So, it finally happened. The government have announced that gay marriage–forget your silly civil partnerships, we’re talking full marriage marriage!–will soon be written into UK law. It’s a victory for gay rights, there’s no doubt about that, and one that I wasn’t expecting in the foreseeable future. So why does this victory feel so hollow to me?
First is the obvious: I’d like to see marriage abolished entirely and for people to love freely, away from church and state meddling. To me, this victory means that one more group of people are subjected to an oppressive seal of approval on their relationships–I explain these thoughts more fully here.
The part of this that leaves the truly bitter taste in my mouth, though, is that it is clearly nothing more than a political manoeuvre. The timing of it couldn’t be more obvious: it is the day of the opening of the Lib Dem party conference. What we see here is the senior coalition partners finally throwing their underlings a bone, something that makes them feel like they’re doing good. A little sweetener for their cooperation in their incremental dismantling of the welfare state. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement; the Lib Dems stop feeling so much like sellouts, the Tories move away from their image as the party which introduced Section 28.
It is a shiny distractor for everyone else, too. While we are all busy celebrating the victory for gay rights, and praising our government for finally doing The Right Thing on something, what will be happening? It is the time of year that the redundancies for public sector workers will start to kick in. It is the time when the students return to university, furious and ripe for radicalisation. It is the time of year that with a focus of concerted effort, there might a long shot to save the NHS. And instead, the government are hoping we’ll be cooing over gay marriage and flapping with so much gratitude that we shall not shout. Given the time the consultation is taking place, I wonder what they’re planning in March?
This is not the first time we have been distracted by a big shiny wedding. Back in April, in the midst of all of the Royal Wedding drama, the news slipped out, unnoticed, that the NHS was being cut much more than we thought. Squats were raided, people removed from their homes. People were arrested for crimes they had not committed, on the charge that at some point in the next few days, they might commit a crime. Much of it was lost in the noise, as everyone was too busy gawping at a bride, a groom and a bridesmaid’s bottom. Even those who were less than happy about paying for some aristocrats to throw a party join in with the mass distraction. We dignified it by talking about it. Our voices, when talking about the bigger issues, were drowned out.
The introduction of gay marriage is more important than a pair of toffs getting hitched. It is something big, and it is beautiful. There is now no longer a linguistic difference between a state-approved same-sex relationship and a state-approved heterosexual relationship. In a world where homophobia is still rife, though, and queer folk live at risk from violence, have we really won equality? We have made a baby step in the right direction. But it is being granted equality, rather than liberation. And fuck it, I want liberation. I want to be free from oppression and persecution, free to fuck who ever I like, set up home with whoever I like, without having to ask nicely for the approval from some rich bastards in Westminster in the hope they might grant me it when it suits them.
Of course, providing something that looks like equality is rather savvy for this government. They are courting the “pink pound“, using the provision of an illusion of equality to court voters and donors, and to further feed the wedding-industrial complex. I am not fooled by this. I hope many other people are equally sceptical, and that we do not simply lay down arms in the fight for queer liberation. We’re not liberated here. We’re just consumers, we’re just pawns.
We must not get distracted by this small victory. We must celebrate it by working harder. We must work for true sexual liberation, we must work for true social liberation, and we must liberate ourselves from a government who believe we are stupid.
Update: @helen_bop raises a very good point about the changes to legislation: as there will be no changes to the Gender Recognition Act. In an existing couple one or both partners are trans, they would still have to divorce and remarry; nothing will change for trans people. This is another case wherein the T in LGBT is being woefully ignored. We deserve better than these miserable scraps.