Ever since I got married, I’ve felt like I have to justify it. Why, in this day and age, would anyone do such an outmoded, unnecessary thing?
Well, apart from the romance of making a commitment to one person, forever, I had practical concerns too. I kept waking up at 4am, thinking that there was nothing to link us together if something happened. I was at university at the time, and feeling every inch of the distance between us. I wanted that piece of paper to say: this is my next of kin. We have chosen each other.
Until extraordinarily recently, we denied gay couples the right to make this simple arrangement. And now, although we have Civil Partnerships, the whole field is a morass of inequality and judgement. If you’re heterosexual, you can marry but not choose the cut-down option of a CP (which, on balance, I think I would chosen); and if you’re in a same-sex couple, there’s a little bit of ceremony held back from you, which seems designed to point out that you’re not quite legit in the eyes of society.
This is not just a matter of rights, though. The tone of the debate, on both sides, shows the depth of prejudice that still exists. I am no more in favour of the view that states only a man and a woman should marry, than I am of that which argues for the use of marriage to somehow lend respectability to same sex couples.
I, for one, am heartily sick of hearing that marriage is a force for the good. Marriage is not a thing in and of itself; it is an umbrella under which a whole rainbow of behaviours exist. There are wonderful, happy, fulfilling marriages, and there are awful, abusive, destructive marriages. Equally, there are myriad good lives to be lived outside of marriage too, and, indeed, outside of pairing-off into a nice, neat little couple.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is a big old red herring. The truth is that the state should butt the hell out of love. They should facilitate a basic way to register your next of kin – whoever they are – and then deregulate the rest of it, so that people can make whatever choice they want. The church could still carry out its irrelevant vision of ‘traditional’ weddings; and everyone else could make it up as they went along.
The question is, can all the Tories cope with a truly small state – one that doesn’t impose their moral beliefs on the rest of society? And can the rest of us bear to acknowledge that the world is made up of many different people?