Friday, 15 February 2013

Reactions to the same-sex marriage bill

Lashings of Ginger Bee Timer
Posted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

As I’m sure many of you are aware: A bill has been approved in Parliament which will legally recognise same sex marriages in England and Wales. I’ve been asking other Lashers to share their views on this issue. In this post I’ve collected their critical responses. As you might see, it is far from unanimous praise.

At this point I thought I might bring up a point of information: one issue that came about from a discussion among Lashers was the issue that this legislation applies to England and Wales and not for the whole of the United Kingdom. Scottish parliament is currently drafting similar bill with the view to holding a vote on the issue in the near future. There seems to be no plans to vote on a same sex marriage bill in Northern Ireland.

I give a personal thank you to kabarett, Isadora, Ganymede and Sasha Rocket for sharing their views. 

kabarett: I’m disappointed

I’m going to say this upfront: I’m disappointed.

I’m going to set aside the issue of whether marriage should exist as a legal institution, and focus instead on the principle that “separate but equal” isn’t, and disenfranchising (especially vulnerable) populations is a deeply unpleasant thing for any government to do.

So: way back when, a public consultation on “equal marriage” was begun. Between its name and Lynne Featherstone’s involvement, I was actually hopeful: I thought we might get marriage equality, or something approximating it, in which the only requirement was “consenting adults”.

Hahahahaha no. Trans* people are shafted, in more ways than I can briefly list: luckily, other people have been pretty comprehensive. Poly people have, naturally, been ignored. There’s not even the slightest glimmering of a hint of the existence of genderqueer people. Religious groups haven’t been given the freedom to make up their own minds. Different-sex* couples don’t get to have civil partnerships, even if they want to avoid the cultural and religious baggage associated with “marriage”.

So here’s what I think the outcome is: the general public will likely assume that “equal marriage” has been achieved, when it hasn’t. Any efforts to increase the scope of this bill once it’s passed through the Lords will face much harder struggles than they would have done if the initial draft had been passed. Cis gay people of the general Stonewall flavour, having been enfranchised, will have absolutely no incentive to campaign with anti-assimilationist queers for our equality.

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed that as a trans* genderqueer queermo, passage of this bill is likely to make my life harder rather than easier.

So my next step? Well. Letter-writing, probably, and picking my metaphorical banner back up off the floor and heading back out onto the metaphorical streets. Be the change you wish to see, and so on, because - what else can I do?

* I use “different-sex” and “same-sex” as descriptors because (a) oppositional sexism is rubbish and (b) binarism.

Isadora: That the C of E will not be allowed to perform same-sex marriages is deeply upsetting.

This is the beginning of something I’ve wanted for a very long time, and my overriding reaction is positive and optimistic. I do however, think there are some problems with the bill as it stands. For different-sex couples to not be able to have civil partnerships makes no sense. I define as bisexual, and on a personal level I feel that there is something ludicrous about a union with any partner I might have being defined differently, as a marriage or a civil partnership, depending on that person’s sex. Whilst all my relationships have been slightly different, I don’t think the sex or gender of my partner plays a big part in that. To make marriage available to same-sex couples, but not make civil -partnership available to different-sex ones seems illogical, in addition to the implication that a civil partnership is “lesser.”

That the Church of England will not be allowed, in secular law, to perform same-sex marriages is deeply upsetting. It’s a major barrier to those of us working within the C of E to try and change attitudes and eventually, hopefully, canon law. It was already going to be a long process, but this has not only put a very solid practical barrier in place, it will also make it harder to argue the case from a “what people believe/want” perspective. I think this will increase the invisibility of the large number of Anglicans (in particular, but also other religious groups) who support either same-sex marriage or equal marriage. Those both inside and outside the Church will be less likely to listen to us, because of the impression “well, that’s not what the Church/Christians thinks/want.”

My teenage self would have wanted a church wedding, but would probably still be overjoyed at this bill. I want to briefly allow her that moment of joy that she waited so long for. Probably my younger self was quite traditional about relationships, even though it didn’t always feel like that at the time. I wanted the fairytale marriage, but with another person most likely of the same gender. My current self has bits of that. I do view both the vote and the bill as a highly significant positive step and it did give me heart-surging butterflies. But there is still more work to do.

Ganymede: do we still need to have our “legal sex” recorded at all?

I’m cautiously positive about the bill - I think it’s a great step forward, although I share kaberett’s disappointment that there are so many areas where it falls down. But I’m particularly interested by the implications it might raise for the future. Marriage is, I believe, one of the few areas where your “legal sex” actually impacts materially on your legal rights - and the passing of this bill is undermining the usefulness of the distinction between “legally female” and “legally male” still further.

It was pointed out to me recently that in centuries past, “legal sex” used to hold a lot more legislative weight. Whether you were legally classified as “female” or “male” impacted on your rights in numerous ways, mostly boiling down to whether you had the right to property, or you were property. But with every step towards gender equality, more of these legal distinctions have been eroded. And to me, the question this begs is: do we still need to have our “legal sex” recorded at all?

Imagine if every person - regardless of chromosomes, genitals, secondary sexual characteristics, sense of identity, or Gender Recognition Certificate - had an equal right to marry any other person ey chose (or become civilly partnered to em!). This bill hasn’t got us there yet, but I really hope it’s the direction we’re headed in. At that point, I’m not sure there would be any great legal distinction any more between “female” and “male”. The concepts of “female” and “male” would still have a function as social genders, and as ill-defined biological descriptors. But beyond that, surely it would only be a matter of time before their usage in law was done away with as unnecessary and outdated. No need to pick M or F for the birth certificate on the basis of a cursory glance at the genitals. No need to jump through hoops getting one’s true gender identity officially recognised. No more legal conundrums where non-binary or intersex people are concerned. And I find that thought quite exciting.

Sasha Rocket: The law’s job isn’t to change the culture, it’s to reflect it

I think the fact that same-sex couples can now get married is really awesome. Although the legal differences between a marriage and civil partnerships are tiny, I think the social statement the bill makes is a massive one, that we’ve been fighting for, for a very long time; it says that, as a society, we believe same-sex relationships are just as valid as heterosexual ones, and I think that can only be a good thing. It also says that the notion of ‘separate but equal’ isn’t equal at all. When you remember that, just 10 years ago, Section 28 was still in force, this is a remarkable step-forward. Although the bill undoubtedly has flaws and particularly lets down trans people, I hope we don’t lose sight of the massive progress we’ve made in such a short space of time.

The fact that civil partnerships aren’t being extended to all couples, as well as the fact that religious groups are not legally allowed to perform same-sex marriages, is somewhat disappointing. I think the real failing of the bill, however, is the fact that it fails to accommodate trans people, in ways that have already been explained by other Lashers. There’s still plenty of scrutiny to go though, before the bill becomes law, from both Houses, and particularly LGBTQ groups so, with enough political action, some of the failings may be remedied. I’ll wait until the whole legislative process is over before I get too hopeful but, for now, I’m cautiously optimistic.

As some other Lashers have said, a wider debate about the nature of relationships would be awesome, but I don’t think we need (or even should) be looking to parliament for that debate, particularly not currently. The law’s job isn’t to change the culture, it’s to reflect it; it’s up to us to change that culture. I think we’re slightly in danger of losing sight of the fact that lots of people have now had their relationships recognised as legitimate, and I hope that the radical change there’s been in the last decade acts to motivate us to keep at it and reminds us that we are getting somewhere.

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