As religious leaders condemn government plans to allow lesbians and gay men to get wed, we argue the case for equal marriage
Four and a half years ago, the man I love and have lived with for the past nine years and I made a legally binding commitment to one another. The law requires that I now refer to him as my 'civil partner.' I prefer to call him my husband. To my mind, we're a married couple, not a firm of solicitors.
A lot of LGBT people have no desire to get married, and I respect their choice - just as I hope they respect mine. But choice is meaningless unless you first have the right to marry. Then by all means reject the institution of marriage on whatever grounds you like. Go on Facebook and Twitter and quote Mae West: 'Marriage is an institution. I'm not ready for an institution.' But ask yourself this - are you ready for equality?
Because this is what the whole marriage debate is about - equality. Civil partnership is not full equality. It's a two-tier system, with one law for heterosexuals and another law for lesbians and gay men. Which is why I support the campaign for equal marriage.
Note that I don't call it 'gay marriage'. I don't pay 'gay taxes'. I pay taxes - just like everyone else. Likewise, I don't want 'gay marriage'. I want marriage - just like everyone else.
In Brazil, where my husband grew up, this is exactly what they have. Think of Brazil and you tend to think of a Catholic country which, until very recently, was considered rather backwards in terms of sexual politics. But these days, whenever I go to visit my in-laws in Rio, my relationship is recognised as a marriage. So why on earth should it be considered differently here in liberal London?
Over the past few weeks, we've heard from all sorts of people who are against what they call 'gay marriage'. With the honourable exception of the Quakers, who informed the Queen that they wanted the right to perform 'same sex marriages' in their churches, religious leaders of various persuasions have been vociferous in their opposition to government proposals to allow lesbians and gay men to get married.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently said that a 'fixation with gay rights' is threatening to 'fragment' British society. Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien went further, calling gay marriage an 'aberration' and comparing it to people marrying their pets. The Pope issued a statement, warning that traditional marriage must be preserved because it protects parents, children and the whole of society - which seems a bit rich coming from the head of a church with a pretty poor record when it comes to the protection of children.
Meanwhile, Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said that, 'redefining the meaning of marriage is in our opinion unnecessary and unhelpful. With the advent of civil partnerships, both homosexual and heterosexual couples now have equal rights in the eyes of the law.' Equal rights? Really? So presumably Mr Murad would be perfectly happy if he were told that Muslims could have civil partnerships but were not allowed the right to marry? And if not, why not?
Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Geoffrey Alderman made the same argument, insisting that the campaign for equal marriage was 'not actually about “equality” at all,' as we already have civil partnerships. He then went on to suggest that if gay marriages were allowed, then why not incest? 'Why should not two lesbian-inclined sisters be able to marry each other, or two gay brothers?'
Listening to these people, you'd think that if gay people were allowed to marry then the whole of society would crumble. Which makes you wonder what they see from their ivory towers. Society is already crumbling, and it has nothing to do with lesbians and gay men forming loving, legally binding relationships. It's more to do with little things like poverty, social alienation, corporate greed - you know, the things religious leaders are supposed to care about. Maybe soon someone will suggest that gay marriages were to blame for the London riots?
Meanwhile, those of us who want equal marriage rights will go on fighting. And we will win. As recently as 1967, 'the meaning of marriage' was redefined in America to allow black women to marry white men and vice versa. Today, the idea of refusing a couple the right to marry because of the colour of their skin seems outrageous and antiquated. So too will the idea of refusing equal rights to lesbians and gay men.
And for those who don't like the idea of 'gay marriage', here's a simple suggestion - don't have one.