Marriage differs from cohabitation because it is at the start a life-long commitment, a pledge excluding all others. There is a recognised failure if it splits, whereas in cohabitation a split is simply “moving on”. That commitment to work on the relationship, and cherish and grow it, benefits children of the marriage, but also the couple themselves. In establishing equal marriage, England and Wales, and soon Scotland, show a renewed belief in that life long commitment, though the divorce rate and cohabitation rate rises.
That is why equal marriage is a Conservative cause.
Roger Scruton states same-sex marriage is homophobic, because it forces gay people into a mould fitted to straight people. But that requires the idea that a life-long commitment is only of value to society and children, not to the couple themselves. So, marriage would only be a Conservative institution, only for those who place duty to society over self-actualisation.
It is not just the label I want, but the reality, and so inequalities in marriage law do not make marriage in practice unequal. A straight marriage is valid, but may be declared void by a court, on the ground of non-consummation. That is not defined by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, but by W (orse K) v W, to mean erection and penetration with emission of seed. The case is not in BAILII, so I take the Guardian’s word for it that there are no cases since.
To make adultery or non-consummation an issue in gay marriages there has to be a definition of what gay sex counts. “Yes dear, I know we agreed scissoring is a het myth, but we have to do it this one time”. Gay couples may divorce for “unreasonable behaviour”, which may include withholding sex, or sex with another. There is no difference in treatment in practice, just some difference in concepts to recognise physiological differences.
My question for opponents of equal marriage is, why do they value marriage? What good is it? If for procreation of children, then my father’s second marriage has no value, and no-one should marry without intending to have children. It has to have value for the couple themselves.
So my suspicion is that they oppose equal marriage because it is a symbol of equal value. They want gay people to be treated differently, because we are not quite as good as they are, and they want the law to enshrine that view.