Gay Marriage On The Rocks: Ain’t No Surprise

The wheels appear to have come off the gay mar­riage bus in the US and no one seems to know how to put them back on.  Not even the lesbians.

And that’s not accord­ing to med­dlin’ Limey Uncle Tom ‘slut’ me (as I was dubbed by the Voice of Gay America) but accord­ing to the gay-marriage-supporting  New York Times in a piece last week titled ‘Amidst Small Wins, Advocates Lose Marquee Battles’:

…the bill to leg­al­ize same-sex mar­riage in New York failed by a sur­pris­ingly wide mar­gin on Wednesday. In New Jersey, Democrats have declined to sched­ule the bill for a vote, believ­ing that the sup­port is no longer there. Voters in Maine last month repealed a state law allow­ing same-sex mar­riage des­pite advoc­ates’ advant­age in money and volunteers.

And on the other reli­ably lib­eral coast, California advoc­ates of gay mar­riage announced this week that they would not try in the next elec­tions to reverse the ban on gay mar­riage that voters approved in 2008; they did not believe they could succeed.

Gay mar­riage doesn’t appear to be some­thing that even lib­eral ‘bi-coastal’ America has much of a stom­ach for, let alone the God-fearing ‘fly­over’ States that of course make up most of the US.  So how earth did the US gay rights move­ment turn down this gay mar­riage cul-de-sac, appar­ently without a reverse gear? 

Even sup­port­ers of gay mar­riage say that all the optim­ism got ahead of the reality.

I think there was some over­read­ing of the polit­ical mar­ket­place for gay mar­riage,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic poll­ster. “It’s not so much that some­thing changed. There was a mis­read­ing of where the pub­lic was at.”

You don’t say.  Perhaps though it was not so much an ‘over­read­ing’ or ‘mis­read­ing’ but rather more a case of com­plete illit­er­acy.  I mean, who would have guessed that scream­ing ‘BIGOT!!’ at beauty queens for believ­ing, like most Americans, includ­ing President Obama, that mar­riage is between a man and a woman wasn’t going to be a ter­ribly per­suas­ive strategy? Whoever would have ima­gined that try­ing to blame black voters for California’s re-banning of gay mar­riage last year at the same time as try­ing to hijack their his­tory of civil rights struggle and pro­claim gays as ‘the new blacks’ wouldn’t play so well?  

And who could have pos­sibly con­ceived that self-righteously denoun­cing civil uni­ons, a much more polit­ic­ally achiev­able – and in my Limey Uncle Tom slut opin­ion also much more appro­pri­ate and mod­ern – insti­tu­tion for giv­ing same-sex couples legal pro­tec­tion as ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus!’, and instead going pell-mell after gay mar­riage and respect­ab­il­ity would have turned out to be such a tac­tical and stra­tegic blunder? 

Empowered by judi­cial decisions affirm­ing a con­sti­tu­tional right to gay mar­riage, begin­ning in Massachusetts in 2003, advoc­ates argued to move away from a strategy that had focused on more incre­mental change.

The gamble has not paid off,” Mr. Garin said.  “We leapfrogged from civil uni­ons to mar­riage, primar­ily as a res­ult of judi­cial decisions that were fol­lowed in some cases by legis­lat­ive action. But the real­ity is that the judi­cial decisions were sub­stan­tially ahead of pub­lic opin­ion, and still are.”

And, it might be added going pell-mell after gay mar­riage also helped George Bush get re-elected in 2004. Which as we know was such a won­der­ful out­come for every­one, gay or straight.

Mr Garin may be more clear-headed on this issue than many gay mar­riage advoc­ates, but the expres­sion ‘ahead of pub­lic opin­ion’ sounds to me like more ‘over­read­ing’.  Maybe most Americans don’t accept that a rela­tion­ship between two men – and after all, it is this double-penised aspect, not two wombs together, that the straight pub­lic think about — is ‘just the same’ as a rela­tion­ship between a man and a woman, not because they’re back­wards, or ignor­ant, or pre­ju­diced, but because, if you’re not blinded by lib­eral plat­it­udes, it clearly isn’t. 

And please, can someone over there point out, if only just to be really annoy­ing, that the assim­il­a­tion of the rad­ic­ally new phe­nomenon on mod­ern gay rela­tion­ships to the moribund insti­tu­tion of mar­riage with its repro­duct­ive role-playing, reli­gious fla­vour­ing, and his­tory of treat­ing women as chat­tel does not exactly rep­res­ent ‘progress’?

Fortunately, there’s one American homo left who isn’t Gore Vidal doing exactly this — though not of course in the NYT.  The nov­el­ist Bruce Benderson, inter­viewed by Christopher Stoddard in the latest issue of East Village Boys about his new book Pacific Agony makes some sali­ent points about male sexu­al­ity which the Andrea Sullivanized American gays don’t want to hear:

Bruce Benderson: I have a kind of old-fashioned idea about what a homo­sexual is, and I think it’s some­body who is made to live out­side the social norm. And the reason he was made to live out­side the social norm is because one of the main func­tions of the struc­ture of a social norm is to per­petu­ate the spe­cies, but I don’t think that’s a nat­ural thing for male homo­sexu­als. Not just homo­sexu­als, but men in gen­eral are nat­ur­ally too promis­cu­ous. It’s their rela­tion­ship with women that makes them more stable so that they can chan­nel it into build­ing a fam­ily. These gay couples are going around say­ing, “Oh, we’re just like you straight couples, really! We just hap­pen to be two men.” I don’t believe that. I think they’re different.

Christopher Stoddard: Okay, so you think that gay men are essen­tially sub­ject to “vice”?

BB: If you want to make that moral judg­ment… Suppose a bomb dropped and there were only 100 women and 1 man left. Well, the­or­et­ic­ally, that man could repop­u­late the spe­cies by impreg­nat­ing 100 women a year. Now, take 100 men and 1 woman after the bomb drops; we could only make 1 baby a year, okay? To per­petu­ate the spe­cies, men have been pro­grammed by evol­u­tion to be promis­cu­ous. Marriage is the social tam­ing of a man’s sexual ener­gies by a woman, which is neces­sary to build a social struc­ture. Because a man is made to screw more than one per­son, there’s nobody to stop him if he’s with just another man.

CS: You sound like the pro­ver­bial Repulican who believes that mar­riage should be between a man and a woman.

BB: I think that mar­riage should be illegal! Just like pledging to God should be illegal. Marriage is a sac­ra­ment that has abso­lutely noth­ing to do with the State, and it should have no legal status what­so­ever. A domestic part­ner­ship should be recog­nized by the State, and it should hinge on things like wills, joint tax fil­ing, inher­it­ance, things like that. And any two people should be able to do it. A mar­riage is just this left-over sac­ra­ment that some­how wiggled its way into legal status.

CS: You don’t believe that two men can be devoted to each other in a mono­gam­ous way and not cheat because of these car­nal needs?

BB: Correct. I believe two men can be totally devoted to each other, but it prob­ably won’t be in the same way that a man and a woman can be totally devoted to each other. I know sev­eral gay male couples who’ve been together a long time and go to the baths together, or they both go to one of those, you know, orgy places.

CS: I think I know who you mean. {chuckles}

BB: Yet they’re totally close, and they totally trust each other, and it’s a won­der­ful pairing.

Be care­ful, Bruce!  You can’t just go around talk­ing the truth about gay men in pub­lic!  Not if you want to be taken ser­i­ously, that is.

The Gay Case Against Gay Marriage and Gay Bigotry


By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 30 April 2009)

Who would have guessed the dainty opin­ions of a Miss America can­did­ate would have been taken so ser­i­ously by gays and liberals?

Miss California, a prac­tising Christian, was last week denounced by Miss America judge Perez Hilton on his blog as ‘a dumb bitch’ and unworthy of the Miss America crown because she gave the ‘wrong’ answer to his chippy ques­tion about gay mar­riage. Like most Americans — includ­ing the cur­rent Democratic President of the United States — she believes that mar­riage is ‘between a man and a woman’. Boo! Hiss! Rip her to shreds!

It wasn’t just the fam­ously bitchy gay gossip-monger Hilton cast­ing stones, how­ever. For hon­estly and some­what cour­ageously answer­ing his ques­tion Miss California was roundly con­demned as a ‘bigot’ by hosts of gay and lib­eral blog­gers, and was even denounced by the dir­ect­ors of the Miss California pageant who declared them­selves ‘saddened’ by her views and that they had no place in the ‘Miss California fam­ily’, whatever that is. Most now agree with Hilton’s gloat­ing claim that her answer cost her the crown.

Candidate Obama expressed the exact same view dur­ing the Presidential Election: “I believe that mar­riage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sac­red union. You know, God’s in the mix.” Instead of being scorned as a bigot and a dumb bitch, Obama was handed the Mr America crown by lib­er­als and prob­ably most gay voters. But I sup­pose that being President of the United States is a rather less import­ant title than Miss America.

Branding Christians and tra­di­tion­al­ists ‘big­ots’ for being Christians and tra­di­tion­al­ists and thus none too keen to fun­da­ment­ally revise the defin­i­tion of mar­riage is a highly unat­tract­ive exer­cise in lib­eral self-righteousness that makes Miss America look quite soph­ist­ic­ated. Not to men­tion sound­ing a lot like pots and kettles rat­tling. It’s faintly absurd to have to even say this, but it isn’t big­oted to believe that mar­riage is between a man and a woman. It’s just being con­ven­tional. And after all, mar­riage itself is con­ven­tion and tra­di­tion tied up in a big red bow and covered in con­fetti and sprinkled with Holy Water. Which is exactly why les­bi­ans and gays should have noth­ing to do with it.

Today’s out and proud same-sex rela­tion­ships are very uncon­ven­tional and a very new kind of phe­nomenon. And so are in fact many of today’s cross-sex rela­tion­ships in a brave new world of gender par­ity. Marriage on the other hand is an anti­quated, fail­ing insti­tu­tion based on inequal­ity and tra­di­tional roles. Much like Miss America.

Marriage is, whether you like it or not, also based on reli­gious sen­ti­ment: ‘God’s in the mix.’ Especially in a very reli­gious coun­try like America. And I have a hunch, based on mil­len­nia of viol­ent oppos­i­tion to sex that doesn’t pro­duce more Christians, that God is not going to sanc­tify ‘sod­omy’ any time soon.

New ways of liv­ing and lov­ing require new insti­tu­tions. Or in the words of the fam­ously unmar­ried Galilee car­penter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wine­skins. And keep the flip­pin’ Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

It needs to be said out loud that full civil uni­ons with the same legal rights and priv­ileges of mar­riage at both the State and Federal level, sup­por­ted by President Obama and many Republicans and even some right-wing evan­gel­ic­als — and the large major­ity of American voters — are not only much more polit­ic­ally achiev­able in the US than gay mar­riage, they are also a bet­ter fit for most same sex rela­tion­ships. What’s more they rep­res­ent an entirely dig­ni­fied way of side-stepping this end­less, unsightly domestic between lib­eral and con­ser­vat­ive, sec­u­lar and reli­gious, met­ro­pol­itan and rural America.

But instead, gay mar­riage zealots, many of whom admit that they them­selves don’t wish to get mar­ried, insist on char­ac­ter­ising civil uni­ons as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’. I’d like to think it was merely a ploy to make fully-recognised civil uni­ons more achiev­able, but many really seem to believe their own shrill pro­pa­ganda. Worse, they’ve made even more of a fet­ish of the word ‘mar­riage’ than the reli­gious right they rail against.

In the UK, where nation­ally recog­nised same-sex civil uni­ons with the same legal status as mar­riage — called civil part­ner­ships — were intro­duced in 2004 there is little or no appet­ite now for gay mar­riage. In my exper­i­ence few les­bi­ans or gays feel they are ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actu­ally rid­ing at the front. It’s prob­ably only a mat­ter of time before gay civil part­ner­ships in the UK are made avail­able to all, as they are in France — where the vast major­ity of applic­a­tions are now made by cross-sex couples dis­en­chanted with tra­di­tional marriage.

What’s more, fully-recognised, open-to-all civil uni­ons are a fully-fledged sec­u­lar insti­tu­tion that helps to shore up a fra­gile sec­u­lar soci­ety. And make no mis­take, it is sec­u­lar­ism on which most of the — his­tor­ic­ally very, very recent — freedoms enjoyed by les­bi­ans and gays are based, along with those of women.

But so far the gay mar­riage cru­sade in the US doesn’t seem very inter­ested in any of this or les­sons it might learn from the exper­i­ence of other coun­tries. Instead it seems too busy prov­ing itself holier-than-thou. And less soph­ist­ic­ated than Miss America contestants.

Marry Me, Ms P — But Civilly

A little late –my brain turns to plum pud­ding dur­ing the fes­ter­ing sea­son — I’d like to flag up a sec­tion on gay mar­riage from the stand-up intel­lec­tual Camille Paglia’s December column on Mostly of course because it men­tions me in a flat­ter­ing fash­ion. (If you find mutual love-fests a little queasy, you may want to look away now.…)

Maybe because we’re both incur­able Freudians dog­mat­ic­ally wed­ded to his concept of uni­ver­sal bisexual respons­ive­ness, I con­sider Paglia a genu­inely free thinker. Something all-too rare on the left these days. She is also a power­ful, some­times lit­er­ally incan­des­cent writer with a mis­chiev­ous, kinky-booted pro­voc­at­ive sense of humour. Sexual Personae indeed. Above all, or per­haps below all, she has big, brass, Italianate balls. I’m in awe of them.

And so, whether they know it or not, are Salon read­ers — that’s why they line up in their hun­dreds every month to rail against ‘that crazy bitch’ and, the ulti­mate insult, appar­ently, ‘nar­ciss­ist’ on the let­ters page and demand she be sacked and paraded in chains through the streets of San Francisco oth­er­wise they’ll tear up their Salon party mem­ber­ship card. Again.

In her column Camille makes the case for civil uni­ons over gay mar­riage rather bet­ter than I do. In fact, my own view was very prob­ably influ­enced by my eager read­ing of her barn­storm­ing works back in the early 90s (they cer­tainly helped inspire the dis­sid­ent col­lec­tion ‘Anti-Gay’). As she writes in Salon:

My pos­i­tion has always been (as in “No Law in the Arena” in my 1994 book, “Vamps & Tramps”) that gov­ern­ment should get out of the mar­riage busi­ness. Marriage is a reli­gious concept that should be defined and admin­istered only by churches. The gov­ern­ment, a sec­u­lar entity, must insti­tute and guar­an­tee civil uni­ons, open to both straight and gay couples and con­fer­ring full legal rights and bene­fits. Liberal het­ero­sexu­als who pro­fess sup­port for gay rights should be urged to pub­licly shun mar­riage and join gays in the civil union movement.

In their dis­pleas­ure at the California vote, gay act­iv­ists have fomented anim­os­ity among African-Americans who voted for Proposition 8 and who reject any equi­val­ence between racism and homo­pho­bia. Do gays really want to split the Democratic coali­tion? I com­pletely agree with a hard-hitting piece by the British gay act­iv­ist Mark Simpson (which was for­war­ded to me by Glenn Belverio), “Let’s Be Civil: Marriage Isn’t the End of the Rainbow.” Simpson, who has been called “a skin­head Oscar Wilde,” is fam­ous among other things for a riv­et­ing 2002 Salon art­icle that put the term “met­ro­sexual” into world cir­cu­la­tion. I appre­ci­ate Simpson’s candor about how mar­riage is a very poor fit with the actual open life­style of so many gay men, which is far more rad­ical. Marriage may be desir­able for some gay men and women, but at what cost? Activists should have focused instead on remov­ing all imped­i­ments to equal­ity in civil uni­ons — such as the unjust denial of Social Security bene­fits to the sur­viv­ing part­ner in gay relationships.

(I’m not sure I’m much of a ‘gay act­iv­ist’, but ‘riv­et­ting’ sounds entirely accur­ate to me.)

While fully-equivalent civil uni­ons are much more polit­ic­ally achiev­able in the US than gay mar­riage, they are being mis­rep­res­en­ted as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’ by gay mar­riage zealots who seem obsessed with appro­pri­at­ing, or per­haps expro­pri­at­ing, the exper­i­ence of the black civil rights move­ment and present­ing homo­sexu­als as ‘the new blacks’. In the UK, where nation­ally recog­nised same-sex civil uni­ons with the same legal status as mar­riage, called civil part­ner­ships, were intro­duced a few years ago there is little or no appet­ite for gay mar­riage. Very few les­bi­ans or gays feel they are ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actu­ally sit­ting at the front.

Modern same-sex rela­tion­ships are a new kind of insti­tu­tion. And so are many if not most of today’s cross-sex rela­tion­ships. Marriage is an anti­quated, fail­ing insti­tu­tion based on inequal­ity, tra­di­tional roles and reli­gious sen­ti­ment. That’s why it’s seen most as being between ‘a man and a woman’. This isn’t bigotry — it’s tra­di­tion. Which is what mar­riage is. In the words of the Galilee car­penter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wine­skins. And keep the fuck­ing Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

What’s more, fully-recognised, fully-equal — and fully open to all — civil uni­ons, would help to shore up our fra­gile sec­u­lar soci­ety. And make no mis­take, it is sec­u­lar­ism on which most of the (very recent) freedoms enjoyed by les­bi­ans and gays are based, as well as those of women in gen­eral, and also met­ro­sexual man.

Which reminds me: I dis­agree with Paglia’s con­tin­ued kick­ing of Hillary Clinton in the same column — per­haps there’s only room for one ‘ball-breaking’ 60s fem­in­ist in American pub­lic life — but she more than makes up for this with her plucky defence of spunky Sarah Palin against scold­ing, uni­vocal lib­eral snob­bery that con­tin­ues to lash against her and the red-state, rural America that she rep­res­ents. To do that any­where in the lib­eral press would be quite some­thing, but to do it on Salon, which dur­ing the elec­tion became a kind of spite­ful school­girl­ish diary of hatred towards the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate is well-nigh heroic. (Did any­one, any­where write any­thing about Joe Biden? Even when he fre­quently put his ‘expert’ foot in his ‘exper­i­enced’ bur­eau­cratic mouth?).

On this occa­sion, Paglia took umbrage with NYT colum­nist Dick Cavett’s piece ‘The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla’:

Cavett’s piece on Sarah Palin was insuf­fer­ably super­cili­ous. With drip­ping dis­dain, he sniffed at her “frayed syn­tax, bungled gram­mar and run-on sen­tences.” He called her “the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High,” “one who seems to have no first lan­guage.” I will pass over Cavett’s snig­ger­ing dis­missal of “soc­cer moms” as light­weights who should stay far, far away from government.

I was so out­raged when I read Cavett’s column that I felt like tak­ing to the air like a Valkyrie and drop­ping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chi­chi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly edu­cated Americans have so little his­tor­ical and cul­tural con­scious­ness that they identify their own nat­ive patois as an eternal mark of intel­li­gence, tal­ent and polit­ical aptitude?

I love the image of La Paglia tak­ing to the air ‘like a Valkyrie’ and ‘drop­ping in’ on Cavett in his Montauk retreat. It would be a com­ic­ally uneven match. Despite an illus­tri­ous CV, Cavett’s prose reads as if one of Palin’s bagged, wall-mounted moose­heads had star­ted talking.

I sus­pect we will wait some time for Cavett’s column defend­ing American English from President Uh-bama’s phony-folksy way of talk­ing when inter­viewed. Because of course Harvard edu­cated Obama is being con­des­cend­ing, which is just fine, while ‘white trash’ Palin is being who she is, which is com­pletely unforgivable.

Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End of the Rainbow

by Mark Simpson (A shorter ver­sion ori­gin­ally appeared on Guardian CIF November 2, 2008)

It’s bet­ter to marry than burn with pas­sion,” declared St Paul. But now mar­riage itself seems to have become a burn­ing issue — or at least, gay marriage.

The re-banning of gay mar­riage in California earlier this month with the pas­sage of Proposition 8 has been presen­ted by gay mar­riage advoc­ates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have pro­tested across the US, some reportedly even riot­ing. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elec­ted offi­cial, has fuelled the sense of gay out­rage and defi­ance. Surely only a hate­ful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?

Gay mar­riage is the touch­stone of gay equal­ity, appar­ently. Settling for any­thing less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segreg­a­tion and second-class citizenship.

But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay mar­riage not so much as a touch­stone as a fet­ish. A largely sym­bolic and emo­tional issue that in the US threatens to under­mine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple pro­tec­tion: civil uni­ons bestow in effect the same legal status as mar­riage in sev­eral US states — includ­ing California. As a res­ult of the reli­gious right’s mobil­isa­tion against gay mar­riage, civil uni­ons have been rolled back in sev­eral US states.

Perhaps the les­son of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on reli­gion and tra­di­tion on its hal­lowed turf — and that is what mar­riage effect­ively is — you’re highly likely to lose.  Even in lib­eral California.

Maybe I shouldn’t carp, liv­ing as I do in the UK, where civil part­ner­ships with equal legal status to mar­riage have been nation­ally recog­nised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil part­ner­ships were suc­cess­fully intro­duced here was because they are civil part­ner­ships not “mar­riages” (the UK is a much more sec­u­lar coun­try than the US, and some­what more gay-friendly too — but even here gay mar­riage would almost cer­tainly not have passed).

At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, for­mid­able fig­ure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fix­a­tion of US gay cam­paign­ers on the word ‘mar­riage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil part­ner­ship with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get mar­ried. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speak­ing his mind by gay mar­riage advocates.

But amidst all the gay gnash­ing of teeth about the inequal­ity of Proposition 8 it’s worth ask­ing: when did mar­riage have any­thing to do with equal­ity? Respectability, cer­tainly. Normality, pos­sibly. Stability, hope­fully. Very hope­fully. But equality?

First of all, there’s some­thing gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term rela­tion­ships are gen­er­ally not the same. How many het­ero­sexual mar­riages are open, for example? In my exper­i­ence, many if not most long term male-male rela­tion­ships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into repro­duc­tion when your gen­it­als are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have chil­dren, by adop­tion or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but chil­dren are not a con­sequence of gay con­jug­a­tion. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

More fun­da­ment­ally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay mar­riage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex part­ner­ships are part­ner­ships between nom­inal equals without any bio­lo­gic­ally, divinely or even cul­tur­ally determ­ined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.

It’s increas­ingly unclear even to het­ero­sexu­als who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today intro­duce their hus­band or wife as “my part­ner”. The fam­ous excep­tion to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his mis­sus, Madonna — and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agree­ments, very pop­u­lar with celebs (though not, appar­ently, with Guy and Madonna), rep­res­ent the very real­istic step of divor­cing before you get mar­ried — like plastic sur­gery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.

If Christians and tra­di­tion­al­ists want to pre­serve the “sanc­tity” of mar­riage as some­thing between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the col­lapse of mar­riage. Instead of demand­ing gay mar­riage, in effect try­ing to mod­ern­ise an increas­ingly moribund insti­tu­tion, maybe les­bian and gay people should push for civil part­ner­ships to be opened to every­one, as they are in France — where they have proved very popular.

I sus­pect civil part­ner­ships, new, sec­u­lar, lit­er­ally down-to-earth con­tracts between two equals, rel­at­ively free of the bag­gage of tra­di­tion, ritual and unreal­istic expect­a­tions, would also prove very pop­u­lar with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage is the most unpop­u­lar it’s ever been among people who aren’t actu­ally gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil mar­riage cere­mon­ies, but they’re still mar­riages, not part­ner­ships. If made open to every­one, civil part­ner­ships might even­tu­ally not just be an altern­at­ive to mar­riage. Marriage might end up being some­thing left to Mormons.

Perhaps my scep­ti­cism about gay mar­riage and mar­riage in gen­eral is down to the fact that I’m ter­min­ally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with pas­sion than marry. After all, St Paul’s viol­ently ascetic world-view which regarded mar­riage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sod­om­ites like kind­ling for centuries.

Either way, I think it needs to be men­tioned amidst all this shout­ing about gay domest­icity that, import­ant as it is to see les­bian and gay couples recog­nised and given legal pro­tec­tion, prob­ably most gay men (though prob­ably not most les­bi­ans) are single and prob­ably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.

Or even the magical, sym­bolic power of gay marriage.

Postscript: The Voice of Gay America responds — loudly.