Though Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th, this year perhaps our greatest celebration of love will occur on April 29th when Prince William, son of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, marries his fiancée, Kate Middleton. The story goes that Prince William carried his mother’s engagement ring around for three weeks before building up the courage to propose, and from the moment the engagement was announced, the world embraced their supposed fairy tale romance. After all, young children are indoctrinated early on to believe that one day, a handsome prince will marry a beautiful princess. This upcoming wedding is the completion of the discourse specifying the Royal Family’s compulsory gender and sexuality roles.
Commemorative items like comic books, China, replicas of the engagement ring, and even the controversial Crown Jewels Condom were quickly marketed to a public that has been consumed with royal wedding fever. The rush to create a profit from this event shows the heightened importance of the marriage between Prince William and Kate Middleton as symbols of the nation as a whole.
Prince William was born into a very specific set of expectations due to his royal status. Along with performing charity work and representing Great Britain at public events, as the prince matured to adulthood, it became his responsibility to find a wife and produce an heir (preferably two children — the heir and the spare) to continue the royal line of succession. A royal heir to the throne can only be produced through heterosexual marriage, thus elevating the coupling Kate and William to a national standard, which serves to normalize and promote heterosexuality at the cost of LGBT relationships. The imposed heterosexuality and gender roles have been foisted not only upon the prince, but on every person who has stood in the royal line of succession to the British throne.
If marriage can only be validated through reproduction, then marriages for which this is a biological impossibility are necessarily understood to be without legitimate purpose, as there have never been publicly acknowledged sperm donors or surrogate mothers sought out by the royal family. It further indicates that only specific body types, such as able-bodied and cisgender couples, are meant to participate in the national narrative of acceptable bodily formations. Royalty in and of itself is an elevated social position, as the royal family is specifically separated from those over whom they rule. This compulsory heterosexuality causes one to question what the response would be if Prince William were in fact a gay man, preparing to marry another man.
The House of Windsor consists of 60 people, and of those individuals, not one of them is openly gay. Statistically speaking, it is highly unlikely that among so many individuals, not one single person who identifies as queer exists. There are, however, many sovereigns who were rumoured to be gay over the years. These include, but are not limited to: William the Conqueror, William II, Richard the Lionheart, Edward II, James I, and finally, Prince Edward, the Earl of Essex. On June 19th, 1999, at St. George’s Chapel, Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones; however, this did nothing to diminish the rumours of homosexuality.
Our first stumbling block would arise with the term “marriage.” In the U.K., domestic partnerships between people of the same sex are legal, but not marriage. From the onset; a same-sex relationship in the royal family would already begin from a position of inequality. It is also currently illegal to have any kind or religious recognition in a civil union. Even religions which recognize same-sex marriage are required to have a separate ceremony from the legal one. Considering that royal marriages traditionally happen at Westminster Abby, a queer coupling would represent a huge change in tradition because the legalization of the partnership would have to occur in a secular location. There are many legal fights about whether civil unions and marriage should be considered akin to each other. The mere existence of a separate category has given rise to the question of whether they will be considered the economic and social equivalent of marriage in pension schemes, employer benefits and, most recently, whether or not hoteliers can use it as grounds to deny accommodation based on the fact that civil partners aren’t married. Separate but equal is not justice; it simply creates a special category from which liberals can claim to have conquered their bigotry.
The legalization of domestic partnership has not reduced the degree of harassment and violence that the LGBT community faces in Great Britain. Arguably, William’s position as Prince would protect him from violence; however, at a very minimum, homophobic commentary would certainly be something that he would have to deal with as part of living in a heterosexist country. It is worth noting that acts of violence against gays and lesbians are on the rise in the UK.
According to The Independent:
Over a quarter of all incidents involved physical violence. Figures from the Met show that in the last year reported homophobic hate crime in London has risen by more than 5 per cent, from 1,008 to 1,062 incidents. London’s gay and lesbian population is thought to stand at around 750,000.
National figures on homophobic incidents are not collected by the Home Office, however. A survey by Stonewall, the gay rights charity, published last year found that one in five gay people had been the victim of a hate crime in the last three years.
Upon ascension to the throne, William will assume his role as the head of The Church of England. The position of the Anglican Church on homosexuality has been ambiguous at best. While some parishes do bless non-celibate LGBT unions, many Church leaders have made it clear that they see these unions as incompatible with Christian scripture. In 2003, the church elevated the openly-celibate Dr. John, who was in a same-sex relationship, to the position of Suffragon Bishop of Reading. Unfortunately, he was later pressured to step down by the Archbishop of Canterbury because of “threats by parishes in the Oxford Diocese that they would refuse to recognise the ministry of Dr. John, that they would withdraw funding from the diocese and that they would seek alternative episcopal oversight.” The appointment of Dr. John literally threatened the solvency of the church. How could a gay Prince William ascend to a head of an organization that threatened not to recognize a celibate gay Bishop?
It is reasonable to suggest that if William were indeed a homosexual man, he would be precluded from fulfilling the role he was born to perform. Though the U.K. is understood to be progressive on some LGBT issues, in terms of the institution of royalty and the private lives of its citizens, there are many barriers to true equality. The marriage of a gay prince would not engender a great celebration of the coming nuptials. Instead, it would launch the country into a real debate regarding the validity of same-sex love. When we think about royal weddings, a prince and his male partner, or a princess and her female partner, are still far from the imagination of our popular culture. Perhaps this is because so many fairy tales are scripted for heterosexuals.
Even in the annual celebration of romantic love that is Valentine’s Day, the cultural narrative is still very dominantly heterosexual. When we think of historical great romances, people like Anthony and Cleopatra, Guinevere and Lancelot, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Queen Victoria, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, are all common instances that spring to mind. Though Alexander the Great was known to gay (or bisexual), few know the name Hephaestion; the man who was most likely his closet emotional relationship and lover. What we remember about Alexander are his three marriages to women and his courage on the battlefield.
No matter what romance we seek to elevate as symbolic of the greatest love that two people can share, it always takes the form of heterosexuality. How we understand what constitutes love determines which relationships in the public eye are considered legitimate. This is specifically why on Valentine’s Day, it is appropriate to question how the importance and the celebration of the upcoming royal marriage would change if the nation were gaining another prince rather than a princess.