There has been a lot of criticism of same-sex marriage in Britain recently, after the UK government started to consult on how it could be introduced.
As in the US, Australia, Spain and countless other countries where the issue has been debated, much of the opposition is nonsensical and misleading.
So we’re busting the most common myths used by homophobes to try to block gay marriage.
Myth: Marriage is an ancient institution and we shouldn’t change it.
The one thing this ‘institution’ is not is static. In fact much of the history and tradition of marriage is so removed from modern reality that few heterosexual couples would buy into it if it hadn’t change – particularly women.
Many people know that polygamy has often been commonplace in the past. Fewer realize that there have been occasions when group marriage, involving multiple partners of both genders, has been permitted.
In western countries we have (mostly) abandoned the idea of brides being treated as property, of dowries being handed over to sweeten the deal and of arranged marriages. And we no longer have unions between close cousins to promote political or strategic ties, as practiced by European royalty.
The list of abuses was endless. Sometimes change is good.
Myth: Same-sex marriage is a modern invention.
There is evidence that same-sex unions were celebrated in ancient Greece and Rome, some regions of China, such as Fujian, at certain times in European history and beyond.
Sadly there is plenty of evidence that, at other times, attempts by same-sex partners to have a loving relationship led to persecution. Our ancestors weren’t that different after all.
Myth: Civil partnerships or civil unions are good enough. There is no need for gay marriage.
The rights and responsibilities offered around the world in marriage ‘equivalents’ vary. In the UK, civil partnerships are essentially similar to marriage. Whereas PACS in France is more limited.
The key thing is that separate but equal is never fully equal. Full gay marriage means that gay and lesbian citizens are equal citizens, not second-class, and are properly respected by society.
There is also some evidence that marriage equality will simplify and clarify some isolated inconsistencies in international law that can otherwise arise.
Myth: The government has no ‘right’ to interfere in marriage which is a religious institution.
In some cultures marriage, or something akin to it, existed long before it was turned into a religious rite. In others it was introduced as a spiritual sacrament. The earliest origins of marriage are unclear but it has always involved civil or legal rights and responsibilities, rather than being purely a religious undertaking.
In many countries, including France, Bulgaria, Belgium, The Netherlands and Turkey you have to register in a civil ceremony before undertaking the religious aspect of marriage.
In Britain – like the US, Canada, Ireland and Spain – religious groups are allowed to conduct weddings where both the civil function and religious one happen together. However, in those cases the religious celebrant is acting as an agent of the state. And if the legal red-tape is not dealt with (like the signing of a register) then the marriage is not recognized by the state, even if it has been conducted ‘in the eyes of god and before this congregation’.
The state, therefore, is clear that it controls the civil aspects of marriage. Myth busted!
Myth: Religious organizations oppose same-sex marriage.
The hierarchies of the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths in Britain – as elsewhere – have been very vociferous against gay marriage. However, not every agrees with them within their own faiths.
Added to this there are religious supporters of same-sex marriage. Notable are the Unitarian Universalist, Metropolitan Community Church, Quaker, United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ and Reform Jewish congregations, some Anglican dioceses, and various Neopagan faiths.
This may not quite represent a religious majority! But it does water-down the argument that this is the secular world taking on the spiritual one. It might be more fair to say the debate pits religious fundamentalists against progressives of all faiths and none.
(By the way, historians love pointing out the irony that senior Church of England figures object to ‘redefining’ marriage but there change was only started in the first instance by Henry VIII so he could redefine marriage – and for much more selfish reasons than this one.)
Myth: Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples will be forced to solemnize gay marriages if they are legalized.
Wherever campaigners have tried to introduce gay and lesbian marriage, this myth has arisen. But no-one serious has suggested this, let alone pushed for it.
Some do believe that religions which actually support gay marriage should be allowed to choose to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies if they wish. That, after all, is religious freedom.
However in Britain Home Secretary Theresa May has insisted that the government is only consulting about introducing civil marriage and religious organizations will be entirely unaffected.
Myth: Same-sex marriage would open the doors to other types of marriage being recognized; like a woman marrying a dog.
Polygamists throughout history, including most recently and famously the Mormons, have never used homosexuality to justify their unconventional marriages.
All the proponents of gay marriage are clear they are talking about a relationship between consenting adults. That excludes the idea this would pave the way for marriage between grown-ups and children, as children aren’t adults. Pretty obviously the argument that bestiality would be next is even more ridiculous. Animals are not humans and can’t consent as they can not understand the contract they’d be entering into.
Marriage, gay or straight, is a binding contract between people of sound mind whereas this myth is an argument used by people of exceptionally feeble mind.
Myth: Gay and lesbian marriage would their undermine heterosexual equivalents.
Some argue that marriage needs protection and the only way to protect it is to exclude lesbians and gays from it.
That’s crazy for several reasons. Firstly, marriage has been around in one form or another for thousands of years and has weathered far bigger changes than this.
Secondly, allowing gay and lesbian people to ‘buy in’ to marriage by definition makes it more popular and, therefore, stronger.
Finally, the only way gay marriage could weaken heterosexual marriage is if it was so vastly superior that everyone would ‘switch sides’. But it won’t be superior, only equal, that’s the whole point.
And even if it was ‘better’ the idea that red-blooded straight men would abandon their wives and end up clamoring to enter into same-sex unions is a bit far-fetched by any standards. That fear is based on another myth, that being gay is a lifestyle choice – it’s not and if it was there is no evidence the majority would choose it.
Myth: Marriage is all about raising children and gay and lesbian couples can’t have kids, so they don’t need to marry.
Britain’s toughest TV interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, recently skewered the archbishop of Westminster on this one.
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, who is the Catholic leader in England and Wales, suggested that purpose of marriage was to produce children. And seeing as gays and lesbians can’t do that naturally (however hard they try) it wasn’t the right ‘institution’ for them.
Paxman responded by asking Nichols if he would marry an infertile straight couple. Answer: Yes.
In fact, there are a number of gay single people and couples who have children. And, just like anyone else who wants to give a child a loving, caring home, gay people can be excellent parents. In fact, some adoption and fostering agencies say that gay people’s understanding of bigotry and prejudice, from the likes of idiots like Nichols, gives them a particular strength when it comes to helping vulnerable kids. After all, if other children benefit from being part of a loving, stable family, shouldn’t that also be on offer to adopted kids who often need that stability more than anyone?
Myth: Heterosexual marriage benefits society, which is why it shouldn’t be touched.
So let’s get romantic for a moment. Because marriage does benefit society. It creates loving, stable, supportive links between two people and that can have a positive ripple effect on all around them, linking and helping friends, families and communities.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s famously said: ‘Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.’
Love is an ultimate good. The phrase ‘charity begins at home’ is not a reference to street collectors shaking tins for coppers. It really means that love begins in a loving, stable home and reaches out from there to support people who come into contact with it. Gay people are a part of that and marriage will support them.
Myth: Most people oppose same-sex marriage so it shouldn’t happen.
On 1 April 2001, when the first fully-legal gay marriages took place in Amsterdam, I was there. Back then, it was considered a fringe issue by most of the world. Since then support for it has increased by leaps and bounds. And the more it’s discussed, the more people’s hearts and minds are changed.
Polls showing rising support for gay marriage are coming in all the time to Gay Star News, like this one from New Jersey which shows 57% in favor and only 37% against. In Australia, 68% now support same-sex marriage equality. And as far back as 2009, 61% of the British public agreed with the statement 'Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships', while 33% disagreed.
Of course, not everyone agrees. So bear in mind this solid-gold quote from Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, Britain’s largest lesbian, gay and bisexual campaign organization: ‘Our strong advice to anyone who disagrees with same-sex marriage is not to get married to someone of the same sex.’
Myth: Gay relationships don’t last, so aren’t equal to straight ones.
A typical divorce rate for heterosexual marriages in Australia, the US, UK and other western European countries is around 30% to 40%.
The statisticians often use the statistic of the number of couples who have split after 15 years. The reality is that gay marriage has not been around long enough for it to be tested accurately against this. And the figures which already exist are probably too small to ensure scientific accuracy.
Early indications on same-sex civil partnerships in the UK were that the break-up rate was a little under 1% after 30 months. That’s not too shocking.
Limited stats from Norway and Sweden hinted at slightly higher split-ups around same-sex couples. But a study in 1997 in Denmark showed the same-sex partnership divorce rate was significantly lower than that of heterosexual couples.
So this idea is more homophobic propaganda than fact.
If you were going to ban people from getting married just on the basis that they are at higher risk of divorce, you wouldn’t allow heterosexuals who have previously divorced to re-marry. And we all deserve second chances.
Myth: Same-sex marriage is going to happen anyway, so I don’t need to do anything about it.
Wrong! Around the world, this is a massive fight and the struggle for marriage equality in the US alone is a clear indication of how hard it’s going to be. In Australia, another country on the front-line, headway is being made but it’s far from being a sure-fire bet. It simply hasn’t been easy in any of the countries where it has been introduced, so we need to stand up and be counted.
In Britain there is support across the leadership of all the major parties in both the parliament in Westminster and in the Scottish parliament, which has been running a separate consultation on marriage equality.
However there are active and well-funded voices against it. So far the homophobic Coalition for Marriage has got 300,500 signatures for it’s anti-marriage petition in Britain. The pro-marriage petition from the Coalition for Equal Marriage has only 33,448.
That’s why Gay Star News has teamed up with G-A-Y, London’s most famous club, to push the petition this Saturday (24 March) and hopefully start a ripple-effect to up our numbers. The crazy thing is that the majority of people are on our side but we need to work hard to prove that.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t signed yet and you can’t make it tomorrow, please visit the petition here and do your bit.
Stonewall gives advice and links to help people respond in detail to the British government’s marriage consultation here. Again, it’s worth doing – you can be sure the homophobes will be.
And, of course, you can follow the progress of same-sex marriage around the world on Gay Star News, the only truly 24-7 global LGBTI news service.