The Same-Sex Marriage Debate in Australia and Elsewhere–What’s The Real Issue?

Following the passage of the same-sex marriage bill in Queensland despite probable public opposition to it, and the widespread publicity given to the change in the Australian Labor Party policy on marriage, the task of arguing against same sex marriage is more urgent in Australia and other countries of the world than ever before.

A few weeks ago on national television’s Q&A, the eminent moral philosopher, Raimond Gaita, a grandfather, said that although many people consider homosexual acts disgusting, homosexual love is as deep as heterosexual love. This remark about emotional depth reminded me of a Shakespearean observation in Antony and Cleopatra: ‘There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned.’

Of course we can’t measure depth in love—whether it’s husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, relatives, or friends. Since we all have parents, we know what it is to love an adult male and an adult female. No sensible person, soundly raised, would want to, or could, say that they’ve loved either parent more than the other parent.

Nevertheless, I think it is sentimental to move from an observation about depth in loving to an endorsement of gay marriage, which is the move made by Raimond Gaita on Q&A and in other public forums. The move is sentimental not only because it overlooks fundamental biological differences in men and woman that profoundly affect long-term unions, but because it takes it for granted that any definition, however wise, can be changed with impunity.

In some American States anyone outside the traditional marital or family orbit is denied hospital visitation in cases of terminal illness. This practice could be changed under the law without significantly harming society, since good friends visit the terminally ill when they are dying in hospital in many parts of the globe.

Nevertheless, it is hubristic to think that we can redefine a concept that has not changed since the dawn of history. Except in polygamous societies, marriage has always been defined as the intended, freely chosen, permanent union on this earth of a man and a woman.

There are good reasons for this centuries-old definition: not simply the bedrock reason adumbrated on MercatorNet many times, namely, that the aim of marriage is two-fold: unitive and procreative. A vitally important additional reason needs to be highlighted: namely, that men and women have distinct, complementary, natures which govern what marriage is and what over the years, in the richest terms, it can become for the married couple and their children.

Essential, complementary, differences between males and females govern daily life. How they do so must be squarely faced by everyone involved in discussions about marriage and child rearing. Certainly people of faith are obliged to speak up as prudently as possible with those who think differently. Many heterosexual adults, who regard themselves as secular ‘liberals’ on sexual matters, do think differently.

It is not gender stereotyping to indicate what some of the large, usual differences between the sexes are. These differences persist across time, class, and social background. In my own field of classical world literature for adults and children, representing deep realities, the differences are normally obvious; but they are also clear in ordinary life in many countries around the globe.

In the usual marriage resulting in progeny, the man dispenses justice in the home and the woman nurtures. Typically, in domestic and other settings, women do much more talking than men do about personal relations—emotional needs and difficulties, conflicts requiring sound resolution—and jobs linked with keeping family members well fed, healthy, clean, knowledgeable, and safe. Men focus in conversation on less intimate matters: eg, sport, politics, civic issues, and workplace and domestic matters to do with the exercise of authority, money, and competence. As a rule, men are more direct, women more hidden and complicated, in what they usually reveal.

In boys’ and girls’ schools, for similar reasons anchored in gender, the atmosphere is appreciably different, as those of us who have worked in schools for decades know. In Australia, in boys’ schools, there is habitual, often noisy, humour and jesting; there are tests of physical prowess involving touch—from handshakes to friendly or combative slapping to wrestling in grass; and sporting activity predominates over conversation. In girls’ schools noise is linked with laughter, entreaties, and uncontrolled expressions of satisfaction or anguish (eg, shrieks); physical contact is often a matter of arms on shoulders or around waists; and at recess conversation, rather than racing around, is the norm.

Gender differences of this kind naturally surface in sexual relations. But in same-sex partnerships, which in statistical terms are less long-lived, there is more obvious and endemic role-playing along gender lines, with one partner behaving in more ‘masculine’ (more dominant and controlling), the other in more ‘feminine’ (softer, more recessive), ways.

Marital roles, commonly, are more flexible in conventional gender terms. Typically, husbands and wives negotiate about who controls which spheres: eg, gardening, housework, taking out the garbage, looking after children, booking for outings. It is usual for wives to organise social activities involving other couples or families, and for husbands to handle the nitty-gritty requirements of holiday trips involving car travel.

Because there is an unfortunately high incidence of homophobia in Australia, life for gay people tends to be very emotionally stressful. A group called ‘Encourage’, which has taken off in America, has been slow to grow Down Under. Its commendable aims of helping gays to be more restrained about their sexual orientation, and helping family members who are distressed about homosexuality to behave more sensitively to those of their number who are gay, are in practice difficult to fulfill—most obviously, in homes with strong religious foundations.

Aggressive lobbies are much less likely to form when charity, in the most profound Christian sense, governs behaviour. Belligerent homosexual groups, defensive about their wishes and rights, and embattled in their efforts to gain equality and social acceptance in the wider community, are as difficult for outsiders to handle as combative heterosexuals who consider it their duty to berate and/or condemn gay individuals or couples for being what they are.

Human dignity is better preserved when everyone distinguishes without aggressiveness between inherently sound and unsound sexual behaviour. Particularly difficult in many Western nations today are troubling inaccuracies, publicly aired, about the nature of sexuality. Prejudice and political correctness, rather than knowledge, often assume centre stage. On sexual terrain the underlying issue is not equality, as many Australians today claim, but what is best for children.

It is especially unpleasant for people with sound moral formation to have to listen to poppycock about sexual inclinations being uncontrollable and/or fixed in concrete, or to be sanctimoniously told that every form of sexual activity that allegedly ‘hurts’ nobody is totally acceptable, or to have to ward off the untrue accusation that the Catholic Church, which distinguishes carefully between licit and illicit sexual acts, is a neurotic bully mired in repression. Charitable acts are one thing, but sloppy thinking is another.

In a world as permissive, and as confused in its public strictures, as ours is, it is essential for those of us who are fortunate enough to have been given sound, not priggish, sexual formation to speak out about what best preserves and most gravely threatens human happiness. Those of us who understand same-sex attraction because of our knowledge of the human heart and/or direct experience of gay people have a particular obligation to emphasise the essential difference, in soundness, between homosexual and heterosexual unions. Otherwise, the vital issue of child rearing, and the importance of a sound father and mother in the home, cannot be discussed with appropriate balance and maturity.

Even though many marriages are troubled, marriage as a sexual ideal lodged in an understanding of completeness is unrivalled. The street-wise concept widely being disseminated in Australia at the moment, namely, that what is at stake is ‘equality’, is preposterous. Equality is anchored in human dignity. It is not dignified, nor is it emotionally mature, to impose a ‘new’ concept of marriage on a nation or on the world under the pretence that the traditional concept is flawed.

Two people of the same gender, no matter how much they love each other, are not by nature complementary in the immutable ways that males and females are. In practice, happy marriages are much more likely to produce morally sound, joyful children than other sexual partnerships can or do. If all reasoned argument fails, as it has thus far failed with many, the research record demonstrates this unequivocally.

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Susan Moore, PhD, is a retired teacher and inveterate reader who has written books and articles on adult and children's literature, education, religious thought, and the history of ideas. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

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