Unless you live under a rock in a very shady part of the forest or in England or Wales, you have no doubt heard of the peculiar domestic arrangements of the world’s most famous gay marriage.
The British musician Elton John and his husband David Furnish, who married in 2014 after several years in a civil partnership, have been in tabloid headlines around the world after revelations that Mr Furnish has been involved in trysts with other men.
Except, however, in England and Wales, where publication of anything about the sordid affair has been gagged.
From a practical point of view, the injunction is absurd. This being the age of the internet, 56 percent of people in England already know the identities of the people involved. On the other side of Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland and across the Atlantic in the United States, newspapers have already published more of the prurient detail than any of their readers need.
Sir Elton, 69, and Mr Furnish, 53, who have been together for 23 years, have two sons aged 3 and 5 (from the same surrogate mother). Retaining some self-respect, they want to prevent the toddlers from learning about the affair. Their lawyers have succeeded, so far, in keeping the London tabloids from publishing anything at all.
The newspapers, though, have missed the really important point of this squalid event. It is not about evolving standards of confidentiality or privacy in the digital age, but about evolving standards of monogamy in the age of gay marriage.
In a judgement imposing the gag on January 22, Lord Justice Jackson discussed changing expectations about marriage: monogamy and loving commitment no longer involve fidelity. Apparently Mr Furnish (the judgement does not mention the real names of the people involved) has argued that he and Sir Elton, a married couple, are in a loving, committed relationship. However, a gay marriage by no means implies sexual exclusivity.
The media contended that there was a public interest in knowing that this famous couple were actually hypocrites who had portrayed themselves as monogamous even though one of them was involved with another person. But Justice Jackson, after paging through a huge bundle of press clippings, concluded that “the picture which emerges from the publicity material is not one of total marital fidelity, but rather a picture of a couple who are in a long term, loving and committed relationship”. In other words, monogamy in marriage no longer implies fidelity. Extramarital affairs are not scandalous and Sir Elton and Mr Furnish are not hypocrites. Hence there can be no compelling public interest in publishing these revelations.
If anyone ever doubted whether gay marriage would corrupt the meaning of real marriage, the legal arguments in the case of PJS and News Group Newspapers Limited should be enough to persuade him. For millennia, exclusiveness and fidelity were recognised by society and the law as the currency of a loving, committed marriage. Often, of course, this was not honoured. But it was always the expectation with which young men and young women entered the “holy state of matrimony”.
No longer. Gay marriage has debased the coinage. The bad money of “long term, loving and committed relationships” is driving out the good money of permanent, loving and exclusive relationships. Thank you, Elton John.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.