Lez Miserable: "I want a gigantic, champagne-drenched, public celebration of same-sex love"

The instinctive urge to get married is a hard one to rationalise, finds Eleanor Margolis, but she could do without being judged by other members of the gay community.

It’s not often that I’m moved by Muppets. I can appreciate that Kermit has a hard time being green and Oscar the Grouch is a depressive who lives in a dustbin. That’s some reasonably high quality pathos, but it doesn’t quite reduce me to tears. Seeing Bert and Ernie, outed as a gay couple, on the other hand, snuggled up on the sofa on last week’s DOMA-bashing New Yorker cover got me genuinely choked up (the happy sort). And, frankly, I don’t know who I am any more. The controversial cover is not only exceptionally twee, but arguably irreverent towards the bitterly-fought battle for gay rights that has a rainbow coloured trail of carnage leading right back to the Stonewall riots of the 60s. Yet I found myself looking at two of my favourite childhood characters in a state of gay domestic bliss and thinking, “I want that.”

So there we have it, last week, a pair of fuzzy-faced humanoids made me want to get married and spawn 2.4 biblically-named children. I haven’t been this easily influenced by the Muppets since Sesame Street gave me the low-down on the letter D when I was a toddler. OK – this feeling isn’t entirely new. I’ve always had a thing for monogamy. And cake. Sentimentality? Not so much. Weddings I can take or leave. The “take” part is mostly free booze-driven. So why the hell would I want to get married?

There’s a small but loud voice within the LGBT community that throws scorn on the idea of queers aping a heteronormative institution. I can see where this rowdy lot are coming from – what’s the point in marriage in the first place? But I just can’t bring myself to join them. Every time I see gays slating gay marriage, I feel this weird pang of sadness. Weddings may well be these bizarrely ritualistic and mawkish conformity-fests, but there’s no reason why the entire institution of marriage should be hetero-owned. If gays want to appropriate a slightly fusty, traditionally straight practice, who gives a white, frilly frock? Rejecting a right that’s been so ferociously fought for is one thing, but labelling those who embrace it as traitors to the queer cause is hateful.

Plus, what’s going to hurt the homophobes more: bile-flecked in-fighting about the intricacies of queer politics or a gigantic, bacchanalian, champagne-drenched, public celebration of same-sex love? Bitterly judging members of our own community for “selling out” is a pretty poor approach to making the world less shitty for LGBT people. Why not, instead, take our gigantic hard-ons for one another and rub them in the haters’ faces?

I’ve tried to work out exactly what it is that makes me want to get married and I can’t. It’s almost an instinctive urge though, so I’m willing to accept that I’ve been socially conditioned. A part of me definitely sees gay weddings as a big middle finger to the conservatives and religious nutjobs who think they own marriage. There’s no doubt that I want to play a part in that middle finger brandishing. But saying a loud, “fuck you”, to society seems like a dysfunctional reason to celebrate your love for someone. Maybe a part of me (my inner child?) just wants to wear a pretty dress and throw a party for all the people I love. But what about the spending the rest of my life with one person part? Maybe that should scare me, but it doesn’t. Being single, I’m a long way off that kind of commitment and I’m still not averse to having fun. But I imagine that if I were having more casual sex, I’d be starting to get bored with it.

Whatever my reasons for wanting to get married may be, I feel it’s my right not to be judged by members of my own community. Hey – fellow gays - let’s leave the judging to Norman Tebbit, yeah? With the UK’s brand new equal marriage legislation, I’m looking  forward to getting my first gay wedding invitations from my friends in relationships. No pressure, guys.

Now find out whether same-sex marriage could threaten traditional gender roles (clue: only if it magically turned everyone gay).

 

A same-sex marriage supporter outside the Supreme Court in the US. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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How can London’s mothers escape the poverty trap?

Despite its booming jobs market, London’s poverty rate is high. What can be done about it?

Why are mothers in London less likely to work than their counterparts across the country, and how can we ensure that having more parents in jobs brings the capital’s high child poverty rates down?

The answers to these two questions, examined in a new CPAG report on parental employment in the capital, may become increasingly nationally significant as policymakers look to ensure jobs growth doesn’t stall and that a job becomes a more much reliable route out of poverty than it is currently – 64 per cent of poor children live in working families.

The choice any parent makes when balancing work and family life is deeply personal.  It’s a choice driven by a wide range of factors but principally by what parents, with their unique viewpoint, regard as best for their families. The man in Whitehall doesn’t know best.

But the personal is also political. Every one of these personal choices is shaped, limited or encouraged by an external context.   Are there suitable jobs out there? Is there childcare available that is affordable and will work for their child(ren)? And what will be the financial gains from working?

In London, 40 per cent of mothers in couples are not working. In the rest of the country, the figure is much lower – 27 per cent. While employment rates amongst lone parents in London have significantly increased in recent years, the proportion of mothers in couples out of work remains stuck at about 12 percentage points higher than the rest of the UK.

The benefits system has played a part in increasing London’s lone parent employment rate. More and more lone parents are expected to seek work. In 2008, there was no obligation on single parents to start looking for work until their youngest child turned 16. Now they need to start looking when their youngest is five (the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would reduce this down to three). But the more stringent “conditionality” regime, while significant, doesn’t wholly explain the higher employment rate. For example, we know more lone parents with much younger children have also moved into jobs.  It also raises the question of what sacrifices families have had to make to meet the new conditionality.  

Mothers in couples in London, who are not mandated to work, have not entered work to the same level as lone parents. So, what is it about the context in London that makes it less likely for mothers in couples to work? Here are four reasons highlighted in our report for policymakers to consider:

1. The higher cost of working in London is likely to play a significant role in this. London parents are much less likely to be able to call on informal (cheaper or free) childcare from family and friends than other parts in the country: only one in nine children in London receives informal childcare compared to an average of one in three for England. And London childcare costs for under 5s dwarf those in the rest of the country, so for many parents support available through tax credits is inadequate.

2. Add to this high housing and transport costs, and parents are left facing a toxic combination of high costs that can mean they see less financial rewards from their work than parents in other parts of the country.

3. Effective employment support can enable parents to enter work, particularly those who might have taken a break from employment while raising children. But whilst workless lone parents and workless couples are be able to access statutory employment support, if you have a working partner, but don’t work yourself, or if you are working on a low wage and want to progress, there is no statutory support available.

4. The nature of the jobs market in London may also be locking mums out. The number of part time jobs in the capital is increasing, but these jobs don’t attract the same London premium as full time work.  That may be partly why London mums who work are more likely to work full time than working mums in other parts of the country. But this leaves London families facing even higher childcare costs.

Parental employment is a thorny issue. Parenting is a 24-hour job in itself which must be balanced with any additional employment and parents’ individual choices should be at the forefront of this debate. Policy must focus on creating the context that enables parents to make positive choices about employment. That means being able to access the right support to help with looking for work, creating a jobs market that works for families, and childcare options that support child development and enable parents to see financial gains from working.

When it comes to helping parents move into jobs they can raise a family on, getting it right for London, may also go a long way to getting it right for the rest of the country.