Changing Times

I couldn’t resist a quick comment about the news that today the House of Commons began a debate on the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The timing of this when I’ve just moved back to Brighton after an absence of 23 years or so made me think back to what things were like when I was previously here as a DPhil student.

In those days the dominant concern facing LBGT staff and students was the notorious Section 28, part of the Local Government Act of 1988, which, among other things, attacked promotion of “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. I remember very well the numerous demonstrations and other protests I went on as part of the campaign against that repugnant and obviously discriminatory piece of legislation, but it passed into law anyway. I know 25 years is a long time, 1988 was before today’s generation of undergraduates was even born, but it’s still amazing to me that attitudes have changed so much that there’s even a remote possibility that same sex marriage might be legalized. And from what I hear, the possibility isn’t remote at all…

36 Responses to “Changing Times”

  1. Even if they are legally putting into law the allowance for religious groups to discriminate.

    But yes, at least it’s a step forwards.

    • telescoper Says:

      It’s not a little ironic that the Church of England voted against having female bishops recently, when the Head of the Church is HM Queen who is, as far as I know, female.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Yes Peter, that is ironic – agreed. It came about because (as I’m sure you know) Henry VIII replaced the Pope in the English church, and the Pope WAS required to be male. Even then, though, the hierarchical system of a Pope above bishops, who themselves presided over a large number of congregations, is very different from that described in the New Testament. The NT documents that the church originally consisted of a congregation in each place, with each congregation run by an internal council of episkopoi (the word translated as ‘bishop’) once its founding apostolos had passed on, and with no hierarchy above that.

      And Phillip – I agree that the church should be completely separated from the State, although it would be nice if the latter would then let the former alone to have its own rules, rather than try to impose politically correct doctrines including denial of freedom of speech over certain matters of conscience.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      PS The council of episkopoi in the NT were to be men.

    • Surely Henry VIII’s primary (only) motivation in breaking away from the Catholic church was to get divorced. But am I not right in thinking that, at that time, there had never not been a King in England’s history. So the issue of the head of the Anglican church being a woman (i.e. the absence of a king) probably never crossed his mind as a possibility.

    • I said not being a king, which I guess means the same as being a queen. I worded my comment poorly, I wrote it too quickly.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      “So the issue of the head of the Anglican church being a woman (i.e. the absence of a king) probably never crossed his mind as a possibility.”

      I’d bet it did! The reason he wanted a divorce was to marry a younger woman who might give him the son and heir that he craved; a daughter by his first wife was alive at the time of those shenanigans and eventually became Queen Mary, a possibility Henry would clearly have been alive to.

    • I think what I was trying to say is that Henry VIII’s main motivation for wanting a divorce, which led to his breaking away from the Catholic Church, was to secure a male heir, a king after his death. Given that he married 6 times I am sure he felt confident until maybe wiife number 5 or 6 that he would secure more than just one male heir. Without consulting the web I have no idea to which wife his son was born.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Phillip, it was the Saxons who put the sex (ie, sax) in Middlesex, and also into Essex (East Sax[onia]), Wessex (West Sax) and Sussex (South Sax) where Peter now holds court.

      “isn’t it true that the Anglican Church no frowns on monarchs, or even princes, getting divorced?”

      Please correct the typo so that I understand the question and I’ll try to provide the answer.

      NB Re Henry VIII, in Germany the Reformation began as a spiritual movement and became political, whereas in England the opposite was true.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      “isn’t it true that the Anglican Church now frowns on monarchs, or even princes, getting divorced?”

      Until 2000 it frowned on a divorced person getting married to someone else during the lifetime of the ex and did not permit it in church. Following a commissioned report by a bishop called Michael Scott-Joynt, this stance was modified. There is not unanimity by Bible commentators.

      As for divorce, the word has changed in meaning as it used to mean a permanent sundering of the marital relation acknowledged by the parties, whereas now it means acknowledgement by the State.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I agree that it’s ironic.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    It is not about legalisation, for it is not illegal in English law for two men to exchange wedding vows and inform the authorities that they have done so. It is about recognition by the English State of what constitutes marriage.

  3. I am no expert on the history of marriage. But I do find it strange for people who are opposed to this bill to state that marriage is an institution sanctified by God and is the union of a man and a woman. Presumably this is the Christian’s take on marriage, but to suggest marriage is the sole property of one religion, or of any religion, is ridiculous. I am sure marriage existed long before Christianity, in the sense of a commitment between two people to be life-long partners and to forsake all others.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Documents from before Christ’s time confirm that, but what is interesting is that there was a lot of gay activity in ancient Greece yet even longterm relationships of that sort were not regarded as marriage. I wonder if there was ever such a debate in that well-documented culture? Sir Kenneth Dover wrote a major book on homosexuality in ancient Greece, but I’ve not read it.

      • My very limited understanding of “gay activity” in ancient Greece was that it was often (usually) part of bisexual activity. Married couples would engage in extra-marital promiscuity, with both sexes. So maybe there were very few monogamous relationships in that society, and even fewer monogamous homosexual ones. But I’m speculating.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        What little I’d read was that ejaculation between the thighs of just-pre-pubescent boys was a norm but that it was a social disgrace in ancient Greece for a man to be anally penetrated.

      • telescoper Says:

        This is quite an interesting issue, actually. Nowadays you can find gay men who refer to themselves as “top” or “bottom” (nothing to do with quarks), or active or passive, as if it were as simple as that. Most men I know like it both ways and are happily “versatile”. That goes for me too, if you’re wondering. However, it does seem to me that, especially in latin countries, there seems to be a mirroring of heterosexual norms, with the butch/femme thing being very obvious. For myself I’d say that misses the point entirely. Gay sex is best when it’s equal.

        Not entirely related to this is that I was thinking about the other day is how the word “fuck” has changed meaning over the years. When I was a lad “to fuck” meant “to penetrate”, a verb with a definite subject and object. Nowadays the usage is often different: A fucks B just means A has sex with B, and its not uncommon to say that a woman fucks a man. I’m old-fashioned, I suppose, and I can’t help thinking in nominative-accusative terms. A while ago I was chatting in a bar with a straight male friend (who, rather unusually for a straight man, isn’t uncomfortable talking about gay sex). When he asked me about a former partner of mine “did you fuck him?” I said “yes, and vice-versa”. His response was to say that was too much information. Grammar was my downfall yet again…

      • @Anton I read that book many years ago – it’s very interesting. Same-sex relationships were by no means uncommon, and were seen as complementary to rather than alternative to heterosexual ones. In other words it wasn’t unusual for a man to be married to a woman but to have male lovers too.

        It’s worth saying that homosexuality as an aspect of human behaviour has probably been around for as long as there have been humans, but how it is viewed by societies has varied enormously with time and place.

      • So the adage “it is better to give that to receive” stems from the gay scene in ancient Greece? 😛

      • Isn’t there also evidence of homosexuality in other species, not just humans?

        To be deliberately provocative, what about my suggesting that heterosexuality has been forced upon humans in order to procreate, but homosexual love is more natural? 🙂 Don’t most men understand other men better than they’ll ever understand a woman? 😛

      • telescoper Says:


        If you’re interested, I recommend:

        Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, St. Martin’s Press, 1999; ISBN 0-312-19239-8

      • The change in the meaning of “fuck” is interesting. And I can confirm such a change in the sense that 20 odd years ago I would only ever hear a woman say to me “I want you to fuck my brains out”, but more recently have had a woman say to me ” I want to fuck your brains out”. I’ve been so keen to take her up on her offer that I haven’t been pedantic about the grammar 🙂

      • telescoper Says:

        I don’t think either statement was meant literally, as it seems physiologically impossible to fuck someone’s brains out.

      • Probably, or it might explain why I’m so stupid.

      • Anton Garrett Says:


        The adage comes from Acts 20:25 in the New Testament, although I don’t know if Jesus was quoting anything earlier. Your deliberately provocative comment is perhaps a bit more ambiguous than you intend as English has one word ‘love’ which expresses four concepts, and for which (ancient) Greek has four distinct words; for a starter see

        and for more see CS Lewis’ book-length study of the four referred to there.

      • telescoper Says:

        I can’t resist quoting Woody Allen:

        Sex without love is an empty experience. But as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best.

      • telescoper Says:

        Here’s an idea for a game. Rewrite song titles with the appropriate Greek word for love, e.g. “I can’t give you anything but storge”..

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Peter’s comments on this subthread about top, bottom, up down and versatile (and even the meaning of ‘fucking’) echo an argument that has apparently just taken place in Whitehall. The notion of ‘adultery’ is likely to be de-recognised in English law (eg as grounds for divorce) because, with this proposed extension of the notion of marriage, government lawyers found that they were no longer able to find a legally watertight definition of what constituted sex between persons of the same gender.

      • Was it previously the case that adultery was defined in terms of penetrative sex?

        It reminds me of Bill Clinton’s use of the phrase “sexual relations”, which apparently does not include what he got up to with Monica Lewinsky (legally speaking, that is).

      • Rhodri Evans Says:

        Clinton, having a legal training, was bound to parse his use of words in a legal way. It is interesting but I guess necessary for there to be such a precise legal definition of adultery. Any other “infidelity” falls under the “unreasonable behaviour” category.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        “Was it previously the case that adultery was defined in terms of penetrative sex?”

        I infer so, although I am not a lawyer.

      • Rhodri Evans Says:

        Having been through a divorce I can confirm that the current legal definition of adultery in England & Wales (ie in English law) is “penetration of a penis into the vagina”. Anything other than this is not legally considered to be adultery. So you can shag as many men as you like and not commit adultery.

      • Rhodri Evans Says:

        So called “no blame” divorces exist in English law. I don’t know for how long it’s been the case, but when I got divorced in 2007/08 they did.

  4. telescoper Says:

    So there we have it. The ayes were 400, the noes 175. The ayes have it!

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