Marriage, Part II

Image by Sabtastic
Image by Sabtastic

This is a follow-up to my previous post, “What is Marriage?

No-one took the bait on my previous post about godless ethics, so I am forced to write once again about the only subject at the moment which seems to get people going like nothing else.

I said previously that there was another article on marriage which I was going to write about. The article is, “Redefining Marriage: The Case for Caution” by Julian Rivers. Similarly to the previous article, this is another paper that does not make a religious argument (it is written from a legal perspective); contrary to the previous paper it is actually arguing against same-sex marriage (or at least, the government’s current proposals) rather than for ‘traditional’ marriage.

As in my last post, I’m going to pull out a few quotes from the article but please read it for the full argument.

One of the things I find interesting is the argument from equality. Nearly everybody I’ve spoken to who is in favour of same-sex marriage sees it as a basic, fundamental matter of equality. But… I’m not sure I am convinced. Is it equal, for example, to legalise same-sex marriage but restrict it to two people? Hear me out here: not all supporters of same-sex marriage have the same opinion on this. I had a debate with someone about polygamy on Facebook a week or so ago and their basic contention was that polygamy was a red herring: it just doesn’t happen in advanced societies, it signifies a lack of commitment, and it’s about abusive relationships.

What I find interesting, though, is that these arguments are actually countered by a socially liberal writer from the USA: “Legalize Polygamy! No, I am not kidding.” From the introduction:

Yes, really. While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice. More importantly, it would actually help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families.

The thing is, the case for polygamy is logically sound – once you accept that marriage is a consensual relationship between two adults (and not about the sexual union of a man and a woman, with the children that usual entails) the numbers are virtually irrelevant. And it does indeed seem that this is a matter which is important to some people. (It’s ironic that Christians are accused of being ‘social conservatives’ for opposing same-sex marriage when, actually, I think refusing to acknowledge polyamory etc. seems to me at least as socially conservative if not more so.)

And, of course, ‘equality’ cuts more than one way – for example, religious equality. Some brands of Islam allow a man up to four wives, for example. Is it discrimination against Islam to restrict them to one? In the current political climate, I don’t think I’d like to be the politician who argues that all Islamic polygamous marriages are inherently unequal and abusive.

Julian Rivers points out in the paper above:

The root of the problem is that the Government fails to address the fundamental question of what a marriage is, and thus it fails to identify and defend the boundaries of any new definition.

As such, the ‘equality’ sword could cut more than one way in the future. Without defining exactly why they’re defining marriage the way they’re defining it, they leave themselves open to further redefinition.

Secondly, there is also an argument that same-sex marriage will undermine the permanence of marriage. Quoting the paper again:

The permanence of marriage is symbolised by the life of the child who embodies it. But if marriage includes the choice of a relationship which has no intrinsic connection with procreation, why should it not also include the choice of a time-limited relationship? The costs for children are unlikely to prevail against the trump card of autonomy. Again, this is not a fanciful suggestion. Other societies have known forms of fixed-term bonding, and campaigns are now under way in countries which have accepted same-sex marriage to render this element a matter of choice also. [At this point, this Guardian article on fixed-term marriages is referenced]

I’m not sure whether this is likely in our current society, but similarly to polygamy I think the argument is basically sound. Why should marriage be ’till death us do part’? When children are almost incidental to marriage, rather than being an institution for their benefit, the individual and their choice is what matters.

Picking up on that point about marriage and children being intrinsically linked at the moment: in the comments on the previous post there was some discussion over whether a child has the “right” to be raised with its biological mother and father. Footnote 30 in the paper is interesting:

The right of the child to biological parenting is apparent from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), articles 7-9, which contain rights to know and be cared for by both parents, to preserve family identity, not to be separated from parents against their will, as well as a right to maintain personal relations and direct contact even if the parents are separated. Article 3 of the UN Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with special reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally (GA Res. 41/85 of 3 Dec. 1986) states that the first priority for a child is to be cared for by his or her own (i.e. biological) parents.

It’s interesting that, by separating marriage from children, the government will essentially be making a public statement about society which stands somewhat in contradiction to the UN and European Union. As I said in the comments of the previous post, marriage is about what we as a society want to be ‘normative’ – and I think we would all say we want it to be normal and proper for children to grow up with their biological parents if possible. I think the legalisation of same-sex marriage will indirectly be making a statement which stands in contradiction to this.

So, there you have it. As I said, do please read the paper as there is far more detail and argument there than in my little blog post.

Same-sex marriage will not mean the earth will spin off its axis and we will all plunge screaming into the heart of the sun. What it may well mean (and, in my opinion, in all probability will) is that in ten, fifty, a hundred years time ‘marriage’, if it still exists as an institution, will mean something quite different from what we think it is now – and I include all those in favour of same-sex marriage in that.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note: I have chosen to disable comments on this post. This is because: 1) I honestly don’t think the discussion had in the comments on the previous post was helpful to anybody; 2) I simply do not have the time at the moment to respond; 3) this is my blog and I make the rules, so there. Go get your own blog and write what you like there 😉 Finally, I refer you to this cartoon.