Friday, 7 December 2012

My Hesitation Over Same-Sex Marriage

I am often asked why I oppose same-sex marriage. It's a curiosity for people. According to popular rumour, it was bizarre enough that this nobody Tory party member signed up to be an LGBTQ JCR Officer in the first place. To have him then become Equality non-sabb yet openly oppose "gay" marriage, I suppose, might seem like an eclectic scenario.

I suppose it stems from my conservatism, though not for the reasons you might think. I don't oppose same-sex marriage in the same way I would if I did so on religious grounds, or because I base my politics on some outdated moral compass. Indeed I rarely think of myself as opposed to same-sex marriage at all. Instead, I tend to think of myself as simply against marriage, or rather legislation on the subject.

To me, the State is a complex construction. It's role is to be limited in remit though absolute in authority. Very little should be under the pure control of it's bureaucracies, though where that power is granted by the people, that power ought to be limitless. Why, then, do we presume that marriage is something for the State to be involved in?

I could appreciate it if these were simply left-wingers, who's natural inclination, rightly or wrongly, is for the State to hold sway. But I don't buy that, and I didn't think my conservative and liberal and libertarian compatriots did either. It strikes me as odd, and often saddening, that people who I thought I had common ground with, rush to welcome same-sex marriage laws as "progressive" and "modern". I disagree.

How can it be progressive, in any measure of the word, to create even more legislation in which the State with grace and majesty grants us our freedoms and our equality? Progress? Towards what, exactly? Some say equality, which is a word far too often bandied around by people with very little understanding of it's true meaning. Equal right to have our relationships approved by the State is not something I wish to be equal in. I do not need approval.

For every piece of legislation on marriage that we craft in our parliament, we are legitimising State intervention in our personal lives. We are saying that in order to be equal, we need Stately approval.

I cannot support that. "I shall not make windows into men's souls" said Elizabeth I. Quite right. So let's stop doing it. It is time for the focus of the LGBT movement and of truly progressive activists to shift. It is time we started pushing for true liberation; to be liberated from this State-approval of our relationships. It's time to take marriage off the statute books.

Some will cry pragmatism; taxation, benefits, financial administration; the State needs to know. Fine. So a civic union open to all will suit that need fine without marriage. Some will cry religious freedom. Fine. So a couple's ability to have a blessing in their faith and call it a "Marriage" should not be hindered. I agree. Some will cry tradition; I can't help you there. Traditions that need to be changed cease to be traditions and start to become barriers to liberation in my view.

The LGBT community's obsession with marriage doesn't even make sense to me. An institution that has historically been racist, and sexist, and xenophobic, and anti-Semitic...not exactly filling me with confidence here.

I don't oppose same-sex marriage. I oppose any legislation on marriage. And whilst some will try to paint this as a "next best thing", as a "stepping stone" to what I want; you said that about civil partnerships and we're still tinkering around the edges of the issue.

Will I refuse to get married? Unlikely. I can't hide from the reality. But it doesn't stop me being damn angry about it. And I don't know about the rest of you, but neither Cameron nor Miliband have a rightful place in my sex life.


  1. I think you've confused state involvement with state recognition. I would also object to your characterisation that left-wingers are simply pro-inflated state blowhards - most left-wingers (myself included) simply see the state as the lesser of two evils; the state acts as a means to an end against untrammeled private power. Most leftists I know operate on that basis, anyway - yes, we can talk about a society without a state in abstract terms, but at this stage forming political alliances on the basis of abolition of the state is as meaningful as forming an advocacy group for terraforming Mars.

    Anyway that aside, I think you're trying to square the circle here. As I said above, recognition and intervention aren't the same thing and simply having a statute which allowed access to a currently existing institution of marriage between men and women to men and men or women and women creates no new 'interference', it merely opens the tent to other people to enjoy the same rights. In fact, it creates less state involvement because it doesn't require two lots of beauracracy enforcing restrictions on civil partnership ceremonies - they're both under the same umbrella.

    Furthermore, you say that a civic union should suit the practical needs like taxation, hospital visitation rights, etc., but if this was purely about practicality on those terms then there wouldn't be a debate to be had. The issue is that churches and gay couples are currently having the right to manifest their faith violated because the state refuses to recognise their civil unions as the same as the religious unions enjoyed by married couples - they can't have religious symbolism in the ceremony, for instance. And even if it were simply a question of nomenclature, wouldn't you feel patronised to if your buss pass was called a "Homosexual Public Transport Card"? Or would you simply oppose the state's involvement in transport regulation?

    Also, there seems to be an opposition to the state's involvement in rights protection, but I don't know of any worthwhile theories of human rights protection that doesn't include state involvement and protection. And I can't think of a single practical example that's been shown to work sufficiently. Maybe I've misread you, here, but I can't think of any theoretical or practical instances of where rights have been recognised and properly protected as contractual relationships between private individuals without any kind of state involvement whatsoever.

    Really, my lack of agreement with this piece rests on a question of theory versus practise. We can write blog posts about how we would like to see the state abolished, but there's a difference between opposing something on theoretical grounds and the kind of advocacy you do in relation to improving the lives of citizens in the moment. As it stands, a libertarian opposition to gay marriage is purely theoretical and concerns itself more with anti-government populism and theoretical arguments against the state itself than advocating towards improving people's lives in the here and now - I know which side of the argument I'd rather be on.

    And this is where the argument rests - if you oppose same-sex marriage on theoretical grounds then that's okay, but if you're opposing it in the current moment in which we find ourselves it's an argument I have less sympathy for. Not least because it's strikingly unlibertarian - you're allowing your own theoretical 'end-game' desires to take precedence over the practical wishes of a minority of which you are a part. I don't doubt your sincerity in this, but I do doubt whether you've properly considered the implications of your position.

    All the best


  2. Thanks for your reply, Alex. I take a lot of your points so I’ll only address the ones I take issue with. Before I do, though, I should make the clarification that I am not opposing in full the Government’s proposals or indeed any specific proposals right now; I entitled the post “My Hesitation” because I feel that sums up my position more. I have a healthy scepticism on same-sex marriage legislation but I haven’t opposed it in entirety. I’ll leave that kind of radicalism to my old age. ;)

    On the left; I certainly didn’t meant to imply all lefties propose mass Statism or share a love for it, I merely observe that they have a tendency to resort to the state as a solution more often than conservatives or liberals. I therefore am less surprised when I hear left-wingers talking about state recognition of marriage than when I hear Libertarians doing so. I certainly know left-wingers, such as yourself, who are no major fans of the State either.

    I disagree that legislation on same-sex marriage would not be considered further state intervention. It perhaps doesn’t deepen the State’s role but it certainly widens it to incorporate more people. For me, it’s extending a broken system to cover more people but it’s not addressing the true issue of the system needing fixing. I object to opppsite sex couples needing state recognition of marriage just as equally as I oppose same-sex couples needing it, so for me what I support is limiting this damaging role of the State. Extending it will only hurt, in my view. But I accept your point that perhaps deeper intervention isn’t what’s happening; simply widening intervention to cover more ground.

    I understand your point about symbolism but to me, it’s a side issue. The major question is not what we call it, but what function it serves. Religious people ought to have the right to perform same-sex marriages, absolutely. But to require it to be recognised by the State seems pointless to me. I see no reason why all people, same-sex or opposite sex, can’t attain a basic Civic Union, open to all, and leave religious communities to perform their own special ceremonies in whatever way pleases them. Some couples would have a church wedding, some would have a ceremony in a town hall, but all would, at some point, come down to the registry office to sign the formal part; it needn’t be a part of the ceremony.

    I don’t oppose the state being involved in rights protection, you are right. I do, however, don’t need that this case warrants it; equality of sexuality, marriage rights and freedom of faith would all be achieved by simply removing marriage from the statute. But to reply to your question, no I don’t oppose that kind of role of the State on the whole; where rights need Governmental protection; so be it. See my post on nationalising the commercial sex industry for a key example.

    Overall, we’re not far off each other in terms of the reality. I agree my own theory is not yet achievable but I don’t think we ought to rush into legalising same-sex marriage simply because the road to the alternative may be slightly longer or more challenging. Overall, I have a hesitation to same-sex marriage, and a large personal objection to marriage itself but that’s another issue, but I have yet to actively campaign against it. Primarily this is because I largely agree that equality can be achieved in the short-term under what’s being proposed, despite my own ideological objections. My problem is the speed at which we’re doing this and the lack of consideration for the, in my mind, superior alternative. Hope that helps. :)