Marriage (the Equal kind), Consummation and Adultery

Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert. I have a basic grasp of the laws surrounding marriage/civil partnership. I may very well get things wrong in the blog. Feel free to point out any mistake to me. But please do it nicely 😉


It must be said, this subject isn’t something I had thought much about until I met the Giraffe. If anyone had asked me, my opinion would have been that everyone should be able to marry whomever the hell they wish. Provided both parties (or more, if they so desired) were in agreement and were entering into the relationship willingly, who on earth am I to judge whether their relationship is valid or not? That’s about as far as my thought process would have gone and I would have blindly gone on with my life. But now, mainly because it’s relevant to me, it’s something I have developed a real interest in. I find the arguments against marriage equality baffling. Often, I have to stop reading articles because they make me ragey and want to hit things.

I’m not going into the various arguments for and against marriage equality. I’m taking it as read that it will happen, that those opposed will be given an opt-out and will skulk away awaiting the fall of society and the ability to say “I told you so.” Which will never happen.

The Marriage Equality Bill is currently being introduced to Parliament. This will (hopefully) give gay couples in England and Wales the legal right to be married. Scotland has its own legislation in progress. I haven’t read either in their entirety, but I have gleaned the important facts. There is much being made, in various news articles and blogs, about the inability of those drafting the bill to be able to define consummation in a gay or lesbian relationship. (Incidentally, if anyone can tell me why lesbians can also be gay, but men have only one ‘label’, I’d really love to know.) Consummation was an important part of marriages of old. It was proof that the woman was a virgin. It was about ownership and conjugal rights and other such patriarchal things. But most importantly, lack of consummation allowed the marriage to be annulled. In Roman Catholic terms, the Pope can still dissolve a marriage that has not been consummated. Annulment allows people to remarry in church, whereas divorce doesn’t. (Which is important to some people, I’m led to believe.) Or more accurately, didn’t. From what I can gather, all but the most hellfire and brimstone type Christians – and Catholics –accept that divorce isn’t the root of all evil. I can’t comment on other religions as I don’t know the facts. So why are some people so interested in having such an archaic notion included in modern marriage laws? It is barely used under the law as it stands and I’m sure one day it will probably disappear. But that’s not a fight for the equal marriage lobby at this time. They’d only be accused of trying to redefine marriage further.

Consummation isn’t mentioned under Civil Partnership law. Does this mean people who have entered into CPs have any less valid relationships? Surely the act of getting marriage is a contract? It’s a promise to the person you love that you intend to spend the rest of your life with them. There are lots of legalities bundled into that contract and the new bill evens up the gap between CP and marriage laws. But essentially, it’s about commitment. To each other. Whether or not you ‘seal the deal’ with whatever you deem to be meaningful sexual activities is entirely up to you!

In Scotland, we got rid of the concept of legal consummation. It’s an anachronism that needs to be removed from the English legal system.

That brings me on to something else that I have heard equal marriage supporters complaining about. In a same sex marriage, adultery will not be an option for divorce. I’ve seen written several times that this means we’re not being given true equality. Well, actually we are, in every sense of what is practical. Imagine for a second that a man married to a woman had any kind of sex you like with another man. That’s not adultery. The only legal definition of adultery is a man and a woman having vaginal intercourse. So, I suppose, if a man married to another man were to go and have sex with a woman, there is an argument that adultery should be available as a reason for ending that marriage. However, let’s put the adultery issue into perspective. (My perspective, because it’s my blog :-p) I was in a heteronormative marriage. When I discovered my ex was in love with someone else, I didn’t care whether or not they were having sex. The act of him being able to tell someone else he loved them while he was still married to me was what I would consider adultery. But it’s not. Could I have divorced him for adultery? Probably. But I would have had to have proof. Unless I started having him followed and photographed (if they left the curtains open) to get evidence, adultery wasn’t really an option for me either. Or course, he could have admitted it, but then he would have had to cite dates, times, etc. where he and Fig* had done the dirty. Did I really want that information in my head?

These days, the use of adultery as a reason for divorce is falling. I don’t have figures to hand, but feel free to google. I’m sure you won’t discover that I’m wrong.  The catch-all term of unreasonable behaviour, however, covers everything that could ever possibly give you reason to want to divorce someone. (FYI, I didn’t use this either. We divorced by mutual consent after a period of separation. It’s just so much easier…). So why, when we will be given perfectly acceptable methods of ending a same sex marriage, which cover everything that needs to be covered, are some people still not happy?

The argument that the omission of these two concepts in the Equal Marriage Bill means it is equal-but-not-equal is the other end of the extreme to the Catholic Church. There are people out there who wish to have everything exactly as the law stands now for marriage available to same sex couples. I think that is naive and short-sighted. In my opinion, the laws for same sex marriage will be modern and relevant and applicable. They will cut out some of the archaic concepts that complicate marriage laws as they stand today. One day, I would like to see true and absolute marriage equality, with no separate laws for same and mixed sex. But I believe that that will come from straight marriage laws changing to match those of same sex couples, not the other way around.



*The name I am eventually giving his new wife. It came from a long and windy conversation with the Giraffe, beginning with The Current Mrs P and ending in the dried fruit we hate the most. (Apart from in fig rolls, which we love.)


One thought on “Marriage (the Equal kind), Consummation and Adultery

  1. Great post! I think that this kind of a debate just goes to show the heteronormative hierarchy of sex acts up for the ridic pile of cobblers it is. It’s a sad fact of life that people fall of out of love with each other, and sometimes fall in love while still with someone else. It’s sad whether they’re having tea with someone else, sleeping with someone else or wanking in the other room in front of Newsnight.* But it happens. It may be better or worse when it happens to you according to certain circumstances (whether someone’s been honest versus dripfed or been caught out, and whether you know the other person or not) but, as you say, what form of genital-twiddling has or hasn’t gone on makes no difference. I’d have thought that as far as any sensible person is concerned, what makes a marriage valid is consensual love and what invalidates it is when the love has gone – no more and no less. How a minority of bluestockinged Godbotherers manage to make it any more complicated than that I don’t know, but then, they’re so alien to me they may as well be fish speaking sanskrit anyway so there we are.

    (* I say that as there was some watercooler-fodder study a while ago which claimed that watching Newsnight is a sign your marriage is in crisis. I don’t wank in front of Newsnight, honest…)

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