MARRIAGE AND FAMILY: by Tim CannonNews Weekly
Back to basics in the marriage debate
, 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
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
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.Significance
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.