Graeme Archer: Love, Actually
Graeme Archer - a blogger and regular visitor to this site - welcomes yesterday's first civil partnership ceremonies...
Do you know what love is? It's one of those objects that is impossible to describe, don't you think? Mozart made a song about it, "Voi che sapete, che cos'e l'amore - " I'm paraphrasing, but the song goes something like "You who know what love is, tell me - is this love?". Alison Moyet sang much the same sentiment some few hundred years later, albeit somewhat more demotically, as befits the original and best Essex girl.
But I think we would agree, regardless of the difficulty of describing in objective terms what love is, when you have it, you recognise it - boy do you recognise it - as your life is transformed, your particles renewed, your vision uplifted and your heart begins to soar. If you haven't experienced that, then I hope one day you do. I shall resist the temptation to quote Belle & Sebastian lyrics - though, it's true, they have described this process in terrific detail (see "If you find yourself caught in love").
Today I watched the first gay civil partnerships take place in Northern Ireland, and on Wednesday I'm fortunate enough to be invited to the first civil partnership in Hackney, when two friends will seal their respective knots. I thought I was a somewhat hard-hearted cynic, but the truth is I find myself emotionally moved by these events.
Why would that be? If you pushed me, I'd say that I never thought this legislation was necessary, and - tell the truth - I thought it had the propensity to be somewhat tacky. "Mr and Mr", "he looked lovely in pink", and all that - and no doubt on Wednesday we can rely on our national treasures, Sir Elton and Mr Furnish, to give Posh and Becks a run for their money.
But a stronger and truer emotion has taken over. I think it is that oldest of all truths: love really does conquer everything. The dignity with which gay couples are publicly embracing their love for one another, the fact that we finally live in a country where such matters are accommodated quietly and without fuss -- all this gives me such pride that I was moved to a few tears this morning.
It's probably neither the time nor the place to list the sound Tory reasons why I feel this is a good step forward - though they are there: sociologically, marriage evolved as a stabilising influence on the sexual drivers of young men and women. The same drivers exist in young gay men and women (I'm using understatement for effect here). It's always seemed ridiculous to me that right-wingers criticise the gay subculture for its sexually energetic mores, while simultaneously denying access to the institution that carries most weight against those drivers! More learned thinkers than I could write about this - Matthew Paris for example.
I once stood in a council chamber in Essex, just elected as a Tory councillor, and to the horror of my colleagues, moved a motion against Section 28 of the local government act. What made me angry about that legislation - forbidding councils to spend money "promoting homosexuality as a pretend family relationship" - was not the bit about promoting homosexuality (how was that to be done? Through a lottery draw? A radio phone-in?) - it was the sneering about our apparently "pretend" family relationships. My dear friends: what is the pretence in the life that Keith and I lead? The shopping for two is real; the housework is very real; the struggle to assemble Ikea flat-pack furniture is real; the fears for our financial future and health and well-being are real; the fact that I would give my life for him is real. How dare some stupid government backbencher, who would never know me, describe our life together as a pretence? If love is FOR anything, it must be to look out for your significant other, to carry them when they need it and to be lifted by their support when you need it. I truly think it's the most amazing gift God gave us. What is the difference, where is the pretence?
Today, years later, I think we have the answer. There is no difference. This is a civilising, overdue piece of quite wonderful legislation - and I never thought I would write that about a Labour government! I celebrate the dignity and joy of the couples who marry today, and I will stand as witness with pride and with love when my dear friends Andrew and Gareth form their partnership on Wednesday morning in Hackney. There's no better time of year, after all, to reflect on the power of love.