We marched from Bristo Square to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, where a rally took place. Not all of our supporters marched: as we snaked our way down the Royal Mile, people hung out of their windows to watch, and to wave, and to cheer us on. This march was, I feel, a Good Thing.
It was good to see MPs talking sense, bringing up the arguments of the opposition and defeating them instead of prevaricating, because this is actually what they did. The crowds were asked, Have you ever heard a strong argument against the legalisation of same-sex marriage? Silence. That, we were told, is because there aren’t any. The arguments from our opposition are made of straw.
Marriage is about family our opposition says: this is not true, because it is neither necessary for a successful marriage that it results in having children, nor necessary for the success of parenthood that the parents be married; further, even were this true, we heard and we cheered for, the sexuality of the parents has no bearing on the children. This we know, this we have known for years, but this has yet to be reflected in the law.
Allowing same-sex marriage will redefine marriage: of course it will, but not for the worse. Just as the introduction of laws allowing women to own their own property following marriage redefined marriage for the better. Marriage needs to be redefined to reflect the society within which it takes place, or we’d still have child-brides. It has not had one uniform definition over time, and certainly in the UK it has moved from a contract joining two families for mutual benefits to one joining two lovers, any two lovers. We should allow the sex of those lovers to be no more barrier than we do the lack of financial gain in some arrangements. This we know, this we have known for years, but this too has yet to be reflected in the law.
It was good to see a religious representative (Marilyn Jackson, of the Humanist Society of Scotland) stand up and argue for her right, for the right of all religions, to perform marriage ceremonies, not just blessings, for religious same-sex couples. If this is something that churches want to do, then who is benefitted by outlawing it? And certainly there is something wrong in a nation where two atheists can stand up in a church and swear to love one another in front of a God who they don’t believe in, when two people who love each other just as much, and who believe in that God, are unable to do so. Or even in a country where an atheist same-sex couple doesn’t have the same right to stand up in church as an atheist straight couple.
It was good to see over a thousand people who care enough about equality of marriage to show it, to make an effort for it, to act for it. Because this is important, and the fact that it is important is something that needs to be shown, needs to have efforts made for it, needs to be acted for. We have to make it clear that we have no intention of giving up, whether it takes months or years for same-sex couples to be given equal rights.
We need to show our opposition that this is no fad, this is no whim, this is not some phase we as a nation are going through. This is something that we know is right, and something we will not stop fighting for.
We will continue to fight for equality with more marches, more petitions, more letters to our politicians, and with more votes for those who will support us instead of take steps and leaps backwards. We will continue to speak up and we will never give up.
Marriage equality has the support of the majority of the Scottish people. It has the support of MSPs and at least some support from religious believers who want the power to carry out the ceremonies. We will find out this spring if it has the support of the Scottish government. But of course, this doesn’t end there.
We have come a long way since 1967, when homosexuality was decriminalised in the United Kingdom, to the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005. Let’s add more dates to this path, let’s add more victories, just as over the years we have added more and more support to the fight. And let’s give our support to those fighting in the rest of the UK, and outside it, to the countries where homosexuality is still outlawed, to the countries where relationships are not recognised by the law, to the countries where discrimination is permitted or encouraged.
So, it might be a few days late, but still: happy Valentine’s Day, Scotland, and happy Valentine’s Day, Britain, and happy Valentine’s Day world, if you’re reading. This year, join this fight, and do something for love that will last.
Looking for practical and expert advice for your student problems?
Well, er…look further, because we’re just asking a philosopher.
My flatmate wants to go out and get drunk all the time, but I want to stay in and concentrate on uni work. What should I do?
– Hardworking, Plymouth
Well, Hardworking, you will be greatly relieved to hear that your position is supported by one of the great proponents of utilitarianism.
John Stuart Mill famously said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question” (Utilitarianism: 1863).
Tell your flatmate this. Make it absolutely clear that he is the pig and the fool. I have yet to meet a single person who won’t change their habits after hearing that a dead philosopher disapproves of them.
I want to go out all the time and get drunk, but my flatmate wants to stay in and do uni work. What should I do?
– Bored and Sober, Plymouth
Well, Bored and Sober, you will be greatly relieved to hear that your position is supported by one of the great proponents of utilitarianism.
Jeremy Bentham famously said of utilitarianism that its, “fundamental axiom … [is] it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong” (A Fragment of Government: 1776).
Tell your flatmate this. Make it absolutely clear that a greater happiness for a greater number will result from your both going out. I have yet to meet a single person who won’t change their habits after hearing that a dead philosopher disapproves of them.
Got a problem our friendly Philosopher can solve? Send her an email at email@example.com!
Please note: all emails must be kept strictly Platonic.
Students like parties. It’s like going out clubbing but cheaper and with more talking.
It’s the more talking bit that interests me, because no matter how much more talking there is at parties, I find the same questions come up again and again. So here’s my Family Fortune-esque list of questions asked, presented in chronological order from the start of the night to its drunken end. Our survey says…
10. “What are you studying?”
This question goes in one of two directions for me. Either my chosen party-buddy is studying something completely disparate from my own degree, in which case I feign interest with such enthusiasm that it turns out that I’d be doing biology/ history/ Japanese if not for my deep conflicting passion for English/ restricted educational choices / complete ineptitude. Or it turns out that we’re in the same class, and we have to pretend to have noticed one another because the alternative fills us with a deep sense of shame.
9. “Where are you from?”
This seemingly innocent question can bring out latent rivalries you thought you were above. Invariably, if someone tells me they are from anywhere south of Birmingham, my Northern accent becomes stronger and I make an increasing number of references to pies in an absurdly defensive manner.
8. “Who do you know here?”
The majority of us seem to end up at a house party through a very tenuous link to the host, sometimes so tenuous we ourselves can’t trace it. I’m thinking of adopting, “Dave. I know Dave.” Everyone knows a Dave, right?
7. “What do you want to do after university?”
All students hate this question, and we all inflict it on one another with the full knowledge that it will be reflected back at us. I cannot posit the motives for this sadomasochistic behaviour. I’d blame the booze, but we’re only at number seven.
6. “Do you know if there’s any alcohol left?”
Following the uncomfortable scramble to legitimise our degrees with fabricated post-university plans, the desire to drink is strong. And around halfway through the night comes the point at which we realise the inadequacy of the amount of alcohol we brought for ourselves, however much it seemed earlier, in the face of how drunk we’re going to need to be.
5. “Can I see your tattoos?”
I’ll admit that this question might not arise for everyone, but it always comes up for me. I have three tattoos, only one of which is generally visible. For some reason, drunk people are the only ones who question my visible tattoo, and this leads to them wanting to see the others. Which isn’t a major problem, but does require my drunkenly standing on one leg to remove a shoe and trying to figure out how best to reveal my back without also flashing a room full of strangers. Sometimes this is simply too taxing to manage, but this never seems to halt my attempts. Someone asked, and dammit they shall see!
I hate tequila. It tastes of hangovers and memory loss. But there is always a bottle at a party, and there is always something that can be nominated as a substitute for a lime (cheap lemonade is definitely the same). So when someone asks, “Tequila?” everyone answers, “Yes!”, even though tequila is Satan in a shot glass.
3. “What’s your name?”
Having traded dreams for the future, exposed various parts of our bodies, and experienced hell together, it suddenly occurs to us that we don’t know each other’s names, and that we’ve been mentally (or actually) referring to a person by their most notable trait. Although this has the potential to be greatly flattering, in most cases, ‘Hairy Maths Guy’ would rather go by Jonathan. Even if that isn’t her name.
At this stage in the night, the questions are all very deep and meaningful, but also completely forgettable. We question the nature of existence with the vigour and acuity of Descartes, and I’m sure if our thoughts were only recorded then philosophy could just retire. Probably.
1. “Where’s the bathroom?”
This question is not asked with words at all, but with a panicked wide-eyed gaze, with a hand pressed over the mouth, with sudden silence. And unfortunately, it is not always answered in time.
And, for bonus points, the question that isn’t always asked at parties but probably should be:
“Before we do this, are you single?”
The government defines relative poverty as having an income below 60% of the national average income.
The number of children in the UK living in households that fall under this label looks set to rise to its highest for the first time in around a decade, but how worried should we be? It’s relative poverty. How poor are you really if your income is below 60% of the national average?
For 2011, that means bringing in less than £15,600 a year. And apparently, to some people this doesn’t sound like poverty; this just isn’t poor enough. So how should we be understanding poverty, then? A lot of the people protesting this classification argue for a qualitative rather than a quantitative classification of poverty. And the quality they’re thinking of is ‘starving and homeless’.
That’s just not necessary. You don’t have to be in crisis to be in poverty. You shouldn’t even have to be on the brink of crisis. I think people need to accept that poverty in developing countries differs from poverty in developed countries. Yes, not starving and having a home might be a shift out of poverty in Gambia, but we are not in Gambia. The UK is in a position of privilege, and this privilege has to play a role in how domestic poverty is understood. Do we really need to be starving and homeless in the UK to be in poverty?
I can’t help but think the answer is a great big emphatic no. It is appalling that people in what is considered a wealthy and developed country starve to death for want of money to pay for food (and they do). But just because someone can afford a cheap loaf of bread and a leaky roof over their head doesn’t mean we should wipe our brows and be glad that the problem of poverty isn’t so high after all. Because there is something wrong in a country where some people will cry when they have to spend an unexpected couple of hundred pounds while others gladly spend this amount on a handbag.
The people who argue that relative poverty is not true poverty have likely never lived through it. They have never had the exhausting task of managing such a limited budget for living. Never worn handmedowns from their mate at work who’s two sizes bigger and three inches shorter. Never gone weeks without meat, not because of a spiritual belief or a trend, but because meat is bloody expensive. Never had to walk for two hours to work every day because they can’t afford the bus fare. They have never had to think so closely about the cumulative value of minor costs.
Living within the realms of relative poverty leaves you faced with problems that just don’t exist for those who are financially comfortable. I think this is why so many fail to see how much of a struggle it really is. There is a prevailing view that people on low incomes in the UK only lack luxuries, not necessities, but of course what is considered a luxury is subjective. Is it a luxury to have an internet connection? What about buying your kids new school uniforms? What about having the heating on whenever you’re cold? It isn’t obvious where the line should be drawn between things we want and things we need, but if you’ve always had the things you wanted then you are going to have some problems placing that line for those who haven’t. Because it is galling to hear someone on a velvet cushion argue that there’s no harm in the peasants standing.
And no, perhaps relative poverty doesn’t kill (or at least it doesn’t kill quickly; people on lower incomes have notably shorter lives), but someone should not be in mortal danger before we consider their plight to be a serious social problem.
So this increase in relative poverty should worry us. It worries me.