Defence of the day.

Catherine Philp writes (£) on The Times‘ comment boards:

I write from the campaign trail in the US, where the Republican Party are threatening to implode over issues like gay marriage and where cowardly Democrats lack the conviction to stand up for what they believe. I’ve often thought that there was a particular genius in the British way of compromise: adopting civil partnerships first, as a way station to full marriage, to allow society to grow used to the change and see the sky didn’t fall. But the time for full equality has come and as pleased as I am to see my paper give gay marriage its backing, I would be prouder still to see my country take such a step towards equality and compassion.

For those who think there’s no difference between civil partnerships and marriage: there is. Otherwise, why object to one and not the other? I have two friends who underwent a civil partnership having been together for 25 years, because it was the only option available to them that gave them the legal protections of marriage. Their parents are elderly and they did not invite them, preferring not to shove in their face something they tacitly accept but don’t want to talk about. Civil partnerships only perpetuate the notion that there is something lesser about the bond between a same sex couple, something less worthy of public celebration the way marriage is.

I remember when the first gay marriages took place in America, I was in Baghdad, surrounded by carnage and bombs, watching George W Bush on television, vowing to protect America against such perversion. I remember saying to myself dryly, yes, that’s the problem with the world, people loving each other and committing for life. For years, homophobes have tried to discredit gay relations by railing against supposed promiscuity. Now they want to prevent publicly heard vows of monogamy.

One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was my father’s account of giving the eulogy at the funeral of a life-long friend who had a life-long live-in relationship with another man. My father, nodding to the conventions of his generation and the lack of a publicly acknowledged relationship between the two, could only talk of his “dear friend” and “companion” who sat silently, mourning the love of his life. Where such love exists, there is no place in a modern society for such shame and silence. Here in America, marriage was once denied to slaves to stop the formation of any social bond stronger than that between slave and slaveowner. Who we allow to marry says something about our society.

Those who oppose gay marriage and insist gay couples should be content with civil partnerships only underline the fact that there is a difference in the gravity with which society regards each union. It is time to close that gap.

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