Gay marriage and the nature of marriage itself

Allowing same-sex couples to marry is a hot topic in the USA and Australia at the moment. It seems likely, given the way that countries with similar democratic models have voted, same-sex marriage will be possible across the USA and Australia very soon.

Having just watched Stephen Fry’s excellent documentary, Out There, there is still a long way to go until gay marriage is accepted globally in the way that a marriage between a man and woman is recognised in every country. A robust defence of same-sex marriage is therefore still required by those of us who have passed gay marriage laws, in order to persuade those peoples that haven’t done so, it is the right thing to do.

Those against same-sex marriage constantly state that gay marriage is unnatural, or against nature, and that marriage should be solely between a man and a woman. The reason given for it as an exclusively heterosexual institution is that it takes a man and a woman (or a cell from them anyway) to beget children and a child is ideally raised by both biological parents.

I want to unpick this argument and, in doing so, demonstrate why it is based on an out-dated, idealised, state-sanctioned view of marriage.

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Let’s go back to the caves when we were still little more than animals. How did we marry then? We married when a bigger, stronger male fought a smaller, weaker male to have sex with a female. I’m no anthropologist, but I’m pretty sure that humans weren’t monogamous then. Bearing in mind how many males still stray from the home environment to spread their seed, it seems a pretty safe bet that not being monogamous is hard-wired as part of our species’ original evolutionary survival tactic.

As we developed society and government, we developed strategies for controlling our baser urges. One of the earliest strategies is religion in which a super-being, or beings, can punish errant humans. Laws grew from this: don’t do this or you will anger the gods of the river, forest, fields, etc. Don’t engage in activities that hurt one another makes up half of the Ten Commandments handed to Moses by God. Thus, the physical fighting over women ceased and a less bloody, but barely more civilised, financial battle for supremacy replaced it.

As we became a monetised society and started trading, men realised that daughters could be bought and sold like any other desirable items they possessed. However, unlike a cow, or a pile of furs, or a clay pot, women were capable of exercising free will. The buyer in this transaction therefore had to be sure that the goods he was buying weren’t about to wander off the moment the deal was done, so marriage contracts emerged that bound the wife to the husband. These were witnessed and sanctioned by those in charge, which usually meant the church.

This concept of marriage existed until very recently. In the UK, equality within marriage is less than a hundred years old. By which I mean the ability for a wife to divorce her husband on the same grounds as he could divorce her. Marriage was, and still is, about the giving away of a daughter to another man. Dowries may or may not still be exchanged, depending on the culture, but there is an unspoken expectation that the woman is no longer the financial responsibility of the parents when she marries; her husband is now responsible for her fortunes. In that sense, the transaction of marriage still has a financial root.

The reason for this desire to “own” women by men and the artificial construct surrounding it is fairly obvious. The by-product of contracted marriages, in which straying from the marriage bed is particularly punitive on the woman, is that the provider male can be as certain as possible that he is providing for his offspring rather than the genetic material of someone else. This is important in the rearing of young who are, by necessity, economically and physically dependent on the parents. A parent who abandons their young leaves behind a weakened nest that is vulnerable.

The family unit now becomes a concept that can be defended by those in power as the most desirable human state and one to which all members of society should aspire. Because having everyone in legally binding units keeps society in order, it stops young males from fighting, errant females from having sex with the next male that wins her favour and offspring being abandoned to fend for themselves. Thus, we reach the argument that one man and one woman is the best environment in which to raise children.

This is the traditional heterosexual model of marriage, but let’s take that model and examine it through the homosexual lens.

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Back in the caves, you can bet that there were a couple of guys and a couple of girls who didn’t want any part of the traditional clubbing of women over the head and dragging them home. We know that homosexuality exists in animals and there is no reason to think that it hasn’t existed in the human species for as long as we have been on the planet. So, what did the first homo-sexual-sapiens do?

It seems likely that the lesbian population would have simply been raped by the stronger males. We know this was the case for centuries for many gay women trapped in heterosexual marriages. In the middle of the twentieth century when women began to achieve economic independence, it brought with it the ability to elect not to marry. For lesbian couples, this meant they could now provide for their own household without the assistance of a man.

As for the gay cavemen, they would have posed no threat to the males competing for women, so it seems likely that they would have been an accepted part of the clan. This acceptance of the gay members of a tribe can still be seen in many remote tribal cultures today.

Once you move out of the caves and develop societal structures to control the population, homosexual citizens become a problem. They live outside the box in which you want to place everyone: they don’t have sex for pro-creation but for recreation, which means that the imperative for a couple to be monogamous ceases to exist; and any homosexual pairing is a pairing of equals – essentially, there is no physically stronger, or financially weaker, partner – so there is no need for a financial contract between them. Marriage, in the legal sense, was therefore not really a necessity for homosexual couples. As we all know, the state-sanctioned solution to this has been (and continues to be in some countries) that homosexuals need either to be eradicated, or prosecuted/treated until they take on the accepted form.

The homosexual view of marriage/partnership/committed relationship is not therefore based on a need to control society’s behaviour, or an economic transaction, or repressing one half of the population in order to pro-create, or putting in place structures to protect the abandonment of young. It is simply about loving the other person in the relationship and wanting to build a life with them.

It is significant that in the gay rights movement the right to marry is a relatively recent demand. It certainly was not part of the manifesto in the sexual revolutionary Sixties. I believe there is a reason for this. The view of marriage as an outward demonstration of the love of the two people involved is a relatively modern one that has only been in existence since women’s liberation. Although this idea has existed in the homosexual community for centuries – consider the Greco-Roman ideal of love between men – the idea of marrying for love began to prevail in the heterosexual community around the time that women were able to choose to be single through economic independence and, due to the development of the contraceptive pill, could have sex for fun without the fear of getting pregnant. Now that wives weren’t just taken by their husbands but could choose a match, marriage became a romantic endeavour.

So, is gay marriage against nature? If it is then modern heterosexual marriage is also against nature as the two are indistinguishable. A modern heterosexual marriage is about the two participants entering into it willingly; homosexual partnerships have always been about that. A modern heterosexual marriage is a marriage of equals (near enough); homosexual marriages, by their nature, are a coming together of equals. A modern heterosexual marriage can elect not to have offspring; conversely, a modern homosexual marriage can beget children.

Take a look back at this post and consider all the advances that have led us to a point where marriage means the coming together of two people who love one another. Is it a coincidence that they are all things that the Catholic Church, in particular, is against? The empowering of women? Contraception? Sex for recreation not pro-creation? Choosing lifelong co-habitation over a legally binding document? The church is against these things as they represent a haemorrhaging of their power into the hands of the populace; a democratisation that started with the printing press and the translation of the Bible into English, which they were also against. To see this view in its ultimate and most hideous incarnation, one only has to visit those developing countries where women are still subjugated and rape in marriage is acceptable, and gay citizens are persecuted or murdered.

To those people who say same-sex marriage weakens marriage, I say that marriage is finally reaching the same place that “gay marriage” was at centuries ago. It is time that we realised that marriage in its traditional repressive form is not a universal good for society. It has enabled countless abuses to go unnoticed and unpunished for millennia, and still does. It is time that marriage was redefined as, first and foremost, a commitment to love and respect the other person in the marriage, for it is within that environment alone that offspring of the marriage will thrive and be protected. When that happens across the world, gay marriage will seem like a wholly natural and unremarkable addendum.

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