The opinion section of my local newspaper, The Courier, has been heating up a lot lately with arguments regarding marriage equality. One post in particular set my argumentative mind a flurry, so I penned the below response. It didn’t make it into the Letters to the Editor section (there seems to have been a plethora of responses printed, so I am using that excuse to explain why mine slipped through the gaps), so I figured I’d post it here, with a couple of annotations:
I write in reply to Father Bernard McGrath’s letter (Misguided Sympathies Destroying Marriages), in which he tries to define marriage based on the ability to procreate alone.
The author states that marriage is a personal and public institution for the good of society, and I agree with him. He then goes on to explain exactly why same sex partnerships should be excluded from this institution, and why he believes this is a fair outcome. This is where our views diverge.
Father Bernard’s arguments start to get tenuous very early on.
First he states that marriage is a law of nature, separate from religious and state laws, failing perhaps to realise that same sex relationships are likewise a part of nature. He goes on to highlight the procreative nature of marriage, in that it is intended for the creation of babies, but then seeks to give a pass to those who are unwilling to reproduce, by asserting that they ‘give witness’ to what he believes to be the ultimate purpose of marriage; again procreation.
[Note:I believe that this witnessing he refers to is simply the fact that married couples have sex. Why he doesn’t believe that same sex couple ‘witness’ in a very similar way is again left unanswered]
Now I don’t come to this argument devoid of my own views and beliefs; I am an atheist to the bone, and a happily married man. However I would argue that rather than basing the institution of marriage (something the Father and I both believe to be for the good of society) on the mere act of procreation, we should instead focus on what makes marriage, and the union it represents, truly important to our society: love.
I married my wife not so that we could procreate (after all, we had successfully achieved this prior), but rather because I love her with all my heart, and wish to spend the rest of my life with her. This is the form of love and devotion that I believe we as a society should celebrate with the title of marriage; not just the act of procreation. After all, many people choose not to procreate, and many more still are unable to procreate. I would challenge Father Bernard to explain to me how a married same sex couple adopting a child would be functionally any different than an infertile married couple adopting one of their own.
Father Bernard’s arguments belie his conservative and outdated views when he seeks to explain that equality isn’t as simple as some ‘misguided’ advocates think. He states “After all, a man cannot be a mother nor a woman a father, so they can never be absolutely equal”, but fails to realise that both of these things are in effect equal; both are parents. Instead he champions the woefully outdated rhetoric of ‘same but different’.
In another telling line the author laments the fact that if same sex marriage were permitted then marriage would no longer be centred around our ability to procreate, but rather it would exist as ‘something primarily centred on the desires and emotions of adults’.
Yes it would; and for most people out there I would argue that this is what marriage currently means for them. It is an expression of their desires and their emotions; of their feelings toward those they love. Ask someone why they got married, or want to get married, and I guarantee that the vast majority will mention the word ‘love’ before they do the impersonal term ‘procreate’.
Let Christians have Christian marriages by all means, but don’t seek to ban others from expressing their love because it hurts your own personal definition of marriage. After all, those who want to marry for procreative means are free to do so, and allowing gays and non-Christian heterosexuals to marry for love isn’t going to hamper anyone’s desire to go forth and multiply.
At the end of the day we are not even arguing about the legitimacy of same sex relationships anymore; as a society we accept this as normal. However in a vain attempt to exclude same sex couple from their exclusive club, we instead find ourselves arguing about trivial definitions. Above I have outlined a brief argument as to why marriage should be defined by love, whereas the opposition seems to think it should be based on the act of procreation. My proposal would include both subsets, the opposition’s seeks to exclude a group of people simply because they can’t procreate. Which seems fairer?
Again, I can’t help but note the apparent dissonance expressed by opponent of gay marriage, and how I believe Australians on average view the institution. So rarely is the word love even used by these opponents that you begin to wonder if this is a conscious effort. Have they realised that they have lost the battle as to whether homosexual love is genuine love, and thus want to distance the act of marriage from this altogether?
Then there is this lovely little gem written by Courier regular Anniemee in response to a Doctors comment that marriage is a social institution, free to change and reflect society’s views about love:
“Well Dr Robert Watson, that is the most stupid comment I've ever read. I don't agree with much Fr B McGrath says, as I'm not a Catholic, but as far as life is concerned 'Marriage' is about procreation! AND it's great that we can choose the love of our life who we want to procreate with in this country.
I love my neighbour, but I will not procreate with him. I love my children, but will not procreate with them.
What an uneducated nonsense you spout here. What are you thinking? You need to go a little further than your own distorted mind to find the answer. It sounds like you are in a same sex relationship and are looking to justify this in your own conscience. Hey, I love my Dog too, perhaps we should all marry the pets we love. Please Courier, print this for the Doctor.”
All this mind you in response to this brief comment:
“FR Bernard McGrath states (The Courier, April 16) that marriage is based in the 'natural order of procreation'.
I suggest that marriage is a social construct that has been created by humans. As we created the construct, therefore we can change it. Love is love and it should be at the heart of any marriage.”
Again, I was compelled to respond, and you can see that response at the website if you have nothing better to do, however I think it worth noting the truly warped way that gay marriage is being opposed in these forums.
Here again we find someone arguing actively that love has nothing to do with marriage, only the act of procreation is paramount. Sure you can love your spouse, but if you aren’t willing to procreate with them, then you have no business marrying them. Indeed this commenter fails to make any distinction between the love she has for animals and neighbours, and the love she has for a spouse, beyond the act of procreation.
In her view the only difference between the relationship she has with a dog, versus that of a husband, is that she can procreate with one, and not the other.
There seems an obvious dishonesty in these arguments. I don’t doubt for a second that those arguing for marriage basis in procreation would also argue that the love they have for their spouse, and the relationship it forms, is quantitatively different to other forms of love and relationship. This unique relationship and love is what marriage should symbolise, not the intersection of love and procreative viability.