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Rites vs rights

As a cheese-eating, toyi-toying teenage ”activist”, I remember chanting ”Nonsexism! Nonracism!” And a third chant of ”Nonhomophobia”, which was a lot harder to get my tongue around, and even harder to argue to my sometimes socially conservative comrades.

It’s still difficult. Sure, South African gay people are better off than they have been in the past. They now have the legal right to have whatever kind of sex they want, or buy a house together and be treated as partners. But, they are not guaranteed — though the battle is ongoing — the right to marry.

To get an idea of how strange this is, imagine, for example, that black people could not legally marry. Or that Muslims could not legally marry. There’d be an outcry. The institution would be discredited by the exclusion of someone based on his or her race or religion.

Hey, better still, imagine all straight people were denied the right to marry other straight people. There would have to be a ”good reason” for banning it. Because surely ”these straights” are ”doing no harm” … Except, what about the children?

Admit it: children of straight couples’ lives will be ruined if they were raised in the emotionally strained atmosphere of a romantic relationship between two people who, owing to gender differences, fight constantly. And consider this shocking fact: straight couples have frequent, purely gratuitous sexual intercourse. I even read somewhere that they have anal sex more often than gays do. Children exposed to their behaviour might emulate it and grow up to do the same things in bed!

Sure, you may support straight people’s rights. But just imagine if your very own daughter grew up to want a big penis inside her. Yes, then you’ll stop your liberal nonsense about ”straight rights”, won’t you?

I’ve been wondering about marriage lately. My lover and I are buying a house together. I’ve wondered whether, given the choice, I would choose to get married.

The Cynic’s Dictionary defines marriage as, among other very bad things: ”The only accident against which no company will insure.” They have a point. But there’s more to it than that. Marriage, for all its faults, has its positives too. The process of becoming married forces the couple to think about what commitment means. It forces them to make this commitment in public and so really declare their love, in front of, or even in spite of, their friends and families. I think this is really romantic.

What about divorce? Well, here again, marriage has value. If you split up with a boyfriend of seven years, people expect you to recover in two weeks. If you’re divorced after three years, there’s an established, ritual system of mourning. Your pain is serious, and people care.

And some of my best friends are married, or about to be. The first big diamond rush came when my school friends were around 24 or 25. They tied the knot, and later some painfully untied it, while others of that group are living happily ever after, and have recently gotten themselves knocked up and bought houses in the suburbs. At the age of 30 odd, a second set of my girlfriends have met men they really love, and will be marrying them soon. I’m happy for them. But I still can’t help wondering whether it’s justified for them to partake in this ancient ritual, if others are denied the right?

Now, I’m aware that not all constitutional rights can be easily granted. People wait years for houses, for fair trials, or Aids drugs. But the right to marriage is a right that, unlike houses or education, can simply be granted. Denying it is a malicious act of discrimination, not just an oversight or a financial necessity.

So, until gay people are allowed to get married (and divorced), is it right for straight people to do it?

It’s a difficult question, which can only be answered with another: was it wrong for my parents to take me to ”Whites Only” beaches when I was a kid? I’d hate to have been denied those days on Boulders Beach, but shouldn’t they have refused to comply, refused to vote, refused to accept privileges others were denied?

I’m not sure. How do you say to your kid, ”No, you can’t swim in the sea until everyone can.” Or to your best friend: ”I can’t believe you’re buying into a system that excludes people based on their sexual orientation.” It’s hard to run someone down for making a gesture of love. The personal may be political, but the converse is just as true. Nobody can be forced to protest.

So all that remains is for me to say that, for me, personally, getting married can no more be justified in 2005 than sitting in a WHITES ONLY train carriage could be in 1980.

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