Do good gays get married?
All couples will soon be able to get married across the United Kingdom, once same-sex marriage is introduced in Northern Ireland in January 2020.
With same-sex marriages already taking place in England, Scotland and Wales for several years now, the conservative country has been trailing behind the rest of the Britain when it comes to the rights of LGBTQ people.
So with the recent announcement that this important glass ceiling will soon to be smashed to pieces, does this mean same-sex couples are now expected to get married?
Means Happy spoke with queer people about their attitudes towards marriage, and how we have the freedom to make our own rules when it comes to marriage.
The goalposts have shifted
Catherine agrees that marriage between same-sex couples has certainly been brought into wider conversation, but worries that there are still societal hurdles to jump over.
“I think there are far more depictions of same-sex couples in the mainstream media which is great,” says Catherine. “However, marriage between same-sex couples is still most usually referred to as ‘same-sex marriage’ rather than just marriage.”
Her job in the education sector also adds an extra layer of hesitation when it comes to talking about her marriage and partner.
“I know myself and my fellow teachers still proceed cautiously in the school workplace,” she explains. “With many colleagues the feeling is that to mention a same-sex partner at school is to somehow over-share, in the way that mentioning a heterosexual partner is not.”
Rookes does not believe that same-sex marriage has moved the goalposts for LGBTQ people when it comes to thinking about the evolution of their relationship.
“I think that those who have been desiring marriage and the social recognition that it brings to their relationship are allowed to have access to that,” she argues.
“Generally my perception is that those LGBTQ folks who have not desired marriage in the first place haven’t changed their mind now that the current societal understanding of what marriage means has been made available to them.”
Alastair, on the other hand, thinks the opposite. “I do think things have changed. There are much clearer societal markers about where same-sex couples fit, and as well as offering equality, society is making implied expectations of same sex couples.”
Implied societal expectations are something that Alastair, who has been in a civil partnership since 2010, thinks can put pressure on couples to get married.
“There is some pressure,” he admits. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. All other things being equal, we can all benefit from a bit of stability.”
He also believes that his views about his relationship have changed, prompting him to consider getting married to his partner.
“Ten years ago I didn’t see much need for social recognition,” he recalls. “Now that equal marriage is here, I would like to see my relationship given equal standing.”
Catherine, who has been with her partner for 25 years, agrees. “I think there is a pressure to get married amongst the older generation. Along with a sense that this is a right that was fought for, and so we should get married, because others before us were not able to.”
Ten years after their civil partnership, the couple “upgraded” to marriage.
“We upgraded in part to get away from our civil partnership status, because it felt like an important milestone for the LGBTQ community, and we wanted to stand up and be counted,” explains Catherine.
Away from the older generations, she thinks that younger queer couples might have a more open mind when it comes to marriage and how their relationship is viewed in the eyes of society.
Rookes agrees with Catherine regarding the struggle of LGBTQ people that have come before to get same-sex marriage on the civil rights agenda.
“Symbolically marriage very deeply buried in our consciousness,” she says. “LGBTQ people have been seeking recognition and equal rights for decades and this is just another aspect.”
Yet she disagrees with the notion that this is somehow influencing queer couples to get married.
“I am yet to hear of any LGBTQ people experiencing pressure to get married from friends and family members in the way that heterosexual people to,” recalls Rookes. “To ‘settle down’, sure, but not necessarily to get married. It might happen as time passes, though.”
Free to make our own rules
Queer people have been making their own rules when it comes to relationships for centuries, and Rookes thinks that our rebellion against tradition will not stop now.
“I think that because sex and sexual freedom is a big part of LGBTQ culture, we are more open to rethinking about shaping relationships outside of traditional models,” she says.
In fact, her own thoughts on marriage have changed over time. “I have always wanted to get married, although about three years ago I began to have a more flexible attitude towards what that might mean.”
“Marriage does bring a certain amount of legal recognition, security which is important,” Rookes argues. “But I think given the transformations ‘marriage’ has undergone over time, you also have to discuss at length with your partner what it means to you, and what you want your marriage to be in terms of perimeters and expectations.”
Whilst queer people might be perceived as being more flexible with their approach to marriage and relationships, Alastair thinks that making your own rules is not something that is exclusive to LGBTQ people.
“Straights do too!” he chimes. “They just don’t talk about it as much.”
Catherine adds that whilst queer couples can rewrite the rule book on marriage, their motivation to get married in the first place may also come from a different place.
“On reflection, I think for us marriage was a way of making our relationship more easily intelligible to others, especially elderly parents and the wider family,” she says. Important family events were often spent apart from her partner, through feeling that their relationship was not at the same level as heterosexual couples.
After marriage, however, she finally felt the recognition from her family that her relationship deserved: “Our parents at least recognise that we want to be together.”