Thursday, December 22, 2005

Elton and David get married (sort of)

British law has been changed to allow gay couples to wed — sort of. The UK now recognizes homosexual civil partnerships. Guardian Unlimited explains:
Registering as a civil partnership gives same-sex couples new rights, meaning they will be entitled to the same tax, employment and some pension benefits as married heterosexual couples.
Elton John was the most prominent celebrity to get hitched yesterday. He "married" David Furnish, his (Canadian) partner for the past twelve years. A guest is quoted as saying, "There were tears. They kissed at the end. It was very, very happy. It was like any other couple getting married."

Some of Elton's fans were perhaps a little disappointed that he didn't dress more flamboyantly for the occasion.

I've been an Elton John fan for many years, but the story of a non-celebrity couple moved me more. Here is an excerpt from Jerome Farrell's first-person account:
My expectations of the register office at our local town hall were not high. Early in 2005, I sent an email to ask for some information. No reply. A month later, I sent another … and then another the following month.

By May, I was beginning to think I was being deliberately ignored, so I went there prepared to argue with what I feared might be homophobic staff. We had, after all, heard of some councils at best dragging their feet in the implementation of the new law.

But the council officer I spoke to was very apologetic — her senior colleague had been on long-term sick leave, and no one had been able to access her email for months. They had not yet been told what the procedures would be, but I could book a provisional date and contact them again in November. …

We have lived together for four years, and have been committed partners for six. We both had previous partners: Ray lived with Jeffrey for 21 years until he died in April 1995, aged 45. I met Steve in 1986 and he died in December 1995, shortly after his 40th birthday.

The loss of a partner is indescribable, but Ray and I are fortunate to have found, in each other, the source of another loving relationship. We hope to be able to share what may, if we are lucky, be the second half of our lives together.

December 21, when the first partnership ceremonies take place, is the day of the winter solstice — a symbolic turning point, with increasing light each day in the season to follow.

By sheer coincidence, it also happens to be the date on which Steve's funeral took place ten years ago. When I realised that this was the first date Ray and I could register our partnership, I went to think. We talked about it and concluded it would actually be entirely appropriate for us to book the register office for that day. …

The venue for our partnership ceremony reminds me of the petty inequalities the new law will eliminate. The day after Steve died, I went to the town hall to register his death. I explained to the registrar that I was Steve's partner and lived with him, but she informed me that only relatives could register a death.

A loophole was found — I was with Steve when he died in our home, and could register in that capacity with the words "present at the death" appearing after my name on the certificate to explain how I qualified as the person registering the information. Had I not been present when Steve died, his mother or sister (both of whom lived 150 miles away) would have had to register the death.
For Jerome and Ray, and Elton and David, the legal recognition of civil partnerships is a major step forward. But does the new law give true equality to homosexual couples? In Canada, we have eliminated even the semantic distinction:  gay couples can marry.

Guardian Unlimited sometimes placed the word in quotation marks, as here:
Sir Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, were "married" as the first same-sex civil partnership ceremonies took place in England and Wales today.
I hate to end this post on a negative note. But until those quotation marks can be struck out, the UK is still denying homosexuals full equality.


At 7:44 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

I can't imagine there aren't people in Britain who object to the separate classification. If they have all the rights of true marrieds, why make the distinction? To keep the gays from fouling the straights pool, I'd say. A secondary classification would be acceptable if gays and straights could choose which one they wanted.

Or perhaps there could be some other way of determining who goes where that isn't to do with orientation. Oooo... how about this one? For those who want to believe marriage is solely about procreation, perhaps we could determine that childless couples were only allowed a civil partnership, and those with children (gay or straight) would be eligible to marry.

Civil partnerships is a step in the right direction, but only a step. I hope it proves a step, instead of being a stumbling block to the true destination: marriage - no quotation marks - for everyone!

At 4:10 PM, December 22, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

I sure wish the viewpoint both you and Mary express was the norm in this country. Instead, numerous states are amending their constitutions in order to ban gay marriage. Sigh.

At 5:16 PM, December 22, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I think that Civil Partnerships "marriage" could become acceptable if the gay community allowed the natural course of language to make partnership and marriage synonymous rather than force narrow-minded bigots (redundant, I realize) to accept the inevitable.

At 5:28 PM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

Actually, I would like to see it going the other way.

Marriage should be given back to the religions & all us secular people should be allowed to have civil partnerships. At the moment they are only available to same sex couples, straight couples have to get married - with the specified wordings, traditions & associations.

I held out against marrying Aggie for 7 years because it was the antithesis of many of the things I believe in - even though we had a secular wedding, it was informed by the British Christian traditions, and the particular words that I wanted to leave out were the specific ones the law requires we kept in!

We finally married purely for the legal ramifictions, but I found the whole experience very surreal. I would much rather have been able to sign a civil partnership agreement for those same legal rights.

At 9:02 PM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous Pearl said...

Still a ways to go. The only story I saw of Elton John's happy day was some foolish story featuring how his husband will have the official title of Lady. The press can be so trying sometimes.

At 10:23 AM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Mary P.:
I share your concern: i.e., that heterosexuals may decide they've done all that's necessary to accommodate same sex couples, and stop one step short of full equality.

• Aaron:
It's tough to be a liberal in the USA!

I think a small majority of Canadians still disagree with same sex marriage, according to the polls. But conservative Christianity is a marginal group here, and Canadians are very reluctant to impose their mores on one another.

• Misanthrope:
That's an interesting perspective. It's certainly true that social mores tend to evolve, and it might be strategic to aim for incremental progress.

But maybe a progression from civil partnerships to same sex marriage is not inevitable. Blacks during the civil rights era gave up on that strategy when it became apparent that they would never achieve full equality with whites that way. And the religious right will never relax its opposition to same sex marriage. Hence the concern expressed by Mary P.

• Mrs. Aginoth:
This is one of the ironies of the debate: at the very time homosexuals are fighting to get in, heterosexuals are increasingly disillusioned with the institution of marriage.

I would support your proposal. As you know, I used to be a clergyman, and it's hypocrisy to perform a religious marriage ceremony for people who don't believe. You don't want to shut the church door in their face, so you do it. But the arrangement is absurd.

btw, I'm puzzled by one part of your comment. In Canada, the religious part of the marriage ceremony has no legal significance. All that matters is a declaration that the two parties enter into the marriage of their own free will. The rest of the ceremony is window dressing, so any part of it can be dropped.

In fact, only the signatures on the marriage license ultimately matter. The minister could just wave his/her hand over the couple without speaking, and it would still be a legal marriage once the signed document was delivered to the Registrar General.

It could be different in the UK, but I doubt it. I suspect it was the church that resisted editing the ceremony, not the Government.

• Pearl:
Thanks for popping in. I had a quick look at your Haikuesquies and quite enjoyed them.

You have to admit, Elton John has always invited a certain amount of mockery. However, I gather the British tabloids can be quite nasty. And Elton deserves better than that, especially on this occasion. People should be happy for him!

At 12:01 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I'm not sure I would equate African Americans to gays because the black population faced a prejudice that gays can escape by virtue of the fact no one can tell someone's sexual preference unless advertised. In either case, both will fight the narrow-mindedness for years and years to come.

At 3:16 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

Q - marriages in the UK, what a fun topic:-) Totally different to anywhere else in the world as far as I know.

First off, there are only two choices of legally recognised marriage ceremonies - Civil (Secular), or Christian (Church of England/Wales)

Marriages Must take place in registered & lincensed premisis, that are suitable for "the solemnity of the occasion"

Wedding "banns" (names & addresses of who is getting married, when & where) must be available to the piblic view for 4 weeks prior to the wedding (unless you pay lots of money for a royal exemption) and all weddings are public ceremonies.

Many Catholic, Jewish, & Muslim "clergy" are also licenced as secular registrar's so they can perform legal marriges, but in general religious marriages are not recognised unless you also attend a civil service.

The civil service has some statutory words that must be said exactly as written. These are taken from the C of E ceremony. They are very minimal now, but back in the last millenium when we got married, there were more required:-)

We also reserve the right to refuse to recognise marriages where the ceremony took place in another country, which is terribly funny for all those couples who go off to a wedding in a "tropical paradise", but has more serious repurcussions for immigration!

I always try to elaborate when talking to US citizens about weddings, with their drive-thru culture, but sometimes forget Canadians don't understand our wierd part-theocratic political/legal system:-)

At 8:14 AM, December 24, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Mrs. Aginoth:
Thanks for the additional information. I find it interesting.

I am aware of the blurring of the lines between Government and the Church of England. But naively I thought it was mostly a historical relic of no practical consequence, like having the King or Queen as notional head of the Church.

I assumed England had liberalized by now when it came to things like marriage. I'm shocked to learn that Roman Catholic priests are not equal to Church of England clergy when it comes to solemnizing marriages. (Never mind Muslim clerics.)

And I find this regulation sad: Marriages must take place in registered & lincensed premises, that are suitable for "the solemnity of the occasion".

I always enjoyed performing outdoor weddings. From a religious perspective, the precedent was set with Adam and Eve.

At 5:13 PM, December 29, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

The "solemnity of the occasion" thing was put in because when they were talking about allowing weddings outside of Cof E churches/registry offices, there were many media stories (from the US mainly) of people getting married while skydiving/sitting naked in a tree/underwater etc & the government wanted to ensure that marriage was not seen as a frivolous media circus.

Roman Catholics are specifically forbidden to hold a number of senior offices in England including of course the monarch.

As I said, we are still theocratic in many ways....


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