I’ve “gotten married” to the same man so many times, I sometimes feel like Elizabeth Taylor (who famously married Richard Burton twice, along with six other men at various points). Except I didn’t get divorced in between and none of my “marriages” count in the eyes of the law. In the 1990s, when we first got together there was a dramatic “on the knee” proposal late one night in my parent’s living room. We emotionally declared ourselves married then and there, without all the fuss of issuing bans and commissioning a meringue dress. Then there was the “blessing” ceremony conducted at the ultra-liberal and lovely Manchester Metropolitan Church in 2000. We exchanged vows that made no mention of God over a soundtrack of Debussy, and then a camp vicar asked everyone not to throw confetti because “I’ll be on my hands and knees all afternoon”. We invited friend (we only had the one) and family, and took everyone out for a meal afterwards, and my aunty who couldn’t attend bought us bed-sheets as a wedding present. None of it had any legal meaning but it felt meaningful to us. Then in 2006, just after civil partnerships had been invented, we decided to do it all over again. Having had the blessing, we didn’t see the need of having another big get-together, so it was just my sister and brother-and-law who acted as witnesses. After the short and unromantic ceremony we emerged out of a registry office on a grey January day. There was leftover confetti on the ground from an earlier wedding. I picked some of it up and threw it over us. Then we went to the chip shop. (I know, northerners!) If Elton John and David Furnish had the most lavish big fat civil partnership ceremony, then ours was the most understated, showing that there’re all sorts of ways to be gay.
And now, the government is on the verge of considering proper equal gay marriage, so we may have to do it all again. I wonder how low-key this one will be. Perhaps we can just do it online, during our work break? Yet no matter how many times I have to get married, I’ll keep doing it until it’s equivalent to a heterosexual marriage in every way. Because I’d like equality, and “this is my civil partner” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue easily.
I’m not a Tory, and since May 2010 I’ve read the news every day with a growing sense of misery, but I will give David Cameron credit for saying that he supported gay marriage in his last party conference speech. However, as the cameras panned over the audience, they picked out people, here and there, who were not applauding – a sign of party discord. And sure enough, The Independent reports that more than 100 Conservative MPs could vote against gay marriage. One of the campaign’s organisers, David Burrowes, MP for Enfield, is reported as saying that “Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country. There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.” I emailed Mr Burrowes (firstname.lastname@example.org) and received a link to a statement on his website where he is vague about his reasons for being against gay marriage and also says that his stance “does not at all follow that I am anti gay and homophobic.” (The clever wording does not also deny that he is homophobic though).
But I’ve been here before. Back in 1991, when I was 19, I found it bizarre that gay men weren’t able to have sex until they were 21 (although heterosexuals could have sex at 16). Despite the frisson of being a ‘sexual outlaw’, it all felt ridiculous – as if I was in a camp parody of Logan’s Run or Blake’s 7, and I started writing letters about it to our local Tory MP, Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman. Dame Elaine was legendary in her hatred for homosexuality. During the 1980s she was a supporter of “no gay propaganda in schools” Clause 28, and when a firebomb went off at the offices of the London newspaper, Capital Gay, she apparently declared that it was “right that there should be intolerance of evil”. She voted to keep the age of consent for gay men at 21. Clearly, our letters to Dame Elaine weren’t going to change her mind, although she did reply once, enclosing a photocopy of the 1957 Wolfenden Report. After that, our correspondence became one-sided as she had nothing more to say on the matter.
Sadly for Dame Elaine, she is on what we call “the wrong side of history”. At the turn of the century Section 28 was scrapped and the age of consent was equalised, so despite all her opposition Dame Elaine didn’t get her own way, and as each horrible law fell down I made champagne toasts to Dame Elaine again and again. She isn’t my local MP anymore but long after she’s dead, Elaine will be remembered as a sorry footnote in the history of gay rights – on the wrong side, like James Henry Hammond and John C. Calhoun who argued for slavery in the 19th century.
If there is a vote on gay marriage, it is likely to pass. With around 650 MPs, if 100 or so vote against the proposal, there will still be a majority supporting the change. Even if the House of Lords (who are traditionally more conservative than the House of Commons) attempt to keep the status quo as they did with the age of consent laws, they only have powers of delay. So after gay marriage is enshrined in law, where will that leave David Burrowes? Despite his claims of not being homophobic, his “no” vote will be there for future generations to look over, and it will be interpreted as a last ineffectual gasp of mean-mindedness, hurting no-one but the reputations of those who made it.
So, when we can marry, this time I’m thinking of inviting David Burrowes along to the ceremony. Or maybe I’ll do an Elton John and have a big fat gypsy wedding (marquee, bridesmaids in peach, horse-drawn carriages, Russ Abbott performing ‘Atmosphere’, a fight during the evening disco etc.) right outside his house. Not to rub it in of course. But perhaps a photo of him throwing some confetti might ensure that he is remembered more kindly by the many generations to come.
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