that should not impact on civil law. You can have your pretty little ceremony if you really want one, but to be legally considered a couple you need a civil partnership.
Yeah, that makes a difference doesn’t it?
But, but, but…they’re essentially the same thing. You’ve got essentially the same rights. It’s only a name.
The fact is, all those – mostly married, heterosexual – people who say that civil partnerships are close as dammit and we’re whining for nothing would be up in arms if you suggested taking the title married away from them. Civil partnerships, even the most equal of them, are but a poor cousin to marriage. They are simply not the same. No-one wants a partner – you go into business with a partner; you play cards with a partner – you do not build a life and raise a family with one. For that, you want a spouse: a husband or a wife.
A marriage – or any commitment ceremony – is a public declaration of the fact you have found the person who completes you, and you’re proud of them. You want to show them off. So when you meet strangers, you don’t want to say, “This is my partner,” and then have to go through the rigmarole of explaining, no you don’t own a company, you’re that kind of partners; you want to say, “This is my husband.” It might seem a subtle difference, but psychologically it’s a massive one. And being told that you can’t refer to someone as your husband (or that you have no legal claim to the word if you do), just because you happen to be his, is ridiculous.
Another one – and this one really kills me – is when people start citing how much money equal marriage will cost the government and businesses. Because once we’re equal, we’re entitled to all the benefits lavished on our heterosexual, married counterparts. Pensions; inheritance; medical care; life insurance; maternity/paternity and bereavement leave…the list goes on. How dare we – how dare we – want the same rights as straight people when our partners for what could have been twenty or forty or sixty years die? How dare we want the same amount of time off work if we have a child? How dare we want the peace of mind to know that in our old age, we’ll have the same financial security as straight people? That if the worst happens and one of us dies, the other won’t be left destitute? That if one of us works while the other childrears, we won’t be penalised for doing so?
Even the Catholic church this week released a statement saying that they “recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes.” See that, even the Catholics admit that we can get it right! (Doesn’t stop them refusing to allow us to adopt children from their carehomes…)
So if even our detractors acknowledge that we love the same, and raise families the same, why can’t we be treated the same?