1. What is marriage, in human history?
Marriage in Australia is defined in law as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. This definition aligns with the time-honoured understanding of marriage, which has been held for hundreds of generations, across cultures and religions.
The cultural phenomenon of marriage is present in every society from the earliest recorded history while the concept of ’same-sex marriage’ is primarily a post-modern construct.
However, marriage is much more than a legal convention or social tradition. Marriage reinforces and disciplines human biology, in the interests of society, and provides a stable, nurturing relationship for both husband and wife, and any children which they bear.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss calls marriage “a social institution with a biological foundation”. He notes that throughout recorded history the human family is “based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children.”
After all, while not all marriages result in reproduction, the conception of human life requires both a male and female. As children require prolonged nurturing, it is in the interests of society to encourage stable and healthy marriages in which this nurture can take place.
The timeless anthropological purpose of marriage is to bind a male and a female to each other and to their children. Historically this has been important for the protection of the pregnant woman and vulnerable children, as well as for the economic viability of the family unit.
Marriage exists in all societies, and throughout all times, because infants from ancient Egypt to modern Ecuador need the passionately patient love and labour of both their mother and their father. All cultures take the biological ‘given’ of the natural pair-bond and reinforce it with customs and ceremony to achieve the social goal of a stable family unit.
Marriage mattered to the earliest recorded human societies, because marriage creates order out of chaos: it assists with the civilising of sexual behaviour, helps protect women from exploitation, ensures stable nurturing of children, and knits society together through kinship’s ‘blood and belonging’.
2. But isn’t marriage about ‘love and commitment’, not about gender?
No, marriage is all about gender, because the continuation of human life is all about gender. Natural sexual attraction between man and woman is at the heart of marriage; love and commitment help marriage fulfil its unique vocation of family formation – bonding the man to the woman, and both to their children.
Advocates of same-sex marriage argue, contrary to nature, that marriage is not related to biology and raising young, but are just about any two adults with an ‘emotional commitment’. Indeed, they argue that biology is not essential to family formation.
For example, the prominent homosexual advocate, Andrew Sullivan, writes that the essence of marriage “is not breeding” but instead “a unique and profound friendship”. A Washington superior court judge in 2004, ruling in favour of same-sex marriage, offered this simplistic definition: “To ‘marry’ means to join together in a close and permanent way”; that marriage is “a close personal commitment” that is “intended to be permanent” and which is “spiritually significant”.
But this vagueness applies to many different adult relationships, and says nothing of the specific vocation of marriage and children.
As marriage expert David Blankenhorn comments:
I have a number of profound friendships and some intense personal commitments, all of which seem to me to be emotional enterprises. I am involved in a number of mutually supportive relationships, many of which, I am sure, enhance social stability. But none of this information tells you to whom I am married or why.
It is, therefore, not enough, to assert that marriage is all about “love and commitment” between any two adults, unrelated to biology and raising children.
While same-sex relationships may be a significant private relationship, to be treated with neighbourly respect by all, because they cannot naturally give rise to children, the state has no interest in recognising such relationships as marriage.
If intimate sexual relations did not have the momentous consequence of creating a child who needs stable care over prolonged periods, there would be no incentive for a legal institution of ‘marriage’ as society does not involve itself in the regulation of friendships. Society would and should mind its own business.
Marriage is all about regulating the natural sexual attraction that leads to the creation of children – and reinforcing the love and commitment – between a man and a woman. Marriage is all about gender.
3. Aren’t we discriminating against homosexual people?
Federal parliament comprehensively addressed unjustified discrimination against same-sex couples in 2008 when it amended 85 pieces of legislation to “eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in a wide range of areas, including social security, taxation, Medicare, veteran’s affairs, workers’ compensation, educational assistance, superannuation, family law and child support”.
It is one thing, however, to repeal discrimination on practical matters like superannuation and next-of-kin status, and an entirely different proposition to repeal and redefine a foundational expression in human society.
Australian human rights lawyer Frank Brennan AO, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee, is an expert on discrimination. He thinks we have upheld the rights of homosexual people to equality in all civil matters, however the ‘right to marriage’ infringes on the still greater right of the child to have both a mother and father:
“I think we can ensure non-discrimination against same sex couples while at the same time maintaining a commitment to children of future generations being born of and being reared by a father and a mother.”
Only the natural union of a man and a woman can create children, and so their relationship attracts the dutiful attention of society. This attention is to encourage parents to remain together and with their children, to avoid the breakdown of a family unit and its resulting disadvantage to children.
For its continued existence, society reinforces the core social task of marriage and family formation, but society has no common duty to ensure increased respect and visibility for same-sex relationships.
Because same-sex relationships do not have the public consequence of naturally creating children, same-sex couples are free from any public expectations concerning the legal status and long-term stability of their relationship for the benefits of children.
4. Does a child need both a mum & a dad?
Certainly, there are tragedies where a child cannot have both parents – through the death or desertion of a parent. However, a government should never be complicit in having children planned to be deliberately placed in a home without their mother or father– by the legalisation of same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and same-sex surrogacy.
Prominent Australian ethicist Professor Margaret Somerville writes against the deliberate destruction of a child’s biological identity as the child of a real mother and a real father:
“It is one matter for children not to know their genetic identity as a result of unintended circumstances. It is quite another matter to deliberately destroy children’s links to their biological parents, and especially for society to be complicit in this destruction.”
Some sincere people may question whether a child should be allowed both a mother and a father.
A group of young adults deprived, as donor-conceived babies, of the possibility of knowing both their mother and their father have come together as Tangled Webs Inc. They speak with authority for the next generation of children who will be deprived of what they call, very poignantly, a “whole mother”:
“A child’s best interests are served when it is conceived and gestated by; born to and nurtured by, one mother. To fragment maternal roles through ova donation/gestational surrogacy is to deny a child its entitlement to a whole mother.”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child affirms that a child must not, “save in the most exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother”, and yet ‘marriage’ of two men and subsequent surrogacy will do exactly that, in a premeditated way.
It is often stated that it is better for a child to have two loving same-sex carers than a dysfunctional pair of biological parents. However, neither of these scenarios is in the best interests of a child.
5. How common is homosexuality?
Reputable research in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health finds the percentage of those who self-identify as homosexuals to be 1.6% of males and 0.8% of females – a population figure across men and women of only 1.2%, rather than the oft misquoted figure of 10% based on the long-discredited survey of criminals by Kinsey. This figure of 1.2% compares to a figure of 97.5% who identify as heterosexual. This study, of over ten thousand Australian adults by the Australian Study of Health and Relationships, was assessed as “robust and broadly representative of the Australian population.”
6. People are born gay, right?
There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that this is the case, despite the regularity with which the claim is made in public discourse and in popular culture. Regardless, it is difficult to conceive how an individual having certain biological tendencies should impact on a public debate about the meaning of an important social institution like marriage.
Not all homosexuals agree with the biological determinism argument for same-sex attraction, with prominent UK gay rights activist Peter Tatchell saying:
“[A]n influence is not the same as a cause. Genes and hormones may predispose a person to one sexuality rather than another. But that’s all. Predisposition and determination are two different things.
“There is a major problem with gay gene theory, and with all theories that posit the biological programming of sexual orientation. If heterosexuality and homosexuality are, indeed, genetically predetermined (and therefore mutually exclusive and unchangeable), how do we explain bisexuality or people who, suddenly in mid-life, switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality (or vice versa)? We can’t.”
More recently, Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, has said:
“Thankfully, the experience of human endeavour tells us that who we are need not be determined by a biological accident.
“Yes, our genes influence our behaviour. But this does not determine who we are. We are not the slaves of our biology and possess a formidable capacity to make our own world and on a good day to even choose who we want to be.”
Even the avowedly pro-gay American Psychological Association says that:
“Most scientists today agree that sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors . . . It’s important to recognize that there are probably many reasons for a person’s sexual orientation, and the reasons may be different for different people.”
Similarly, the pro-gay American Psychiatric Association says, “to date there are no replicated scientific studies supporting any specific biological etiology for homosexuality”.