Swan Divorce at Slimbridge Wetland Centre Prompts Wider Concerns about Marriage

A pair of Bewick’s swans at the Slimbridge Wetland Centre wildfowl sanctuary in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire (England), have divorced, the BBC reported yesterday. Slimbridge researchers, who have followed more than 4,000 swan marriages, took note of the development this month when both members of the former couple returned separately from Arctic Russia to their winter lodgings in Slimbridge, new partners in tow.

According to a spokesperson for the Wetland Centre, the event marks only the second time in forty years that a pair of normally monogamous swans has voluntarily dissolved a cygnine partnership, widely known for duration and faithfulness.

The couple, identified in court documents only by their first names, Sarindi and Saruni, married two years ago. Friends who spoke on condition of anonymity suggested that Saruni’s inability to produce a cygnet had led to growing tension within the couple, though a young swan who indicated only that she was “like, best friends with Saruni,” objected to what she termed a “sexist interpretation” of the facts. “Every since Sarindi went on Facebook,” she told this reporter, “he’s spent less and less time with Saruni and more and more time playing Farmville and friending pens with revealing profile pics. Online, he’s got, like, 3700 friends. How’s Saruni supposed to compete with that? You ask me, he never even really wanted any cygnets.”

Reached through his lawyer, Sarindi denied the allegation. “Saruni showed up back here in Slimbridge with some cob-toy on her wing about ten minutes after the divorce was final, so you tell me: which one of us wasn’t serious? I was home every night, working on the nest mound, but I was the only one who was bringing any eelgrass to the table. And I was always ready to co-incubate the clutch. If there wasn’t any clutch, well, all I’m saying is, I did my part, okay? But now I just want to get on with my life. Me and Saruni, we’re different, that’s all. She was from the Taymyr Peninsula and I was a guy from the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Two different worlds. It just didn’t work out. No drama, no hard feelings. I don’t understand why everybody’s whooping over this.”

But C. Anne Brauloh, a sociologist at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, who specializes in swan relationships, sees broader trends at work in the couple’s separation. “Young swans today feel they don’t have a lot of time. They’re anxious to move on in their careers, get their cygnets in a row. There’s tremendous pressure to choose a mate, especially since in traditional terms they only have one chance to get it right. Slimbridge is just the tip of the iceberg. More and more swans are going to start speaking out about hasty or unhappy marriages and we’ll see more couples making choices like Sarindi and Saruni’s. Second and even third matings are on the way, as is the blended palmiped family. Swan culture may take a while to absorb these new realities, but it will eventually adjust. Monogamy may be common among swans, but our research suggests that it is more a heavily enforced social custom than a true biological imperative.”

Reaction from religious leaders, however, has been both sharper and more accusatory. A spokeperson for the Most Reverend Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Clifton, for example, condemned the divorce. Speaking at a news conference held outside Clifton Cathedral, the Bishop called on the faithful to recall that: “Marriage is a sacrament, which no man must put asunder. And by ‘man,’ of course I mean ‘swan,’” the Bishop added. “I would also like to mention seagulls.”

Even the Vatican weighed in on the surprising news from this far corner of West England, and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement, printed in today’s Osservatore Romano, which read in part, “Svans mate for life. This to all the vorld is known. When this natural orden is contradikted, of interference by a tweachewous, ungodly force most certain can we be. You know what I’m talking about, so don’t make me say it.”

Across the Atlantic, proponents of the “pro-marriage movement” in the United States were quick to seize upon the Pope’s words. “How much more evidence do you need of the harm the gay agenda is doing to the institution of heterosexual marriage?” asked Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage. “Homosexual pseudomarriages are now recognized in more than a dozen European countries, including the United Kingdom. They just got a so-called ‘civil unions’ bill through the senate in Hawai’i. The anti-Prop 8 lawyers are kicking our asses in District Court in San Francisco. Is it any coincidence that the Portuguese parliament approved gay marriage just a week before divorced swans started showing up in England? I don’t think so. The state of normal heterosexual wedlock is on the chopping block all over the world. If we don’t reverse this trend, we can start singing a swan song for marriage.”

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Posted on 25 January 2010, in Queer ... Plus All Those Acronyms, You Can Always Count on a Little Homophobia and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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