26 June 2015
I’m an historical novelist and an historian by training, but sometimes it’s hard to recognized major historical events when one is actually living through them. Sometimes the significance of events only becomes clear in retrospect, set off by developments before and after. But others are immediately clear. When I got up the morning of 26 June and saw that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of marriage equality through out the country, it was clear it was clear we were living through something that would be remembered in history books.
I thought about friends of my parents for whom marriage seemed only a distant, theoretical possibility. I thought about friends of mine who have got married in recent years. Several people I know said a few years ago that while they thought marriage equality was important to fight for they didn’t think they wanted to get married themselves to their longtime partners. But in the last year several of them decided to get married and said afterwards they were surprised at how significant it felt.
And then I thought about two of the ongoing characters in my series, Simon Tanner and David Mallinson, Viscount Worsley. David, a Member of Parliament, and Simon, a playwright known for his Radical views, have been lovers since they met at Oxford and share rooms in the Albany. They are closer, Suzanne Rannoch thinks in the series, than many married couples she knows. Closer in many ways than Suzanne and her husband Malcolm who married for reasons on necessity and convenience. But officially, to most of the outside world, David and Simon have to preserve the fiction that they are just friends who share lodgings. David, the heir to an earldom, is under considerable pressure from his family to marry and produce an heir. His family is willing to turn a blind eye to what he does after and he could probably find a wife who was as well, but neither he nor Simon could stomach being part of such a deception.
In my WIP, David, who rarely speaks about his feelings, confides in his friend Malcolm Rannoch with unaccustomed bitterness.
“A few of our friends accept us. Others—notably my parents—choose to be blind to what’s in front of them. Some others really are blind I suppose, or simply don’t have the imagination to see it.” He poured more whisky into Malcolm’s glass. “But still others are only too ready to gossip. And many to condemn.”
Malcolm looked at his friend, his chief confidant since they’d both been schoolboys Teddy’s age. He had shared things with David he hadn’t even shared with Suzanne. And yet— “You don’t talk this way often.”
David shrugged as he clunked down the decanter. “Nothing to be gained by dwelling. But it’s still a hanging offense.”
Not only does marriage to each other seem as out of reach as the moon to David and Simon, their very relationship is considered a capital crime. “Buggery” had been a capital crime going back to the days of Henry VIII. Jeremy Bentham argued for decriminalizing “sodomy” in a 1785 essay called Offenses Against Oneself. But the death penalty for “buggery” wasn’t abolished until 1861 while various laws against same gender sex continued until late in the 20th century with horrifying notable examples such as Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing and many, many others less known but equally tragic. It wasn’t until 2001 that the age of consent was made the same for men and women and that laws against group same sex sex were decriminalized. Same sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014.
On Friday I wanted to explain to my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Mélanie that this was an important day, that our country had become a more equal place, but it occurred to me that she has no idea that there were ever prohibitions on men marrying men and women marrying women. In fact the first time she helped me buy a wedding present it was for two of her honorary uncles. Some day, before too long, we’ll talk about it, and I’ll show her the pictures I took on 26 June of San Francisco City Hall and the War Memorial Opera House lit up in rainbow lights. But for right now, I like the fact that to her marriage is and always has been something between two people who love each other regardless of gender.