Which is all pretty lovely, actually. We sit around talking about home decor and planning mini-breaks and wonder when we are going to be exposed as imposters allowed into this bizarre budget-bourgeois lifestyle by a clerical error, given that we're clearly still idiot 17 year olds with no more idea of what we're supposed to be doing than your average daschshund. (Canvassing among the over-60s suggests that this feeling never really wears off.) (Also, after leaving these sophisticated brunches I tend to go home and partake of a fine supper of cereal, eaten in bed while reading the works of Agatha Christie, so, there's that.)
But it does mean that marriage is on my mind more and more. Every one I attend throws up all kind of peculiar feelings: oh, the romance! Oh, the weirdness! Oh, that line:
"Marriage, according to the law of this country is the union of one man, with one woman, voluntarily entered into, for life, to the exclusion of all others."At the last wedding I attended, I was feeling enormously mushy, and gained a glimmer of an understanding of the 'why' in my constant thirst to know why it is people get married - usually I'm muttering like a determined toddler, "okay yes tax breaks, yes it is a cheaper way of registering the father of your children as a legally responsible parent than officially declaring this with a solicitor, but the whole "declaring your love to the world" thing? Why does the world care? Why do you care? Isn't this just a really expensive way of saying "this person is mega ace and I want to be with them for ages"? Can you really promise to love someone for ever and ever when you have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow, let alone in fifty years? This might be the result of me coming from A Broken Home, but I'm just saying, no one gets married expecting their partner to get into some weird hippie cult and decide that he is going to be beamed up to an alien light ship orbiting the earth, but believe me: it happens. I'm not saying marriage is bad, or weddings are bad, I just want to know why you think they're good: I understand that you want to, but what I want to know is why you want to. Mummy, how much does the moon weigh, why are magnets magnetic, are star fish actually real and why is marriage? Why? Why? WHY?"
But for whatever reason, I was feelin' the love. It's not that surprising; I'm in a long-term relationship with a very nice fellow, and for all my relentless questioning of social mores (oh yeah, last of the great iconoclasts, that's me) I also have 25 years of social conditioning making it very clear that a relationship between one bevulvaed lady and one dong-endowed man, duly sanctioned by the government and preferably by the church, is The Best.
But then they read out that line. That official line which registrars or authorised celebrants have to say in order to make the marriage valid.
"Marriage, according to the law of this country is the union of one man, with one woman, voluntarily entered into, for life, to the exclusion of all others."And suddenly I don't feel quite so romantic. I feel thoroughly pissed off. I feel like this entire ceremony has stopped being A Celebration Of Love and turned into A Celebration Of The Fact That We Can Get Married Because We Are Of Different Genders, Ha Ha, Same-Sex Couples! It feels gross, gloating; revelling in privilege. Civil unions are great - and, as far as I can find out, confer the same rights and responsibilities of marriage - but the name alone, as well as the fact that they legally cannot involve any religious content, marks them as second class. Our culture is steeped in ideas of what marriage is, what it looks like, who gets to talk at the reception (every important dude, basically: the bride is the silent centre of attention); "we're getting married!" carries more weight than "we're civilly partnering each other!"
Sure, it's just a name. But we all know that words matter.
The lack of tradition can be a good thing: it frees couples to make the ceremony mean whatever they want it to mean, shorn of the baggage of veils and giving away and bouquet-chucking. We can pick and choose any of these, all or none, according to who we actually are rather than squeezing ourselves into cookie-cutter archetypes. (As can straight couples, but have you noticed how many weddings get more and more traditional as the planning goes on? It is much, much easier to follow tradition than to buck it.) But it also means that civil unions inevitably seem like second best. Marriage has centuries' worth of cultural clout: civil partnerships have, what, eight years? We can, as individuals and as couples, give social institutions whatever meaning we want - but we're not making that choice in a vacuum.
Mostly, though, I'm just hoping GBF chooses to honour our decade-long agreement that when she gets married, I get to be best man. Without wanting to prop up restrictive gender roles and automatically assume that a best man shouldn't wear a party dress, I would rock a tux.