Hardly a week passes in Australia without a news story or campaigning in the media for same-sex couples to be allowed to get married under Commonwealth law. The pressure is relentless and big businesses have signed up, introducing the rainbow push into advertising. The issue has been stuck politically now because one side of politics has pledged to take it to a public vote and other wants to put it (again) to Parliament. (It has been rejected by Parliament many times). It seems that a clear majority of voters want a say, and I suspect the advocates are fearful that the general public will vote the 'wrong' way - a kind of 'Brexit' outcome. Now there is a new rumbling in the LNP Coalition ranks to break out and have a free parliamentary vote, which they assume, will be in favour. (What if it fails on a free vote? Does anyone doubt that it will be brought back, again and again and again, until resistance is worn down?)I confess that I find this urgency a bit hard to credit. This idea that marriage should not be limited to heterosexuals is a very new thing and extremely novel; as a concept it is not as old as the invention of the mobile phone. (Until I changed my mobile phone a short while ago, the legalisation of same-sex marriage anywhere wasn't as old as the actual phone in my pocket). Despite the fact that it never occurred to anyone until a few cultural seconds ago, there is a strident demand for this change as if it were long overdue, and pressingly obvious.
Advocates claim that the change will take nothing away from traditionalists, who will still have their marriages. After all, it is a very small group for this change - 0.38% of the Australian population currently lives in same-sex relationships, and the number will probably not rise greatly since the same-sex attracted are a small percentage.
If the Marriage Act is changed to remove the gender requirement, there may be some advantages for people who hold to the traditional concept of conjugal marriage. Their view of marriage and sex will become an official minority position, and there are benefits to being able to present a different way, the road less travelled. Same-sex attracted individuals who hold to traditional sexual morality will have a powerful and counter-cultural witness. This is already happening in the church, as the new freedom of talking about this matter has enable them to come out to speak. Their voices will be heard as a fresh note in the din.
The proposed change will inevitably bring challenges for conjugal marriage proponents. The delay in Australia has given us time to see what has happened in other jurisdictions, so there are reasons to be concerned that the traditionalists will find that regulations and attitudes will become coercive in certain ways. Anti-discrimination tribunals will be strengthened as weapons to silence disagreement. This is already here. But I leave that to one side.
My purpose in this reflection is to draw attention to an issue that seems to be invisible to most in this debate. It is commonly claimed that this is a simple change to law that will not have negative consequences but only positive justice for those shut out from marriage. To the contrary, there is a huge, philosophical and social change at issue here, which will be put into law, or at least implied.G.K. Chesterton said that if you come upon a fence in a field, you shouldn't tear it down until you know why it was put up in the first place. Tearing down this fence around marriage will have big impacts. Some will cheer and welcome them; others (like me) will regret them. I am not talking here about tolerance or affirmation of gay and lesbian relationships but about a bigger implication.
Change the law of marriage to remove the male-female gender complementarity requirement and we put into law a different anthropology, a new view of human nature and personhood.
Let me explain by first posing this question: Are human beings whole, united selves, body and mind (soul)? I think most would answer affirmatively. I am a person made up of a mind and a body, an embodied self.
But change the law of marriage as urged and the implied view of personhood now becomes a mind-body dualism. We will express in law the view that a person's identity is found in their minds, not in their bodily reality or embodiment. Marriage becomes a romantic or personal relationship regardless of our sexual embodiment.
Whatever our view about sex, gender or marriage, the indisputable reality is plain: we have bodies that are heterosexual biologically, in form and function. It sounds shocking to state this plain fact. (There are a very small percentage of people whose sex characteristics are not clearly like this, but the norm is the male-female pattern).
Stay with me on this point. Picture in your mind a naked man and a naked woman, and you will get the idea. Our sexual embodiment is biologically complementary. Men and women are like biological Lego pierces, made to fit together, work together, do something together. Sexual reproduction works as a joint heterosexual project. The sexual function is a physical act that is designed to work with the sexually 'other'. Sexual differentiation is found in every cell in our bodies. This is basic, undeniable and uncontroversial.
Now we all know that some people (again a small percentage) find that their sexual and personal attractions are towards people of their own biological gender. Others too find that their inner mental outlook is at odds with their biology. For these, their sexual desires are not in alignment with their sexual embodiment. Their minds and their bodies are in tension. This is certainly the reality of homosexuality.
What does a person do when the self's inner desires are at odds with one's embodied nature? The older moral view regarded the desires as being out of step with one's real nature. The new view is that the true person is the desiring, choosing self, and the tension is resolved by the self, using the body accordingly as an instrument of the mind. In other words: a mind-body dualism in which the mind or soul is the real 'person'.
Change the law of marriage to accommodate homosexual marriage and you put into law a statement about the relation of the self to their bodies. This will remove the sexual embodiment of our humanity as intrinsic to the union - a momentous philosophical shift.
There is sex as a biological fact of anatomy and chromosomes. There is gender as the social expression of our sexual natures, varying in times and societies. Now there is a new concept of gender as the internal chosen 'identity' which may have no relation to biological maleness or femaleness. This is where many activists are now, even before ‘marriage equality’ becomes law.
I understand Facebook has now got 58 genders. The other day a new born baby in Canada was issued with an ‘Unassigned’ gender identity. There are programs in our schools that are teaching that gender identity is fluid and multiple in range. I am not saying that changing marriage law causes this new idea of human identity as gender. It is because our society has already moved to a mind-body dualism that the demand for marriage 'equality' makes so much sense. Such a gulf in understanding exists here, that the new way of thinking cannot understand the older one, so must attribute it to bigotry.
This change in human identity in sexual matters is now so main-stream that many can't understand how children (or the potential of children) can be key to the definition of marriage. It strikes me as an odd development that the same-sex marriage push removes the act of sexual intercourse from the definition of marriage - and it is very odd to my mind that people don't find this odd. The progression of the Sexual revolution has ironically devalued the act and meaning of sexual intercourse. It was separated from the context of procreation (life-unions of marriage between a man and a woman who are committed to being parents together). Then sexual intercourse was separated from marriage. Now it is in process of being legally removed from the definition of marriage. The next step, virtually with us, is the removal of sexual biological embodiment from ‘gender’. With same-sex marriage legalised, the unique act of sexual intercourse will be regarded as equivalent to other sex acts. The concept of gender will lose legal connection to biology. Anyone who says otherwise must be a bigot.
I think this different view of the mind-body relation in sexual identity terms is the cause is the misunderstanding of the traditional view. The ideas that our bodies, particularly our sexual bodies, are intrinsic, given aspects of our selves and that marriage is a conjugal union of procreative potential and calling, are unintelligible to the person for whom the inner desires alone must rule. This thinking finds the idea that marriage has an essential connection to procreation and embodied biology to be bizarre.
If I am right in my observations, then a simple change of a few words in the Marriage Act will not be the end point of this change. Same-sex marriage will bring with it a strong push to compel others to fall in line and pretend that biology and the unity of persons, body and soul, doesn't matter.
It will be interesting to see what will happen in Australia with this campaign to change the concept of marriage in law. Whether parliamentarians or voters get to decide the issue, I hope that there will be an informed decision.
Marriage law is perhaps the last remaining place where the given-ness of our whole person, body and soul, is upheld as essential. The law of marriage as it currently stands tracks our biological, sexual identity as men and women who have the potential to bring new humans into existence and provide them with secure and loving care they need. This surely is the kind of institution that our Law should put a protective fence around, and everyone who wants to tear down this fence should pause and realise what will be removed in that case.
Something very important and obvious has been missed in this debate. The consequences of this shift may turn up later. G.K. Chesterton also observed that "every high civilisation decays by forgetting obvious things".