Well, we’ve had all the romantic bit – the confetti and the cake, the champagne and the honeymoon. Now, after a brief period of walking on air, some civil partners are coming down to earth with a nasty bump. It turns out that “gay marriage” is not, after all, just a bit of fun around which to build a party. Turns out it’s a heavy, legally binding contract, and getting out of it isn’t quite as simple as walking away, like we used to when we decided that relationships weren’t working out.
Yes, gay divorce is upon us and, I’m afraid, it’s just as unpleasant for us as it is for straights. And just to make this easier to read, I’m going to use the term ‘marriage’ for both marriage and civil partnerships because to all intents and purposes they are the same.
Anyway, The Daily Mail got great pleasure in reporting “The First Gay Divorce”. Liz King and Daphne Ligthart tied the knot in February and split up in April, after having previously lived together for several years. The Mail was delighted to report that Miss King left the marital home for another woman – who had been a guest at the ceremony. It was all terribly sad, really, but it no doubt provided a few titters for The Mail’s ghastly staff and a few tutting I-told-you-so’s from its army of self-righteous readers.
A few days later, The Sun was also revelling in reporting the next catastrophe. Girl soldiers Sonya Gould and Vanessa Haydock had become the Army’s first civil partnership, undergoing the ceremony with much hoo-ha and howdy-do in the papers. But now they’ve split up – and with such acrimony that the police had to be called.
The Sun quotes “a pal” of the pair, saying: “It is no surprise – they are the most mismatched pair you could ever meet.”
The two 19-year olds, were both privates in the Royal Logistic Corps when they met two years ago. They registered their partnership in January, and at the time, Sonya said “It seemed so right”. But four months later the police had to be called to their base in Catterick, North Yorkshire after they got into a fist fight. One was cautioned for assault.
A couple of days later, Vanessa sold her story to The Sun, revealing that Sonya had dumped her by text message. In a fury, Vanessa went berserk and smashed up the home they shared, slashed Sonya’s clothes – including her uniform – and cut up her shoes. Sonya claimed that she had sent the text while she was drunk. Vanessa, however, says that she made “a stupid mistake” by going through with the ceremony and that she would now seek a divorce.
But that won’t be easy – or cheap.
No doubt we are going to see much more of this in the coming years. We don’t seem to have learned from the experiences of impetuous heterosexuals who rush in and then find they can’t rush out again quite so easily.
As Julian Ribet, a divorce lawyer, wrote in a letter to The Times: “Although Civil Partnerships are not marriage in the technical sense… on the dissolution of a civil partnership, in most cases there are likely to be serious financial consequences for the parties.” The Civil Partnership Act gives almost identical rights in applying for financial orders on dissolution as those that divorcing straight couples have.
Mr Ribet made reference to two very high profile straight divorce cases that had made the front pages last month, in which the women had been granted very generous settlements. Melissa Miller who, prior to her marriage was earning £85,000 a year, and is expecting now to resume her career, received £5 million from her husband’s £17.5 million stash – after a marriage lasting less than three years. Julia McFarlane was married for 18 years and got half the £3 million assets that she and her husband had accrued in their marriage. She was also awarded £250,000 a year out of her husband’s pay for the rest of her life.
Mr Ribet said that although there wasn’t any case law yet, it was likely that gay couples could expect similar treatment. “In theory,” he said, “the court will be guided by equality and will seek not to discriminate – between the civil partner who is ‘home maker/child carer’ and the civil partner who is the ‘breadwinner’. In reality, the duration of the partnerships (and pre-partnership cohabitation, if any) the respective contributions of the parties and whether there are children, will be relevant factors.”
So, if you’ve got a bit of dough, you can expect a civil partner – however long the partnership lasts – to have some kind of claim on it. And although prenuptial agreements have been feted as the answer, they have no legal standing. The court might consider them but are under no obligation to do so.
After the McFarlane case, the lawyer representing the semi-traumatised Mr McFarlane offered this advice: “One: don’t marry. Two: if you do, make sure your other half is as wealthy as you are. Three: do a prenuptial agreement and keep your fingers crossed.”
This seems to suggest that if you’re a big earner, or you’ve got a big cash stash, you shouldn’t marry.
But soon even that won’t protect you. The government is now considering giving something similar to marriage rights to unmarried couples, and that includes gay couples who haven’t registered their partnership.
The Daily Mirror reported it like this: “Under these proposals…. lower earners could win a share of the home, even if they had made no mortgage contributions, and they may also be entitled to a cash sum, maintenance or a pension.”
Minette Marrin in The Sunday Times was depressed by all this. She saw it as the last nail in the coffin of marriage (and civil partnership, even though we’ve only just got the hammer out). What’s the point when being married or not being married is the same thing? “No-one should embark on a serious relationship without taking a very sober thought for the morrow,” she said ruefully.
But rather than killing marriage off, the man who is leading the enquiry into giving rights to the unmarried, Sir Roger Toulson, thinks it will stimulate more people to take the plunge. After all, there would no longer be any financial benefit for them to stay single.
Indeed, one of the proposals is that cohabiting couples will be treated as married unless they actively opt-out of the system. In other words, egairram (that’s marriage backwards) – you have to sign a contract saying you’re not married, rather one that says you are! Living in sin is the new default position!
What on earth are the bishops going to make of this? Fetch the smelling salts! I can see a bout of collective swooning coming on among their reverences.
But need they worry? Not according to Adrian Hamilton in The Independent. He sees no future for marriage as a “sacrament” among the population at large – fewer and fewer are opting for church weddings. But he does see that it still has meaning for the religious. “For them, marriage is a sacrament of their faith before it is either a legal contract or financial settlement. Marriage in its centuries-long tradition, will survive among believers because it springs from their deep conviction. Perhaps as more and more of us opt for a civil service or none at all, it may be that the real meaning of the marriage service is about to reassert itself.”
Perhaps, eventually, then, the English churches will come to their senses and do what the Church of Scotland has done, and permit those ministers who want to, to bless civil partnerships and allow into the fold those gay people who – for some reason that eludes me – want to be part of the church.
* * *
Excuses, excuses. Really, some of them are nothing short of pathetic. Mark Oaten started the trend when he was shat on by his rent boy (once literally, for £80 and then again metaphorically for £20,000 when he sold his story to the tabloids). Mr Oaten gave a long, maundering interview to The Sunday Times explaining why it was that he couldn’t stop himself going to rent boys. It was all to do with his hair falling out, apparently.
After that little justification, he was roundly joshed by the papers who couldn’t help laughing at the feebleness of it. If he’d just said – I was feeling incredibly randy and wanted a bit of man on man action, everyone would have accepted it as a normal human impulse, albeit one that he was stupid to act upon. But really – “I went to a prostitute because I only need to buy economy sized shampoos these days.” Can you credit it?
And then comes the grandly named Reverend Mugerwa Smith Wilkinson of Stockport, who wrote a letter to The Independent, explaining why Ugandans are thoroughgoing homophobes. Apparently, it’s all because the King of the Buganda (as Uganda was called in pre-colonial times) had 52 page boys for his sexual gratification. “Homosexual activity was a normal activity in Buganda society,” the Rev reveals. “The British missionaries taught the page boys that homosexuality is a sin. When the boys refused the advances of the Kabaka (king) he had them wrapped in faggots of wood and burnt. These 52 boys are feted as Uganda Martyrs and the Church of Uganda is founded upon their martyrdom. Because of this, homosexuality is seen as an icon of oppression by many Africans and abhorred for this reason.”
Oh give me a break Mugerwa, old boy. If homosexuality was common in Buganda then, it is common in Uganda now. People don’t stop having the kind of sex they want because of stories like this. The reason the present-day population of Uganda is homophobic is because your lousy church has encouraged them to be.
QUOTES OF THE MONTH:
“I am only too happy to believe that Jesus was married. I know that the Catholic Church has problems with gay people and I thought this would be absolute proof for them that Jesus was not gay,” (Ian McKellen at the launch of the Da Vinci Code)
“Gay partnerships are congruous with the deepest biblical truths, about faithfulness and stability.” (Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford.)
“I can just about accept a Minister who, in the name of her God gives herself a good thrashing before setting off for the office. What I find more difficult to accept is that her new job is about promoting equal opportunities for gays when her religion says they are all sinners, and her duty is to spread that message.” (Carole Malone on Ruth Kelly, Sunday Mirror)