I wasn’t planning on any Christmas blogging. There are better things to do, like drink sloe gin, eat vast amounts of all sorts of things, and play with the childrens’ new toys. But then my Xmas was intruded upon when a family law related “news” item wafted into my dreams when the radio alarm went off at 6. I pretended I hadn’t heard it and went to make a turkey curry, but the one time I go to check my phone I see Adam Wagner has flagged it for me via twitter (damn you Adam ;-)).
So darn you Coleridge J with your festive gay marriage bah humbugs. It’s because of you I’m christmas blogging. Thankfully my children have lapsed into an early sugar induced coma so I have not had to cut short my playtime, but I have been ignoring my spouse in preference for my laptop screen just like an ordinary night, when really I should be cajoling him into playing monopoly or scrabble against his will (he escaped from the post it note game this afternoon by volunteering to wash up).
I’ll keep it short, Johnny Depp is on the telly. To summarise, what Coleridge said I’ll quote from the BBC report:
Sir Paul told the Times newspaper: “So much energy and time has been put into this debate for 0.1% of the population, when we have a crisis of family breakdown.
“While it is gratifying that marriage in any context is centre stage… but it [gay marriage] is a minority issue.
“We need… a more focused position by the government on the importance of marriage.”
If you’re running an argument that family and wider society is breaking down because people don’t know how to make long term commitments to one another any more, and if you think that the celebration and encouragement of an institution that allows couples to make a public, legally binding and lifelong commitment to one another is a good thing, it doesn’t make any sense to limit your efforts to promote membership of that institution to certain parts of society only.
And if your view is really that equal marriage is a minority sideshow that doesn’t matter why engineer a situation where it becomes front page news on Boxing Day again? When I first heard Coleridge speak about the Marriage Foundation the message on gay marriage was “we’re not going there” (see here where the FAQ still says “We have nothing we want to say in the current debate”). Now the plan seems to be to slipstream on the gay marriage press coverage whilst still not coming out with a position on it. Or perhaps alternatively its less of a plan and more a case of one too many sloe gins before bumping into a journalist on the tube. Who knows. The result is much the same.
It is notable that, as far as one can tell from what is quoted online (I am without the benefit of a Times subscription), Coleridge still doesn’t directly come out (excuse pun) for or against equal marriage per se, rather he chooses to brush it aside without, I infer, a soupcon of insight into how such a dismissive attitude to a fundamental civil / human rights issue is likely to come across or play out in the media. The quote above suggests a failure to appreciate why this is absolutely an important issue, and this is pretty concerning for a member of the judiciary (especially one who has recently promised to keep a lower profile, not sure how broadsheet coverage on Boxing Day fits with that but hey). Even assuming the 0.1% figure is correct rather than straight out of Coleridge’s christmas cracker, surely we don’t measure the “importance” of civil rights issues by the number of individuals affected? Marriage currently affects a minority of people, an ever decreasing circle of people form active members of the C of E in this country, and no doubt approximately 0.1% of people have ever heard of the Marriage Foundation – but you don’t see me arguing they’re irrelevant. Wrong, annoying, regularly offensive to my world views, not my cup of tea etc etc. But not irrelevant. Much. Anyway, last time I looked the majority of people in this country (including the judiciary) still thought that so called “minority issues” like discrimination were still important. And, without wishing to be a pedant, the majority of people don’t need a public debate leading to primary legislation in order to embrace the wisdom of the Marriage Foundation, because we’re already allowed to get married if we want to. So – duh yeah, it’s a minority issue!
The Foundation’s entry into public debate on this STILL without in fact stating it’s substantive position on gay marriage rather begs the question : why are the Marriage Foundation adopting an “if you can’t say nothing nice don’t say nothing at all” approach? Why won’t Coleridge come out in support of marriage per se? It doesn’t detract from his argument unless his argument has an undeclared (religious?) basis. It’s a legitimate question now the “We have nothing we want to say” line has fallen away. The risk is that this confused approach may create an impression that there are some things that individuals at the MF might be itching to say but which are impolitic.
The irritating thing is that Coleridge is right when he says its great that marriage is centre stage, but he doesn’t even see why he’s right. The equal marriage debate has the potential to remind all of us, both gay and straight, of the unique character of marriage, namely the simultaneously public and private, lifelong commitment to a partner. My husband and I may not make it till death us do part (I bloody well intend to but I do read the divorce statistics so I’m not complacent), and I’m no god-botherer* either, but my marriage oaths were and are important to me. They are on the shelf in the dining room and I read them from time to time (and occasionally refer to their terms in the course of marital arguments). If marriage is the key to durable committed relationships, we should encourage couples of all persuasions to make this commitment, to make it after thoughtful consideration, and to do their best to make it work. That’s what the Marriage Foundation says its all about and in that I have no beef with it, although I understand that marriage is not for everyone and there are other valid ways to make a solemn personal commitment apart from marriage (you can read my earlier blog about the MF here).
It’s a shame and a missed opportunity that the Marriage Foundation’s Christmas message sounds like “marriage is for people like us” rather than “marriage can be for everyone”. It’s just like the women bishops thing. Pushing people away from the very institution you are trying to save, pushing away the people you would convert. Institutions, be they churches, clubs or marriage, need new members to survive. Those that survive change over time, evolving with each generation – sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes in great painful lurches.
Presumably Coleridge would accept that the impact of family and social breakdown on the children of gay parents and upon gay children is just as great as for the children raised in heterosexual families. Where is the plea on their behalf from the MF? Or are they just a minority too?
We should be working towards a common aim of making a stronger society by supporting strength within families, whatever those families look like.
PS I lied. Not short at all.
*my husband and erstwhile proof reader says “god botherer might be offensive to some” but I’m afraid I’m duty bound by virtue of my marital vows to disobey all his husbandly guidance as its all part of his evil patriarchal agenda, so it’s going in as a lighthearted poke (and no more) and a piece of militant spousal ephemera.
[Update. Dang. Forgot to weave in pointless barbed comment about the reported use of the term "same sex people" by Coleridge. I think most of us can stand together under than most inclusive linguistic umbrella.]