GAY TIMES, December 2001

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

New Labour, we are told by the website, is giving serious consideration to the idea of partnership registration for gay couples. In an interview with Baroness Sally Morgan, the Minister for Women and Equality, we are told that “There is an increasing public debate on rights for same sex partnerships and I think it’s one that the government is watching with interest because there are clearly areas where most people would recognise that at the moment there is some unfairness.”

It sounds like good news, but the good Baroness goes on to tell us that “there’s no suggestion whatsoever that the government would move on the issue of marriage. We are very clear that marriage remains as it is and there would be no change in that.”

So, marriage is an institution reserved exclusively for heterosexuals, is it? Did you say you were the Minister for Equality, Sally? Could you give us some idea of what “equality” actually means in New Labour circles?

The news was greeted with equanimity by most of the tabloids, although The Daily Express went into Daily Mail mode with a front page headline reading: “Fury over go-ahead for gay ‘marriage’” It quoted our old friends Cornelia Oddie of “Family and Youth Concern” and Dr Adrian Rodgers who now runs an outfit called “Family Focus”, presumably from his front room. They considered that “Gay rights campaigners have won yet another battle.” It’s very nice of them to say so, but it’s a bit premature. However, we do seem to be motoring on this one.

Meanwhile in The Mail itself, there was slightly less hysteria, although it managed to squeeze in a quote from Ann Widdecombe (who seems to have inherited the title Blonde Bombsite from Lily Savage). La Widdecombe pronounced said: “This would undermine the institution of marriage. Any kind of formal recognition of gay relationships would militate against marriage.”

Last month, Jane Griffiths MP set the ball rolling by introducing a Bill into Parliament seeking to “legitimise” gay and lesbian partnerships. It gained a pleasing majority of 120. Reporting this in The Daily Telegraph, Frank Johnson wrote: “Tory MPs – already terrorised by the new regime of tolerance imposed by anyone contesting, or winning, the party leadership – fled the Chamber.”

This was not true of John Bercow, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who wrote an article for The Times in which he said: “A Conservative argument can be made for such an arrangement… we must not speak or behave in such a way as to imply the inception of such arrangements in this country would mark the end of civilisation as we know it.”

For all his fine words, Mr Bercow couldn’t see his way to supporting the Griffiths Bill (to be fair he didn’t oppose it, either).

Another issue – that of partly gay relationships – was also raised last month as the TV series Bob and Rose came to an end. The series was an exploration of what can be termed the Robinsonian – because its most high-profile adherent is the pop singer Tom Robinson. The Robinsonian is a relationship between a gay man and a straight woman. Since Bob and Rose hit the screens, there has been an acknowledgment that such relationships are far more common than was realised.

The Sun carried a feature about a couple – Caroline and Andy – who have a Robinsonian and seem perfectly happy. Caroline even goes so far as to say that she considers herself “the luckiest woman alive” because she has “the most gorgeous man who doesn’t fancy any of my friends!”

They met at the wedding of a mutual friend, but didn’t actually consummate the relationship until Andy went to Brighton, where Caroline lives, to the Gay Pride Festival. Caroline knew Andy was gay, and there was no big ‘coming out’ scene. They are now happily married and hope to have children. Andy says that he is still gay, although he has promised to be faithful to Caroline. “I feel happier than ever,” he says. “Being married hasn’t changed my sexuality, but I have pledged to be faithful to Caroline. I would never jeopardise my relationship. I am still a gay man – my partner just happens to be a woman.”

Many readers will be puzzled by these arrangements, but who are we to pass judgement on what other people feel? If it’s right for them, then that’s all there is to it. Although, of course, this is one gay man who doesn’t feel discriminated against in the marriage stakes.

A much more worrying manifestation of this willingness of straight women to marry gay men as a trophy or comforter, or even a cuddly toy, was demonstrated by Cristina Odone in The Observer. She described how she went to a big wedding in the Lake District where: “Sharing my hymn sheet is a delectable young man who, when he gets drunk at lunch, tells me blithely how he’s had an affair with the groom. ‘So have half the men here’ he giggles as he downs the champagne.”

At first Ms Odone is shocked and wonders why someone didn’t speak up at the “If anyone knows of just impediment why these two should not be married” bit of the service. Then she gets to thinking about the number of married politicians and entertainers who are rumoured to be gay and concludes: “if even half of the stories are true, there must be lots of marriages out there between gay him and straight her.”

After considering the matter for a while she says: “What could be nicer? When straight she draws gay him into the straight community, everyone benefits. He certainly does.”

She says that for millennia, gay men chose marriage because it secured their property rights, lines of succession and, in Christian societies, avoided puritanical censure.

“In evolutionary terms,” Ms Odone tells us, “the marrying gay is on to a winner; he secures the right to pass on his genes, rather than foregoing the reproductive imperative in order – according to the latest research – to assist his siblings’ children.”

From the woman’s point of view the advantages are that she gets for herself a great companion who isn’t this macho stud. “Marry a gay man and you do away with the tension (at first so exciting, but ultimately so exhausting) of being with a sexual aggressor who’s ever on the prowl and whose every thought bubble is of you in a pussy-pelmet and stilettos.”

She thinks it would be great to shift the emphasis of marriage from attraction to camaraderie, and who better to provide that than a tame gay man. “I’ve always known that some of my best friends are gay,” says Cristina, finally. “Now I might even marry one.”

Of course, a castrated homosexual would be the ideal for such a woman as Ms Odone. For your average gay man might not be on the prowl for pussy, but he never loses his taste for cock. To expect gay men to become eunuchs so that they can support women and their children is to expect too much. I think, before she takes precipitate action, Ms Odone ought to do a bit of research about the number of acrimonious divorces that occur because gay men have tried to sacrifice their sexuality on the altar of straight marriage. What she is advocating, in effect, is the same as what the ex-gay movement does, and we all know what a failure that little exercise has been.

Meanwhile, up on Canal Street in Manchester, the girls are out in force trying to do a Bob and Rose – according to the Guardian, anyway. Decca Aitkenhead reported that the gay village is now crowded with straight women looking for something. Something that’s different to their usual hetero milieu with its aggression and naffness. One such woman, Irene Kyme, who was there with her gay friend, is quoted as saying: “He wants me! He does, I swear. He was talking about threesomes the other night. Would I do it? Ab-so-lutely! I’m telling you, some of the men in here, they’re absolutely gorgeous. Straight men, they all just go about in Ben Sherman shirts. In here, it’s so exciting.”

Some of the gay regulars on Canal Street aren’t quite so thrilled. Mark Blake, a Via Fossa regular said: “These women come clattering in here like herds of wildebeest, shouting ‘Oi, I think you’re fucking sexy’. They’re always fat and bawdy, and I really don’t know where they get their clothes from. They dance around, and bosoms hit the floor and the ceiling, and the other night we couldn’t even get in because there were so many of them. It’s like the fat ladies’ Ritzy now. What they think they’re going to get out of it I don’t know.”

Presumably they live in hope that they’ll be able to attract a gay teddy bear to take home and cuddle (just cuddle, that’s all), just like Rose did.

Somebody who knows what the dire consequences of the Robinsonian can be for those who are unprepared is Deirdre Sanders, agony aunt at The Sun. She received a letter from a woman mooning over a gay friend. “This bloke and I spend all our time together and talk on the phone every day. We are really close. I know I am in love with him – so much it’s unbearable… He says he loves me, but not in the normal sense, more as in a close loving relationship. It hurts so much and I am so unhappy.”

Deirdre sensibly replied: “You know you can’t change this man. He can only be a dear friend. You are the one who must change.”

Of course, since Bob and Rose, there is far less likelihood that Ms Sanders’ wise advice will be heeded. And we can expect a spate of very unhappy marriages in the near future.

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