Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Double Deck Playing Field

Rachel Marszalek tells us that gay and lesbian partnerships should be different from marriage, with legal backing.

I think that marriage is a sign pointing to something bigger - Christ and the church and so I think that gay and lesbian partnerships have to be called something else.

Love is something that cannot be controlled or contained, she says, but the sacrifice that is in love can only take place the greatest when you face the 'other'.

...there is less of this mystical 'otherness' in a same-sex relationship. It is different to marriage.

What do you think?

Well, by this logic I should have married my dog.

I also have another view of the other. See, I'm heterosexual and I get longings and the like when some compatible females come into my orbit. I have some very longstanding and very important male friendships that have very long roots. I have never felt the urge even to cuddle these friends. But I have felt plenty of urges to do considerably more with those women who have shown me more than friendship and sometimes even before so. The engines of passion still work, and even work after long periods of inactivity.

For me, I cannot get more 'other' than those men who actually fancy other men, and women fancying women, and who get into their own relationships and grow with one another. And for this reason, I am not going to prescribe or limit what they can and cannot do. In fact, given that recognising relationships and bringing people together furthers both social solidarity and peace, I would support the symbolic and indeed legal recognition of the unions they experience.

Like liberal Jews and Quakers, Unitarians want the freedom to be able to marry same sex couples, and at present they cannot even conduct Civil Partnerships. Quakers have gone down a DIY protest route and started doing same sex marriages anyway: they have that strong tradition of defiance and self-management.

Unitarians actually have conducted same sex marriages for a long time. When there was no recognition, and when there were Civil Partnerships, Unitarians conducted unofficial ceremonies that the marriage partners regarded as the 'real' wedding and invited along their families and friends. But this ought to be part of wider social recognition, giving full civil and social liberties and obligations. The difference is that Quakers are registering them, in full defiance of the State.

What is wanted is the right to conduct marriages and partnerships in churches legally and sanctioned by the State. Those churches and religions that cannot do this ought to be allowed to opt out. Denominations will have their own policies. Dissidents within denominations will have to plan their own campaigns.

If full equality is granted soon by the government, then this will have some odd effects. The question arises whether Civil Partnerships, only available to gay couples and the best equivalent of marriage they can get, will get an automatic upgrade to marriage. The danger is that gay couples that thought they were getting 'married' will find that they didn't, as the Civil Partnership open to all becomes something less than that 'marriage'.

Otherwise it will be like an Anglican priest who joins the ordinariate, and has to get ordained again. A gay couple, who had a Civil Partnership, now has to go through another ceremony.

Another odd effect is that the obligation on the State Church to marry anyone in its parish without restriction will go; the State Church will be out of sync with the State because it will have the right to refuse gay marriage. Now I think equality legislation here will have to allow it the right to refuse all marriage, otherwise the State will still be sanctioning difference not equality.

Such are the difficulties of building in special interest group compromises that are found to be just inadequate. Let's get on with sorting the law out and making matters equal and liberal.

Those who think marriage relies on some God restricted mystical otherness can carry on providing their restrictive view, and others will ignore them.

19 comments:

Murdoch Matthew said...

C.A. Tripp in The Homosexual Matrix postulated that desire needs some resistance to overcome. Most crudely: the old practice of capturing brides from neighboring tribes. Between men and women, the differing sexualities certainly require a lot of overcoming. Same-sex relationships seek other differences -- ethnic, cultural, age. E.M. Forster's Maurice settles down happily with a gamekeeper. I met my now-husband when he was 24 and I was 52. That was 28 years ago next Friday. Whenever we see two men together on the street of different racial backgrounds -- Latino and black, Anglo and Asian, etc. -- our gaydar goes off. Yes, we see also couples who seem to have looked in a mirror and fallen in love, but Tripp has something in observing that couples often seem to incorporate some sort of resistance.

Erika Baker said...

I don't know why straight people are so determined to see themselves as somehow special, in particular in God's eyes.

Rachel's theological argument is comprehensively demolished by Tobias Haller in "Reasonably and Holy". It should be compulsory reading for anyone who feels an attack of specialness coming on.

Erika Baker said...

"The danger is that gay couples that thought they were getting 'married' will find that they didn't, as the Civil Partnership open to all becomes something less than that 'marriage'"

To be honest, at some level I really do not understand this conversation. I mean it, I actually do not understand what anyone is talking about.

As a civil partnered woman I have exactly the same rights as a married couple, the same legal protection. The only difference is that I can’t officially call it marriage.

If they now open marriage to gay couples and civil partnership to straights – what are they actually offering?
Exactly the same with 2 different names. What can that possibly mean? There’s no “less”, there’s not even “equal but different”. There’s simply absolutely 100% the same.

It’s like putting exactly the same yoghurt in 2 different cartons and giving shoppers a choice between the two.

Leaving aside the religious aspect of the debate – what are we actually talking about?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well, it is all about how it will be viewed once there is both, assuming that Civil Partnerships were not scrapped. Comment elsewhere suggests there will be automatic upgrades. Marriage imples a stronger bond, perhaps, whereas yes CP offers the same but doesn't have the same personable bonding.

Erika Baker said...

Adrian,
so you think the legal framework is the same but that people will come to see CPs more as a business arrangement? But in that case it should be open to friends and to siblings too. If a romantic relationship remains the condition for entering a CP, then there really will be no difference to marriage once the articifial seggregation into gay and straight has been removed.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes I think this could be the outcome, that a CP becomes open to non-romantic partnerships.

Colin Coward wants churches to be available to bless CPs, but I think this could only be forced (even if not on to individuals) if marriage is also available. Then the CP carries no obligation whatsoever on consummation of any kind including a peck on the cheek.

Erika Baker said...

It seems the consummation requirement is a church requirement not a legal one anyway, so the distinction between CPs and marriage is already spurious.

Should Colin then not campaign for the blessing of marriages rather than CPs? Or should both be blessed?

I suppose his response is a reaction to the actual legislation on the table which does talk about blessing CPs in religious buildings, not same sex marriages. But once marriage equality legislation is through, this will seem topsy turvey.

Rachel said...

Not restrictive - it's language. Why call something marriage when it isn't. How do we define marriage? I guess, what it boils down to, is that we are operating with different
definitions. There are so many ways in which 'I might as well marry my dog' does not work and you know this was not the kind of 'otherness' I had in mind. At least lets keep the discussion to the human realm.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Ruff ruff!

So far it's about two people who want to get together and want to commune together emotionally and sexually, with the important bit that however you see it the State is not to discriminate.

Erika Baker said...

"Not restrictive - it's language. Why call something marriage when it isn't."

We are no slaves to language, we shape it and we use it and we fill it with meaning.

And it is restrictive if your definition of marriage has a real impact on my life, although there is sufficient outstanding theology to question your definition of marriage. Do read Tobias Haller, please do. And then at least acknowledge that your view is only one of several credible views and that it has no automatic superiority.

My wife and I have four children between us, 3 grandchildren, 2 dogs and a cat. We are a perfectly ordinary family. We’ve done the private commitment thing, the register office commitment thing and the church commitment thing, just like other people.
Who are you to tell me that I am not married?

It's the same old: you can believe what you like but you cannot or should not be able to force me to live by your beliefs.

We are called to live with the consequences of our faith not to impose them on others.
It doesn’t really matter to me what you personally want to call my relationship. I know it’s a marriage, has always been a marriage and will always be a marriage.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

A cursory reading of the Civil Partnership Act shows civil partnerships offer similar but not identical responsibilities and rights as civil marriage. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/33/contents (I am no lawyer but even I can see this legislation is complicated and that because the language differs from that of marriage, there are many potential loopholes for a same-sex couple who assume they have the same protections they would have in civil marriage.) Civil partnerships, like civil unions and domestic partnerships in other countries, are a separate and unequal institution. They exist mainly because of pressure on Parliament in 2004 from the Church of England, which did not wish to have to compete with progressive churches and religions ready to offer religious and civil marriage to same-sex couples. By denying same-sex couples the most widely recognized word for serious relationships, "marriage," the act communicates ongoing stigmatization of same-sex couples in England. They lack portability. For example, an English civil-partnered same-sex couple living in Spain are not recognized as married by the Spanish government because Spain lacks such a second-class category. A civil-partnered English couple living in Spain has no access to marriage because both spouses, under Spanish law, must be residents of Spain. Thus, by creating a new, parallel institution to civil marriage, the English Parliament made it easy for other governments to deny recognition to such couples.

The civil partnership act arbitrarily says both partners must be of the same sex. Currently, under English law, a married spouse who changes sex must have his or her marriage dissolved and may then enter into a civil partnership with his or her previous spouse in marriage. Or that person may decide to shirk his or her responsibilities and remain unpartnered. Again English law communicates that transgendered people are inferior because they must be thrown into a new, still unproven institution. Civil partnerships reinforce gender stereotypes.

An obsession with religion is clear in the prohibition on civil partnerships being celebrated on "religious premises" (Part 2, Chapter 1, 6). The legislation even defines what a religious premise is supposed to be!! Government now gets to define what a religion is!

From beginning to end, civil partnerships are different from marriage. They are formed differently from marriage in that the couple is married from the moment they sign the form in front of a civil partnership registrar in front of witnesses. No vows need be exchanged, as if this were some private, even shameful act. Civil partnerships are also more private in the way the government lists them. The addresses of the partners are not listed, for example, again connoting a view in England that there is something wrong with LGBT people. The grounds for dissolution are slightly different from those for marriage and might require a same-sex couple to pay more for adequate legal representation because of the newness of the institution.

Recent changes and recent proposed changes trying to equalize the civil partnerships with civil marriage will necessarily fail as long as the institutions are separate. An institution apart from marriage can never guarantee the same protections.

It would have made more sense for England to follow the Canadian example and open the public institution of civil marriage to all couples regardless of the legal sex of the partners. Just because an unpopular state church cannot accept the equality of all citizens before the law is not a good reason for the state to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The word "marriage" is not just a word but a symbol of the treatment a couple receives from the larger community as well as a gateway to rights and obligations which are very hard to duplicate in any other way.

It is to be hoped that allowing civil partnerships on "religious premises" will eventually lead to full equality.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Gary Paul Gilbert left a comment and I am adding it, part 1:

A cursory reading of the Civil Partnership Act shows civil partnerships offer similar but not identical responsibilities and rights as civil marriage. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/33/contents (I am no lawyer but even I can see this legislation is complicated and that because the language differs from that of marriage, there are many potential loopholes for a same-sex couple who assume they have the same protections they would have in civil marriage.) Civil partnerships, like civil unions and domestic partnerships in other countries, are a separate and unequal institution. They exist mainly because of pressure on Parliament in 2004 from the Church of England, which did not wish to have to compete with progressive churches and religions ready to offer religious and civil marriage to same-sex couples. By denying same-sex couples the most widely recognized word for serious relationships, "marriage," the act communicates ongoing stigmatization of same-sex couples in England. They lack portability. For example, an English civil-partnered same-sex couple living in Spain are not recognized as married by the Spanish government because Spain lacks such a second-class category. A civil-partnered English couple living in Spain has no access to marriage because both spouses, under Spanish law, must be residents of Spain. Thus, by creating a new, parallel institution to civil marriage, the English Parliament made it easy for other governments to deny recognition to such couples.

The civil partnership act arbitrarily says both partners must be of the same sex. Currently, under English law, a married spouse who changes sex must have his or her marriage dissolved and may then enter into a civil partnership with his or her previous spouse in marriage. Or that person may decide to shirk his or her responsibilities and remain unpartnered. Again English law communicates that transgendered people are inferior because they must be thrown into a new, still unproven institution. Civil partnerships reinforce gender stereotypes.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Gary Paul Gilbert left a comment and I am adding it, part 2:

An obsession with religion is clear in the prohibition on civil partnerships being celebrated on "religious premises" (Part 2, Chapter 1, 6). The legislation even defines what a religious premise is supposed to be!! Government now gets to define what a religion is!

From beginning to end, civil partnerships are different from marriage. They are formed differently from marriage in that the couple is married from the moment they sign the form in front of a civil partnership registrar in front of witnesses. No vows need be exchanged, as if this were some private, even shameful act. Civil partnerships are also more private in the way the government lists them. The addresses of the partners are not listed, for example, again connoting a view in England that there is something wrong with LGBT people. The grounds for dissolution are slightly different from those for marriage and might require a same-sex couple to pay more for adequate legal representation because of the newness of the institution.

Recent changes and recent proposed changes trying to equalize the civil partnerships with civil marriage will necessarily fail as long as the institutions are separate. An institution apart from marriage can never guarantee the same protections.

It would have made more sense for England to follow the Canadian example and open the public institution of civil marriage to all couples regardless of the legal sex of the partners. Just because an unpopular state church cannot accept the equality of all citizens before the law is not a good reason for the state to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The word "marriage" is not just a word but a symbol of the treatment a couple receives from the larger community as well as a gateway to rights and obligations which are very hard to duplicate in any other way.

It is to be hoped that allowing civil partnerships on "religious premises" will eventually lead to full equality.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes, the devil is in the detail and you then aim to make a non-discriminatory institution of social recognition.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

I subsequently read some of the marriage act of 1949 and was struck by how the first thing it mentions is marriage in the Church of England, which seems to go back at least the marriage act of 1753, when in an attempt to deal with clandestine Scottish marriages, Parliament required that all couples marry in the Church of England, while exempting Jews and Quakers, the status of whose marriages remained in a gray area for some time. NonAnglicans were discrminated against, and, implicitly, English law still seems to think of the C of E as normative even though it now allows for civil marriage and nonAnglican religious marriage.

David Ould said...

I'm with Erika. I fundamentally disagree with her, of course, on whether we should be endorsing such relationships (surprise surprise) but she shines a bright light on the inconsistency of the current arrangement. It's much the same thing with a different label and successive government of both shades seem to want to fudge the issue.

As for Rachel's point - I think she should argue it more strongly. There is an "otherness" in Christian thinking about marriage but it's not "mysterious". ISTM the plain reading of the Bible is that marriage is understood to be between a man and a woman (so Gen 2:24 and Jesus citing the same). It is worth noting that most theological arguments for same-sex unions then move away from this to speak about more abstract terms. That strikes me as rather a misnomer - we argue for Biblical concepts such as love, fidelity and covenant but we also strive to avoid the explicitly-stated context in which the same Bible places them when it comes to the topic of marriage.

Oh, and one last thing. Pluralist, I just love the portraits. Do you do commissions? ;-)

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The 'we argue for Biblical concepts such as love, fidelity and covenant' doesn't include me.

No I don't do commissions but I do consider requests as regards portraits. I'm the person who uses them, anyone else is free to do so.

David Ould said...

The 'we argue for Biblical concepts such as love, fidelity and covenant' doesn't include me.

Noted. What sort of terms do you prefer?

No I don't do commissions but I do consider requests as regards portraits. I'm the person who uses them, anyone else is free to do so.

Well then would you graciously consider this a request? ;-)

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Concepts of love and fidelity have long and deep philosophical bases, and even a Covenant can be contrasted with a contract.

Yes, I will take your request - what is it you want? If you want a portrait of yourself or someone else, please tell me who and provide a picture or direct me to it. I hope it is someone I can potentially use in my controversial blogging (!).