Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 17 March 2012

 With gay marriage will come gay divorce. If you look at civil partnership dissolutions, the numbers have multiplied more than ten times in four years, though this rate of increase will presumably level off. (The level is still much lower than that of heterosexual marriage.) What will be the grounds for gay divorce? The only legal ground for the dissolution of a civil partnership is that it has ‘broken down irretrievably’. You cannot, as in heterosexual marriage, cite non-consummation or adultery, although ‘unfaithfulness may be recognised as a form of unreasonable behaviour’. It is understandable that this is so, since consummation — viewed by both civil and religious law as the definitive act of marriage because it keeps the human race in existence — can have no such significance in the relationship of homosexuals, and so is indefinable. At present, the legal definition of adultery ‘involves two adults of the opposite sex’. If we have gay marriage, will this be changed? If so, what act would be considered adulterous? If not, how would the equality which reformers seek have been established? Once you consider the grounds for dissolution, you see that the thing being dissolved is not the same for gays as for straights: it strains common sense to call it marriage.

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All the reformers are left with, then, is the ‘commitment’ argument. This is very strong, in that the commitment of one person to another is one of the best things in human life. But why, if we are expanding the types of commitment which society rewards, should the reform be limited to sexual commitment? It is quite common, for instance, for unmarried sisters to spend their entire lives together. Their commitment (I am not talking about incest here) is probably more unbreakable than that of the average married couple.

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