13 February

Beyond Same-Sex Marriage

Posted in Marriage & Family

Last week Peter Tatchell, the LGBT rights campaigner and self-appointed director of the ‘Peter Tatchell Foundation’, relaunched his campaign for a ‘Civil Commitment Pact’ which would correct marriage’s ‘one-size-fits-all model of relationship recognition’.

My proposed civil commitment pact would allow people to nominate any “significant other” in their life as their next of kin, inheritance beneficiary and their nominee for a host of other mutual rights. This could be a partner or lover, but it could also be a sister, carer or best friend.

 Tatchell mapped out this same proposal nearly word-for-word as early as 2003. The only notable difference now is that his new post-same-sex marriage proposal makes sure to add that it should remain the case that ‘people can have marriage if they want it’. This, which is rather more than a mere detail, highlights two critical points.

Firstly, it tells us that, even for Tatchell, marriage is not to be understood as just another option from his ‘menu of rights and responsibilities’ but instead as an institution occupying a distinct ontological space. Many have sought to give a same-sex-marriage-friendly account of this uniqueness by focussing on the ‘emotion, the human affection, the capacity for friendship … that makes a marriage’. Tatchell, however, tacitly admits that marriage does not have any monopoly on such intense emotional union, since ‘non-sexual friendships are just as loyal and enriching’. By doing this he effectively undercuts any emotivist grounding of marriage and leaves the ‘procreative and unitive’ account the only one left standing.

Secondly, it points towards the Machiavellian tendency of today’s liberal rights advocacy. Tatchell, a lifelong critic of marriage, clearly cared little for the retention of marriage prior to the introduction of same-sex marriage. As for the ‘Civil Partnership Pact’, if he really believed in it he should surely have supported the 2004 ‘Civil Partnership Sibling amendment’ (denounced by Stonewall for demonstrating ‘a dislike of gay people’) and would not have kept schtum about his preferred form of ‘relationship recognition’ whilst the same-sex marriage bill was actually being debated.

The reason for such selective activism, of course, is that for many today democratic politics is about manipulating the masses in order to further one’s cause, and certainly not about trying to engage reasonably and honestly with one’s neighbour in pursuit of the truth.

This was well illustrated in 2006, when a group of LGBT activists launched the ‘Beyond Same-Sex Marriage’ manifesto, which drew up its own version of the ‘Civil Partnership Pact’ with a notable addition: that of calling for a legal framework of relationship recognition for ‘loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner’.  Whilst this media-savvy ‘strategic vision’ was signed by many influential figures, including Judith Butler and Cornel West, its explicit advocacy of reaching ‘beyond’ the narrow goal of same-sex marriage, still in the early stages of the movement, and its politically poisonous slippery-slope support for the recognition of polyamorous relationships, led to LGBT activists trying strategically to distance themselves and their movement from the document. Soon this ‘major project’ ran out of steam and beyondmarriage.org became a dead link.

Sadly, however, this does not mean that advocates of the complete deconstruction of marriage have changed their minds. It is rather just that they feel the need to wait a while longer until they can make us change ours.

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