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You can marry, but only if you give up cottaging

December 7th, 2005

Dr Petra

As civil partnerships have become legal in the UK this week lesbian and gay couples are planning to tie the knot. Most news coverage has been positive and apparently liberal, particularly identifying high profile gay couples who could wed in the near future.

Under the new legislation gay and lesbian couples will be able to register their relationship in a civil ceremony and enjoy most of the rights straight married couples enjoy.

Many lesbian and gay groups are still rightly seeing the Civil Partnerships Act as a major achievement. Unfortunately within some of the press there were responses that suggested whilst papers didn’t want to be seen as prejudiced they didn’t exactly want to celebrate gay weddings either. So we saw quotes from religious officials explaining why gay marriage went against God or wasn’t recognised in the eyes of the church.

And even more curiously some coverage gave permission to lesbians and gays to get married but only if they acted in a particular manner.

My favourite example came from Jon Gaunt (also known as ‘Gaunty’) in The Sun yesterday, who said:

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about gay marriage. Most straight people take the attitude live and let live”.

So far, so liberal.

But Gaunty wasn’t done yet:

“I’m in favour as long as if it promotes monogamy and equality. As a by-product, I hope it will stop some gay men turning public toilets into virtual knocking shops and no-go areas for straight men and children.”

Ah yes, because all gay men are into cottaging, aren’t they? Lesbian couples seem to have been completely forgotten by Gaunty who sets up gay marriage as having to aspire to a particular form of heterosexual partnership.

Like heterosexuals never have sex in public places, and are all completely monogamous.

Sorry, I’ve interrupted Gaunty as he reaches his climax:

“The disgusting habit of cottaging is not amusing – as faded pop star George Michael likes to portray it. It’s disgusting, unsafe and antisocial”

Seems Gaunty’s not familiar with the history of relationship advice. Marie Stopes amongst others actively encouraged al fresco sex for fertility and greater spirituality.

Gaunty’s type of response was echoed on the radio and some websites as well as other papers. The subtext was gay marriage was only about men (not lesbians), that it was a good thing since it would prevent cottaging (which of course every gay man up and down the length of Britain is seemingly involved in), and it’ll make homosexuals ‘just like us’.

Hopefully those registering for a civil partnership will be able to create a marriage that suits them on their terms. It may be monogamous or an open relationship, it may mirror a heterosexual marriage or aim to be something different. The wonderful thing about having the right to marry whoever you wish means that you can start creating new ways of getting wed.

And rather than suggesting gays should marry like straight folk, perhaps heterosexuals could start realising there are lots of ways to marry and look at how they might expand their horizons, rather than trying to fit gay and lesbian couples into a narrow marriage mould.

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