Yesterday I heard the news that the House of Lords has given a third reading to the new legislation which will allow gay couples to get married in England and Wales. It should get the nod from the House of Commons today and then go to the Queen for Royal Assent by the end of the week. The first marriages under this legislation will take place sometime next year once registrars have been re-trained and new forms printed.
I expect we will have a period where all kinds of other institutions will have to re-write their forms and policies too. One can imagine married same-sex couples getting grumpy when they try to fill in an insurance form or try to join a social network and they are offered wife or husband when they want to be offered a box to tick for the opposite.
It is only fairly recently that I’ve heard same-sex couples who were married speaking freely of their husband or wife. We have one same-sex couple connected to St Mary’s who are married, having been hitched in South Africa. When I was in Canada and the USA I was hearing the use of husband by some married gay men and wife by some of the lesbian couples I met. It was by no means universal but it was becoming common and rather ordinary though no doubt that takes a little time.
Part of me remembers that I once was against same-sex marriage and that it was partly because I thought that gender-neutrality had something to offer. Were gay couples not leading the world by insisting on having partners rather than the somewhat possessive alternative nouns?
I think I was wrong about that. What was needed was equality and some people need to use just such possessive language to describe their relationships in the same way that straight married couples sometimes reject it and use the partner language.
Inevitably there is now going to be a period of reflection and consultation whilst the government tries to decide whether to open Civil Partnership up to straight couples. I expect that will happen though I’m not that keen. It seems to me that the right way forward was simply to incorporate Civil Partnership with Civil Marriage. However, I suspect that though I’ve been on the winning side of most arguments about changes in marriage law, that is not one that I’m likely to win now.
Very many churches have proclaimed themselves to be against same-sex marriage as it will somehow undermine and threaten the institution of marriage itself.
I don’t think that is true. I do think that retaining Civil Partnership and opening it up to straight couples does undermine the institution of marriage though. Had the churches engaged in these arguments in more constructive ways than most of them did then they might have had an influence which strengthened marriage. Instead, I suspect that in the long term they will have weakened it.
Still, we’ll not worry about that today. We will simply fly a rainbow flag in celebration for all those soon to be married couples in England and Wales. And recognise that the last battles still have to be won in Scotland.
Alleluia for England!
And once more unto the breach.