The weekend revelation that the coalition is poised to allow same-sex couples to have civil partnerships conducted in places of worship, much as marriages are, immediately takes my mind back to that uxorious monarch Henry VIII. I'll come back to him.
Almost as enjoyably, it gives us a welcome opportunity to unite two traditions which currently lead largely separate lives Heterosexual marriage meaningless Fleet Street's muscular column-writing community, the Grenadier Guards of the keyboard who police our lives and offer daily spiritual guidance.
One tradition, exemplified in the past few days by the Guardian's Zoe Williams and Melanie Phillips of the Daily "Heterosexual marriage meaningless"routinely dismisses Zoe or defends Mel the significance of marriage in our society. The other tradition forcefully Heterosexual marriage meaningless the case for legal equality for gay people — Stonewall, the indestructible Heterosexual marriage meaningless Tatchell, the "Heterosexual marriage meaningless" Johann Heterosexual marriage meaningless, among his many other causes — and is routinely harried by the likes of Janet Daley, Richard Littlejohn and the tireless Mel.
The paradox I rarely see addressed by Fleet Street's finest is that the gay marriage lobby sees Heterosexual marriage meaningless, sanctified by the church and complete with all the trimmings, as important, and sees civil Heterosexual marriage meaningless — introduced by Labour Heterosexual marriage meaningless — as progress, but not progress enough.
Here we have straight columnists like Zoe Williams — and Polly Toynbee "Heterosexual marriage meaningless" takes a not dissimilar line on marriage — denigrating an institution some gay people greatly value while simultaneously punching the progressive ticket in supporting equal legal rights for gay and lesbian people. With Mel P's platoon, of course, it's the other way around. They love marriage, but insist it's only for straight people and get quite cross with David Heterosexual marriage meaningless as Phillips does in today's column, for even allowing his junior and Lib Dem equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, to float this week's trial balloon about gay people being allowed to tie the proverbial on hallowed ground.
Do any of them ever climb out of their trench to try and square that particular circle, patch up some kind of truce even? I'm sure they do, but I must have missed the results on days when I am busy. I'm with the gay marriage lobby in attaching importance to the symbolism of marriage and note with approval that Heterosexual marriage meaningless have some impressive allies — the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jewish denominations are said to be calling for at least the right to conduct civil partnerships in their places of worship.
But I suspect this may be what revolutionaries used to call "a transitional demand" en route to full equality via a few trips to the high court and those well-meaning chumps, with their mission-creep, at the European court of human rights. While I applaud their sincerity, where I reluctantly part company with the equalisers is over efforts to insist on being able to marry in precisely the same way as straight people do.
In a world where compromise requires us to know when to settle, that doesn't seem wise. Aside from all the theological, moral and cultural freight, there's an important practical distinction here which goes to the root of any society — namely that heterosexual marriage is there to produce and raise children in a more or less stable environment.
There's no way around the biological fact that no amount of high-tech chicken basting can eliminate the need for a female egg and a male sperm to make a baby. On that fact rest all successful societies since the year dot. I know there are plenty of cultural variations — polygamy being the obvious, though not a conspicuously successful, must-be-copied example outside dodgy communes run by rascals often religious — but rarely for long. Gay adoption, less than ideal — I think children need parents of both sexes, don't you?
And, of course, an ever larger number of straight couples are busily persuading each other that they don't need to marry, or stay "Heterosexual marriage meaningless," in order to lead happy and enduring family lives. Only last week, the Guardian ran a whole G2 supplement on better ways to divorce. I have filed it in case I change my mind. But let's not do that one today.
I merely note in passing that the ever more permissive society in the rich west is barely 40 years old, has always been contested and is piling up problems different from the more conformist societies it replaced — but problems none the less. It's early days to see how well it works and how reaction to its excesses manifests itself. One good question is: The latest progressive copout is to suggest that poor people can no longer afford to marry because they are penalised by the welfare system turned into benefit cheats, so "Heterosexual marriage meaningless" Duncan Smith allegedly told the Mail last week whereas the successful and well educated Heterosexual marriage meaningless to do so.
They can afford it and skew the statistics, runs the argument. Being successful and well-educated is no guarantee of Heterosexual marriage meaningless successful private life — as foolish bankers demonstrate in the divorce courts every week.
But you could just as easily flip the argument and say that getting married — and staying married — is a shrewd lifestyle choice, like spending money on going to college instead of to Ibiza.
It's a symptom not a cause so that, even with all the usual problems and misery, many wise people choose to stay married. They decide that starting again may not be Heterosexual marriage meaningless answer: That's not true for everyone, of course, which is where fine judgment comes in.
I was astonished to hear on the radio the other day an otherwise sensible woman explaining why she and her husband felt oppressed by the institution of marriage and hoped to get a divorce so they could have a civil partnership instead. No one is obliged to marry in church or have a civil state wedding first, as happens in countries such as France. Heterosexual couples can get married with all the trimmings or via a five-minute quickie in the register office, as I did myself.
You can marry in a cathedral or a castle. You don't have to get married at all, and judges will bend over even further backwards to protect the legal rights — to shared property rights and children — which marriage used to provide and common law partnerships didn't until recently. And, thanks to Tony Blair few votes and little thanks for his painsthere is also civil partnership and "Heterosexual marriage meaningless" the prospect of civil partnership with the religious trimmings in churches that will do it.
Not many "Heterosexual marriage meaningless," I hear you mutter. Which brings me back to that portly old tyrant Henry who did indeed tell his churchmen what to do: Why did it matter? Touring the Tower of London years ago Heterosexual marriage meaningless overheard an American Heterosexual marriage meaningless guide telling her flock: It is true that Henry was pious as well as uxorious and liked to believe, as leaders do, that he was acting for the best.
But what the brilliant Tudor dynasty needed most after the Wars of the Roses was legitimate heirs — and it proved hopeless at providing them. That's why he married them. We've come a long way since then, but the basics don't change as much as we like to think. Melanie Phillips reports this morning, as only she can, that some people in America are campaigning for
Heterosexual marriage meaningless recognition for "zoophiles" who have loving relationships with mammals — and I don't think she means walking Fido round the park.
It isn't going to happen. Even inmen and women of good will — even Quakers with hearts admirably full of love — have to draw the line somewhere. Did
Heterosexual marriage meaningless ever meet a nasty Quaker, apart from Richard Nixon? No, nor did I.
Go figure, as the Americans say. Some people try quite hard to be discontented, don't they?
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Marriage as a recognized legal "Heterosexual marriage meaningless" is not meaningless in one sense: it alone or abandoned they know straight away who should be the responsible for that. Straight marriage seems to often end up in meaningless bickering. Gays would certainly handle it better. Heterosexual marriage meaningless I have friends whose straight parents have better.
Recently, he claimed that because gay people can't procreate, their marriages are essentially meaningless. Let's look at what he said, and why.