Editor-At-Large: Marriage is dying, but let gay couples have it, all the same

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The Independent Online

If marriage were a car, it would be heading for the scrapyard. Like an old banger that has repeatedly failed the MOT, a soaring divorce rate seems to indicate that modern marriage isn't fit for purpose. The chances of the majority of unions lasting more than a decade are increasingly slim. At least when buying a car, you get a warranty – and, it doesn't answer back when you lose your temper or demand half the assets when you part company.

Having said that, I find it touching that so many gay people want to get married, and this month the Government starts a consultation process aimed at changing the law, something the Prime Minister enthusiastically supports. Most heterosexuals (myself included) have shown repeatedly that we are hopeless at marriage. It's one thing that practice doesn't necessarily make perfect. And not all gay men and women want to get married – many are satisfied with civil partnerships But why should those who do be denied the same rights as everyone else?

The Church of England has behaved disgracefully over this issue. Far from welcoming a new and vibrant source of supporters, it opposed civil partnerships, then dragged itself into the modern world by grudgingly accepting them. Officially, the church still refuses to hold formal blessings or services for couples in a civil partnership, although many vicars privately do so. Instead of being inclusive, many leading clerics wring their hands and fail to adopt Christian values. In short, under the feeble Rowan Williams, who exhibits all the leadership skills of a plate of tapioca, the church acts as if it's an exclusive club that can afford to be hyper-choosy about new members. In reality, the CofE is on the skids, increasingly irrelevant in modern Britain. In surveys we say we believe in God, but we don't want to get involved with his sales force. The debate about female bishops moves at a snail's pace – thank God these old farts aren't running a FTSE 100 company: it would have gone bankrupt decades ago.

The language used by modern church leaders is utterly out of step. Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, says marriage can only exist between a man and a woman and thinks David Cameron is acting "like a dictator", and the Pope yesterday condemned the Prime Minister's plans too. Far from articulating the mood of his flock, Dr Sentamu is the shrill voice of the minority – according to a 2009 Mori poll, the majority of Brits want gay people to have exactly the same rights as everyone else. In the real world, as opposed to that of the dessicated, inward-looking theologians of the high church, it's not an issue. The Church of England is in total disarray: Rowan Williams opposes gay marriage, but the new Dean of St Paul's has said he doesn't have a problem, as has the former Bishop of Oxford, and the new Bishop of Salisbury.

The Roman Catholic church is in meltdown: a letter railing against gay marriage was expected to be read out in 2,500 churches during mass today. The leader of the Scottish Catholics calls the proposals "grotesque", and compares them with legalising slavery, while Catholic convert Tony Blair backs gay marriage. As for other faiths, the British Jewry Reform movement, the Unitarian Church and the Quakers all support a change in the law. Muslims and Orthodox Jews oppose it. The truth is, whatever dictats religious leaders issue to their congregations, it's highly likely that gay marriage will end up on the statute book.

That result will be bad news for the Church of England, which passed up an opportunity, as the church of the establishment and our monarchy, to re-engage with the British people. As Dr David Ison, the new Dean of St Paul's says, "We need to make sure that the virtues that you see in married relationships are available to people who are gay." Precisely. The most important thing for our society is stable relationships which form a solid bedrock enabling communities to flourish. People in loving, respectful, committed relationships deserve, no matter what their sexuality, to be treasured and nurtured, not demonised in the name of dogma.

Osama bin Laden was probably shopped to the authorities because his eldest wife was unhappy that he had transferred his attentions to a younger wife. He had dozens of children by different wives. Is that arrangement more acceptable than a relationship between two gay people who commit to love, respect and care for each other for the rest of their lives? What terrible social injustices are committed in the name of religion. For God's sake, let gay people get married.

Gilbert and George know how to make the headlines

Does bigger mean better? Committed chroniclers of London life Gilbert and George were a huge success at Tate Modern with a massive retrospective in 2007 – the swear-box souvenir is one of my most treasured possessions.

In the past fortnight they have unveiled new work in four White Cube Galleries, one in Hong Kong and three in London. The 292 (72 are on show in London) pictures use slogans from thousands of Evening Standard billboards pinched over several years, reworked into formal panels, reflecting common themes – violence, crime, money and death. It's all about PAEDOS, OAPS, TOTS and GUNS.

The result is like walking through a modern version of Dickens. I've always collected billboards, but these guys have come up with some corkers – GUN FOUND IN MAN'S BUM and GIRL BOTTOM-BOOSTER PILL PERIL are favourites.

Gilbert and George have an unerring knack for tapping into the pulse of London in a way no other contemporary artists can match. There's misery, cliché and cash galore, but you emerge smiling at this tidal wave of catastrophe which is recreated new every day.

Art for All has always been their mantra, and the £10 catalogue (signed) and souvenir bag are excellent value. Truly, a modern version of music hall.

The lean new look that works

Terrific news for women's fashion – Hedi Slimane is returning to Paris as head designer for Yves St Laurent.

At Dior Homme he changed the male shape, and women loved his narrow line. I still wear his sharply tailored jackets; my favourite in black silk was made for the Queen's first Women of Achievement lunch at Buckingham Palace in 2004.

Others were in hats, frocks, jackets and fussy two-pieces. My simple black man's suit looked fantastic and utterly modern. Like Phoebe Philo at Celine, whose pared down collection received rave reviews last week, Hedi doesn't do retro.

No room at the bank for women

Nick Clegg opened trading at the London Stock Exchange to celebrate International Women's Day surrounded by a football club executive, an interior designer, a model and the usual mix of high-profile females, all lined up like gurning acolytes.

Did any of them know that as a result of a high level reshuffle at Deutsche Bank last week, not a single woman remains on the board? Well done! Instead of posing like dummies for a photo, perhaps these successful women ought to be campaigning for equality where it matters – in the boardroom.

The City just used Clegg and Co as window dressing.