Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Some thoughts on marriage
May 10, 2013, 11:01 am
Filed under: Opinion

Is it possible to make a rational argument against “same-sex marriage”? Of course, insofar as we are dealing only with semantics, it is perfectly possible for the term “marriage” to shift in meaning to include same-sex couples; but if we go deeper than semantics, the matter is not so simple.

It can surely be accepted as a basic fact of nature that every human being comes into existence through the fusion of two sets of genetic material, one derived from a male parent, the other from a female. While nowadays this fusion can be brought about artificially, such a procedure is by definition not “natural” (where natural and artificial are taken as contraries); and it is not “normal” inasmuch as it remains exceptional in proportion to all the births that take place. The normal and natural way in which a child is engendered is by the male and female parents having sexual intercourse; and in this respect human beings are like many other species. 

What differentiates human beings from other species, in part, is that while in other species reproduction is governed purely by instinctive factors, in human beings the capacity for rational thought and choice can override to a great extent these instinctive factors. This has far-reaching consequences not only as regards the conception of human life, but for its ongoing nurture too. Human infants are highly dependent on, first, their mothers for their initial sustenance; and more generally on the family environment in which they spend their early years.

While there is some natural instinct in human parents to protect and nurture their children, it is by no means automatic that this will happen. It is not just that children may be orphaned, but they may be neglected and mistreated by one or both parents. Human society has therefore constantly devised usages and even laws to protect family life, and in particular the interests of children. There has been a spontaneous recognition in human societies that their long-term interests are bound up with the generations yet to come, in order that there be a constant handing-on of human heritage (both cultural and material), received from past generations, to the future generation.

Even biologically, human procreation requires a partnership, and this partnership should normally be continued in such a way that in the first instance responsibility for the nurture of children rests with those who have brought them into being, whose genetic inheritance they carry. This partnership of a man and a woman for the procreation and nurture of children is what, traditionally, has been called “marriage”. In some societies, it has been acceptable for a man to procreate with more than one woman; or for the partnership to be terminated for sufficient reason. But such arrangements have still been hedged about with customary law: neither wife nor child should simply be discarded without proper provision.

The real argument against “same-sex marriage”, promoted in the name of equality, is that such re-definition leaves us without a proper term for the partnership in procreation and nurture that has hitherto been called “marriage”. This suggests that such partnerships are no longer valued by society in comparison with those simply based on mutual affection, but with no particular goal beyond that. It is, however, difficult to see what interest society has in simply recognising the mutual affection of couples, and if children are not to be an essential part of the picture, why such mutual affection should be confined to sexual attraction, or limited to two-party relationships. And if the terms “husband” and “wife” have no application, but the parties are simply called “partners” or the like, it is not clear why the term “partnership” (or “civil partnership”) is not thought sufficient. What extra does the term “marriage” (which has hitherto had a quite specific extra meaning) bring to the notion of partnership?

Society needs stable relationships of male and female as the normal way in which children (new members of society) are born and brought up. Such relationships  have traditionally been called “marriages”, and the fundamental objection to changing the definition is that it inevitably implies the marginalisation of children, in comparison with the emotional demands of adults.


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: