Modern love (or semantic sexuality)

Stephen Irvine, 14 March 2012

As the last notes of Wishful Thinking by China Crisis drift through the morning air and the ensuing silence announces the end of Now That’s What I Call Music II’s third side, it suddenly dawns on me that I might be a little behind the times. With popular culture in the country of my birth unrecognisable since the salad days of the 80’s, have I been completely left behind as a brave new world has shaped the nation into something I no longer understand or want any part of? Am I alone in yearning for a bygone era, an unrealistic dream in the i-landscape of today?

Apparently not, as what I was about to witness was a cast of characters who made Fred Flintstone look contemporary, and while I might gaze wistfully from the tower windows dreaming of decades past, this lot were pitching their tents firmly in the dark ages. If you haven’t guessed it yet, we are of course talking about the weekend’s burning issue; same-sex marriage. With David Cameron sensibly lending his support to the idea, it was left to the fire and brimstone brigade to denounce the idea of unholy matrimony in no uncertain terms.

 In fact, the Catholic Church’s two most senior arch-bishops drafted a sermon asking worshippers to “protect the true meaning of marriage” and resist all attempts by Cameron’s government to take the “profoundly radical step” of legalising gay marriage.  Forgive me, but haven’t we already had this whole debate leading up to the introduction of civil partnerships in 2004? Isn’t the Church simply fighting a linguistic battle here, whereby homosexual couples are to be banned from upgrading the word describing their relationship status? Come on Fathers, have a heart; this is vital for thousands of people’s Facebook profiles. ‘In a civil partnership’ just sounds a bit cold – it makes me think of flower-planting schemes on roundabouts that are sponsored by local businesses.

The Anglicans have also been up for some semantic sparring, with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, telling the Telegraph in January that “if you begin to call [civil partnerships] ‘marriage’ you’re trying to change the English language.” Yep. That’s kind of what happens throughout time, John, as cultures and societies take seismic shifts, new ways of thinking are born and our language adapts accordingly, its flux and flow arming us with the lexicon of our times. Innit.

John didn’t really touch on that point though, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England instead choosing to play his trump card: “The Church has always stood out – Jesus actually was the odd man out. I’d rather stick with Jesus than be popular because it looks odd.” That’s the equivalent of saying “can, times a million” to your 8 year-old classmate when you’re arguing about whether a giraffe can swim faster than a Leprechaun and you’re tired of the ‘can / can’t’ back and forth. By admitting that approving of gay marriage would be popular and that the Church is purposely digging its heels in, it’s surely clear that they know this isn’t right.

But what this also shows is how the Church is a little behind in its thinking not only about language, but also the stature of modern idols. It’s true that Jesus was the odd man out, but that was more than 2000 years ago – he’s massive these days, you of all people should know that John. Millions the world over revere his name, image and message in a way that even Wayne Rooney can’t compete with. He has 3,588,531 and 4,141,745 ‘likes’ across two Facebook pages, so I reckon they need a new underdog to support. My own suggestion would be Eric Joyce, he could do with a pick-me-up at the moment. Stick with him Dr John, he’ll certainly prove useful if ever you get any grief in the pubs around Soho…

It’s hard not to smile at the spooky appropriateness as side 4 of the aforementioned pop super-album kicks in – it’s the dulcet tones of David Bowie singing Modern Love. “Modern love gets me to church on time / Church on Time terrifies me” croons Bowie; I don’t think you’re the only one mate.