This Friday, the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be ‘United’, in celebration. Republicans will be celebrating the extra bank holiday this year, and Monarchists the marriage of Prince William of Wales to Miss Catherine Middleton, previously known as ‘Kate’.
Like the many billions around the world, watching the wedding in London, I too wish the couple well. However, this royal occasion reminds me of the inequality that exists within this supposedly ‘united’ country of ours with regards to same-sex unions, and leads me to think ‘is gay marriage really that important?’
On 1 March last year, my partner Alex and I travelled across the Atlantic to marry in Toronto, Canada after meeting on The Guardian newspaper’s ‘Soulmates’ dating website, back in 2008. He was my first and last date! Going to Ontario was the only way we could get a ‘marriage’ certificate as opposed to a civil partnership one, ironically in a Commonwealth country. This is despite us both being British.
Civil partnerships and marriages are different, with the inequality apparent in their respective names. Even the Government’s own website uses the term ‘to get married’ and then ‘to form’ a civil partnership, making it sound like some sort of business venture. Some of my civilly partnered friends have their relationship status listed on Facebook as ‘married’, which is factually incorrect (although thanks to a recent campaign, civil partnership is now an option).
I’m not one for bursting bubbles, but gay marriage is not allowed in the UK and stating the opposite does not assist the cause for real equality. Obviously, it is good to let the world know that two people of the same-sex can love each other and be in a committed relationship, dismissing some of the myths. But, there is a difference between equal love and equal rights.
As gay people, when we start to pretend publicly we are ‘married’ when in fact we can only have partnerships, we fall in to the trap of accepting this second class imposed union. Some will say it’s better than nothing! It won’t take much convincing for Ministers to state, gay and lesbian people are happy with their lot, and resist the calls for a change in the law.
Stonewall, the LGB lobbying organisation itself has come under recent criticism, and rightly so. As a gay man, I have never been privy to consultation by the charity on the issue of marriage, but have recently learned why. On the issue, its Chief Executive Ben Summerskill has commented that “Stonewall has never pretended to be a democratic member organisation. We have never said we speak for all lesbian, gay and bisexual people”. So, how can a charity fight for LGB equality, when it doesn’t speak for them?
The position of Stonewall on gay marriage was that it wasn’t an issue, what was then? I’m yet to meet any lesbian, gay or bisexual people who think this supposedly national charity shouldn’t campaign for equal marriage rights. It took ordinary LGB people to challenge this and get the organisation to change its remit. This highlighted how much public bodies who don’t speak for its communities are ‘out of touch’.
Last year, Alex and I went to our lesbian friends’ civil partnership in London. The ceremony was just as beautiful as any marriage, but as we turned to say congratulations, before we’d even left the venue they joked to us… “Awww thanks, but it’s not a proper wedding like your two’s”. Naturally, it was lighted-hearted on their special day, but there was a serious point to her comment. In essence she is right. Alex and I have a marriage certificate which in Canada gives us the same legal standing and rights as any other union of marriage between two people, but that’s still not the case in the UK.
As soon as the option became available, another of my lesbian friends changed her relationship status on Facebook from ‘married’ to civil partnership, reflecting the true and only legal acknowledgement in Britain of her and her partner’s union. I assume it wasn’t done to make a political point, but changing her status, was a statement in itself.
I don’t know what it is, but most of my lesbian friends appear ‘switched on’ with civil partnerships and understand what they have is not equal to marriages in the UK. They don’t skirt around the issue, like many of my gay friends in similar situations. Maybe, this is a trait of women. My own mother was as many British women are, strong, with their own voice and minds, and tend to deal with facts not fiction.
A Canadian friend (who lives in London), recently highlighted to me the publicly failed marriages of numerous heterosexual celebrity couples – viewed by some as reflections of our culture, and yet the US, home to a vast number of such pairings, has the cheek to ban gay marriages. If society is ever going to be inclusive and not exclusive, then equal marriage for all is a good place to start. Chris Rock, the US comedian say’s it best… “Gay people have got a right to be as miserable as everybody else”!
So, is gay marriage really that important in the UK? Yes, of course it is.
Photographer: Bjarte Rettedal / Cover Design: Outnorthwest Magazine of the Lesbian & Gay Foundation
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© Kevin Maxwell Film, Media & Performance 2011 – Published by My Mum