Nick Clegg’s “helpful” intervention in the gay marriage debate, suggesting that the state could force churches to hold gay wedding ceremonies, partially explains why I’m not going on the Pride march in London today. Another reason is that last year, a straight, teenage socialist yelled Labour slogans in my face for much of the day; quite oblivious to the grotesque nature of entering a gay march to shout abuse at (Tory) gay people.
Two sides of the same coin: for the long march of gay liberation has coincided with the professionalisation of that movement’s lobbyists, almost none of whose politics I share. In 1989, Pride was a mass of individuals who refused to put up with rubbish any more; there was an element of ownership about it that its current incarnation – a procession of corporate and trade union banners, announcing how “right on” are their sponsors – lacks.
It leaves me as cold as Mr Clegg’s naked appeal to the gay vote. “We will force churches to marry you” is a particularly stupid contribution, from the perspective of those of us who support marriage reform, but are aware of the sensibilities of the religious.
Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall, her life of Thomas Cromwell, political fixer for Henry VIII. I think of the books when I read the objections of George Carey and others to marriage reform.
The former archbishop’s warnings of dire peril should the definition of marriage be extended to encompass gay people are ironic: his Church wouldn’t exist had not a single individual demanded that the rules, about who could marry whom, be altered beyond recognition. A coincidence, too, in the title of Mantel’s book. “Bring up the bodies” might serve as the motto for the Church’s campaign against gay weddings. Any newspaper article about homosexuality meets with yards of comments in virtual green ink about sex, usually unmentioned in the column.
But it’s bishops, not gay columnists, who have been “bringing up the bodies”, raising arcane points about “consummation” and adultery, as though such acts can only be conceived of within a heterosexual marriage, as though the sacred union of two humans can be reduced to rude mechanicals.
For the Church to insist, for example, that adultery can occur only through the medium of heterosexual coupling is ridiculous; if the law says otherwise, then change the law. The heart is the organ most involved with, and damaged by, betrayal. The bishop really should have listened to all those actresses.
And what strange bedfellows the religious reductionists have. Almost the only other objections come from the remnants of the old Left, who (correctly) view the extension of marriage as a Tory plot to unwind the nihilism of their 1960s doctrine of Self. Marriage is our most valuable institution because it civilises men, turning oat-sowers into dependable partners. To draw more people into the locus of stability is a worthy Tory objective.
Of course, the main beneficiaries of such stability are children, but the ripples we leave on life’s surface aren’t only genetic, and those of us who won’t reproduce – no matter our sexual state – are not inconsequential. No doubt I’ll be forgotten more quickly than some, but there will be at least one other human whose life will have been marked by the primary purpose of my existence. And no, bishop, that primary purpose wasn’t sex, but love.
Still, the Church must be free to set its own rules for its own marriage ceremonies (ask Henry), which brings us to the most powerful of its objections. Anglicans fear that human rights laws will coerce them into polluting their doctrinal purity, which is why Mr Clegg was so unhelpful.
The lazy response to this is to wonder why such laws have never been used to force the Church to abolish its ban on weddings for divorcees. That’s true, but it must be admitted that Labour’s Human Rights Act has been used for more vexatious litigation than you can shake a stick at, not least that sponsored by a foolish gay lobby.
But Tories who loathed the Act’s premise from its inception might ask: where was the Church, when we were making the case against it? I must have missed its campaign for human rights reform, which presumably was as loud as its campaign against gay marriage.
Words, words, words. Real things, but not as real as those inexpressible human bonds that language can never precisely convey. Henry’s daughter – wiser perhaps than he – declared that she had no desire to make windows into men’s souls. In terms of a working model for the relationship between Church and state, I concur with her. But on topics such as this, I’d give my right arm to throw open the window into my own soul.
Because it’s “in there” that I know why the law deserves reform; why neither my words nor Mr Clegg’s nor Lord Carey’s matter. No word can perfectly describe the state in which people such as I exist: but the best word we have is “married”. And I’m proud of that.
[By Graeme Archer – 8:55PM BST 06 Jul 2012]