Homosexual marriage is not an issue I venture into much. Most of my readers will have made their minds up already one way or the other and it's not a good entry point into traditionalist politics. But it's been in the news a lot here in Australia, so I'll reluctantly step in and make an argument.
It seems that Magda Szubanski, best known overseas for her role in the film Babe, requested that Steve Price be on the TV panel when she made her appeal for homosexual marriage. Why? Because Steve Price is not convinced. He is worried that homosexual marriage will change our understanding of what marriage is.
And I think he's right to be concerned. At the moment Australian law defines marriage as:
the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
That definition of marriage makes sense within heterosexual relationships. If we understand the masculine and feminine as complementary, then bringing one man and one woman together is meaningful in creating a unity out of two complementary parts. On the physical side, this uniting of male and female is what naturally produces offspring, and the care of such offspring underlies the lifetime commitment across generations within a family.
If it is possible for two men or for two women to marry then marriage can no longer be understood in this way. It can no longer be understood as a natural unity of two complementary opposites, and the sexuality within this marriage can no longer be understood, in a larger sense, as serving the purposes of creating new life within a multi-generational family.
Instead, marriage must be understood as a commitment ceremony to celebrate the love between people. But that's an open-ended definition. Why, according to this newer definition, must marriage be exclusive? Can't we love more than one person? And why must it be enduring? If the love goes, then why wouldn't the marriage?
For a little while, it's true, the force of custom might keep the Western tradition of marriage roughly as it is now. But on what principled basis, in the long-term, could, say, polygamy be argued against? If a man loves his wife, but has feelings for another woman and she for him, and his wife doesn't object, then why shouldn't he have a commitment ceremony to celebrate his love for this second woman? Is it not his right, according to the new definition of marriage, to marry this other woman? If not, why not? It's difficult to think of a principle, other than "it's not our custom", on which to deny polygamous marriage, once the new definition of marriage is brought in.
And there is one further negative consequence of redefining marriage. A traditional marriage brings together a man and a woman to undertake distinct and necessary parental roles within a family. There is a paternal role and a maternal role and a child is thought to be worse off if he or she is missing either a father or mother.
But if the state gives its blessing to same sex marriage, then the state is effectively sanctioning the deliberate formation of families in which either the father or the mother is absent. The message to society is that the paternal role and the maternal role are not necessary as they were once thought to be.
And that has considerable ramifications, particularly for men. The bond between mother and child is a fairly stable one across societies. But it's a more difficult thing to win the stable investment of men in family life. What often holds men to the paternal role is a belief, held by both the father and the mother, that if the father walks away or is pushed away, that the children will be worse off, i.e. that the paternal role is a distinct and necessary one and that the father should be resilient in pursuing it and the mother active in encouraging it.
But what if people were to start to believe something else, namely that there are no distinct parental roles and that families without fathers are no different to families with fathers? Wouldn't more men be tempted to walk when the going got rough? Wouldn't more women be tempted to sideline the fathers of their children?
For these reasons, I believe that we should hold to the current definition of marriage.