September 19th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: 'Level playing-field' crushes Australian farmers

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY: Back to basics in the marriage debate

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Assessing Rudd's stimulus package

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Rio Tinto, China and Australia's national interest

EDITORIAL: California wildfires caused by lack of hazard reduction

WATER: Water policy threatens Australia's food security

ILLICIT DRUGS: Kings Cross safe injecting rooms fail to reduce drug overdose deaths

QUEENSLAND: Bligh Government amends abortion laws

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Ireland follows Iceland in financial meltdown

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Japan's new PM rejects 'market fundamentalism'

CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: The debasement of higher education

EDUCATION: Seeking a better deal for rural and regional students

OPINION: 1945 Allied repatriations a crime against humanity

NCC Fighting Fund appeal (letter)

Senator Ted Kennedy (letter)

Abortions are never justified (letter)

World War II (letter)

CINEMA: Revealing insight into Rebiya Kadeer - The 10 Conditions of Love


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Back to basics in the marriage debate

by Tim Cannon

News Weekly, September 19, 2009
Impassioned calls for same-sex marriage have left some of our MPs perilously prone to well-intentioned confusion. Before they redefine a fundamental institution of human civilisation, our elected representatives would do well to consider why marriage exists at all.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has put forward a bill which would redefine the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples. The argument goes something like this: heterosexual couples have it, and because they have it, same-sex couples should have it too. Unfortunately there is scant consideration of why marriage even exists, or why it is the way it is. But looking at the rationale behind the institution of marriage reveals that same-sex marriage simply doesn't make sense.

The very fact that marriage is a public institution suggests that the state has some interest in the marriage relationship itself. After all, the practice of publicly registering a promise of lifelong fidelity and commitment between two citizens represents a surprising intrusion by the state into what is essentially a very private matter. Surely the state does not intrude arbitrarily. It is useful to consider why it does intervene.

I would suggest that the reason lies in the very nature of the male-female relationship. The union of man and woman is unique among all human relationships in that it is the only type of relationship which can produce children. In the absence of such unions, we would literally disappear from the face of the earth. This is a matter of genetic fact. A same-sex relationship is not a progenerative type of relationship. The male-female relationship is.

This explains why marriage has always been between a man and a woman. True, marriage has taken different forms at different times and in different cultures. But it has always required at least one male and one female, because without either male or female gametes, progeneration can never take place.

The significance of progeneration in marriage also explains the permanence of the marriage relationship. Marriage involves a lifelong commitment between the spouses. This is a tall order by any standard. But it would be fair to say that, generally, the state has no interest in whether two citizens remain faithful to one another or not. The matter is private, and should remain so.

Yet in marriage, we find a stark exception. Why? Because when the promise of lifelong commitment takes place within the context of the uniquely progenerative male-female relationship, the state does have an interest in whether or not the relationship is permanent. The permanence of marriage helps to ensure that children enjoy the benefits of an intact, stable home-life with their natural parents, which research shows to be an excellent indicator for a child's future well-being. The flow-on effects include lower crime rates, and better physical and psychological health. Family breakdown and transient relationships (where children are involved) have a significant social cost. Taxpayers pick up the tab.

The natural family is the one unit in society that, when healthy, basically looks after itself - from turning kids into upstanding citizens, to providing a source of care for the elderly and the sick. It is no surprise, then, that the state should wish to encourage permanency through marriage.

Does this mean that infertile heterosexual couples should be excluded from marriage? Not at all. The state has no business inquiring into the fertility of a particular couple. Indeed, the state has no business regulating whether married couples have children, or when they do so, or how many children they have. To do so would be both inappropriate and unwieldy.

But this does nothing to diminish the state's interest in establishing an institution which recognises the unique significance of a particular type of relationship. In defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the state simply recognises the significance of that type of relationship which is uniquely progenerative in nature - the male-female relationship - without which the human species would cease to exist.


Similarly, while the availability of artificial reproductive technologies means that children can now be conceived other than by the sexual union of a man and a woman, it is still indisputably the case that the overwhelming majority of humans are conceived in the manner dictated by nature. The significance of the male-female relationship cannot be ignored.

But redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would mean rejecting the unique significance of the male-female relationship.

Unlike the male-female union - with its unique and profound significance as the means by which humanity continues to exist - a same-sex relationship would seem to be a private matter.

There is no reason for the state to accord it special recognition, and certainly no reason to call it marriage.

Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Australian Family Association.

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