Thursday, 8 March 2012

Why did I get married?

Or domestic partnered *eye roll*. Yes this is another question that came out of family mixing from an unmarried (yet partnered) cousin who doesn’t know why I bothered. But it’s come up a lot from various people over the years.

Of course, the sad thing was, as ever, the blinkers of privilege; she could have just looked round and seen the reason for herself. She would have seen how the whole family treated her relationship of 11 months as a long term partnership – but still acted like my decades long marriage was a temporary fling, a passing insanity, something I’d grow out of or all about sex. I have done everything legally possible in the UK to make my relationship “official” and I still have to fight to have it recognised even by my own family. Let alone official institutions, work colleagues or the public at large.

See, this is one of the things that irritates me when straight folk don’t understand the fuss about marriage. They can take the protections, legal rights and status of marriage for granted because they not only have them – but they don’t always need them either. Even for non-married straight folks, our society provides a level of respect and legitimacy for heterosexual pairings.

Or, to be overly simplistic, even when you aren’t married, society will often infer some level of married-ness upon you.  Because straight couples are not just the norm but also the ideal, they are granted legitimacy AS couples. As a family lawyer, I have seen straight unmarried couples have more recognition and support for their relationship – or dissolving their relationship – than I have not just for unmarried GBLT couples but also for domestic partnered GBLT couples. Every shred of respect, of officialdom, of any kind of recognition I have seen for my relationship – or any relationship between GBLT people with the same-sex – had to be fought tooth and nail for and even then that’s often not enough.

Our relationships are not given the same recognition, status or protection as straight couples.
There are many reasons I got married – and will change my domestic partnership to an actual legal marriage if the law ever changes – but one of the most important is how hard it is to get any recognition at all for our relationship. I feel the need to have those express legal protections because the implied protections straight people benefit from that have lurked in the common law for so long do not apply to me – or I can’t guarantee them being applied to me. I need the big club of the law because the gentle nudge of common sense and the constant pressure of assumed normality aren’t there for us.

And while we can talk “should” and all the other ideal of a perfect world – the fact is that’s not going to change for a while yet, not even close. And I know, as a lawyer, as an activist, as a partnered gay man and as a man who has seen far too much bullshit, that I and my relationship are not protected. I know that the legal and societal benefits of being a couple that most people don’t even see will stop at my door. So I will take every step I can to grasp what protections I can – just to enjoy a fragment of the same respect unmarried straight folks already enjoy

But I also need that message to change, not least of which so I wouldn’t feel the need to marry for the sake of legal protections because I would enjoy the same respect and assumptions that non-married straight people get (I’d probably marry anyway but it would be less of a “practically” motivated decision). The message that my partnership, my love is worth less than straight love adds more hurdles and obstacles in the life of GBLT people that straight folks don’t even see – and that’s just straight people following the message – what do you think it does to us? I grew up thinking marriage was impossible – not just for legal reasons but because I literally thought that gay men were not capable of love. No, really, I believed gay men had sex, anonymous sex, probably in a toilet or public park. Gay men didn’t love, everyone knew that. And it’s one of the reasons I entered into and stayed in the messed up and abusive relationships I did.

We’re still sending that message. That our love is lesser, less important, flawed or tainted. That we will actually destroy the whole institution of heterosexual love with our own partnerships.  That message is destructive and needs to end.