GAY TIMES August 2005

Terry Sanderson’s new autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Barring any last-minute glitches, Canada, Spain and New Zealand will, by the time you read this, have joined the growing band of nations that are offering their gay citizens marriage – or some version of marriage.

No doubt Pope Ratpoison is hopping up and down in his bunker at the Vatican because his “children” aren’t doing precisely what he tells them. And no doubt his Evilness will be waging a ceaseless behind-the-scenes campaign to have this legislation repealed at the earliest opportunity.

Indeed, in New Zealand it has started already. When the NZ ambassador to the ‘Holy See’ (the fake state created by the Vatican to get it political influence) was presented to the pope, Ratpoison told him that NZ must get rid of “secular distortions of marriage” immediately. Only traditional models of the institution could possibly “protect women from exploitation”.

But fortunately Ratpoison is not without his critics, even within the Catholic Church. Bernard Ratigan wrote, in a letter to the Catholic magazine The Tablet: “Does Benedict really think that recognising same-sex relationships diminishes heterosexual marriage? Has he met many, or any, Catholic gay couples? I think if he had sustained contact and saw the sheer ordinariness of their lives he would never come out with such hurtful words as ‘anarchy’, ‘libertinism’ and ‘pseudo-freedom’. Such language does a disservice to empirical reality and, I would argue, demonstrates not the fruits of his anthropology and theology but of prejudice.”

The Church of England, too, has got itself into a right twist over the issue. Not only has the Anglican Communion sent the American churches with gay bishops to stand in the corner until further notice, they have also had to come to terms with the Britain’s “Civil Partnership” legislation as it affects its own numerous gay priests.

Here’s the story so far. The Anglican Church’s official policy is that hard core gay relationships are forbidden to members of its clergy. They’re OK if they remain soft-core, with only flaccid genitals, air kisses and the purest thoughts of unsoiled friendship. Any involvement of the nether regions in a vicar’s gay marriage will immediately incur… well, that’s the problem, you see. What will it incur?

The CofE’s Archbishops’ Council has now reportedly been forced to promise guidelines saying that it will be OK for its vicars to enter into a (perfectly legal) Civil Partnership, but they will have to visit their bishop and sign on the dotted line that there will be no hanky-panky.

Picture the scene. “You may be married to your boyfriend now, my lad,” the bishop will say sternly, “But you must sign this form to promise that you will not bum him or suck him off or even give him a little J. Arthur. Nor will he do any of the aforementioned genital activities to you. Now, how about a nice sherry?”

Of course, what will happen in reality is that the blushing bishop will say: “Do you promise to observe church teaching?” and the vicar – who will still have the confetti in his hair – will say “Of course.” And then go out and say to his waiting spouse: “I read the Bible differently to him, so as far as I’m concerned it’s OK for us to enjoy a few conubials.” They will then pop off to Gran Canaria for their honeymoon which might involve a threesome if they’re lucky.

In the same vein, in the Church Times, the Revd. David Rogers said: “My heart sinks at the thought of the stiff and embarrassing atmosphere that will pervade the episcopal interview. It will be as if the quality, longevity and uniqueness of the same-sex relationship, in all its beauty and passion, were as nothing, and the detail of sexual activity will be everything. Were marriage preparation conducted with such an imbalance, the interviewer would be thought of as unhealthily obsessed… If I were a diocesan bishop, I should be more concerned to know why my lesbian and gay clergy didn’t avail themselves of the Civil Partnership Act.”

Andrew Carey, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, was quick to latch on to the ludicrousness of all this. “Our capacity for self-deception in the Church is unrivalled,” he wrote in the Church of England Newspaper. “In reality, anything but an absolute ban on civil partnerships for clergy will introduce homosexual marriage to the Church of England without any proper theological discussion and debate in the Councils of the Church whatsoever…. In future the Church of England will have effectively changed its policy and teaching on marriage without even admitting it.”

However, outside the deluded churches, many gay couples are now finding that they have a security and a status that they could never have imagined, even five years ago. The Methodists have even (however patronisingly) voted to consider “blessing” gay unions in some way. Hip, hip hooray!

But wait. There are other people, besides the religious bigots, who aren’t entirely happy with these developments.

Kenji Yoshimo ruminated in the Village Voice in New York about why and how the topic of gay marriage had suddenly vaulted to the top of the gay rights agenda. After all, he said, gay Americans don’t even have a statute protecting their rights at work yet, and 87 per cent of respondents to a recent Gallup poll said they would support such a measure. Whereas, for some reason the big deal is gay marriage, which is only supported by 39 per cent. So, he says “why not start in the hiring hall rather than the banqueting hall?”

Well, says Mr Yoshimo, the gay community wants to re-write its biography, to take it out of the tragic mould – often represented by the musty closet or rampaging AIDS – and put it into the joyous mould, represented by jolly same-sex weddings and happy-ever-after contentment.

There is, he says, an idealised and a banal approach to gay marriage. The idealised approach is the one where activists demand that nothing short of marriage will suffice, that we must not be fobbed off with “marriage-lite”. Proponents of this philosophy say that civil partnership-type arrangements “deprive gays of the symbolic capital of the word ‘marriage’. It is social expectations created by the word that explain marriage’s near magical ability to create kin out of thin air, to turn passion into commitment, to make people healthier and happier.”

Another author, calling himself ‘Gay Shame San Francisco’, doesn’t like it at all. Gay Shame wrote in a recent anthology of essays on the topic that marriage is “violent, racist, homophobic – serving as one of the central institutions necessary for organising a misogynist, sexist and oppression-ridden world.” So why do we want it?

Others, like Meredith Mann argue that marriage is simply boring: “We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Married. Yawn.”

But Mr Yoshimo says there is something to be said for the banal approach. Rather than arguing whether marriage is a good thing or not, or whether it’s the real thing or not is beside the point. Simply getting on with it, in all its traditional banality, makes it a fait accompli. It starts to become an everyday part of life, rather than a topic for political debate or activism, and that robs the arguments of their passion.

And, indeed, on the first anniversary of the legalisation of gay marriage in the state of Massachusetts, Deb Price wrote an article in USA Today headlined: “The sky didn’t fall in.”

She found that in that first year, the number of voters prepared to accept gay marriage had rocketed from 35% to 65%. She explains this amazing turnabout by the fact that 6,000 same-sex couples had got married without incident. The apocalyptic warnings from religious fundamentalists about the collapse of Western civilisation simply didn’t come true. It was, in fact, the sheer banality of it all that convinced people that there was no threat.

Kenji Yoshimo ends by saying: “Gay rights activists should not underestimate the power of banality. I’m reminded of a friend who wrote his grandfather a 14-page, single-spaced coming-out letter. After saying all the right things, the grandfather added: ‘And by page eight, I have to say that I was thinking ‘All right, all right, I get it. You’re gay.’”

Mr Yoshimo says that coming out is now a cliché and gay marriage is headed in the same direction – and that’s something we should celebrate. “For,” he concludes, “if we cannot persuade our opponents with high-minded argument, we can still bore them into submission with wedding pictures.”

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