'Why we didn’t get married'

Written by Cameron Wylie on 11 December 2018 in Comment

Cameron Wylie defends the right to a civil partnership

Two men - credit Jurek

A couple of weeks ago, after many years together, Kevin and I got hitched, and we chose to get civilly partnered.

We were doing it to gain the legal protections afforded only to those in a formalised relationship, but it also turned out we were doing it to affirm our love, and we realised that on the day, in the company of our lovely friends, many of whom cried. 

We were both very happy on that very wet Saturday and remain so, in our slightly bonkers, highly domestic, very warm and funny combination of old, retired, cheerful me and much younger, very clever, lovely him.

Many people have congratulated us, some of them on our ‘wedding’, in a ‘marriage’ which we did not have.

I always correct them, because we chose not to marry and we did so for three reasons. 

The first one is fairly obvious. No matter how hard secular Scotland tries, ‘marriage’ and ‘wedding’ and the associated words –‘bride’, ‘dress’, ‘cake’, ‘favours’, ‘champagne’, ‘vast’ and ‘expense’ – also always conjure up the light from stained glass windows illuminating a cheerful minister while a nervous groom awaits the arrival of the wife-to-be and her tipsy father. It’s a church, it’s religion. 

Now the bride and groom, by statistical fact, are very unlikely indeed to have worshipped in a church since Sunday school, if then, unless, of course, they have had to go to church in order to get married in a church. I mean, honestly, what’s that about? 

So, there is a strong connotation in the popular cultural mind between weddings and churches, ministers and priests and religious faith and that wasn’t something we wanted to do. 

Of course, we could have got married in a registry office or on a beach (good thing we didn’t choose Porty that very wet Saturday) or on the wing of a plane, but I didn’t propose to spend the rest of my life saying, ‘Yes, Kevin and I are married – we got married in a non-religious context’, so we didn’t get married.

The second reason is that civil partnership was introduced so that gay people could be afforded equal protection under the law, intended as a means of satisfying the public need to look at gay couples as real couples, without, of course, necessitating them getting married. That came later.

Civil partnership turned out to be a stepping stone on the way to another civil right, but I am happy to have that badge of honour, something exclusive to gay people at the moment. 

It is shorn of other associations of the institution of marriage, associations of property and patriarchy. For us, in essence, it was a more modern way of formalising our relationship. 

There is an irony, of course – at first, gay people could have civil partnerships and not marry and now they can do both, and straight people can only marry. Recent court cases suggest that straight couples may soon win the right to civilly partner, which may make the government do away with them not that long after they have come into existence!

The third and most complex reason relates to the second directly and the first tangentially. My younger partner came out into an environment where being gay was generally somewhere between being tolerated and being celebrated. 

I, 17 in 1974, wasn’t that lucky. Being gay was regarded by many as being at best, weird and at worst, positively sinful. It was, of course, illegal. I was 24 by the time gay sex between men was legalised in Scotland, 14 years after it became legal in England and Wales. 

Wikipedia tells us the gratifying fact that Scotland was the last jurisdiction in Europe to abolish the death penalty for sex between men. In 1889. My great grandfather was alive then. I have no reason to believe he was gay, but still…

So my gay life, as it were, has taken place against a background of fear, criminality, religious disapproval, slowly, slowly melding and shaping into the greater acceptability – particularly among our glorious young people – that characterises 2018. It’s basically OK to be gay – a gay colleague, a gay neighbour, a gay friend, even in my case, a gay teacher. A gay headteacher. 

There is no doubt that a great number of very brave people have fronted this change, some by direct campaigning and others by simply admitting they are gay in a public-facing way. 

I have been lucky in the timing of my life in all sorts of ways, but not least because I have seen gay people merge with the great norm of society. They can get married, they can have children themselves or adopt them, they can live with their children and pets in the domestic idyll of the Christmas advert. 

I do not, remotely, scorn this life, where gay people have moved towards a heterosexual norm. It is their right, of course it is, and it is their choice and it is magnificent and inspiring to see all the fear and self-loathing and bigotry vastly reduced. 

There is, however, a little bit of the gay me of the 70s and 80s, a time when almost no space was, in reality, a ‘safe space’ for gays, and when the gay scene in Edinburgh was a hidden and close community of diverse strangers, that thinks that gay people have been most ‘accepted’ into Scottish society when they have been most willing to become straight, in all but their sexual habits. And I don’t think that I wanted, in truth, entirely to be a part of that.

So that’s why we didn’t get married.

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