Equal marriage: We've come a long way, and in 20 years' time we won't recall what the fuss was about

There is still stigma and shame, but this step says you're allowed to fall in love with whomever you like - no matter their gender or your own

Share
Related Topics

The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury repeated a much-cherished but completely wrong statement this week. He said that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, and it would be wrong to change it. In fact, marriage has changed considerably over the centuries.

More than one Roman emperor married a man, until same-sex marriage was outlawed in AD 342. Many cultures still conceive of marriage between a man and several women – my own husband’s great-grandfather married polygamously, so it isn’t all that remote.

In France, it is perfectly legal for a marriage to take place between a living person and a dead one, and in China, between two dead people. In this country, it has only been legal to marry your deceased wife’s sister since 1907. And so it goes on.

The Archbishop of Canterbury sounded like an English chef announcing that nobody, in the history of the world, has ever eaten horse.

The concept of marriage, far from being an eternal verity, has changed considerably over the years and between cultures. It might, too, have been possible to believe that the concept and the word was owned by a single body at one point in history – perhaps a couple of hundred years ago. But not any longer. Marriages come in all shapes and sizes. Yours is not like your neighbours, and is certainly not like the marriage that you might have had 50 years ago.

The description of a formal, legal union between people of the same sex as “marriage” is an important step. People understand a marriage in ways which they do not, quite, understand a civil partnership. I routinely describe the man I am civilly-partnered to as “my husband”. Not everyone understands, and I am quite often challenged. The equality representative in the Exeter University faculty I used to work for asked me, in public, whether that made me “the wife” in the relationship. I don’t suppose that being able to describe oneself as in a marriage rather than in a civil partnership would stop that.

But it would be a start in challenging ignorance, if not active malice. We’ve come a very long way towards equality in this area. There are plenty of people still living in relationships that began when such relationships were illegal. In the early 1980s, when I first identified myself as gay, one was equal in almost no area – age of consent, public displays of affection, employment laws, and areas of public life. There were almost no publicly identified homosexuals. To be homosexual at all was still illegal in parts of the United Kingdom.

Now, we’ve come a long way towards equality. There is still stigma and shame in areas of public life – in all the talk of diversity at last summer’s Olympics, few people noticed that virtually no sports people were prepared to come out as gay. Worldwide, only very recently has the United Nations begun to consider the abuse of gay people as a human rights issue, thanks to the personal investment of Ban Ki-moon.

But the introduction of marriage as a concept, and as a word, is an important step. It says that you’re allowed to fall in love with whomever you like, and if they love you back, you’re allowed to take whatever steps anyone else may take to cement it. People who oppose the extension of the concept of marriage are not defending the status of their own marriage: they are dictating what love is allowed to look like in the lives of people they will never meet.

In 20 years’ time we won’t remember what any of this fuss was all about. It will all look very much like the furious arguments over the Deceased Wife’s Sister Act of 1907.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road