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Sophie Ward’s moving celebration of equal marriage explores how marriage has changed over the years and what an expanded institution means for the whole of society.

A Marriage Proposal ebook

A Marriage Proposal: The importance of equal marriage and what it means for all of us
Sophie Ward

£1.99/$2.99

It has been a long time in coming, but from March 2014, marriage will finally be opened up to same-sex couples in the way it has been enjoyed for so long by their opposite-sex counterparts.

Marriage is the institution through which our lives are defined: we are married, divorced, single, or widowed. It gives shape to our family relationships. Through marriage, we have access to the words for the closest connections in our lives, such as aunts and uncles, grandparents and step-children. Marriage is an internationally recognised institution that eases international travel and work for spouses. It formalises a union using traditions we have built up and treasure. And marriage is the inspiration behind some of our our greatest cultural highlights: love poems and novels, films, music and songs.

Whether we choose to embrace or accept marriage ourselves, for same-sex couples to have been denied that choice is for them to have been denied a human right. Changes will occur as traditions adjust to accommodate new ceremonies, but as Sophie Ward points out in this poignant Short, the history of marriage is one of constant change over the centuries.

Drawing on her personal experience of both marriage and civil partnership, ‘A Marriage Proposal’ is a moving exploration of what the opening up of marriage means for couples, their families and society as a whole. It sets out why the argument was settled in the right manner. Above all, it is a celebration of the institution of marriage, of its traditions and of the paramount importance for each and every one of us to be able to choose whether or not to say, with absolute equality, “I do”.

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About the Authors

Sophie Ward

Sophie Ward (@sophieannaward) is an actor and writer from North London. She has written for The Times, The Guardian, The Spectator, Gaze Review and crAve Magazine and was a regular columnist for g3. Her first novel is The Schoolhouse, which was shortlisted for the Impress prize for new writers. She has a degree in Philosophy and Literature, an MA in Creative Writing and is studying for her PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London on the use of narrative in philosophy.

Extract

This is an edited extract from Chapter 2 of A Marriage Proposal

Imagine there is a place to which you cannot go because of who you love, when it is the one place to which you want to go because of who you love. Everyone else may visit there: your children, parents, friends, colleagues, the citizens of the world. Now imagine that place is one for which most would live and die to protect, about which the greatest works of art have been created, the most beautiful poetry, the most breathtaking sacrifices.

Marriage is not the same thing as love, but if you were never to be married because of love, you would feel what it meant to be banished from that place. Let us not stand in the way of love, where it is met like for like. For that is the best of us.

Of the many meanings that marriage holds, the one we understand from our earliest years is that of the expression of romantic love between two people. From nursery rhymes and skipping games to fairy tales, poetry, music and Shakespeare we learn that the search for our “other half” is a life quest that ends with marriage. So deep is this message, that whether or not we personally reject its siren call, we will spend our official lives in the binary position of being “married” or “single”. Every other relationship status label is an extension of these categories; “divorced” (were married), “widowed” (were married), “separated” (still married), even “unmarried couple”. This is one of the reasons why the newly created “civil partnership” category was problematic in the 2010 census. A whole new category had to be created: “formally civilly partnered”, “surviving partner of a civil partnership”, “separated from civil partner”. The issues that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was created to solve, did not include the need to express love as our culture has taught us. “Will you Civil Partner me?” is never going to inspire a sonnet.

The use of language is essential to our understanding of the cultural significance of relationships. In Britain, we have the vocabulary to describe detailed family ties through marriage – we have cousins-by-marriage, as well as in-laws. The Spanish vocabulary includes definitions for all in-laws, such as concuñado: the husband of one’s spouse’s sister. Without the language to describe the relationship, without the weight of the context supplied by the language, it could be said that the relationship itself does not formally exist.

When my children were at school, my partner and I would attend parents’ evenings together. We had always been open with the schools they attended, had approached the head teacher at their primary school before our relationship became public knowledge, and we wanted to make the conversation with the faculty as comfortable as possible. As an unmarried same sex couple with no legal, and little social, recognition it was difficult for the teachers to know how to place us. There was no familiar language to use. Rena was our boys’ “mother’s girlfriend”. They were unrelated to her in vocabulary and in the eyes of the law, yet she was of primary importance in their lives.

At one parent–teacher meeting, Rena and I sat in front of a teacher who clearly wished to be sympathetic to some of the issues our family might encounter. “I know it’s difficult,” she said, “I meet lots of single parents like yourself.”

Even though our legal status was unchanged after our wedding ceremony in 2000, we felt we had made a statement of our commitment to one another and to our family. The interests of our children were part of that decision. Rena and I had “married” and from then on Rena was known as the boys’ stepmother. Of course, her relationship with the boys was defined by her actions as a mother; we cared for the boys together and they loved her in her own right. But the dignity of her role in our family was undoubtedly enhanced by a signifier that is recognised the world over. The boys knew they had their own relationship with Rena; they were her stepchildren. And for all those who needed to be introduced to Rena, as the children’s guardian, as my partner, the language gave a context in which they could understand the importance of Rena’s role in our family.

Although our more defined roles were helpful, in 2000 the use of this language was still subversive. There was no legal framework in which the adopted vocabulary could operate. However, the wedding did make it easier for some people to describe my family in a way I did not anticipate. One of the boys’ teachers used a magazine that contained our wedding photographs to explain to a visiting teacher about the nature of our relationship. He was clearly uncomfortable with any of the existing vocabulary at his disposal. Fifteen years later, it is to be hoped that the legalisation of our marriage means that we can all discuss same sex unions without the use of visual aids.

Despite the lack of vocabulary, that teacher recognised the significance of the wedding ceremony in defining our relationship. Throughout our childhood, we are given the historical, mythical and contemporary accounts of love and marriage. We grow up expecting to make our own decisions about the rituals and traditions of our culture, and we understand that accepting those responsibilities is part of the passage into adulthood. To be denied certain personal and political rights is to be labeled a lesser citizen, one that has something in common either with those who are deemed not capable (children, compulsorily detained psychiatric patients) or those who have forfeited their rights (incarcerated criminals). Being forbidden to marry is to be labeled mad, bad or a perpetual child, dismissed to the nursery while the adults decide your democratic rights. There is no dignity in being told you may not aspire to that which your society places among the highest forms of human expression.

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