In some countries (and 30 states of the USA), Cathy and I would have been prevented from marrying. In fact, even though we are happily married after 31 years and have two wonderful daughters, in some countries (and some states of the USA) our getting married would have been a criminal offence and it would have been illegal for us to cohabitate or have sexual relations.
A while ago, one of Jasmine’s teachers said that relationships like ours made her feel ill. She wasn’t referring to our relationship (as she doesn’t know our dark secret) and I’m sure that if she got to know us better, she might revise her opinion, but she made this comment in front of the whole class while Jasmine was in the room.
When we said we were getting married, some people were quite concerned (one relation didn’t acknowledge our marriage until a few years later) and people were worried about the implications for any children we had.
Colleagues have recommended that I don’t let other people know about my relationship in some work contexts (including working with some communities and in prison).
My parents deliberately hid our relationship from some of their friends and acquaintances (even though they were delighted we were getting married).
Marriages like ours have been described as being “animal-like behavior” that had been “discarded by civilized people” and as posing a “potential disruption of family order” (Ottenheimer, 1990, p. 329). They have been banned because of fears that it bad for children and that it can lead to health problems.
For many years the Catholic Church banned marriages like ours and even today our marriage is forbidden by “ecclesiastical law” (i.e., laws made by the Church) but not “divine law” (i.e., made by God) so we would have had to apply for a dispensation (CatholicEchange.com).
Our crime? We’re first cousins—our fathers are brothers.
I don’t think anybody who knows us would argue that we should have been prevented from expressing our love through marriage.
I don’t think anybody who knows our children would say they have suffered from having cousins for parents (except maybe because of other people’s attitudes).
I don’t think anybody who knows us would support a law preventing us from being a family with full legal and religious recognition.
The national “survey” on same-sex marriage is about to start. I will be saying yes with no hesitation and hope there will be a resounding YES result because I do not want other people to be prevented from marrying the ones they love.
Cathy and my story tells us a number of things that are relevant to the current debate.
Marriage is not a fixed, unchanging institution. The people who are allowed, or not allowed, to marry has changed over time, and it varies from place to place. Yes, changing the definition of marriage to include people of the same sex is a big change, but it is OK to revise what we understand makes an appropriate marriage.
The fears (largely unfounded) of negative effects on children should not prevent us being married. The arguments that same-sex marriage is bad for children are also greatly exaggerated and the main harm to children of same-sex couples comes from the attitudes of others.
Marriage is about more than procreation. In some states of the USA cousins are allowed to marry if at least one of them is infertile or sterile. If the conservative argument that marriage is about procreation was consistently held, they would oppose this exemption.
I’m sure that many people who believe that Cousins shouldn’t marry would change their minds if they became friends with Cathy and me, and saw the strength of our relationship. I’m also sure that many people’s attitudes toward same-sex relationships change when they get to know a loving same-sex couple or if they discover one of their own children is gay or lesbian. Let’s not get in the way of acceptance and support of people with different experiences to our own.
It would have been a real shame if Cathy and I had been prevented from marrying because of outdated, ill-informed laws. I feel the same way about same-sex couples.
If you are compassionate and loving I hope you will say Yes to same-sex marriage. If you cannot in good conscience support the change, at least don’t stand in the way, and abstain from voting.
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- An open letter to students about the postal survey on same-sex marriage
- Some good articles/links – same-sex parents
- The benefits of marriage – gays need not apply?
- Being a father
- Parenting for a better world
- Why I’ve gone rainbow-coloured
If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.