Sunday, 18 October 2009

Goin' To The Chapel

We got hitched the other day. Tied the knot. Said ‘I do.’

So...while I await the photos our friend took to document the happy day, I'll share a thought or two with you all. Oh, joy. You know, I can hear you rolling your eyes...ha!

I never thought I’d have the right to legally marry a partner. Although it is called Civil Partnership, the rights and responsibilities and protections are the very same as marriage; indeed, I often call it marriage rather than making the superficial distinction. The only people who care about the distinction are the very religious types who don’t wholly approve of a ‘homosexual lifestyle,’ and the radical types who don’t wholly approve of the patriarchal institution of marriage. That’s okay. They can all go hang.

Like any newly married person I’m both giddy with delight and deeply moved by how much love there is between us, my partner and me. As we faced each other in an upstairs office at Wellington House in Canterbury, and were pronounced Civil Partners, I felt like the love we shared was literally moving out from us in ripples and filling the room. Even though we deliberately chose the no fuss service in which we only had to repeat a declaration that we knew of no legal reason why we may not be joined as Civil Partners, there was a solemnity and weight to it that was reassuring. The State takes us seriously enough to remind us that it is a lifetime commitment, not to be taken lightly. The government of the United Kingdom has a fundamentally different perception of my relationship than does the government of my own country.

The United States doesn’t care about my relationship. The government of my country has not bothered to rid itself of the influence of bullying right-wing zealots who dictate morality for the masses. President Obama doesn’t seem, at this early stage, to be readily poised to make any more progress on that front than did President Clinton. You know all those times a politician sucks the air out the room convincing everyone he’s a Christian in order to simply survive a primary race? Those are great big red flags that signal the continued rule of a narrow type of religiosity in America. We all know there is a litmus test for presidential candidates, which is that they have to be Christian enough. A Christian theocracy that masks itself as a democracy is a very difficult thing to change. There will not be a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish president in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my nieces and nephews. There will never be an openly Atheist president. There will never be a U.S. president who describes himself as more spiritual than religious. However, for all their shows of piety, there have been and will be presidents who you’d swear were the devil incarnate. Don’t lose hope, though. The U.S. is still a young nation after all.

The United Kingdom, with its fairly brutal history, could not necessarily be held up as a model of religious freedom and civil rights through the ages. But a measure of how far it has come is the fact that my partner and I can legally marry and have our ceremony carried out by a smiling civil servant who seemed genuinely pleased to do so, genuinely pleased to welcome us to the community of souls with legally binding commitments and protections. All this in a nation that has a monarch as head of State. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, is not only the head of State; she is also the head of the Church of England, defender of the faith. It’s hard for Americans to imagine gay people having any civil rights in that sort of scenario. However, burning heretics has fallen out of fashion, and so has imposing One’s religious views on One’s subjects. Although it probably took a lot pressure and great effort from the gay community, what you see here is change happening from the top down as well as from within society. The Labour government under Tony Blair (with support from the Conservative opposition, it should be noted) boldly enacted the laws that allowed my wedding to happen the other day. Bless them.

What does this tell us? It tells us that change comes even to societies that are steeped in religious tradition and rigid class systems. It tells us that there are governments willing to do the right thing and not wait around for the religious extremists, even those elected to government, to say it’s okay. [Note to moderate and progressive U.S. politicians: if your colleagues try to cut your hands off or otherwise smite you when you reach across the aisle, it’s time to stop reaching across the aisle. Besides, do you really want to shake hands with a guy who spouts bigotry and acts all holier-than-thou in our nation’s hallowed halls of democracy and then goes off and makes homosexual advances in the airport men’s room?]

Having been out of country a little while now, here’s what I can see clearly about the American political landscape:

a) Americans are kidding themselves if they think they live in the ultimate democracy. Perhaps once, and perhaps once again, but not lately.

b) Electing a black president, however wonderful and fluffy that feels to liberals, doesn’t mean jack in terms of actual civil rights. If President Obama and his Democratic senate decide to get something - anything - done instead of trying to play kissy-kissy-smooch-smooch with those clearly unwilling republicans, we may see some progress in terms of said civil rights. Get on with it, guys. I know. Let’s start with health care. That’s a basic civil right. Isn’t it?

Is it possible for change in America? Oh, absolutely. And one huge indication of a general desire for change is that voters went for the rhetoric of change. Ah, the audacity of rhetoric. Rhetoric is not necessarily a negative thing, nor is it always empty. If it works its way into the mainstream lexicon, the cultural norms and expectations end up being subtly altered over time. It matters little whether President Obama meant what he said, if the voters who elected him based on what he said put the pressure on him to live up to it. It may well be true that President Obama is the first U.S. president in a long time worth pressuring. It may not seem polite or politically correct to relentlessly pressure our first black president but we would completely underestimate him if we sat back and accepted anything half-baked from him. And truth be told, he can take it. He has to. As America’s first black president he’ll have to be better and work harder than any U.S. president before him. Every minority knows that’s true. As cynical as I may be about his alleged commitment to gay rights, there’s one thing I know for sure: President Obama wants to succeed. It’s palpable. Let’s help him.

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