Gay Marriage. A Pyrrhic Victory?

This is only tangentially about the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the egregious ‘Defense (sic) of Marriage Act’. DOMA was about the rights in tax and inheritance that many gay people in the USA do not yet enjoy.
Gay marriage in the UK was not about rights per-se. Thanks to civil partnerships, British homosexuals already rightly enjoy the legal, tax and inheritance rights of marriage. Having achieved this, none of the Gay people I know were really agitating for ‘marriage’. It was an issue for a fringe, the perma-outraged Peter Tatchell of Stonewall. It seemed mainly, aimed, it seems mainly at hurting the Christianists by parking a pink tank on the Traditionalists’ lawn.
In pushing so hard for this largely symbolic gesture, the unintended consequence is that the British Christian right, for so long quiescent in the Bosom of a moderate Conservative Party, has now unfurled a banner and started to fight.
Gay Marriage was the issue more than anything else which drove right-wing Tories to UKIP, a ‘libertarian’ party which seems now to march to a hang’em and flog’em tune of the reactionary right. UKIP saw the opportunity, and rapidly purged itself of any liberals in order to maximise the Tories’ discomfiture.
Issues of Sexual Morality, long settled on this side of the pond around some broadly liberal consensuses on abortion and Gay rights, are now open for negotiation. The battle lines are drawn. The Christian bigots have
Marched out and declared culture war. And they now have a party, one which is probably going to win the European elections next year.
Of course I think Gay People should be allowed to marry if they wish. I also see the reasons many think they shouldn’t (and I find most of the given reasons risible). What I don’t get is why everyone cares so much. We’ve all had to choose sides, and winding up god-botherers is good sport
But what is the cost of this victory. Is it worth it, if we Brits have to endure the Toxic culture wars which disfigure American Politics. The christianists have long sought to roll back Abortion rights. And now they are unified following their defence of a mere word, ‘marriage’ they may yet be successful in securing a tightening of Abortion laws. Women may lose real freedoms, so Peter Tatchell can hurt some bigots who’d already lost.
We social liberals may yet rue the day we prodded the god-botherers out of their sleepy acquiescence to basic freedoms.
Noisy Christians are now no longer just a problem for the Americans, thanks to tireless single-issue cranks, like Peter Tatchell, and a need of the Conservative party to lay to rest the ghost of section 28 by pandering to them. Every time sex is debated in parliament, badly dressed people will sing hymns of disapproval outside.
Was it worth it?
2 replies
  1. Bill
    Bill says:

    Interesting article. I would probably until a a few years ago have shared many of the 'moderate' views of your gay friends (I am gay myself), in not really 'agitating' for gay marriage because I thought civil partnerships were adequate.

    Unfortunately when people talk about civil partnerships giving most of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, they don't look closely enough into what that little word 'most' implies and when I investigated the precise legal detail a few years back it became clear that some quite important differences exist, notably in pension and inheritance rights – basically the surviving gay partner of a deceased partner would in many cases receive only about 50 per cent of the pension which would accrue to the surviving partner of an heterosexual marriage – for example in my case, my own pension contributions (to a company scheme) commenced in 1973 and if I was to die married to a female she would receive 50% of my pension under the pension rules, however my [putative] gay partner would receive roughly 50% of that, in other words about 25% of my pension entitlement, because they count such pension entitlements as becoming available only from the date civil partnerships became possible. Some company pension schemes voluntarily apply the same rules to all pension recipients, but by no means all do so because the law does not oblige them to. Note that it makes no difference whether a marriage or civil partnership took place before or after the date I commenced drawing pension (i.e. my retirement date); if I were to marry tomorrow, my future widow would receive the full pension entitlement after my death, a male partner I 'married' (i.e. entered a civil partnership with) tomorrow would not – it is as simple and brutal as that.

    Unfortunately, the same-sex marriage bills currently being debated in Parliament (and soon in the Scottish Parliament for Scotland) do not entirely correct this, but I think it will be much easier to force a change in this major practical area once equal marriage is changed.

    As for inheritance rules (for property), it is true that these apply more or less equally within the UK, but a UK civil partnership is not accepted for this purpose in a number of EU countries which already permit same-sex marriage, notably Spain and Portugal; the former is of particular importance to me because I have a second home there and my partner is Spanish.

    Incidentally, one of the aspects of the proposed legislation in Scotland that is much better than that under debate for England & Wales, is that it includes proposals to permit easy conversion of civil partnerships into marriages, assuming the legislation passes and the individuals concerned wish it, with minimal fuss although the costs (if any) of doing so are not yet known.

    I do not think this whole issue will result in any kind of "Pyrrhic Victory", with the greatest possible respect. I think many gay people are completely unaware of the drawbacks inherent in the current civil partnerships legislation, so it is hardly surprising that most heterosexuals think the current same-sex marriage proposals are a lot of unnecessary bother – like so much of the legislation passed during the 13 years Labour was in power, it was glibly-drafted with political aims in mind rather than with much concern for the detailed practical effects.


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