I have been married to the same man for 30 years and have no personal axe to grind here except that I am as fed up as everyone else that this pointless and frustrating debate is dragging on and on and on. There are some, it seems, who would drag it out to eternity.
The latest to join the fray is Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor:
“Redefining it as simply a contract between individuals irrespective of their sex, without regard either to its procreative function or to the complementarity of the relationship between man and woman, would be an abuse of language,” he said. “More important, it would weaken marriage by diminishing its implications and therefore its significance”.
Actually, I think the Cardinal has unintentionally shed a ray of light into the general gloom. If it is the language that upsets the blinkered, by all means let us change the language.
I propose that we cease to use the word ‘marriage‘ at all, for anyone. The state (ie the legislation), any churches that are willing (Unitarians and Quakers so far) and the rest of us that support the idea can simply refer instead to ‘union‘. The word has a respectable antiquity in this context. The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 begins the service of the solemnization of matrimony as follows:
‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’.
This could be redrafted:
‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together this [wo/man] and this [wo/man] in holy union, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’.
Personally I rather like ‘betwixt’ but the modernisers amongst you can surely come up with a passable version of this for the 21st century if the language of the 17th is not to your taste.
One of the problems with ‘civil partnership’ as an expression (and as a reality) is that a partnership is not a union, but something that commits the parties to a much more limited and circumscribed relationship. Those of the same sex who want marriage do so precisely because they wish to make a much fuller commitment before God (or before society). I suggest the word ‘union’ suggests exactly that.