Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Marriage has a legal significance according to the British constitution. It has a spiritual significance according to the teaching of some religions. And many ordinary people think that it has a social significance.

The legal, religious, and social meanings overlap in all kinds of ways, like chocolate eggs and the resurrection of Jesus. The Church of England believes that Vicars have the power to cast magic spells whereby perfectly ordinary bonking becomes a mystic allegory of the interrelationship of the spiritual and the physical worlds -- or, as they put it, a sacrament. The government says that if two people make a legally binding contract to stay together for life (and cede to the state the right to divvie up their possessions if they break that contract) it will give them a number of privileges with respect to taxation, access to children, pensions and so on. Ordinary People see Marriage as a great big party in which two people affirm their love in front of their friends and their family and probably gain some social status and respectability into the bargain. But that social status partly comes from being married according to the law of the land, and illegal marriages are probably not sacramental.

I guess for most people, the social aspect is the most important: when buying a cake, planning a meal and choosing a dress, they are not primarily thinking of the love that is betwixt Christ and his Church, nor of their pensions.

In a traditional Church of England wedding the Vicar reads from the book of Common Prayer, and then he and the happy couple disappear back stage to fill out the legal paperwork, while the organist plays a long, rambling voluntary and everyone shuffles awkwardly. This makes it quite clear to everyone that the Vicar is doing two things: casting an Anglican spell, but also changing the couple's status under English law. But the law has the upper hand in the arrangement. The Vicar can't confer the religious status of "marriage" on anyone who the law says can't marry. If the Leaping Order of St Beryl says that marriage between cousins is forbidden, Leaping Priests aren't obliged to marry cousins in his church; but if the Leaping Order says that the age of consent is 15, rather than 16, then he can't conduct child-marriages -- or if he does, they don't have any legal status. (I've heard of devout Dungeons and Dragons players who decide to get all their friends together, dress up as warriors and wizards, and have the 10th Level Cleric perform a ceremony according to the Melnibonean rite of Arioch. And that's very nice and very cute and very embarrassing for the in-laws, but it doesn't make them married in the eyes of the law, or in the eyes of any God apart, presumably, from Arioch.)

Since eighteen thirty something, it has been possible to have the "state" bit of the wedding without the "God" bit: to sign the legal documents in front of a civil servant, with minimal ceremony, and become married under the law. But those registry office wedding could be exceedingly clinical -- sometimes they really did take place in filing cabinet lined rooms in front of a council official and two witnesses -- so people who were not at all religious often chose to get married in churches -- or didn't bother to get married at all. (That is: they pretended to believe that their wedding had a spiritual significance, because a purely legal ceremony wouldn't perform the desired social function.) This wasn't an ideal arrangement, either from the point of view of the church or the state. So in two thousand and something, NuLab decided to let pubs, ships, hotels and parks accredit themselves as registry offices: the legal officials would come to you, carry out the legal formalities in a pretty room, along with whatever readings or songs you fancied. (At a stroke, this made non-religious weddings more attractive than religious ones, because you got to have the service and the party on the same premises.) There's currently a scheme to let people get hitched on the beach, although I suspect that wouldn't seem as romantic in Clacton as it would in Hawaii. Certainly not as warm. And in 2004, NuLab introduced civil partnerships which allowed same-sex relationships to have the same legal status as opposite sex ones, even though they were not actually called "marriages".

There are three wrinkles, however:

1: If you want a non-religious ceremony, then you have to have non-religious songs and non-religious readings. If you want God, head for the church of your choice. The state doesn't want it to be said that it's establishing a new religion in competition with the church of England.

2: There is no mechanism for a Vicar or Priest to officiate at a civil partnership even if the priest himself wishes to do so. That was implicit, I think, in the notion of "civil partnership". The state was saying "A relationship between two men and two women can have the legal status of a relationship between a man and a woman or a woman and man; and your family and friends may very well regard it as having the same social significance but its spiritual significance is none of the states business, thank you very much."

3: The Church of England is an established Church. The Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church; the Prime Minister has final say on who's Archbishop; the Archbishop crowns the Queen and Richard Dawkins can't go on Thought for the Day, so there. Some Anglicans still take this to mean that if you are English you are automatically a member of the Church of England. It follows from this that everyone (regardless of church affiliation) has (in theory) the right to be married in their parish church; for their child to be christened there; and to be buried in the churchyard when they die.

This causes problems if, as sometimes still happens, the Vicar believes in God. As a Christian, he may not want to baptise a child whose parents are not serious about the ceremony: as a member of the Church of England he is legally obliged to do so. From time to time, someone suggests that the Prayer Book should contain a form of service in which a baby is given a name and prayers are said, but in which no-one sprinkles water on anybody. This is always interpreted as an attempted coup d'├ęglise by liberals and agnostics who want to stop the Church of England from going all religious on them. In fact, it's usually suggested by very hard line evangelicals who think that Baptism is so important that it shouldn't be treated as a mere social rite. (The next step would be to start immersing adults in paddling pools.)

Now, the so-called Liberal Democrats have recently proposed:

1: That the rule about religious readings at registry offices should be relaxed. Like all rules, it could be imposed rather officiously. A lot of people think that playing "I'm Loving Angels Instead" by Robin Williams (I looked it up) as the happy couple walked down the aisle would not automatically give rise to the creation of a theocracy.

2: That religious groups should be allowed to conduct civil partnership ceremonies if they want to.

3: Nothing else.

As a matter of fact, I do see a possible problem with this. Because of the established nature of the Church of England it is possible that if Civil Partnership service were permitted, church of England Vicars might find that they were obliged to carry them out, even if they themselves didn't agree with them.

Some people might say "So he damn well should: the law should make no concession to homophobia, or any other kind of phobia". But it seems to me that this is a different kind of question from the one about whether homophobic hoteliers ought to be allowed to insist that gay couples sleep in separate beds. It seems to me that regardless of how, or indeed if, you interpret Christian theology, the question about the spiritual significance of categories of bonking is one that religious groups have got to be able to decide for themselves. The state has no power to say that as of next Tuesday, sex between two men is an allegory of the mystic union which is betwixt Christ and his church, any more than it has power to say that as of next Tuesday, the powers of Darkness won't mind if you walk round stonehenge clockwise as well as widdershins, or that a ball hit to the boundary without bouncing will score 7 runs.

The Church of England itself will eventually have to form their own opinion of this question (the one about gay sex, I mean, not the one about cricket) and if all the bishops, appointed via the apostolic succession, learned in the Bible and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit decide that Male-Male and Female-Female relationships can be sacramental after all (or, much more likely, that regardless of what Mr Cranmer may have put in the Book of Common Prayer, they don't really believe all that sacramental gubbins and never have done) then the individual priest would have to accept that decision, regardless of what he or she happens to think. That's what you get for being the established church. You get more status, but less freedom of conscience. If you don't like it, bugger off to Rome and see how much freedom of conscience Ratzinger gives you.

If Quakers, Methodists and Unitarians want to have Civil Partnership ceremonies, or indeed cricket matches, in their churches, then none of this arises.

My own point of view, and please don't hit me, is that if two people love each other, then its a no-brainer that they should be allowed to affirm that love according to the religious traditions of their culture. On the other hand, I have some sympathy for the position which says "The state cares about sexual relationships only because they are likely to produce children. Two guys or two girls are quite welcome to live together, and the state doesn't care whether they call themselves 'Married', 'Flatmates', 'Confirmed Bachelors' or 'Special Friends'. We are not even neutral on the issue: it just doesn't come into the state's sphere of interest." If it had been down to me, we might have had gay church weddings, but no civil partnerships. But it wasn't.

However, what me and Steve H are interested in is not what has really happened in the real world, i.e. nothing whatsoever. What we are interested in is how this impacts on the Melosphere, where civilisation is always about to come to an end, and everything is either forbidden or compulsory.

In the Melosphere, "It is proposed that some churches may be permitted to marry gays" translates as "All church are now obliged to marry gays." Civilisation is under attack. "The attempt to stamp out Christianity in Britain is gathering pace". (She really said that. Really, really, really. I didn't make it up.)


Dr Plokta said...

Actually, because the CofE is an established church and therefore part of the state, the state does have the power to change its spiritual views. If the CofE doesn't like this, the solution is for it to get its bishops out of Parliament and disestablish itself.

Greg G said...

'On the other hand, I have some sympathy for the position which says "The state cares about sexual relationships only because they are likely to produce children. "'


Full joint adoption by same-sex couples is currently legal in the following countries... United Kingdom: England and Wales (2005), Scotland (2009) and Northern Ireland (unclear).

'"Two guys or two girls are quite welcome to live together, and the state doesn't care whether they call themselves "Married", "Flatmates" "Confirmed Bachelors" or "Special Friends." We are not even neutral on the issues: it just doesn't come into the states sphere of interest."'


When a loved one is in the hospital, you naturally want to be at the bedside. But what if the staff won’t allow it? That’s what Janice Langbehn, a social worker in Lacey, Wash., says she experienced when her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, collapsed with an aneurysm during a Florida vacation and was taken to a Miami trauma center. She died there, at age 39, as Ms. Langbehn tried in vain to persuade hospital officials to let her visit, along with the couple’s adopted children.

SK said...

No, I checked: the Church of England certainly doesn't hold marriage to be a sacrament. Article XXV.

Apart from that particular word, yes, of course, you're right about part of the point being the spiritual echo of Christ's relationship to His Church (and another part, of course, is the split image of God that Christ refers to when asked about the subject), but I think you'd agree that when dealing with one of the few things on which the Anglican church does have a firm official position, it's important to get that right.

The verification word for this reply is 'demat'. Apparently it reckons I come armed.

Sam Dodsworth said...

and cede to the state the right to divvie up their possessions if they break that contract

"Gain the right to state arbitration in the case of a dispute"? The divorce process is benefit not a penalty, no matter what bitter divorcees say.


The Melosphere view of pretty much anything is based on the twin assumptions that people who are Not Like Us are inherently vicious and that only a rigid system of rules keeps this viciousness in check. So any social change is an attack on civilization. Or to put it another way, that basis of conservativism is a combination of fear and lack of empathy.

Andrew Rilstone said...

The Daily Mel's ideology goes much further than a mere hostility to change, and seems to be based very heavily and irreducibly on homophobia. (It might have been better to hold these articles back and put one huge one out, but as it is, you'll need to follow me over the next few pages to see what I'm driving at.)

Is that right? 2 "sacrements of the gospel" (instituted by Jesus) and 5 things which are "commonly called sacrements". OK.
Given the complicatedly broad nature of the Church of England, I imagine that the people must likely to oppose gay weddings are the "high" or "anglo-catholic" party, who probably do believe in Seven Catholic Sacrements. And the evangelicals, who don't believe in Sacrements at all. The prayer book itself seems to be a compromise: it first of all says that marriage is "signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church" but then says that God invented it for all sorts of practical reasons (making babies, allowing people who couldn't manage celibacy a means of avoiding sin, someone to drink cocoa with in old age.) You'd think God would make all this stuff simpler, wouldn't you.

SK said...

The text I found on the internet of article XXV (not being an Anglican I don't have my own copy of the thirty-nine) reads:

'Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.'

-- which seems pretty categorical to me.

Now, if you're the kind of Anglican who thinks it's perfectly fine for a priest to break his (and it would be his...) vow of only using such services as are allowed by canon, then you probably also aren't impressed by the articles, but that doesn't stop it being the official Anglican view.

SK said...

(That is, it seems quite categorical to me that that bit of the article is specifically repudiating the Roman Catholic practice of calling those five 'Sacraments' -- it's saying 'though these are commonly called Sacraments, they are not' -- in the same way that, for example, article XXVIII specifically repudiates Roman Catholic understanding of and practice around the host, etc, and XXII specifically repudiates Purgatory. In all these Anglicans are following the other Reformed churches.)

NickPheas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NickPheas said...

Sorry, I may have blinked and missed, but who is Steve H?

Paul Brown said...

I confess that I don't get the bit about "the rule about religious readings at registry offices should be relaxed"; I wasn't aware that there were any such rules. Certainly at my wedding there were no readings of any kind at all (apart from some people who were reading their text messages during bits when they should've been at least acting like they cared and they know who they are). I'm far from an expert in religious law, but I was under the impression that marriage is a legal contract and you can add religion or love to it if you want, but neither are required and neither make you actually married. Signing the little book makes you married, everything else that you add around it is personal choice. Feel free to enlighten me if I am misinformed.

Debi said...

I think you're understating the importance of the 'social significance' - starting with the phrase that "many... people think that it has a social significance."

The social significance is not in so much doubt that it can exist only in the minds of 'many' people. The social signficance is undeniable and evident in the pervasiveness of the importance of marriage in our cultural narrative. The social significance is what, in the end, matters, because while a legal marriage says what we should and shouldn't receive from out marriage, it's the social significance that informs whether or not society will give us that. (See Greg's comment).

This is why the word 'marriage' is so important - because it confers social status to a relationship as strongly as any other laws. With civil partnerships, every piece of legal documentation marks our relationships out as 'special' and 'other' and constantly reinforces the notino that it is not, socially speaking, the same.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of this - but "the state is only intested if you're going to have kids." is an argument I've only heard from homophobes trying to find something rational to plaster on top of their feelings.

Andrew Rilstone said...

@Nick He's a man who think I should learn to play the banjo. Or something. Actually, I rather lose track myself. King Kull isn't as good as Conan, is he?

Katherine said...

@Paul Brown:
I'm far from an expert in religious law, but I was under the impression that marriage is a legal contract and you can add religion or love to it if you want, but neither are required and neither make you actually married.

The bit about "no religious readings at registry office weddings" is actually British civil law, not religious law. From this UK government information site:

"A civil marriage ceremony cannot have any religious content, but you may be able to arrange for individual touches such as non-religious music and readings to be added to the legal wording" (emphasis mine)

I have attended several civil weddings in England, and can confirm that this rule is enforced; in some cases, the bride and groom get quite miffed at how strictly it is enforced. Essentially, you can have a religious wedding at a religious venue (in which case you're subject to the rules of whatever religion runs that venue), or you can have a completely non-religious wedding in a non-religious venue.

Presumably at your wedding the matter simply didn't arise, because you didn't have any readings at all.

Lizzie Cass-Maran said...

Paul - 'but I was under the impression that marriage is a legal contract and you can add religion or love to it if you want, but neither are required'

Not strictly true - you can sign the legal contract (actually a three-way contract between each member of the couple, and the state) in a church, but if you don't (or in the case of civil partnerships, can't), then you're not allowed any kind of religious element at the contract signing (though civil marriage, but not partnerships, do have mandatory wording).

Love is also certainly required in immigration cases - you need to prove the existence of a relationship to be granted the visa which forms part of the state's end of the contract. I'm don't think the contract is annulled if the state believe that the love element is not present, but the state will not hold up their end of the contract.

A marriage can also be annulled if the relationship has not been consummated. The same is not true of civil partnerships. Of course you can probably legally have sex and be married without being in love.

Lizzie Cass-Maran said...

Also, I really want to echo others' points about children. Not only is gay adoption legal, but if a woman in a civil partnership has a baby, her partner's name is automatically on the birth certificate (and therefore in the eyes of the law) as second parent - in the same way that a woman's husband would be.

Andrew Stevens said...

I can't actually see how Mr Rilstone's sentence is invalidated by all this stuff about adoption. Adoption doesn't produce a child, so if the state's interest in sexual relationships is only because they might produce children, then the state would still have no interest in homosexual sexual relations or, for that matter, heterosexual sodomy. This is not to say that the state doesn't have an interest in how children are raised, but that no longer has anything to do with sexual relationships.

Greg G said...

Should there then be a fertility test prior to marriage?

Greg G said...

I should explain the second point I was trying to make - made muddy by the quote I used also mentioning adopted children - is that recognition of someone not genetically related to you as being a family member - that is, one's partner - has ramifications in the world beyond children.

In the mentioned instance, being able to see them in a hospital before they die.

Or benefiting from their estate should they die before they make a will.

Or, in a non-death related example, being able to use state services or benefits related to being in a partnership (legal marriage, in Andrew's terms).

I would hope that it would be in the interest of the state to allow these things to happen. They wouldn't in the marriage-no-union option mentioned above.

SK said...

But why should any of these things -- hospital visiting rights, avoiding inheritance tax, or state benefits -- be tied to a sexual union at all?

Why are civil partnerships limited to people in sexual unions who are not within the degrees of consanguinity?

For example, there may be two spinster sisters living together in and jointly owning their parents' house which, since their parents' death, has risen in value to the point that, when one of them dies, the other will be forced to sell and move in order to pay the inheritance tax.

If they were a sexual couple, they could enter a civil partnership and thereby the surviving one would not have to move.

Why should the fact they are not a sexually active couple prevent them from doing this? What business is it of the state's whether they are sexually active or not?

There was an amendment tabled in the Lords to allow civil partnerships in exactly this situation, but it was defeated; would any defenders of civil partnerships like to defend that?

Sam Dodsworth said...

would any defenders of civil partnerships like to defend that?


The Civil Partnership Act was intended to extend the informal social benefits of marriage, and not just the legal status, to same-sex couples. The amendment was put forward by conservative homophobes in the hopes of preventing that by changing the social status of a civil partnership to something less like the existing institution of marriage. To put it another way - they wanted it to be about inheritance rights and not love and commitment.

SK said...

Okay, but if the claim is that the state shouldn't care about the sex of the people involved, why should the state care about 'love', which is an even more nebulous and open-to-interpretation idea? (it would still be about 'commitment', because it would still be a legal commitment).

Why should the state not get out of the whole area of 'love' and just issue these two-person contracts to whichever pairs of people want them, and leave them to set out whether it has religious, social, or merely financial significance?

Sam Dodsworth said...

but if the claim is that the state shouldn't care about the sex of the people involved, why should the state care about 'love', which is an even more nebulous and open-to-interpretation idea?

Because the claim is not that the state shouldn't care about the sex of the people involved; it's that same-sex couples have a right to get married.

SK said...

Why do same-sex couples have a right to get married? I thought the reasoning was that it was because the state shouldn't make distinctions about who can enter into life-partnership contracts based on which sex people are. Well, why then should the state make such distinctions based on whether people are having sex?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Is that the claim? I thought the claim was "Perhaps marriage is in fact the states way of regulating reproduction and creating stable environments for children to raised in: perhaps this is why some people are skeptical about the concept of homosexual marriage." But I suspect this whole area is one where everyone decides on the answer first, and then tries to think up a question to go with it.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Why do same-sex couples have a right to get married?

Because they have a right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

SK said...

Okay; so why don't the sisters have a right not to be discriminated against on the grounds they are not in a sexual relationship?

SK said...

Andrew: well, I'm thinking of Lewis's idea that, given the diverging views of Christian and civil marriage, the state should get out of the business of saying who should or shouldn't be married altogether, and establishing legal civil partnerships open to any two people.

If the state is to get out of the business of saying that these two people (a man and a woman) can be married, but these two (a man and a man) cannot, then I don't see what logical grounds there are for the state continuing to say that neither can these two (the sisters; a man and a woman who are close friends but not lovers; any two people willing to make an intended-to-be-lifelong (but not actually, because divorce is fairly easy for civil partnerships and civil marriages, at least where there are no children involved) legal commitment, basically).

DMSO said...

@S.K. Before engaging you on these points, I'd like to know the answer to a question - are you making these arguments as A) a proponent of civil-partnerships for elderly spinsters or B) an opponent of same-sex marriage.

If B) then I'm afraid I can't take these arguments of yours as being in good faith, and shall have no regrets about ignoring them.

SK said...

Surely the validity of the arguments is independent of the person making them?

Sam Dodsworth said...

I suspect this whole area is one where everyone decides on the answer first, and then tries to think up a question to go with it.

I suspect the problem is that everyone has their own idea of what "marriage" is, with different amounts of emphasis on the legal, social, and religious aspects. Which is why I think it's more productive to consider the rights issue.

DMSO said...

Whether I judge the discussion worth pursuing, and in what manner I choose to do so is very dependent on the person making these arguments.

DMSO said...

(my above comment was @S.K. ofc)

SK said...

And do you say that as (A) a proponent of same-sex marriage or (B) an opponent of extending inheritance tax avoidance rights to elderly spinsters ?

Sam Dodsworth said...

so why don't the sisters have a right not to be discriminated against on the grounds they are not in a sexual relationship?

Because they're not being discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, or political beliefs.

SK said...

Are those the only grounds on which you shouldn't discriminate against people? Why?

Can I restrict the right to marry to men over six feet and women under five foot three, as 'height' isn't one of the grounds on which apparently you're not allowed to discriminate?

What about only allowing those who are rich enough to marry, as again 'wealth' isn't one of your examples?

SK said...

(And where did you get your list? It can't be from current UK law, as it is perfectly legal to discriminate against someone on the basis of political beliefs.)

DMSO said...

@SK I say that as a proponent of same sex marriage rights, and as somebody with no particular axe to grind in the inheritance rights debate.

I do, however, recognise the line of discussion being a classic derailing tactic.

If you're against gay marriage, be bold and say why. Don't keep trying to trip people up with these irrelevancies.

SK said...

Well, as someone with no particular axe to grind, how would you feel if the government were to (a) abolish all civil marriage and (b) open civil partnerships up to any two people willing to sign up to the legal agreement?

That seems to be the logical end result of wanting the state not to discriminate between people wanting to get married, and frees religious groups to make their own decisions about who to marry or not, in ceremonies which can either be completely separate from the legal agreement or could incorporate the signing of the legal agreement as part of the ceremony, as now.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Are those the only grounds on which you shouldn't discriminate against people? Why?

No, they're just the kinds of discrimination that we actually need to fight right now. If height restrictions ever become a problem then I'll add them to the list.

SK said...

So why don't we need to fight against anti-elderly-spinster discrimination? Just because there aren't enough of them to bother with?

Sam Dodsworth said...

how would you feel if the government were to (a) abolish all civil marriage and (b) open civil partnerships up to any two people willing to sign up to the legal agreement?

I'd say that would represent a victory for the bigots, since it would effectively deny the state any role in defending individuals from discrimination.

DMSO said...

@SK: I would be concerned that the government had gone mad, as such a course of action would be electoral suicide ;D

Seriously though, I would be against that - the clue should have been when I described myself as "a proponent of same-sex marriage". I'd be perfectly happy, however, for the government to allow same-sex marriages (and let churches do what they will in blessing them), and also keep civil partnerships as an alternative option for homo- and heterosexual pairings.

Would you go for that, SK?

SK said...

I don't understand that -- surely if any two people can enter a civil partnership contract then there by definition cannot be any discrimination about who can enter a civil partnership contract?

Well, I presume there'd be an age below which you couldn't enter one, so there'd be age discrimination. But apart from that, how could there be any discrimination?

(Religious groups would still be free to decide who they would allow to have ceremonies, but that's surely a matter for them and their beliefs, and the state should only regulate the legal aspect of the contracts).

SK said...

No, I wouldn't go for that -- it seems a silly halfway house. I think that if the government is to get out of saying who can and can't be married, the only logical position is for it to get out of the marriage business entirely and restrict itself to the legal aspects.

Then 'marriage' can be whatever the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Pagans, the Jedis, or any other church wants to call it -- as it would have no legal significance apart from the state partnership, the state would have no business is regulating it.

SK said...

Oh, and of course you could have organisations like the British Humanist Association offering 'secular marriage' (just like they currently do secular funerals) as well -- no need to restrict it to faith groups!

Sam Dodsworth said...

So why don't we need to fight against anti-elderly-spinster discrimination? Just because there aren't enough of them to bother with?

Because we're discussing marriage, not inheritance or visiting rights.

Sam Dodsworth said...

if any two people can enter a civil partnership contract then there by definition cannot be any discrimination about who can enter a civil partnership contract?

Except that by removing the social aspect of a civil partnership as an affirmation of love and commitment those two people will still have been denied the right to marry.

DMSO said...

@SK: Even if you can make a logical argument for your radical solution, that doesn't make it the most sensible option, by a long shot...

Saying simply "marriage is now allowed for m/f, m/m, and f/f pairings" would require absolutely minimal legislation, and would upset only the usual squeaky wheels. Your logical solution, applied, would take more work and upset nearly everyone.

Andrew Rilstone said...

This seems to be rather a good instance of "we are never talking about what we appear to be talking about", and one of the reasons why I increasingly think that important subjects can only be debated through the medium of a: swearwords and b: ballads. I thought, or I thought that I thought, that "marriage" was either a social institution, created by the state for some reason; or else a religious thingybob, with a particular significance to the members of that particular faith. I thought, or thought that I thought, you could discuss the rules in that context -- is marriage in fact doing what the state wants it to do? is the thing which the state wants it to do a good thing and a bad thing? how do you navigate between the different religious and social meanings in a way which annoys as few people as possible? can my right to go skinny dipping be accomodated to your social embarassment, say by have clothing optional days and frosted class, or is everything not forbidden compulsory? how many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?

i now see (or think that i see) that questions about "the law" and "custom" and "different people believing different thing" are really just a symbolic projection of the Real Thing, which is a power struggle between certain groups: certain gays want to get married because certain not-gays don't want them to; certain people pretend to care about animals rights in order to annoy the landed aristocract; if there weren't annoying textiles telling me to put my trunks back on then I wouldn't care whether I went skinny dipping or not.

We thought we were having a debate. We're actually performing a dance. The dance steps matter in so far as we don't want to trip over each others feet, but it isn't really about the steps, it's about love and courtship. There's no need to actually look at what the Daily Mail says, becuase we already know in advance what they really think because of where they stand within the class stuggle. I like Solomon Kane better than Kull, and am tending to think that a keyboard would suit me better than stringed instrument. Fifteen minutes from now, I shall regret posting this.

Sam Dodsworth said...

I'm sorry - I don't mean to irritate you. I was enjoying my little dance, but that doesn't give me the right to fill your blog up with unproductive rubbish. I apologise to everyone who's still reading.

I do stand by my class-based analysis of the Daily Mail, though. I find it illuminating but I don't intend it as a replacement for your analysis.

DMSO said...

I apologise too, and this is the second time I've done this in your comments section... I guess that xkcd cartoon is proved true to life once more.

I did actually have some points/questions to raise relevant to the actual post, but was planning to wait until the end of the piece. I should have known better than onto the dancefloor before then ;D

steve3742 said...

So marriage is all three of:

1) A social occasion celebrating a couple’s commitment to each other
2) A legal process whereby all sorts of inheritance, property and “next of kin” rights are assigned to the participants.
3) A religious ceremony that implies some sort of sacred union

Regarding 1), I don’t think the state or anybody else is too bothered about how people celebrate these things. 2) has more discriminatory effect as previous posters have said. (Although, as a bit of an aside, how many couples who get married/civil partnershipped are aware of exactly what inheritance/property rights they’re conceding/gaining? Who is actually aware that, in the absence of a will, their spouse will inherit rather than their children? How many would actually agree with this?) And 3) is the subject of the article, of course.

Gay people felt that their inability to marry deprived them of the benefits of no.2 above (despite probably being as unaware of them as the rest of the population), but this has been rectified by granting them the right to get civil partnershipped (is there an approved verb for that? Partnershipped? Civilled?) But it seems that a civil partnership is just the Legal side of marriage – no.2 above – plus whatever social dressing up they wish to add to it.

But if a civil partnership is just the Legal side of marriage, there seems no reason that a non-religious heterosexual marriage in a registry office should not also be defined (and called) a civil partnership. I’m guessing most heterosexual couples would object to this. But that makes the discrimination clearer – heterosexuals would object, but it’s OK for gay couples. I think Gay people have a point when they say that this anomaly still matters. If you have a non-religious marriage/partnership, it should have the same name irregardless of who’s doing it. Names do matter.

I do agree with both the idea that churches and other religious establishments should be able to give blessings or even preside over a civil partnership and that it’s up to each religion as to whether or not they should extend this to gay couples. But all of this would be a lot clearer and less discriminatory if they had the same name.