Gay rights and wrong-headed Christians

I don't understand why what Leviticus says about shirtlifting should be taken with deadly seriousness
Click to follow
The Independent Online

So what took them so long? The Government has finally published a White Paper setting out proposals for what, inevitably, is going to be called gay marriage. Under these proposals, a gay or lesbian couple can register their partnership legally. These partnerships would confer the same automatic legal benefits as marriage. So, a partner would have a claim on the pension of a dead partner, exemption from inheritance tax and the power to make medical decisions if the partner were incapacitated.

So what took them so long? The Government has finally published a White Paper setting out proposals for what, inevitably, is going to be called gay marriage. Under these proposals, a gay or lesbian couple can register their partnership legally. These partnerships would confer the same automatic legal benefits as marriage. So, a partner would have a claim on the pension of a dead partner, exemption from inheritance tax and the power to make medical decisions if the partner were incapacitated.

These seem quite unremarkable rights, and it is worth setting out quite how bad the situation is: these are not theoretical cases, but real situations that arise frequently. If a couple has been together for 40 years, and one dies, then, in the case of intestacy, the survivor has no automatic claim on the estate. Even if there is a will, in many cases the couple's home has to be sold to pay the inheritance tax. This is often the case even if the house has been bought jointly.

Still more inhuman is a common situation that arises after the death of one partner. The relationship is not recognised in law, and therefore, in the case of illness, authority rests with the family. The hospital would not seek the views of the partner, and would not automatically admit him to see his partner. After death, too, the funeral arrangements are not the responsibility of anyone but the dead person's family.

This doesn't necessarily create a problem, but it does rely on a family's goodwill. There are many anecdotal accounts of lifetime partners excluded from the deathbed, and not even admitted to the funeral. At the last, a family that may have been deeply disapproving of a homosexual relationship and hostile to their relation's partner moves inexorably into the front pew of the church. This may be merely inhumanly distressing, but worse consequences can follow. A friend of mine, returning from his partner's funeral, was handed a legal letter of eviction from the house they had shared for 10 years and found anything identifiable as his own belongings in black binbags in the garden.

For all these reasons, the Government's proposals must be welcomed. The Government seems to be trying to place gay registered partnerships on the same legal basis as marriage; for instance, there is to be no requirement that couples need to be in a relationship for any particular period before a partnership can be registered. It would be good, too, to hear the Government state explicitly that such a registered partnership would be taken account of in immigration cases. Only very recently have the immigration authorities even recognised the existence of a homosexual relationship as a factor, and the Government should state explicitly that from now on it will consider such relationships in exactly the same way that it will consider marriages.

It's obviously a good thing. So why has it taken so long? The answer, surely, is in the immense power the religious lobby carries, even in this country. Christianity believes, or claims to believe, that marriage is primarily a religious ceremony. Many members of the Christian churches have decided, too, that they will continue to observe the Bible's injunctions against homosexual relationships, for reasons of their own that I don't propose to examine; I don't understand why what Leviticus says about shirtlifting should be taken with deadly seriousness, when its equally strict injunction that the shirt being lifted should on no account be made out of mixed fibres is a question better addressed to nutty God-botherers themselves.

The point that they don't accept, or understand, is that the vast majority of people in this country simply don't give a toss what Christians think. And with very good reason; listening to some bishop the other day who was proposing that the reason people commit crime in the streets is that America chose to invade Iraq, one wondered whether he and his kind are altogether mentally stable. What they don't understand is that on almost every issue, nobody takes them seriously. When people get married, it is, in almost every case, nothing to do with the church. The idea that some man in a cassock has any kind of authority over the question of whether, at some future point, I get to marry my boyfriend is frankly insulting in the extreme. We're just not interested.

For the same reason, I think the Government has made a great mistake in limiting these partnership rights to gay relationships. The institution of marriage is one that the church does feel it has some say over. That certainly leaves a lot of heterosexual people in an uncomfortable position. Like me, they don't want to soil their lives with any contact with these horrible people. They don't want any talk of holy matrimony, and they are painfully aware that the secular ceremony in a registry office is the same thing as the church-invented marriage. The registration of partnerships, however, is something new and appropriate to the way we live now.

In the case of gay relationships, I doubt that we want any more than these proposals. There may be religious homosexuals who will go on fighting so that they can be married in church, but they will be an eccentric minority. What is needed now is the quick establishment of these rights for gay people, and an extension to heterosexual people who would welcome in large numbers that kind of freedom.

Comments