Matthew Parris

Gay civil partners should resist pressure to 'upgrade' to marriage

10 August 2013

9:00 AM

10 August 2013

9:00 AM

Apparently I’ve proposed to my civil partner. He claims that on BBC Radio 2, on the Jeremy Vine show (he thinks it was the JV show) I expressed myself in terms which presumed his prior acceptance. I can’t remember a thing about it — on live radio one does tend to throw these thoughts out heedlessly — but my partner swears I said, ‘Oh yes, well I suppose we’ll have to get an upgrade.’ He found this a graceless way of popping the question, and has forbidden me from using the term ‘upgrade’ again.

Ah well. But in that case, if not ‘upgrade’, what shall we call it? ‘Conversion’ appears to be the word gaining ground among gay friends, an expression carrying (for me) stronger associations with religion or loft-improvement than with the married state, but an expression which will have to do, not least because it’s technically quite accurate: for civil partners, the marriage conversions that should start taking place by next summer will not require a new civil ceremony, but will be more like a routine planning application guaranteed to go through on the nod. You just have to fill in some forms and pay a fee.

Which brings me to the question that — now the act of parliament is in place — existing civil partners will be asking with increasing urgency as the year turns, for this has slipped into law far faster than many of us expected. Does a partnership-to-marriage conversion require another wedding?

The Spectator’s Mary will soon be receiving letters from socially insecure gays, begging for guidance. ‘Dear Mary,’ they will write, ‘my partner and I have decided to convert our civil partnership into marriage next year. We had a rather lavish wedding-style party to celebrate the civil partnership last year. Now comes the possibility of a proper wedding party next year to celebrate the conversion. Should we? What will friends expect?’

I am not Mary, who will offer her own counsel. But if I were (say) Dorothy, and had my own Dear Dorothy column for bewildered gays, this would be my reply…


‘Darlings, your civil partnership ceremony and wedding-style party were a terrific success. Some of us were honoured to be among many dear friends enveloping you in their love, support and affection at the Crouch End Register Office. We were delighted you went for the top-of-the-range option on the local council’s ceremony menu. We were touched by the poetry and music. We adored the readings from Khalil Gibran. The harp was genius. The tremor in your voices as you exchanged vows was profoundly touching, and we don’t mind confessing we shed a tear ourselves as you read out the lovely haikus you’d composed to each other.

‘And the party afterwards was awfully jolly. We were honoured to appear in the many group photographs for which we stood around beforehand for an hour or two. We loved the lavish dinner and felt privileged to be seated with your aunts from Rhyl; we hope we helped bring them round to an understanding that the occasion was a happy one and that your poor parents would not be turning in their graves. The eight speeches were so hilarious that three-quarters of an hour of oratory seemed to pass in minutes.

‘The dancing was a hoot. What an inspired idea to hire that talented Bucks Fizz tribute band! The whole day must have set you back a good £20,000. Truly, those eight genial hours, all indoors on that sunny Saturday, will number among our most treasured memories. And we hope our gift of a complete set of Alexander McQueen bed linen, selected at some expense from the items on your wedding list at Liberty, will number among yours. All in all, it was a fabulous day.

‘But, darlings, not again. One was super. One was tremendous. But, please, not a second. How much more fabulousness can we take? How much more is there to say? How much more joy is possible? Our cup runneth over already. We’ve been to a score or more of civil partnerships over the last few years and they’ve all been thrilling — but to the best of our knowledge every one of these couples is planning to convert…

‘That’s at least 20 more Saturdays, all with the same people. That could be a tenth of all the Saturdays left in some of your older friends’ lives. That could be £2,000 in further gifts to friends who’ve had gifts already.

‘Your sort-of-wedding party last year was a total winner. For all our sakes, quit while you’re ahead. Send out a card saying that in these times of national economic anxiety you feel another party would be ostentatious, and instead you’ve made a modest private donation to a small, village-based Congolese charity. That will do. Honestly, that will do.’

Perhaps I overstate my case — and I risk offending friends whose civil-partnership parties I really have enjoyed — but I’m in deadly earnest. Which way the fashionable view tips over the next year will decide the weekend fate of tens of thousands of us in the years ahead. On this question of gay etiquette, let the trumpet give a certain sound right away, before the invitations are printed.

I realise there’s no precedent, but perhaps the closest parallel is with the case where a heterosexual couple has divorced, and then later decided to remarry. The most famous of these was Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor’s eight marriages involved eight ceremonies and eight parties, with varying degrees of ostentation; but she kept her re-marriage ceremony to Burton reasonably private. In Noël Coward’s Private Lives we are left to guess at how lavish the remarriage (to each other) of the previously divorced newlyweds, each on honeymoon with a new spouse, is likely to prove; but one’s sense of Coward’s instincts is that the occasion would have been private, intimate and small.

Were I to disappear, be taken for dead, observe from afar my own grief-stricken friends at my funeral, then later decide to return and surprise them, I should absolutely insist in my will that none of my friends was to go through all this again. One funeral is quite enough for one person. So is one wedding for two people. Fellow gays, take note.

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Show comments
  • Robert Taggart

    No wedding = better still = enjoy liberty !
    There was a time when Bachelors like oneself would be referred to as a ‘bachelor gay’ – not anymore – glad to say !

  • Sneakus

    I’m totally supportive of same-sex couples formalising a commitment in law and getting some kind of protection over estates. This is a correct recognition in law of a loving commitment between two people and the life they will build. What I am baffled by though is that same-sex couples, if forming a partnership for love rather than child-bearing, often do so in a ceremony full of symbols of fertility – such as throwing rice or confetti, among others. If marriage is not about children, then why the fertility symbols?

    Then, if a member of a heterosexual marriage can file for divorce on the grounds the marriage was not consummated, is there now some kind of odd, unintended discrimination where same-sex couples are excused this detail but heterosexual couples are not?

    Repeat, I am not against life-long unions between same-sex couples being recognised in law. I think it’s rather nice. But I do not for a moment accept that marriage is about love and not children.

    Perhaps we should allow infertile, heterosexual couples to form a civil partnership but not marry. Crikey, I am already scared for the comments this idea will generate.

    • Sneakus

      OK so here’s a controversial idea. All couples, whether hetero- or homo-sexual, can form civil unions. Exactly equal status.
      Then, only heterosexual couples that produce a child can graduate to a formal status of being married *once* they have had a child, with all the proper tax-breaks in place that recognise the cost of child-rearing and the need to protect their future.
      Any yaes or naes? Let’s hear them…

      • grutchyngfysch

        Here’s an even easier idea for those who cannot stand the idea that there exists an institution to which everyone and their mother (pace Tebbit) is not entitled.
        Why not just reform inheritance law, tax provision and next-of-kin designations? Not only would you catch whatever proportion of the 2% of the population who are attracted to people of the same sex, but the vast numbers of people living in “common law” relationships.
        Wouldn’t be any need at all then to “register” your relationship with the State. But hey, politicians wouldn’t be able to peddle their self-congratulatory New Morality.

      • StephanieJCW

        I support your idea Sneakus.

    • StephanieJCW

      Probably because many people don’t see those as symbols of fertility but just traditional things you have at a wedding.

      Anyway regards your last statement, surely it would be easier to only permit marriage for people with children…

    • Rocksy

      Good post. Here’s the ‘but’ (no pun), why the need to provide the disclaimer that you support civil unions? This is supposedly a free society. Why does anyone with a non PC idea or opinion always have to justify their opinions?

    • Ricky Strong

      You make a good and valid point. The only problem I see is that a same-sex couple could claim that they too will bring children into the world via surrogate mothers or donated sperm.

      As with yourself, I support the idea of two people who are in love being able to have that recognised in law. I just think that we perhaps downplay the importance of having both female and male influences on a child’s upbringing. And that is not to say a same-sex couple could never raise a child as well, but if it is of fundamental importance to mother nature then I do not think it should be so readily dismissed.

    • Baron

      Would you also be totally supportive of more than a couple formalising a commitment in law? Say four women and three men? Would you also think ‘it’s rather nice’ if they felt in love with each other?

      Baron would, it does feel nice, and in our society everything that feels nice, warm compassinate goes. Why not a mother loving deeply her daughter marrying her. Feels nice, too, don’t you think, Sneakus?

    • Hello?

      It can be about children if they choose to adopt them.

  • george

    Weddings are between one man and one woman. You’re trying to make a vanilla cake without the vanilla. It will never happen.

    • Iain Hill

      I’ve been to a number of weddings between two men!

      • george

        I’m sure you have, Iain. But to me it’s being asked to see blue as red and white as black. I simply can’t. Marriage has a particular meaning that has informed my whole life and the civilization that gave me existence, and that for me is as real as anything else we can know about on this planet.

  • Iain Hill

    Why an upgrade? Civil partnership is perfectly OK without us needing to ape the straights ‘ view of marriage and how it need be celebrated.

    • StephanieJCW

      I would like to have a civil partnership but for some reason us straights aren’t allowed to have one.

      • Rocksy

        I would like to have someone else have children and raise them to working age , when I can adopt them.

    • Andrew Daws

      Just because it’s different. I don’t need a different kind of commitment just because I have a different sexuality. Names are really important.

  • Gareth

    I think it’s great that civil partneships are there for same sex couples but marriage is to naturally have and bring up children of your own, to give the children a male and female environment and to ensure the future of the human race. I know we are not doing a very good job in that respect these days but that’s how I see it and I apologise if my veiw offends.

    • Andrew Daws

      The problem with defining marriage by the presence of children is that it renders couples who are childless by choice or otherwise as second rate marriages. Of course it is better for children to be brought up in a stable relationship, but there are many very successful families with 2 partners of the same gender. But relationships aren’t just about procreation.
      There are plenty of examples of vulnerable societies where it is valuable to encourage procreation where numbers are low, but not only is that not the case here but to build a moral case out of expediency is unwise. In the Bible there was a proscription against eating shellfish and animals with cloven hooves, but we don’t consider those to be of universal moral significance.
      The reason gay marriage is important is that we have finally accepted as a society that being gay isnt about being naughty: it isn’t even really about the sex. It’s about being born with a different orientation, and if you object to gay marriage you are saying that we are not fit to sit at the same table. I’m not offended by your views, I just think they’re rather sad. Does gay marriage somehow threaten your relationship?

      • Gareth

        No Andrew. Gay marriage doesn’t threaten me in any way, I have been and still am happily married for 56 years and I have spent the last 80 years seeing all the changes that have taken place in this regard and I think it is now as it should be. But I have an opinion which I am surely entitled to.
        I am just one of the millions of people who have reservations about the gay marriage concept. I know that stating the obvious “I have many gay friends” is a no-no in this day and age, but in truth I have and when I was much younger several of my friends I cared about very much were jailed just for being gay so perhaps I have more of an insight into just how far we have progressed than most people, simple as that..
        However thank you for your response.

        • Andrew Daws

          Oh dear, this is the second time I have had to rewrite a complete post. I must get the hang of this new fangled technology.
          I wrote a long and impassioned post about how I was married for 5 years partly to try to fit in, to meet other people’s expectations that by marrying a woman I would become a heterosexual, but I’m not going to rewrite that.
          I guess what I’m trying to say is that after many decades of struggle I have accepted that being gay is not only not my choice but it’s OK, and I would like the right to aspire to the sort of relationship that you have. 56 years. Wow. I won’t manage that but…
          For anyone to deny me that right leads me to ask on what basis. I can understand how homosexuality is threatening, and apologise for that, but it’s not something I can choose not to be: if it were, I would have succeeded in becoming not one many years ago.
          Thanks for your considered response. Yes the Spectator does seem to have a better class of contributor.

          • Tom M

            I wouldn’t wish living a lie like that on anyone Andrew and I sympathise with you.
            However I cannot understand the logic of my-life-has-been-blighted-because-I-cannot-be-married groups. I watched with some sympathy gay people demanding equality under the law and I agreed. I watched gay people proclaiming their existance and that they were different and proud to be so. Now they want to be married like everybody else.
            I watched a discussion on gay marriage on QT the other night and all I heard were bad tempered demands for gay rights from members of the audience one shouting down a lady with Christian views. Are we really saying that she is now wrong and now a bigot? Are we really saying that the society that I was brought up in is wrong and the law can now be used to emphasise and correct my mistake?
            This to me is intolerance on a grand scale. Gay rights are not some new physical law that has been discovered saying 2+2 equals 22 and we have all been wrong all these years. Gay Rights is now social engineering and is being promoted way beyond it’s importance.

          • Andrew Daws

            Yes I can see that the aggressive attitude of some campaigners can be off putting. I well remember Peter Tatchell interrupting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter Sermon waving banners, and thinking it was somehow in poor taste. But campaigners against slavery, and suffragettes both riled many people who would rather the conversation was civilised.

            Also in both those cases, and in the case of gay equality, there is a built up head of steam from the long struggles, so expressions of frustration are not surprising.

            I suppose at the root of it, those who see marriage as only between opposite genders are seeing it unconsciously as a social mechanism for ensuring distribution of property, including the ownership of women, of forming alliances between families, and ensuring a safe environment for procreation (I know I’m being provocative). There are still some ceremonial references to the older functional views such as the giving of diamond rings to represent the dowry, the use of a veil so that the husband does not see his wife until after the ceremony, and keeping the supporters of bridge and groom apart in the church.
            The concept of romantic love as the centre of marriage is a relatively recent development (a few hundred years). Now that we tend to conceive of marriage as being primarily about the relationship between the two parties, there is much less reason to exclude gay couples. Any talk of marriage being primarily about bringing up children no longer makes sense, in that there are many straight couples who are childless through choice or infertility, and many gay couples who make great parents. And bringing in bible references can be very unhelpful, when they are used to bolster an existing view rather than initiate thinking (such as using Paul’t teachings to justify not freeing your slaves, or your women keeping quiet in church).

            So I accept that having lived in a society where heterosexual marriage was the only option for most of your long years, it will be more of a shock to you than to the majority who are in the market for a marriage: those in their teens twenties and thirties are much more accepting. I’m 60, and I suspect that if I were not gay I would also be having problems with the whole concept myself.

            But you and I are not the issue: it’s not we who are choosing to commit to our partners. Our role is to support our children and friends to ensure that the path they have chosen is paved with as much loving care as we can provide.

          • wudyermucuss

            On the basis that marriage is a man and a woman.
            It really is quite simple.

      • wudyermucuss

        It’s about being born with a different orientation –
        Gays are different then?
        Well,that’s a start,(and a fact).
        So,surely,require different arrangements?

        • Hello?

          Men and women are also born different. Surely they’re entitled to the same civil rights. Fathers should also be granted rights as primary care givers for their children when they make better parents than the mother. Having a uterus doesn’t make you a better parent, just like being a heterosexual couple does not necessarily make a better fit for marriage.

    • vieuxceps2

      Why do you feell the need to apologise for expressing a simple, natural opinion in polite words? We must not let minorities blackmail us into nurturing their egos, They don’t exactly accord us that favour, do they?

  • Andrew Daws

    You’re right about not wanting to have the whole shebang again, wedding list or not. I went to the marriage of two straight divorcees and was pretty upset to be expected to shell out again for a table lamp. The worst part was that both were Christians, and the vicar said in his sermon that a marriage with Christ at the centre could never fail. Ahem. And thanks for another very amusing article. Let’s see if it’s worth the Spectator subscription.

    • Bonkim

      Not everyone calling lord Lord will find the kingdom of heaven – not all claiming to be Christian are Christians.

  • Rocksy

    ‘Equal’ doesn’t mean ‘the same’. In fact it means ‘not the same’ but corresponding, commensurate.
    On another note, I’m not too enthusiastic about heterosexual couples being used as incubators or test tubes for homosexual couples who want to have children.

  • Kitty MLB

    As a Roman Catholic my church has real issues with this, and to be quite
    honest , although I am profoundly not homophobic I used to be against
    gay marriage, Purely for religious reasons and that marriage was about
    two people coming together before God and a moral framework for the creation
    of children
    Yet my church is somewhat hypocritical, in the sense that its ok to be a
    gay priest now as long as you refrain from sowing your wild oats.
    I now think there is so much hatred in the world by those who deplore humanity
    and will murder with a blink of an eye, so therefore I am not against love,
    but others should respect those with religious views and not belittle or antagonise
    them.

    • Rocksy

      It has always been ‘OK’ to be a priest. A vow of celibacy for all priests and nuns is a requirement, with a few exceptions as in other rites of the Church. How is it hypocritical?

      • Kitty MLB

        Apologies, I didnot explain myself very well.
        We know what the Roman Catholic Church thinks
        of homosexuality, they think its a ‘evil’.
        Yet if a Anglican gay vicar wishes to become a
        Roman Catholic Priest they will allow that
        as long as these chaps to not sow their
        wild oats , regardless of these chaps being
        an ‘evil’ .

        • Rocksy

          I have never heard the Roman Catholic Church refer to homosexuality as ‘evil’. It admonishes people to refrain from homosexual behaviour, but it also teaches that any sexual behaviour outside of marriage is to be avoided. It doesn’t say that sex is ‘evil’.

          The Catholic Church doesn’t refer to people as evil. If you are a Roman Catholic, you should be more careful about engaging in negative and uninformed chatter about it.

          • Bonkim

            “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. -”

            – Lev.20:13

            2 Peter

            God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for living ungodly, filthy conversation, and unlawful deeds. 2:6-9

          • Rocksy

            Christianity comes from the New Testament. Jesus at no time mentioned homosexuality.

          • Bonkim

            Who says that? Jesus’ follows on from the old Testament – continuation and interlinked. Jesus is not God or Jehovah.

            However believers make God in their own image and you can believe what you want. All religions are superstitions in any case.

          • Hello?

            The RCC will do whatever is required to recruit new membership because their views are so antiquated. They couldn’t care less about civil rights. It’s all about numbers. Most of them are already homosexual and having a gay old time with each other while they treat the female population as inferior creatures. An old “boy’s” club in every sense of the word. God save the Queen! Well….you know which queen I’m referring to.

        • Bonkim

          The Bible speaks of same gender relationship as an abomination – not just Catholics. So one has to reject Christian theology to accept same gender relationships and marriages.

          What baffles me is why homosexuals are obsessed with getting the approval of the Church which in principle considers their condition an abomination.

        • Hello?

          It’s just a new marketing strategy to recruit membership since the CC has been progressively shrinking.

  • Wait a second; was not one of the banner claims for the marriage revisionists that somehow civil partnerships were somehow inferior because they did not have the name ‘marriage’?

    Why, in an age of state-enforced ‘equality’ would a homosexual couple wish to remain in an inferior condition? Does this not mean that their is a class hierarchy within the LGBTQ community: married, partnered and living in gay sin?

    Of course the alternative is that the excuse of inequality and inferiority was simply a ruse to manipulate the emotionally gullible into further destroying a fundamental underpinning of civil society.

    UE

  • DrCrackles

    Intrinsic to marriage is virginity of both bride and groom. By definition homosexuals cannot be virgins.

    Marriage is being ‘violated’ to suit the needs of the parasitical minority.

    • Andrew Daws

      What an odd comment. I have at least one gay male friend who is a virgin, and I don’t know any straight women that are. So based on the straw poll of one, you are not correct.

      • DrCrackles

        The current woeful state of the nation’s morals doesn’t change the fundamentals. The virgin bride is a concept we all understand and has spiritual as well as temporal meaning.

        Virgin homosexual is an oxymoron.

        • Andrew Daws

          That is pure sophistry. A homosexual is someone who is attracted to his own gender. By the same logic a heterosexual could not be defined as such until he or she loses his or her virginity. So what are all children and unmarrieds, asexuals? Your comment about the nation’s morals suggests that you are not in the same league, so do share the secret of your divinity. The traditional view of the 60s as being the era of free expression after the sufferings of two world wars is partly true. Also the advent of the pill meant that we could do what we had been prevented from doing up to that point because of the danger of pregnancy, so the abstinence was not entirely laudable.

          • DrCrackles

            Virginity is more than losing it through some sexual act. The act of ‘losing’ kind of indicates there is more and I would not hold that the virgin who marries loses anything at all. In the traditional sense the virgin who has sex outside of marriage has committed fornication. The virgin who marries and consummates that union enters into a more complete state than the one they left.

            None of this applies to the homosexual. Hence virginity, consummation, fornication and even adultery are terms which have no meaning for the homosexual.

          • Andrew Daws

            Again you’re just playing with words. Virginity is defined by the lack of a sex act, however much meaning you want to add to it. And to say that someone who has sex “enters into a more complete state” is as bad as saying a marriage does not count if there are no children. Many celibates, including the vast majority of Catholic priests, monks and nuns, would disagree. So anything you have to say about the state of homosexuality is meaningless.

          • scampy1

            What about homosexuals passing really large high fibre turd?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Word on the street is that some straight women prefer gay men. A lot of advantages; can stay over without complications. Good fashion sense, level of hygiene, wide range of interests, whistle up for a “couples” social occasion. No more, “When am I going to see you again?”
        And the gay man still in the closet gets that all-important cover needed to keep his job. “Damian, gay? Nonsense. He`s got a girlfriend.”
        Jack, Japan Alps

        • scampy1

          And go home with AIDS VIRUS?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            I do believe you`re failing to grasp the thrust of the argument.

        • wudyermucuss

          Good fashion sense, level of hygiene, wide range of interests –
          Oh please;stereotype alert!
          And gay/lesbian unions of convenience are nothing new,used to be called beards.

  • Bonkim

    This is getting to be a bore.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    If Britain had separation of Church and State, the Anglican and Catholic branches of Christianity would have their knickers in quite such a twist over “two types of marriage”.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Homosexuality, same-sex marriage; for it is an abomination unto the Lord. Homosexuality that is, not Christianity. You would describe Christianity as an abomination. A distasteful parody of Christ`s teaching, sure. But an abomination ….

  • scampy1

    What homosexual men do is unnatural and disgusting as any world wide survey would confirm.
    If you are in an unnatural disgusting relation ship just shut up about it?

  • Tom Coates

    I once received an invitation to a gay friend’s party (technically, his 40th, but the point holds). It read, something like: “yes, I know the party’s in Barcelona but I’ve been to many of your birthdays, your stag dos and your weddings. I’ve even been to many many of your children’s birthdays and (God help me) christenings. You can damn well make the effort and get on a plane.” So we did, and had a good time. Chin up!

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