In the lead up to the landmark cases at the U.S. Supreme Court considering ‘gay marriage’, I’ve noticed a few things on Facebook. First, a number of people have changed their profile photos to a red and pink equal sign in support of the push. Second, there have been a few memes, photos, and video clips that satirically portray gay marriage busting up hetero marriages in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the suggestion. Take this one, for example:
Or this humorous clip:
These media snippets are funny and satirically sharp. However, they actually miss the point by a long shot. Gay marriage will not bust up hetero marriages, but not because gay marriage is harmless. Rather, it will fail to do so because gay marriage is not actually ‘marriage’. It’s actually partnership recognition—something with a very different purpose.
Marriage is an institution—that is, a mechanism of social order governing the behaviour of a group of people within a community. It’s a mechanism that is permanently arranged to achieve a specific purpose that is over and above the intentions and outcomes of the individuals within that community (this is a reworded version of Wikipedia’s definition). In other words, marriage has a specific purpose that stands over the concerns of individuals who enter it.
What is the purpose of marriage? It’s (1) to give legal space within society for a man and a woman to have a committed sexual union that allows for the natural generation and raising of children; (2) to allow for their children to be recognised as their own; and (3) to promote the survival and proliferation of the human race as a necessity. At its heart, marriage is birds-and-the-bees stuff that requires a man and a woman because of its familial generation-generating purpose. The biology on which the institution is founded is integral to the purpose.
In terms of procreation, nature has privileged the hetero relationship. Making babies is something that by definition requires a man and a woman. Two men, or two women, simply cannot make a baby. It’s a biological fact. That means nature has privileged the hetero relationship for the natural building of families. This is no comment on whether sexual orientation is innate or not. That’s a totally different issue. Nor is it a statement that only biological parents can raise their biological children, or that only biological family can function as family. My point is that marriage is an institution that has built a social recognition around a natural biological fact concerning the hetero relationship that leads to the proliferation of the human race. This purpose shows that there is a good reason why marriage is hetero.
Accordingly, ‘gay marriage’ actually doesn’t make sense. It’s like a square peg calling itself round. It just doesn’t make sense, and despite how you might reconfigure definitions, a square peg is a square peg and round peg is a round peg. But the mere fact that we are debating this issue shows that for many people marriage is no longer a relationship centred around birds-and-the-bees biology and family, but rather is about simple partnership. But partnership is not what marriage is about, even though it involves partnership within it.
Now there is a difference between why people decide to get married, or the outcome of their marriage, and what the purpose of the institution is. You can read an excellent (albeit long) paper on this at Alastair’s Adversaria. But there is a procreative purpose to the institution that cannot be subverted without landing you in a completely different institution. If the motive is out of step with the purpose, there’s going to be friction or hardship for those involved.
What gay couples are seeking is not actually marriage (i.e. a sexual union leading to the generation of family), but partnership recognition—a very different thing to marriage. By changing the definition of marriage, you’re not actually giving gay couples equality. Rather, you’re telling married people that they are not actually in a marriage, but rather in partnership recognition. You’re not bringing gay people up to equality. Rather, you’re shifting married people over into a different institution altogether. And yet, none of that alters the biological facts that give rise to the social institution of marriage. By definition, only a man and a woman can be married. Even if you change the definition, you can’t change the biology that nature has privileged on this particular count. Thus, in advocating ‘gay marriage’, we are creating a massive disconnect between the definition of marriage and the purpose of the institution. It doesn’t make sense.
Let me give you an analogy to illustrate. Fred is a vegan. He feels a natural aversion to eating meet and so chooses not to eat it, or any other animal products. His colleague, Sue, is a meat-eater. She loves her steak medium-rare. When Fred and Sue go to lunch, Fred gets upset that almost every time he walks into a restaurant there is no vegan option on the menu. It feels unfair! Sue, however, gets to choose from anything on the menu.
What is Fred to do?
Well Fred decides that he now wants to be recognised as a meat-eating vegan. That way, when he walks into a restaurant, the whole menu will be available to him, and that makes things equal. He won’t be stopping Sue from ordering a steak. In fact, he’s happy for Sue to continue her carnivorous carnival. But at least things are now equal.
Someone needs to tell Fred that actually nothing’s changed. He’s still a vegan in a restaurant that serves steak. What he actually needs is a vegan menu—a totally different set of options to the menu Sue chooses from, because he’s a vegan. If Fred insists that he and Sue need to have the same menu options for things to be just, he’s going to have to change the type of restaurant they eat at, and that ultimately means changing the options that Sue has before her. How will Sue feel about that? She may well tell Fred that it’s not fair of him to demand that.
I understand why gay people want equality in law. In a democratic society, it’s a perfectly understandable desire. But ‘gay marriage’ is, by definition, an impossibility, and to demand it means changing the institution of marriage into something that isn’t marriage. I’m going to give pro-gay-marriage people the benefit of the doubt here and say that this is not really what they want to do. They don’t want to change marriage as an institution, just as they don’t want to bust up hetero marriages. But their campaigns are failing to see that by asking for ‘gay marriage’ to be legalised they are actually asking for the whole marriage institution to be changed. Saying that you’re not out to bust up hetero marriages is, therefore, as meaningful as a vegan saying he won’t threaten meat-eaters when he becomes a meat-eating vegan. It’s completely meaningless on all levels! It’s square peg in a round hole kind of stuff.
Gay marriage is not marriage. It’s something else entirely. These memes, photos, and video clips are quite funny, but they are unfortunately shortsighted and missing the whole point of the purpose of marriage.