Comment: Marriage is a step into the unknown for many gay people
Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Stephen Mansell says the arrival of equal marriage may resemble a brave new world when it comes to many gay relationships.
The passing of the same-sex marriage bill will allow what always should have been possible to at last become possible: a simple thing, the opportunity and the ability to be able to marry our consenting partners (one at a time), regardless of the combination of their chromosones. But the obstacles to doing so have been so complex and in place for so long that nice as it sounds, we have to be realistic – change is likely to be difficult, not just for the religious communities of this country and the heterosexual majority but for us gays ourselves.
It seems to have been generally assumed that gay men and women would ‘just get on with it’ but in spite of being all for it, I sense a little bit of ‘just a minute’, of timidity and caution on the part of the some gay men and women about how this radical change works out in practice.
A couple of years ago the daughter of a straight male friend of mine came out, started a relationship with another girl and the golden couple were crowned Couple of the Year at the end of year prom. She was seventeen and this was an average comprehensive school in far west Wales. I found this to be the definition of flabbergasting, that two teenagers could be confident enough, bold enough, feel that it was safe enough to do this. For those of us brought up in what we now presume was a different world entirely, this takes some getting your head around. Faced with stories of this new generation and their opportunities, I am sure I am not alone in feeling not just envy but a sense of having been silly to have given in to fear and a sense of guilt, of having unwittingly become a late starter.
The changes in the law in the past seventeen years have helped. In the period since I went to university in 1996, the list of key changes in the law is also flabbergasting to behold in its length and comprehensiveness – the repeal of Section 28, changes in the adoption law etc. Doors we took for granted as closed have slowly opened but one of the major adult milestones remained elusively out of our reach.
We wanted the door to open but weren’t convinced for a long time that it would be possible for some time to come but a confidence has taken over the gay community in the last year, a sensing of destiny. Many gay men and women grew into adulthood never expecting to ever get married, having accepted the impossibility into their expectations of how life will be, what to aim for, what to plan for, what to be disappointed about if nobody asks. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has no doubt turned the world on its head for many of us.
But we must look at the reality now. There are still a lot of gay men and women who don’t know or who have never come across married gay couples. There are a lot of gay couples who have never been to the wedding of a gay couple. I have seen the photos of the wedding of a lesbian relative of my sister-in-law and one or two instances on Facebook. There is a dire shortage of positive role modelling, not helped for some time by the concentration of the gay press on sex and holidays and clubbing, creating a culture that did not promote or seemingly value long term commitment as a lifestyle option. Plus the growth of internet dating and the improvement in social attitudes has seen gay men and women increasingly integrated but also increasingly distancing themselves from the gay community, from the role models we all need.
There is a knock-on effect, of course. If you’re having trouble visualising your own wedding, how are you going to answer the questions of your family and friends? If you haven’t fully come to an understanding of what this marriage thing will be like for you and your partner, then it’s a step into the unknown that goes completely against the centuries of heritage and tradition that straight couples have. The problem in my mind is that I have no precedents so everything (or almost everything) must be imagined. I wouldn’t want a wedding that copies and pastes the traditions and dynamics of a straight wedding – what’s the point in that? And then there’s the proposal: how do we ask? Which one of us asks? Can both of us ask? I don’t want to be the one given away but then again, do I? I’d want it to be kind of equal, not some occasion for spotting the man in the relationship and the butt of casual sniggering behind our backs.
But more than this, for a gay couple to get married is still a bold step. There is still going to be an element of activism involved for some time. Your wedding may well be the first gay wedding attended by the majority of the guests and they will no doubt go away and talk about that experience – there will be a ripple effect into whole communities. What you might hope would just be a simple tying of the knot, a private romantic ritual, your own little special day will involve you in a role that is alien to straight weddings – you will be a pioneer, whether you like it or not. And who knows, maybe one of those kids running around your feet, maybe one of your page boys or your flower girls might one day thank you for having shown them what is possible. It never happened for us but that’s a done deal now – we could help it happen for them.