A few weeks ago an article appeared in The Irish Times concerning the treatment by Iarnród Éireann staff of a same-sex couple on their way home from a march supporting gay marriage. The relevant details are in the link provided, but the situation can be summed up in the succinct reply the men were given when they protested their case: “Irish Rail doesn’t recognise same-sex marriage.” How admirable of such an organisation to step out of their remit of having people driven around in trains and branch into holding strong opinions on weighty moral and societal issues. Obviously the company does, however, recognise a PR disaster when they see one as they were quick to issue an apology.
Gay marriage is quite a contentious issue at the moment. New York officially legalised it this year, and there is currently an ongoing debate in Australia after the gay brother of politician Bob Katter criticised his sibling’s remark that gay marriage “deserves to be laughed at and ridiculed.” It’s quite impressive that a hick Australian politician can find the time to sneer at the idea of same-sex unions in between asserting that Muslim immigrants are ruining the country and complaining that Aborigines get preferential treatment. Incidentally Katter also refutes climate change, and admits to throwing eggs at The Beatles in 1964 as an act of ‘intellectual reaction against Beatlemania’. Indeed. It’s people like him that make you sorry we didn’t find somewhere even more remote to send all of our criminals back in the day.
The usual argument against allowing same-sex marriage is that the sanctity of marriage must be protected. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman and exists mainly for the purpose of procreation, so they say. This of course ignores couples who can’t, or simply choose not to have children, and conveniently glosses over single-parent families, as well as the sheer amount of straight couples that are truly awful parents. Procreating is easy, it’s the next part that requires a bit of effort.
There is also the slightly more pressing matter of our planet being hugely overpopulated. In a hundred years time there’ll be 9 billion of us perched on the only mountain-top that hasn’t slipped underwater, huddled around watching the world’s last drops of oil burn away, cursing all that time we spent inventing nuclear weapons and thinner phones when we should have been relocating to Mars. If anything we could probably do with a few married couples who don’t plan on producing any more mouths to feed.
The religious conservative right is, of course, the loudest voice calling for the integrity of marriage to be preserved. The polemicist Christopher Hitchens made an interesting point a few years ago that if any group should embrace the idea of gay marriage, it is the conservative right. He notes that the gay movement has moved away from the idea of being different and set apart from everyone else, and has expressed a willingness to conform to conventional societal norms.
He states that gay marriage is an example of the socialisation of homosexuality, given that marriage is such a fundamental part of human society, and the fact that many within the gay community now want to be classed as husbands and wives like everyone else. He is absolutely right but obviously such a daring display of logic and reasonable thinking will not dissuade the right wing from inarticulately and loudly voicing their grievances.
The arguments about preserving marriage as it is are interesting because such rationale is not applied uniformly. Changes to law and social tradition are often welcomed if viewed as positive progress. For example, not so long ago voting was the exclusive preserve of men who owned land. Now it is a right for all adults. Most sensible people don’t see this as an erosion of values. Rather it is simply a reflection of changing values. Society is dynamic and is constantly evolving, and the law has to keep up if we’re to progress. The view persists, however, that legalising gay marriage will somehow cheapen the whole thing. Although I’m pretty sure that with Vegas weddings, the astoundingly huge divorce rate, constant infidelity, and people playing Kelly Clarkson for their first dance, the gays couldn’t possibly cheapen it any more even if they tried.
Most of the opposition to changing the status of marriage is based in religion, especially in countries with a strong religious conservative base like America. Even himself is guilty of it. Incidentally I’d imagine Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers are just over the moon with how their vision of a true secular nation turned out. Nice job lads. Many of these religious types are profoundly un-Christian when it comes to certain matters, homosexuality being a prominent example.
Refusing to mind their own business, they seem intent on telling everyone else exactly why they’re going to Hell. Some of the hatred and invective directed towards certain groups of people by self-proclaimed followers of Jesus is somewhat at odds with his whole message. A wise man once said that it seems the more you talk about Jesus, the less you have to act like him. In fairness though, anyone would find it hard to act like a 2,000 year old Jew who’s lived in an ethereal paradise for most of his afterlife. The accent would be a nightmare to get right.
Whatever the reasons, religious fundamentalist types seem to love imposing their views on others. Imposition is the key term here, because everyone is entitled to their opinion but nobody has the right to impose it on another. Live your own life by whatever moral code you wish, but don’t force other people to live by your values. If you don’t agree with abortion, do not ever set foot in an abortion clinic with a view to availing of their services while you have a foetus inside you. If you don’t agree with gay marriage, don’t any time soon find yourself entering a civil union with a homosexual person. These are not difficult situations to ignore. In fact they are rather difficult to manufacture and would require quite a bit of planning. There are not many stories that begin with you telling the lads in the pub, “You’ll never believe what happened to me yesterday” and end with “Well I’d better head off, me and the husband are up early to go and buy some new curtains. Simon says blue is so last year’s colour.”
It is fairly apparent that we are slowly but surely moving towards a world where gay marriage is not an outlandish concept. Each generation of young people is by and large more liberal and tolerant than the last, so it’s basically just a question of waiting for the ignorance to die out. Which, thanks to modern medicine, can take fecking ages. This is invariably a good thing though. Hopefully if any of my grandchildren turn out to be gay my decrepit body will have survived long enough to enjoy the wedding. I just hope they’re not Kelly Clarkson fans.