Sunday, April 6, 2014

A historic commitment by society

Brighton’s most historic of buildings was witness in the early hours of Saturday morning to a truly momentous event, which will be remembered not only for its significance for the gay community but for the whole of society.

The first same-sex weddings mean that, with a few exceptions such as direct family, the state no longer dictates who an individual can marry. It is now more of a witness to a declaration between individuals than a jealous authority conferring rights.

The relationship between church, state and society has been changed too, with the former’s right to claim tenure over marriage further reduced. While religious groups retain the right to their own ceremonies and traditions within the law, they do not have a veto over the rest of society. As the established church with a unique relationship to the state, the Church of England remains the only institution other than the state itself with the right to legally marry people. It is questionable how long that special status can last.

From now on, marriage is a public declaration of love by the parties concerned and of their intent for their chosen spouse to be recognised as next of kin.

We are still getting used to the idea of husband and husband or wife and wife, but people and their languages are remarkably adaptable. It may be that a unisex terminology evolves, as has been the trend for other roles in recent years. It is not so long ago that head teacher, actor (for a woman), chairperson or life partner sounded contrived. Perhaps spouse would fit the bill.

That is for the future to dictate, hopefully in a reasonably organic, evolutionary manner. This weekend however has been a revolutionary one in which the state and society have recognised the right of the individual to choose who to marry. The oft-conflicting values of liberty and equality go together here hand in hand.

For today, we should feel proud of the fact that we have collectively declared our intention to live in a more inclusive, tolerant and better society.

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