Death, love and same-sex marriage
Picture this: You're in a committed relationship, living with the love of your life for several years. You own property together, perhaps a business; you have children and/or animals and intend to spend the rest of your days with one another. Then, tragedy strikes and your partner dies. At this point - probably the worst time of your life - your partner's family completely takes over: they remove his or her belongings, take his or her money and even bar you from the funeral. Sounds extreme? Perhaps ‘cruel', ‘outrageous' and ‘unlawful' are also words that spring to mind. Well, this is pretty much what happened to Shane, a young man in the US, when Tom, his partner of six years, died. You may have seen the video on YouTube. How Shane was treated was entirely within the law because he and Tom, as a same-sex couple, were legally unable to get married. In the eyes of the law, Tom and Shane were no more than flat-mates. It makes my blood boil.
Defenders of the status quo tend to argue on the basis of ‘tradition' - basically, of what has always been, regardless of how times change. Don't even get me started on the role such ‘traditions' have played over the years in the oppression of women: I'd digress, get even crosser and we'd be here all day. The truth is that this thing called marriage is a many-coloured cocktail of legal, emotional, practical, financial and religious matters; the emphasis and purpose changing all the time. To make matters even less clear-cut, the precise make-up of each case is different. As the saying goes, the only two people who really know what makes up a marriage are those who are in it and even then there may be room for debate. (Three words: ‘Princess' ‘Diana' and ‘Panorama')
Against this backdrop then, what seems to me least important is whether the two people in question are of the same or different gender. Yes, civil partnerships are a start and at least enable same-sex couples to pledge their love and be bound to one another in front of family and friends, but it stops short. Also, what about when one member of a legally married couple undergoes gender reassignment? Does this mean the marriage is null and void? Even if you define marriage as a safe and secure environment for raising children, the argument against same-sex marriage still doesn't stand. In fact, quite the opposite: increasingly, what is understood as important for children is a stable and loving home life, however that is made up.
What happened to Shane when Tom died was appalling; their legal position exacerbated by the behaviour of family members. A less catastrophic but nonetheless deeply upsetting example is that of two British university professors (female) who were legally married in Canada but found that on their return to the UK, their union could be recognised only as a civil partnership. Just imagine how alienating this must have been; to suddenly find that your loving, committed relationship isn't afforded the same legitimacy as others enjoy, for the simple reason that you and your partner are of the same sex.
Here in the UK, we are lagging behind and shamefully so. So far, thirteen countries including Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico as well as six US states (California jumped in and then out again) have already seen sense. We can hope that President Obama's recent - and heartfelt - statement in support of same-sex marriage may provide our lot with a little more encouragement, as really this is a matter of conscience. Stuff the so-called moralisers. This is about taking the logical (and overdue) next step in delivering a grown-up, modern, fair and equitable UK. Bottom line, it's good for the fabric of our society. Continuing to prevaricate over such a clear-cut issue is just unacceptable.