Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marriage Equality

In a rare turn, I'm going to put the genre stuff to one side and talk about marriage equality.

A number of months ago, I talked about an American organisation who sought to remove an issue of Life With Archie from the shelves (and, have since, tried to do the same with a recent issue of Astonishing X-Men), but the debate has once again come back to the UK. We had, earlier this year, a prominent member of the Scottish Catholic church speak out about marriage equality, and it clouded the issue, and it's happened again this week but this time from the Church of England.

Now, I don't hate religious people. The religion, perhaps, but not the people. There have been polls and surveys that show large swathes of the religious people in the UK are supportive (or perhaps at the very least not bothered by it) of marriage equality - over 50% in most cases. This is great news and needs to be thrown about in the media much more.

But I'm a secularist, and this debate alone shows why secularism is needed. We have prominent religious figures wading into a civil debate and obscuring the issue. To make matters worse, I have not seen a single shred of evidence to even imply that same-sex couples are worse for children than the 'traditional' family - and even then, that should be unrelated to the marriage debate. The arguments from the religious side tend to revolve around centuries-old scripture and deep-rooted homophobia, as well as apocalyptic visions of doom. Marriage equality will bring this country to its knees - things like that.

The closest to a 'real' counter-argument is the existence of civil partnerships, a sort of marriage-in-all-but-name, often colloquially referred to as a marriage. But is that not a case of Equal But Different? Did we not learn about that from the treatment of African-Americans after the abolition of slavery? Different bathrooms, drinking facilities, seats and so forth. It's not on the same level, I'll admit, but it's similar in that the same service is provided but it's "for them".

The other popular counter-argument is that it goes against the definition of marriage. This is, frankly, a complete load of rubbish. Definitions of words and phrases can and will change over time. The ceremony can and has changed, and even what marriage represents has changed. We live in a society where people largely can marry for love, yet there are times in history where marriage was a political device. There are even people in the Bible in marriages we would not think of today - King Solomon is a prime example, with 700 wives and about 300 concubines - something that wouldn't exist today under modernised Abrahamic religions..

I've also heard the idea marriage is about having children. Really? Well... what about heterosexual married couples who don't want children? What about those who get married and cannot have children, for medical, physical, emotional or other reasons? What about if two 70-year old people want to get married and spend their twilight years together? Should that not be allowed, because after all they won't be having children!

I shall counter thusly; Marriage is largely a ceremonious gesture in today's culture. It is not uncommon for people to have had more than one marriage, and on top of that children born out of wedlock are no longer taboo for the most part. There are people who make a mockery of the 'traditional' view of marriage, getting married and divorced like it's going out of fashion, and those who do it for money or other reasons rather than love. All of these people are heterosexual (a few may be bisexual, but in 'heterosexual' relationships), and could one not argue that indeed those people are the ones weakening the "institution of marriage"? There's hundreds, if not thousands, of alternative couples wanting to get married for love. Not for money, for fame or anything else. For love. How is that against the modern idea of marriage? If nothing else, it's the definition of it!

All marriages, at their root, are civil. Whether you're Jewish, Sikh or Christian, only your civil marriage will be recognised by the state - NOT the religious ceremony. Opening that to other couples does not change the religious aspect, and in fact a number of religions are open to offering the ceremonial aspect for couples who currently cannot get married.

Marriage equality will do one thing, and one thing alone. It will allow people to marry those they love legally. I think it's also important that if civil marriage is extended to non-traditional couples (I hate that term), that civil partnerships are extended in the opposite direction, if not removed and 'absorbed' into a civil marriage.

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