Sometimes you love people not because, but anyway.

So, last week, I went out to dinner with my Mum and my step-Dad. They invited H and me to a nice restaurant in a bit of a surprise! Last minute! way (H and I had made other plans, but hey, nice restaurant won). It’s how my Mum rolls. Anyhoodle, I particularly wanted to see step-Dad as he had been very unwell and I hadn’t seen him since he was unwell and so the last time we met he wasn’t feeling at all sociable, poor man.

By and large, the dinner was very nice. I was feeling a tad gastrointestinally fragile, so I ate things like grilled chicken and salad while H fell gleefully face-first into something involving cream, more cream, truffles, and gorgonzola cheese, but it was nice grilled chicken *sigh* and yes, well, anyway, I wasn’t there for the food *sigh*. We all chatted amusingly about art and opera and travel and plans for the summer and how Thingamajig was these days and had anyone seen Whosis lately? It was all going so well.

And then, apropos of absolutely nothing at all that I can think of in retrospect, step-Dad leaned back in his chair and said ‘what do you think of all this about letting gay people marry?’

Now what he meant was, what did I think of the current Government consultation on whether to extend the right to have an actual (non-religious) marriage to gay couples, rather than only a ‘civil partnership’? And what I think is, yes, unequivocally, absolutely, gay couples should have the right to marry, to marry in town halls, and to marry in any church or synagogue or temple that is happy to marry them, and I think all this fudging about with ‘civil partnerships’ and pretending they’re ‘equal but different’ (they’re not entirely equal, and what is this, anyway? Separate but equal water-fountains and toilets for whites and coloureds? No. Just, no) and that it’s only ‘a matter of semantics’ is bullshit.

I didn’t put it quite like that, but I said that if the consultation came down on the side of ‘yes, let’s do this’, I for one would be pleased.

Step-Dad looked baffled at this. But surely, marriage is a traditional, centuries old tradition that needs protecting?

Protecting from what? It’s spent centurites being about power and property and legal ownership of assets and children and treating one half of the human race as a chattel and breeding stock. How is that worth protecting?

He changed tack. He said, ‘well, I think marriage should be about having children, so it’s not appropriate for gay people.’

There are so many things I could have said to him at this point, starting with ‘BULLSHIT’!, progressing through ‘And this from a divorced childless man’, veering back for another round of ‘BULL. SHIT.’, segueing into a rant on bigotry and intolerance and human rights and equal rights, passing through next-of-kin recognition problems in hospitals and old age and so on, thumping right down into ‘and gay people do TOO have children!’ But what I went for, in the end, I hope calmly and evenly and without a wobble in my voice, was: ‘Well, in that case, H and I should never have got married.’

Pause.

My mother leapt in on my side of the debate with a light remark about it being so lovely when old people get married, and they’re hardly going to have children.

‘Well, why do they need to marry?’ said step-Dad (disclaimer – I call him step-Dad, and he and my mother have been living together for about 15 years now, but they aren’t married. But he was married once, for a few years, in his youth, and that went… well, it went).

‘Because people want to make sure that the person they care for most in the world can be legally part of their family,’ I think I said. I’m not sure. I was getting a little rattled now. And my mother nobly dragged the conversation off course into shallower, less murky channels and dinner sailed smoothly on.

And I am still utterly bloody livid about it. I knew step-Dad was a bit of an old-fashioned Conservative with a small ‘c’ as well. I knew he had been well-off all his life and had a tendency to a ‘let them eat cake!’ attitude due almost entirely to ignorance and slightly sclerotic empathy skills (I blame boarding-school from toddler-hood). I knew he had a knee-jerk tendency to think of non-white people as ‘foreigners’, but he’d always been so very pleased to meet them all, if occasionally bemused to discover they’d actually been born in Birmingham. And we know gay couples. We have gay family. He’s got gay friends, no, really, he really has. He’s not particularly religious, he’s, I mentioned, childless and divorced, he’s watched his nearest and dearest make 87 kinds of screw-ups out of their own relationships (infidelity multiple and serial, divorce, remarriage, re-divorce, children legitimate and illegitimate and even unacknowledged, runnings-away with the pool-boy, shacking up with a cousin). And yet, here, in 2012, he dares, he dares, not only discriminate and belittle the love and commitment of gay people, but to assume I would share this, this, this nonsense of an attitude. And for such colossally, hugely, hypocritically cretinous reasons. Tradition. Child-rearing. Feh.

And, yes, the ‘marriage is for having children’ comment stung like a mofo. I admit it.

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13 responses to “Sometimes you love people not because, but anyway.

  • kylie

    Oh dear, the whole family foot in mouth disease. I will admit I have stayed carefully away from this topic because I don’t know what my parents and their partners might say, and it could cause argument. The government here has gone through incredible contortions to avoid making “marriage” applicable to gay couples while giving them the ability to be recognised as a “spouse”. Spouse is legally defined as a partner, whether same sex or opposite sex, with whom an individual has a relationship, regardless of whether it has been recognised by a ceremony. The amount of documents I had to check to ensure they were okay was irritatingly high, all because they couldn’t apply the word “marriage”.

    I hav been careful not to talk about political leanings at the table since I predicted that the USA would not elect W as the women of America were too smart to elect an abortion banning F@#kwit. Appparently not.

  • MFA Mama

    Ohhhhhh bloody hell. I for one might’ve thrown a drink on him. I think you handled yourself admirably. And also? I am gladder than usual to have no family whatsoever, besides one senile and enfeebled old fart who doesn’t remember who I am half the time but, even with having been born in the early ’20s, has a more open mind than THAT!

  • a

    Ooooh – ouch. Um, maybe it’s time for some Alzheimer’s testing? It doesn’t sound like he’s normally so insensitive.

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    My word. How spectacularly… well, just spectacular, really. How extremely hard-of-thinking he appears.

    And I wonder how desperately your mother would have liked to demolish his ankle bone with her wildly flailing foot?

  • Womb For Improvement

    I have an uncle who will say things like that to be provocative (it usually works), and I wonder if he really believes what he says or simply enjoys the reaction.

    Either way it is massively uncalled for and well done for calling him out. I hope he feels ashamed in retrospect, of his flawed reasoning if nothing else.

    • L.

      I have that uncle too, WFI! He is conservative but not as much as he plays. In my case, I usually let it go, because although he really does seem to like saying things he must consider provocative, it’s not mean in nature, and I am not going to change the man; and he is honestly a very sweet guy in many ways.

      May, your stepfather was enormously thoughtless at the very least. I do tend to agree with BionicBrooklynite… at least he did open the conversation (unless he is one of those people who opens it just to get the opportunity to say something rude). On the third hand–and, like BB, I know it is so much easier to say this when I wasn’t there fuming, as you were–my guess is that, as someone who chose not to get married again after his first time, he may not, generally speaking, value marriage as you do. There are those people who see no difference between a committed relationship and a marriage, and thus choose not to marry themselves. He may see it as a legal set of encumbrances and not much more, which I think is what he was saying when he questioned why old people should marry. So it’s easy for him to be so dismissive; he’s not dismissing anything of great worth.

      This is a long shot since I don’t know anything about the man except what I’ve read here, but maybe a) he was traumatized by the end of his first marriage, thus didn’t want to get married again (I know a very lovely and utterly committed long-term couple, complete with significant illness and resulting caretaking, like this) and b) he doesn’t want to think of it as a fear-based decision, or somehow blames the institution of marriage itself for the outcome, so that instead he rejects the general emotional validity of marriage except under very narrow circumstances. (The thing about children is still especially dickish, of course, since aside from the thoughtlessness, as you noted, what, gay people can’t have kids?)

      That’s only the vibe I got from your description, though, whereas of course you actually know him.

      And, your poor mother! Agreed with HFF there!

    • Twangy

      Me too! Or I did, until he died. He was so. very. loud and opinionated, but essentially a good-hearted curmudgeon. Mind you, he never did deafen me on the subject of same sex marriage. He might well have been very liberal about it, now that I think about it. Unpredictability was a big part of his MO.
      Ah sure. Didn’t we love him, anyway.

  • bionicbrooklynite

    Ah, that.

    As someone who isn’t stuck at the table and in the family with your step-dad, I’m actually a bit cheered by his asking at all. The people who ask and wrangle and so on don’t upset me nearly as much as the ones so smugly certain that they’d never risk putting themselves in contact with disagreement. And I have to imagine he knew you’d disagree — perhaps he was hoping to see if someone very clever could talk him out of his position. Perhaps he a little bit wants to be talked out of it, even.

    Maybe that’s rose-colored in the extreme, but anyway, this married lezzie thinks you did a very good day’s work there.

  • Everydaystranger

    Ooooh, I like boinicbrooklynite’s comment.

    I have to echo the others – sometimes we have inflammatory folk in the family who like to see how high they make blood pressures go up, even if they never openly admit to it (and holy Jesus, I have a collection of them in my family). I additionally have a shocking number of people in the family who are so backwards that they’ve considered slaughtering a lamb and marking their doors with the blood, on topics ranging from women’s rights, to races, to gay and lesbian families, hell they’ll even debate you on why a man should never, ever iron (that’s women’s work, see). I breathe deep when they go off on one. They know my thoughts (we’ve always aired things once, for clarification), and I don’t see any point entertaining them with further in-depth analysis of their misogyny/racist/sexist/insert nasty overly-conservative inclination as appropriate.

    • Bee

      Hmm tough one, it hurts when someone we love comes out with first class thoughtless bullshit. I’ve felt this way often and used to to engage. Now…well I tend to employ the nodding and smiling technique. But so hurtful when a loved one is seemingly oblivious to your feelings and makes it very hard to detach. So many people love to, as everydaystranger says, “go off on one”. So many people seem to sound off supremely sure of the rightness of their view. I feel battered and a bit bullied by this kind of exchange as in reality the other party is saying, “agree with me or get an earbashing and/or drawn into an unwanted argument.”

  • manapan

    Good for you on calling him out! Maybe it’ll change his mind. If only you could have indulged in a lovely meal to make the words go down a bit more smoothly.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, bless and how nicely put.

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