Gay marriage, which has been a bitterly divisive political issue in the
US and, to a lesser extent, in other countries such as Australia, this
week came to Britain.
There, however, controversy has largely been avoided by a simple, and
very British, compromise – gays can get married, but it isn’t called
marriage; it’s called “civil partnership.”
The legislation permitting civil partnerships
came into force earlier this month, but a 15-day waiting period means
the first wave of ceremonies in England only took place yesterday.
Unlike the “civil unions” proposed or implemented in some American
states, they really are marriages in all but name; partners will be
entitled to the same benefits, and dissolution of partnerships can only
happen via a “divorce” process. A give-away is that the new status is
only available to gays, not heterosexual couples – because the
equivalent for them is just traditional marriage.
There’s something exasperating about this sort of linguistic
subterfuge. Are the opponents of human rights for gays really so dumb
that they can be fooled by just not using a particular word? And if
they are, should public policy pander to them?
But it works. The hardline anti-gay lobby, of course, is not appeased,
but the middle ground seems to be comfortable with the change. It’s
reminiscent of Prince Charles’s second marriage, when the Princess of
Wales avoided public anger by the simple expedient of not calling
herself Princess of Wales.
One day, no doubt, everyone will admit that the battle is over, and
things will get called by their proper names. Gays will be married,
just as Camilla will be Queen. In the meantime, perhaps Britain has
shown the way forward.