If fairness and equality don’t clinch the argument for gay marriage, consider its positive effect on the entrenched modern monstrosity that is the wedding itself. From ring to dress to cake; heterosexual nuptials need a radical rethink.
If there is anything to add to this already very commercial 21st Century of ours, it is the introduction of homosexual marriages. Weddings are a kitsch style crash of appalling taste, snotty tissues, blisters, lip gloss, drunk dads dancing and hypoglycemia. If the monstrous institution of marriage were to extend to homosexuals, maybe the industry itself might be revitalised; the whole marriage culture might be exposed to the makeover it so desperately needs.
“The Wedding” is supposed to be a peak moment in our lives. Small children are encouraged to look forward to theirs with a Disney-esque longing. Little girls plan theirs before they’ve said a civil word to a boy, let alone kissed one. Fast-forward a few decades and some tongue-tied giddy swain slumps to one knee and tugs a velveteen box from his pocket, and his sweetheart, who up to this point has quite liked him, is more acutely embarrassed that she ever thought humanly possible. She stares at the pitiful diamond. The engagement ring is the ugliest, gaudiest piece of jewelry most women will ever have the misfortune to anchor on their finger. It sets in motion one of the most stressful and tearful year of their lives, one that will culminate in a day only the entrenched institution of religious nuptials could conjure.
The average Australian wedding, nowadays, costs between $28 000 and $50 000. A wedding is the biggest expenditure many will ever make on one day and the event can get far more fiscally incontinent than that. This average doesn’t include the aggregated costs incurred by everyone else: flights, hotels, hats, dresses, buck’s nights, hen’s nights and the presents.
Then you look at the clothes and you wonder why any human would want to appear dressed like that in front of a crowd of people, most of whom they’re going to have to see again. Men get a version of tails or tux, or a morning suit with gaudy comedy tie. Perhaps there will be the addition of a waistcoat that looks like it’s been made from the same fabric as a cushion in a Chinese restaurant. Then there are the trousers; no man has ever gotten married in trousers that fit and one wonder where it’s written that the groom’s trousers must always resemble embalmed rhinoceros skin.
But it doesn’t matter because no one will be looking at him. They’ll be looking at the bride. It is far, far worse for her, because she has to wear the infamous ‘Wedding Dress.’ The first bride to popularise white wedding dresses was Queen Victoria. She was a tiny, round, plain girl with a nose like a claw hammer and a very poor excuse for a chin. Charitably, the best thing you could say for her on her wedding day was that she looked like an ornamental hand-towel dispenser. Before Victoria, brides wore what suited them. Red was a popular colour; so was black. It’s universally said that all brides look beautiful, but white is a pretty unforgiving colour unless you’re a baby or a corpse. White is particularly bad on pale, pinkish people, but not as bad as sprayed-orange people. The only girls who manage to look decent in wedding dresses are those who look good for a living and would look equally as spectacular in a garbage bag. Wedding dresses are a collective blind spot, an aesthetic dead zone. We are brainwashed to believe that a wedding dress is magic, that it has the ability to transform everyone into a fabulously pure token of gorgeousness. But, like all fairy spells, it only works for the one day. In any other context, a wedding dress makes you look like a transvestite, which is presumably why the groom isn’t allowed to see it before it’s too late to change his mind.
A wedding is an occasion when a couple comes together to make solemn promises, some of the most profound and permanent promises of their lives. How wonderful the bride looks in her wedding dress isn’t the only lie told at weddings. We also lie that we like the cake, we lie that the best man’s speech was funny and we lie that this was the best wedding ever. Perhaps the only thing that isn’t a lie, underneath all the confetti and balloons and the sugared almonds, is that there are two people who really love each other and want to start a family together.
Viewed from the pews, weddings are theatre produced by straight amateurs using their own money. When homosexuals remake weddings, the lighting will be the first thing to improve. Secondly, no one’s going to think that a fatless steak fryer is a suitable present and the flowers won’t look ordered for a clown’s funeral. The music will also be much less tragic, maybe even classier.
I understand that the bureaucratic holdup in allowing marriage equality is a problem with the exclusivity rules of the club. I thought that marriage was supposed to be a basic building block of society; that marriages come together to give a nation-state its tensile strength. Marriages make families, and families marry one another, creating a web of security and social stability. Surely the right thing, the conservative thing, would be to get as many people into marriage as possible.
There is a misconception that marriage is particularly Christian and a misconception that there is only one way to be married – neither of these is strictly or even loosely true. The whole heathen world has found ways to be married, often with multiple partners with polygamy or even sometimes polyandry. Christian marriages have not always been a single man and a woman over the age of consent. The age of consent is a movable social whim, with girls being as young as 9 in some countries. Plenty of Christians have been married as children. The truth is that marriage is a temporal institution, set down by the state, overseen by civil servants and sometimes sanctioned by the Church. I hesitate to speak for God, but I doubt that he cares whether or not you spent $28 000 and wore a hideous white dress to get his attention. For most of the 2,000 years of Christianity, marriages were a matter of connubial fact, entered into without fuss of fashion or indeed a church. Weddings were largely for the rich. They were essentially contracts for those with property and dowry and titles.
Priests today will often pointedly draw your attention in their sermons to the truth that a wedding is the public admission of a private fact. Marriage is an oath by the couple before God; it doesn’t need a piece of paper or a stamp, a license or a government, to make it more binding or blessed. Homosexuals have always technically been able to marry before God. Maybe it’s us – the conservative audience sitting in the pews – that’s the problem. You can’t be a little bit equal. Equality is an all or nothing deal. An equal right to be married before the law must be both equal and right, without favour. It must be colour-blind and it must be gender neutral. A lack of heterosexuality can’t disqualify a civil right.
I understand that the religious councils find this all very vexing and upsetting, but what they really should be worrying about is divorce rates. It’s divorce that is the desperate cancer of community life. The average divorce is likely to cost around $25 000. That’s money that goes out of the family, out of health care, out of education and out of the piggy bank for your daughter’s wedding. With an average of 2/3rds of first time marriages failing the wedding and the divorce together could set the newlyweds and their family back more than $50 000. Better to just cut out all the misery, recriminations, paper work, poverty, tears and guilt and instead spend the money on a decent wedding present for your gay uncles, don’t you think?