Thursday, 7 February 2013

Gay marriage


1. I didn't see the point of David Cameron raising the issue - except for electoral advantage by detoxifying the Tory party. We had civil partnership, which was a classic British fudge, which passed the "duck test" for marriage (if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck), and which everyone called marriage anyway. Cameron just stirred the pot.

2. But once the issue had been raised, I think one had to support it, because then it becomes "are we saying gay people are equal, or not?" and the arguments against it, although not just bigoted, were not really strong. Plus, in ten years' time nobody (within Britain; see below) will know what the fuss was about, and it may even help our society recognize that marriage is indeed a good and important thing.

3. And yet, and yet.

This is an important, historic moment, the capstone of fifty years' pursuit of equality and civil rights for the various groups that we lump together as "minorities"; and yet, it looks like the end, not the beginning, of an era. Because it is really hard to see what is left for that civil rights agenda. Of course, there is still an infinity of work in implementing equality and rights, getting people to respect them, and so forth, but in terms of changing institutions or recognizing minority rights, it is hard to see what else there is. We started with banning racial discrimination in employment. Now we are transforming our society's oldest and most fundamental institution in the pursuit of true equality.

And, increasingly, the politics of minority rights are bumping up against a different kind of politics. Take the couple who owned a B&B and who were made to quit the business because they refused to have a gay couple to stay. I am one of those people - I don't think I am alone - who feels rather ambivalent about this. One the one hand, it's the law, if you run a business you can't discriminate, and I wouldn't want to go back to landlords' signs saying "No Irish no dogs no blacks [or no gays]". On the other hand I felt a sneaking regret that an old couple were forced out of their established business because they didn't, due to doubtless antiquated feelings and beliefs, want gay sex in their house. This is where the politics of equality and rights start to run up against the politics of belief.

Now in the context of the West, this might seem like just a matter of a few old fogies. But expand your horizons to the assertive Christians of the US, and to the pious middle classes of the rising Middle East who have taken power in Turkey and are just coming to power in Egypt, and even perhaps to the Christians of China and Africa, and you will see how parochial that view is. I suspect from many parts of the world gay marriage looks, not like the future arriving, but like the last lunatic aberration of a decadent secularist society. You might not like the people who see things that way...  but don't worry, you will have plenty of opportunity to get to know them better.

And from this point of view, the opponents of gay marriage look more modern than the supporters.