Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! Too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
From The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward LearThere's no such thing as traditional marriage, as some traditionalists would have us believe. Marriage law has changed over the centuries, as the BBC explained in its 'Ten key moments in the history of marriage' - a simplified history. Until recently, women were disadvantaged by marriage. It was only relatively recently, with the Married Women's Property Act of 1882, that women became entitled to full legal control of all the property that they'd owned before marriage or which they acquired after marriage either by inheritance or by their own earnings; until then, their husband acquired not just a wife, a mother for his children and a housekeeper, but everything she owned too. And it was only relatively recently that marriage came to be seen as being about romantic love; it was previously a contractual relationship that formed alliances between families with means or simply a sharing of skills and assets between the less well off. Two of the main purposes of legal marriage have been to provide a convenient economic unit for governance and a method of ensuring the paternity of children, when inheritance has mattered - hence "legitimate" and "illegitimate" children.
So when conservative Christians go on about marriage being "redefined", meaning same sex marriage, they are ignoring the fact that it has never been about biology and the way that male and female parts have evolved to fit together in the act of procreation - they are obsessed with sex, other people's sex. Legal marriage has mostly been about patriarchal values and the control of women, sanctioned by an imaginary male god.
Nowadays, most couples in the UK and other European countries like to think that marriage is, or should be, a partnership of equals. Over the last couple of decades the marriage rate has declined, after a peak in the post-war years. During and immediately after the war the illegitimacy rate shot up, as the prospect of an early death prompted many to throw caution to the winds without a condom. In the '60s there was plenty of extra-marital or pre-marital sex but also more contraception. In the '70s the divorce rate went up, mainly initiated by women who were less inclined to put up with the loveless marriages that their mothers might have endured, and since attitudes to "living in sin" and illegitimacy have changed, an increasing number of heterosexual couples have ignored marriage altogether, referring to each other as their "partner". It's never appealed to me. So, in a way, I find it amusing that so many gay couples want to get legally married. It will mean legal protection for each partner in the event of a divorce or bereavement, though I'm not sure how that will be different to the terms of a civil partnership, and it will make other financial arrangements easier, I suppose, but otherwise I can't see what all the fuss is about.
From recent surveys, it seems that homophobia is in decline and most people are in favour of same-sex marriage. Most people live their own lives and are content to let others do the same. It's mainly the Church's mouth-frothing tendency, the ones who are obsessed with sex, who think otherwise. Their hysterical shrieks have been resounding around the Anglican Synod and echoing around the Houses of Parliament, which ought not to take the blindest bit of notice of them, proclaiming that gay marriage is unnatural and they won't have it. As Ben Summerskill of Stonewall says, if you don't like the idea of same sex marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex. The right-wing press claims that (a) the Church will tear itself apart over this and (b) the Conservative Party will tear itself apart over this - both seem like positive outcomes to me. So, to appease the Church's homophobes and satisfy the gay marriage lobby, Cameron & Co have come up with a dog's breakfast of a compromise, which has enraged the liberal wing of the Church (still angry about the women bishops issue) and will legitimise discrimination by making same sex marriage in an Anglican church illegal, while other religious ministers may conduct gay weddings if their governing body says they can. Seems to me that this is the worst sort of law for the worst sort of reasons.
If I were in charge (I'm waiting to be asked), this would be my solution to the whole sorry mess. Remove the right of anyone other than a registrar to conduct a marriage ceremony in the UK, but make same-sex marriage equal to opposite sex marriage. If you want any other form of marriage - religious, humanist, Jedi Knight - you can have a ceremony however and wherever you want, but it would have no legal validity. This would be like the systems that they have in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, where only civil wedding ceremonies are recognised. But that would be too simple and sensible, wouldn't it?