I have never been very keen on marriage. Whilst I loved my ex-husband, as a soul mate and a friend (and indeed still do, in a watered down sort of way) I didn’t actually want to marry him. The act of marriage, was I thought, a means of securing my father’s “blessing”. A completely futile act, in the end. My father refused to speak to me, for several years, because my choice of spouse was not a Muslim.
I have nothing against monogamy. Loyalty is important to me. And monogamy seems the most practical way, in this current society, to organise and maintain healthy nurturing relationships. I just, like so many other people, don’t see why a monogamous secure relationship needs any ratification by the state, or indeed the Almighty. If your relationship works, you don’t need a certificate, to make it work any better.
There is also, however, something about the whole wedding process which offends my sensibilities. All that public protestation of love. In front of your possibly unhappily single, heartbroken friends, who have shelled out potentially hundreds of pounds in gifts, hotel rooms and new outfits. Not that I begrudge any of my wedded friends, their weddings, or their gifts, or their public vows. I’m just not fond of the Facebook status updates on “finding the right venue” and “met the cake decorator today” and “five sleeps until THE BIG DAY!” It’s just not for me. My first wedding was more of an elopement. An elopement to a Gibraltar registry office, of all places; with my wedding reception in the mountains of Andalucía, wearing a £35 dress from H&M, with guests who were warm and loving, but guests whom I had only met that day.
My girlfriend, to whom, I am currently not married, is as they say, a “keeper”. I met her over ten years ago and did, literally fall in love with her at first sight. I was very lucky to meet her. I have been very lucky to keep her. She is the “queen of my dreams”. Enough said. If ours was a heterosexual relationship, I am sure she would once have been described as “marriage material”. And yet, up till very recently I had no desire to civilly partner, or marry her. It was sufficient knowing that she loved me and my sons, and I her. That was enough.
Well until, 21st November 2011, to be exact. Since then, the desire to get civilly partnered has become almost overwhelming. A desire which has been fuelled, as the days have gone on, by a moral indignation which periodically manifests itself as incoherent ranting. My moral indignation. My ranting.
On the 21st November last year, I accompanied a friend to see Cathie Opie and Lisa Udelson’s, thirty minute documentary, Same Difference. I wanted to go because I knew the film focused on same-sex parenting. As a gay parent, I sometimes feel in the minority with both my gay and straight friends. This post is not a review of the film. I was, however, completely seduced and affected by it. Transformed actually. A diverse group of children and young people growing up in “same- sex families” had been interviewed. Interviewed about their parents, their lives and how they felt about the fact that their parents could not, under California State Law, get married. Two teenage sisters in the flim, cried about it. I cried. I am not a crier.
I cried for those girls, but also cried out of shame. Shame for all those years of snidely looking down, on what I saw as the “pink marriage industry”. Shame, because I had failed to see that marriage or civil partnership between a same-sex couple, is a brave political act. It is a way of marking the fact, that so many gay relationships have existed in danger and subterfuge. A way of marking the fact, that in the States, our brother and sisters do not have the rights we do. Rights I was so willing to ignore and thus devalue. Rights that historically people have been imprisoned and died for. Rights that today are non-existent for so many gay people, in so many countries. Rights? Hell. LGBTQ people today are dying because of state sponsored bigotry. In some countries, there is no concept of gay rights, to deny.
Shame, that my sons have always asked me, when am I going to get married, “even just for the party”? Asked me why my girlfriend and I don’t get married. And yet, it hasn’t been entirely easy for them-all this same-sex parenting lark. Not at all.
In that 30 minutes, I found myself transformed. And I found myself, in the Q and A with Catherine Opie, after the showing, saying that her film had the power to affect change. That it had affected a change in me. And then, I announced in front of a room of strangers and my friend, that I was going home, to ask my girlfriend to marry me.
And I did. I got off the train, went to a jewellery shop, explained that I wanted an engagement ring. No not for myself. But for someone with knuckles slightly bigger than mine. And amidst the cooing of the excited lady jewellers, bought the biggest fuck off set of diamonds that my savings would allow. A diamond ring that I would give my girlfriend as a celebration. A celebration of all we have been through, of our same-sex family, and the fact that we have rights in this country. Rights which I hope, my girlfriend and I will soon exercise.
Rights which may soon be further extended in Scotland. The public consultation on the right of same sex couples to have religious marriage ceremonies is ongoing. There is therefore potential, that one day, Muslim lesbians and gay men can have their nikaah conducted by an Imam in a mosque. (I have been told, in fact, of one Imam in England, who has already blessed the marriage of two lesbians.)
BBC Radio 4 as part of its Beyond Belief series aired a debate with religious leaders, regarding this public consultation. One of the speakers was a high profile and well respected member of the Pakistani community in Scotland. He was a friend or maybe more of an acquaintance of my father’s. And I found myself, whilst cooking tea for my children and my mother, keema aloo and pilau to be exact, listening to this former acquaintance of my father describe homosexuality, not only as an erosion of family values, but as an “abomination”.
An abomination. And what I heard, was an indictment of my whole so called “lifestyle”: the fact that my sons have two mothers, the fact that they have been taught it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what your sexuality is, all that matters, is that your are kind and gentle and give what you can to others. And I found myself crying again. And then shouting at the radio. Then ranting with moral indignation. A lot. And then burning the keema. But mostly, shouting with unexplained rage, at the stupidity, the wasteful stupidity of bigotry. All that energy on hatred and enforcement of sexual morality. Surely, surely if there really is a God, he has more to weep about than who any of us chooses to love?
Maybe. On a personal level, the timing of my decision to marry the person, I choose to love, is perhaps significant. My father passed away a few years ago. He loved my girlfriend, but never knew her as my “girlfriend”. There was never any sense of overtly “coming out” to him. Were he alive today, I cannot imagine him attending this wedding, any more than he did my first.
He asked me for two things before he died. First, that I would look after my mother, and secondly that I would not besmirch the family name. So far, I have tried to do both, to the best of my abilities. I am about to fail terribly in the second.
I have agonised, over the years since his death, about the hurt that my homosexuality would cause. Hurt to both his reputation and to my extended family. I cannot even begin to imagine the shame and indignity that my relatives will suffer. On the other hand, I feel sick at the lies I have told. And the consequent disrespect, I have shown my girlfriend, by effectively denying her existence; or at least her significance in my life.
But more than this, I realise that by keeping silent, by quietly loving my girlfriend in private, I am part of the problem. By asking my children to lie by omission, when speaking to people in the community, I am part of the problem. Part of the problem, that allows homosexuality to be called an abomination in the C21. Part of the problem that perpetuates violence against gay men and indeed underpins “honour killings”. Part of the problem which puts sexual morality, over and above, all economic and human rights.
I do, I realise, have strong family values. I value my family. I value its right, to exist free of insult and threat. I value my wife to be. I would like to celebrate my love of her, in public, with a cake and a DJ and maybe the Bollywood Brass Band, in a venue, the details of which I may even share on Facebook. I would like very much to get married, please.