The Netherlands was the first country, in 2001, to recognize full civil marriage rights for same-sex couples (though all the Scandinavian countries and France had offered more limited rights several years before). Then Belgium took this dramatic step in 2003, followed by Spain in 2005 and Canada last year and early this year. Last week South Africa's Supreme Court ruled that barring gay marriages is a violation of the country's progressive constitution (which came into effect with the transformation Black majority rule), and has given that country's parliament a year to sort things out. Today, Great Britain joins the small club of nations (as well as the state of Massachusetts) in recognizing full civil marriage rights for gay couples under the form of "civil partnerships," by allowing registrations to begin. The first unions can take place in Northern Ireland on December 19, followed by England, Wales and Scotland on December 21.
As the BBC News points out in its Q&A today, civil partnerships "are a legally recognised union between two people of the same sex," and people in such unions will "have the right to exactly the same legal treatment across a range of matters as a married couple would expect." These matters include the same sort of treatment under British common law for inheritance, pensions, insurance, child maintenance, hospital visitation rights, immigration, and other areas. All partnerships will require the same responsibilities that marriages do as well. Couples married in other nations where gay marriage is recognized would be accorded the same recognition in Britain. The BBC News does note that the Parliament chose not to call this "marriage," since that might have upset church officials (and the UK does have an "official" church, over which Queen Elizabeth II presides) and made the passage of the bill more difficult, but with this "new concept," full parity will be in effect. As with church marriages, which in Britain also have a civil component, partners will be required to give public notice (banns) of their intention to marry, and the record of the partnership will be an official public document across the UK.
I want to underline how far Britain has come, given its long and often harsh legal treatment of homosexual people. From the time that Henry VIII declared sodomy a crime in common law in 1533 to the Wolfenden Report in 1957, which urged the decriminalization of gay sex, Britain's lesbians, gays and bisexuals, especially the non-aristocrats, faced a range of severe penalties, from jailing (as occurred with Oscar Wilde in 1895), to chemical treatments (which led mathematican Alan Turing to kill himself in 1954), to outright death, by hanging or othermeans (which was the penalty until 1861). Some of the most stringent anti-gay laws and penalties remain on the books in countries which were once part of Britain's colonial empire (in Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean), and as I discussed in my prior post on the brutal murder of Lenford "Steve" Harvey, the societal attitudes towards LGBT people in some of these countries, such as Jamaica, remain at a pre-Victorian stage. It has taken the United States centuries to decriminalize gay sex in all its states and territories, as occurred several years ago under Lawrence v. Texas (Canada, another former British colony, had done so in 1969), and a number of states now do offer civil protections and equality for lesbians and gays, but some of the hardcore anti-gay sentiment, in legal form, endures.
As has been widely reported, musician Sir Elton John (at right, on right) plans to marry his longtime partner, David Furnish--becoming Lord John and Lord Furnish, or Sir Elton and Sir David, I suppose--and singer George Michael will wed his partner next year. The British government remarks that so far there have been around 1,200 partnership bookings, and officials expect 4,500 by the end of 2006 and up to 12,000 by the end of the decade. Opposition in some quarters of the population remains, but it is muted. Registrars who for whatever reason disagree with the policy will still be required by law to enforce it. One other interesting aspect of this new ruling is that it has no bearing on common-law marriages, though British legislators are now looking at unions as a whole, and very likely will rule on the larger issue down the road.
In a related issue, Rod 2.0 writes that Belgium's parliament once again showed its progressive character by passing a law along same-sex couples to adopt children. Socialists, Liberals and Green Party members in particular backed it. Belgium thus becomes the third country in Europe, after Spain and Sweden, to permit same-sex adoption. As with straight couples, gay couples could adopt children from anywhere across the globe.
One final note: for years writers, feminists and gender scholars activists have critiqued the institution of marriage. It's fascinating to me to consider how far we've come, as a society and across the globe, in understanding the historical, economic, sexual, political, and social aspects of marriage and marriage-related institutions, but also how some of the oldest notions inhere, and how badly people who've been oppressed in or excluded by the institution seek to be married. Not just partnered, but married. As I noted in a post many moons ago, though, no matter how you feel about marriage, the extension of equal rights in this institution and its various forms, is an important and necessary step in affording full equality under the law and fostering full humanity, which is why the antediluvians fight it tooth and nail.
The New York Times reported yesterday, in Paul Cullum's "Samuel Beckett Is Ready for His Closeup," that 83-year-old Barney Rosset (in photo, at right, with Samuel Beckett on the left, photo © Bob Adelman), for two decades the proprietor of Grove Press, formerly one of the most vital literary houses in the world (before its sale in the early 1970s), and the founder of the groundbreaking Evergreen Review in 1957, is working with a young, brilliant Chicago-based filmmaker, James Fotopoulos, to realize the last two films in a triptych, "The Evergreen Trilogy," that he'd originally begun based on a highly original and exciting commission back in 1963. Back then he'd approached 8 quite famous writers, inviting to write original scripts that would be turned into films. The invitees, all Grove Press authors, included Nobel Prize-winner Günter Grass and Ingeborg Bachmann, both of whom declined, Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose work Rosset's fellow Chicago-native filmmaker Haskell Wexler turned into a movie, and Marguerite Duras, whose script Rosset published as the novel The Ravishment of Lol V. Stein.
The three scripts he did receive and decided to use were a truly incredible trio: Nobel Laureates Samuel Beckett (whose work Rosset published for years and for whom he served as the Irish writer's American agent) and Harold Pinter, and French-Romanian School of the Absurd playwright Eugène Ionesco. Rosset actually was able to film Beckett's screenplay, Film, in 1964. It starred aging Hollywood star Buster Keaton, but the project became so expensive that Rosset wasn't able to continue on with Pinter's script, The Compartment, which ended up being expanded to 55 minutes and filmed by the BBC as The Basement in 1967, with Pinter in a starring role. The newspaper reports that Rosset has been in contact with the BBC about licensing Pinter's longer screenplay in order to reshoot it. Ionesco's script, The Hard-Boiled Egg, which called for extensive special effects, would have been the most difficult to take on, which is where Fotopoulous enters the picture. The 29-year-old has directed and created 9o movies (!) and is skilled in digital filmmaking, so he foresees no problem in translating Ionesco's text to video form. The article goes on to note that Rosset has involved Fotopoulos in another film project, a quasi-documentary/avant-garde piece, based on Beckett's play Eleutheria, which had previously been the source of friction between Rosset and the Beckett estate. The article, which has lots more great information, includes shots from Film, as well as a link to a snippet of a Fotopoulos work, which doesn't exactly whet my interest, though I am curious to see what he does with the Ionesco template (and perhaps even Pinter's screenplay).
Today's Daily Telegraph includes an interview with Sérgio Machado (photo below, left) the Brazilian filmmaker whose debut feature, Lower City (Cidade Baixa), treats a troubled love triangle set in that district of Salvador da Bahia. The film by the 37-year-old director has already won considerable praise and honors, including the Prix de Jeunesse at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Acclaimed director Walter Salles (Central Station, Motorcycle Diaries) produced it. In the interview Machado states that one of his major influences for this work but on his film practice in general is John Ford's remarkable and disturbing 1956 film The Searchers (which has influenced countless other directors as well). As the paper notes, like John Wayne's Ethan Edwards character in that film, all of Machado's characters are "striving for something." I'm not sure where or when Lower City will be playing in the US, but I'm going to keep my eye out for it and catch it when I can.
And speaking of films, why is Hollywood remaking King Kong? Yes, I know all about Peter Jackson and his genius, his fascination with this particular movie and with Manhattan's iconic building, the advances in computer technology and digital filmmaking (cf. above), etc. But still. WHY THIS MOVIE IN 2005? I've always felt the flawed 1977 version starring Jessica Lange should have been the final version (after Son of Kong, Mighty Joe Young, which used to come on the UHF channels all the time when I was little, etc.). (Also, I know I'm not alone in reading a fairly transparent racialized and sexualized discourse in this film, am I? Of course not.) Yet here we go again. There are literally thousands of stories, myths, and narratives out there that Hollywood (or its proxies) could invest in and bring to the big screen (Vladimir Propp's 31 plots or narratemes and 8 basic characters notwithstanding). But, they decide to resurrect a film whose 1933 version has yet to be outdone and probably should never have been redone. (I won't even get into what was happening both in the US and across the globe in 1933, and why one might be able to make an argument for the film's relevance back then.) So why bring this film or some version of it to screens yet again? Greed and a complete bankruptcy of imagination can't be the sole reasons, can they?
(BTW, A. O. Scott's review of the new Charlize Theron (who was in the 1998 Mighty Joe Young remake) vehicle, Aeon Flux, made me laugh out loud.)