Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Gay marriage" - a personal evolution of understanding

If there is one phenomenon which seems to have gripped the world, it's the legalisation of same-sex marriage.  I like to think it started in New Zealand back in 2013, and certainly a huge milestone was reached this week in America.

I personally have welcomed these laws.  But at risk of being seen as a bit of a jerk - I have to admit that I wasn't always so positive about the idea of same-sex marriage.  What I want to do is look at what changed my mind, particularly when it comes to avoiding entrenched thinking in ourselves.

I first encountered the idea of same-sex marriage back in about 1993, when someone was trying to get me to sign a petition about it at University.  I have to be honest, and say that I didn't sign it.

Unlike a lot of people who thought "homosexuality was a sin", I didn't have that problem at all.  Heck, as the defence of so many goes, "I even had a lot of gay friends".  But I'd grown up in a society where homosexuality was considered "something different" - indeed in the UK we were often told that the age of consent for gay sex (21) was higher than that of hetrosexual sex (16), because "it was a confusing time where young people hadn't decided who they were".

But marriage, well was marriage.  It was a sacred thing (yes, I was Christian), it was all about having children, and saying two people of the same-sex could be married was ridiculous.

So from such an entrenched viewpoint, what came to change my position?

I got married

Okay - I may be a guy, but in hindsight, I probably had this idea that "you get married, and it's all like a fairytale ... they lived happily ever after".

I might need a minute here ...

The reality is somewhat different.  I like to consider myself a veteran of marriage - with 18 years in October.  I need to be frank, it's no fairytale, and there have been really tough times.  There have been times I didn't think we'd make it.

There has been attraction to other people, times we've got on each others nerves, and arguments galore.  When people first meet and fall in love, they want to do everything together - but sooner or later it's realised that although there might be a lot of common ground, there are areas where each person wants slightly different things.  Great relationships manage to balance up the needs of two people with a good element of compromise so that neither feels too neglected.  To sum it up, I think it's something like this,

  • Us time
  • We doing something you like
  • We doing something I like
  • Me doing something I like on my own/with my friends
  • You doing something you like on your own/with your friends

To me now, marriage is about having someone who is prepared to stand at your side, and face the perils of the world to make a difference.  So not so much this ...

But pretty much these two ...

We knew other couples who (shock horror) didn't want children

Remember that "sacred thing" I talked about, where a marriage between a man and a woman was all about being able to have children?  To our surprise, once we were married we started to encounter people who had absolutely no intention of having children - far from it.

Did anyone try to suggest to them that "their marriage" was somehow compromised by this?  Nope.

Some of those gay friends of mine ...

More than anything, this had a huge factor.  Yes, in my marriage, I was "in a relationship" and as discussed above, learning that being married wasn't all happily ever afters.

But seeing gay friends over years also be in a relationship (one particularly close couple in particular), I noticed some really important things.  They went through the same trials and difficulties I'd noticed in my own marriage.  Dealing with separation due to work demands, coping together through tragedy and sometimes clear "getting on each other's nerves".

I know it's no glossy poster for gay relationships.  But here's the thing, my experiences were their experiences.  For better, for worse.

But here's the thing, we lived in a society which would claim that because me and my partner were different gender, somehow our relationship was more "valid"/"sacred"/"worthy" than that of Simon and Steve.  That was a nonsense - because all I could see was another couple going through the same trials "that couples go through".

So that's what change my mind - not the cause, or the arguments, however worthy.  But the maturing of knowing people who were being affected, and coming to realise "we're not so different".  A policy on paper might have a certain logic, but there's nothing to getting perspective like knowing the people affected by such a policy, people you've come to love and respect.

In the light of changes to law there's still a way to go - a lot of people see the legalisation of same-sex marriage as an affront to their faith, I read that being gay is still considered a crime in almost 100 countries.

Attitudes change - I know, mine did ...