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HAPPY ENDING

As a Conservative leader, David Cameron feels proud to describe himself as “a marriage man”. He has now taken this description, and his country, a step forward. The Commons have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the legalization of same-sex marriage — although many in the Conservative Party remain unconverted, and even outraged. Marriage is considerably more than the civil partnership that gay men and women were allowed in Britain. Legally and symbolically, especially in the sphere of religion, this is indeed a milestone in social and cultural change that would mean greater dignity, freedom and equality in the everyday lives of a huge number of Britons. There is nothing about this development that is not to be unequivocally celebrated. India, together with the rest of the subcontinent, is still far behind such a stage, although matters are inching forward, at least in Delhi, with the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — the culmination of years of activism and less visible struggle for justice.

Yet, to be ushered into the institution of marriage by a Conservative leader who wants “to promote marriage, defend marriage, encourage marriage” might strike some gay people as an ironic sort of triumph — especially for those to whom the word, ‘queer’, still has some relevance as a way of describing not only a sexual identity but a whole way of being. This way of living in the world, and within oneself, is not inherently radical, in any political or even existential sense. But it still regards itself as founded on ‘difference’ — a kind of internal distance from the structures and values of a society that takes for granted, as most Conservatives do, the sacrosanct nature of marriage, among other things. In this sense, queerness becomes larger than just a matter of sexual orientation — a conscious, and valued, marginality to the “order of nature” that one does not have to be a homosexual to feel. Queerness wants to give itself a chance to live out genuinely-thought-through alternatives to the hallowed conventions of society, which is to ask for another kind of social transformation. The hegemonic identification of love and equality with matrimony may itself be something that many would want not to take on, or take for granted — for there is something vaguely disquieting about the levelling of difference. But it is good to know that one is allowed the choice to conform if one wants to.