Seriously, answer me this: what do homosexual marriages lack that’s present in all heterosexual marriages?

As the time for submissions to the Senate and House of Representatives inquiries into the I-can’t-believe-we’re-still-seriously-arguing-whether-we-should-stop-discriminating-against-gay-people marriage equality bills comes to a close, it seems to me to be a particularly pertinent time to revisit the fundamental question in the whole debate: why on Earth shouldn’t the law consider marriages between gay people marriages?

And that unavoidably comes down to this question: can you identify a single factor that is an essential element of heterosexual marriages that cannot be present in a homosexual marriage?

Here are some that sound like they might work, but actually don’t, because none of them are present in all marriages now:

  • Procreation: It’s very difficult to find a single person who will seriously argue that heterosexual couples where procreation is impossible (for example where the woman has had a hysterectomy) should be prevented from marrying. I’m certainly not that person. Unfortunately for advocates of the “procreation is essential to marriage” argument, if you genuinely believe that “procreation (or the possibility of procreation) is essential to marriage”, then you must believe that these are not marriages. If you believe the government should not recognise marriages where procreation is impossible, and you think the Marriage Act should enforce that belief, then you must be advocating for a change yourself to make procreation (or the possibility of procreation) an essential element. Because it isn’t in the present Marriage Act. Let’s repeat this: if you are happy with the Marriage Act recognising marriages between permanently infertile couples, then you cannot consistently oppose it recognising same sex couples on the grounds that they are also infertile.
  • “Uniqueness”: There is something “unique” about male-female pairings other than the ability to procreate. To which I can only ask: what precisely is “unique” about all heterosexual marriages? Nobody putting this line ever specifies what exactly they mean by this beyond “complementarity”:
  • Complementarity: A marriage must, this “argument” asserts, have a masculine participant and a feminine participant so that there’s the complementary benefits of each. Except that there are many masculine women and feminine men. There are many marriages the law recognises right now where both participants are masculine. Or both feminine. There is no requirement in the Marriage Act that men be “masculine” or that women be “feminine”, or that there must be a representative of each stereotypical gender role in the couple. It’s not a requirement of marriage right now, and nor is it “implied”. If you genuinely believed those complementary roles are essential before a marriage can be recognised by the law, then you’d have to be calling for a change to the definition of marriage to include that requirement, so all these non-stereotypical heterosexual marriages can be stopped.
  • Role models: The assertion here is that children have a “right” to a mother and a father. More specifically, to a parent with a vagina and a parent with a penis (even though many fathers are stereotypically feminine and many mothers are stereotypically masculine; apparently the essential element is that children need to know that their parents have different genitals). And this should be enforced in the marriage law (even though an increasing proportion of children in Australia have unmarried parents and the Marriage Act doesn’t affect them at all). Anyone who seriously argues that the law should somehow be creating such a “right” for children has to tackle (a) the number of children raised by single parents; and (b) all the laws where the state actually takes a parent away. For example, if you argue that all children have a right to a father where possible, are you arguing that having children should be a full bar to the criminal courts imposing a long custodial sentence on an offender? Because that’s taking away the kids’ access to their father, which you’re asserting is their “right”. Alternatively you probably should just concede that you don’t really believe that kids have a “right” to a father or a mother at all, even where it’s possible.
  • Approved by religion: The Marriage Act has long recognised non-religious marriages. Sorry, but the country stopped asserting that marriage must conform to religious teachings decades ago. If you’re seriously proposing that all civil marriages must be banned, then you can make this argument on those grounds. If you’re not, then you don’t really believe it. And even if you do, based on the number of civil marriages solemnised every year, clearly the law (and most Australians) don’t agree with you.

So, sadly, none of those objections stand up to any scrutiny. Can anyone name a single essential element of marriage that is absent homosexual marriages? A single one?

I thought not.

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32 responses to “Seriously, answer me this: what do homosexual marriages lack that’s present in all heterosexual marriages?

  1. Authority. Who is in charge as the Head of Household? What is the chain of command for decision-making? Which assumes that such a position is in any way desirable or necessary for a family to function (it isn’t).

    A single parent family still has a chain, even if “broken” by religious standards. A family with same-sex parents – well, which one? True story: my own mother’s comment on Elton John’s relationship was: “Which one is the wife?” My response: “Neither. They are husband and husband”.

    The attitude that there has to be one of each is deeply rooted in Authority, with the head of household chosen by the accident of genitals.

  2. Yes, asserting that in all legally-recognised marriages there is a “head of the household”, and that it is the man, is clearly absurd.

    Again, if that were an essential element of marriage, why isn’t it enforced in the Marriage Act? Answer: because it isn’t an essential element of marriage.

  3. It’s pretty absurd to suggest that gay couples aren’t subject to the same sort of relationship dynamics as heterosexual couples.

    Of course, I think the problem with people who put forward that argument are lacking in empathy. They project themselves onto everybody else of the same gender, and they project their opposite-sex partners onto everybody else of the opposite gender, and end up with a very one-dimensional view of the world.

    By that I mean blokey-blokes think that every male must be like them and their blokey friends and every woman is like their submissive girlfriends, and vice-versa for the women. To these people there are no shades of grey when it comes to gender roles, just bloke and wife. They’re unable and unwilling to consider that maybe the roles and expectations thrust upon them don’t apply to other people.

    Not to mention that these people seem to think there’s something wrong with equality in relationships, where there are no defined roles. Perhaps the women are jealous of the fact that we take turns cooking and clean together, and the men are trying to avoid that at all costs.

  4. They’re unable and unwilling to consider that maybe the roles and expectations thrust upon them don’t apply to other people.

    Maybe the marriage equality campaigners need to publicise more presently-married heterosexual couples who don’t fit these stereotypes and yet are married under our law, just to emphasise how fragile are those assumptions.

  5. “Seriously, answer me this: what do homosexual marriages lack that’s present in all heterosexual marriages?”

    The sanction of religious bigots.

  6. can you identify a single factor that is an essential element of heterosexual marriages that cannot be present in a homosexual marriage?

    The blessing of our lord Jesus Christ.

    And vaginal intercourse.

  7. The sanction of religious bigots.
    The blessing of our lord Jesus Christ.

    I'm pretty sure that many civil marriages already have neither that sanction nor that blessing. The Roman Catholic church regularly turns couples away who don't meet their arbitrary requirements – and yet those couples then get married somewhere else!

    And vaginal intercourse.

    Still not a requirement of marriage under the Marriage Act ever since the marriage not being “consummated” ceased to have any relevance in the law.

    I’m pretty sure the present law doesn’t require married women to attend a processing centre within a certain period of time to make sure their hymens have been broken and to swear an affidavit that their husband broke it.

    (Also lesbians can have vaginal intercourse.)

  8. jordanrastrick

    The blessing of our lord Jesus Christ.

    In fact, not all Christians would agree – some of us support gay marriage, and indeed, it could be argued the likes of the ACL are preventing the free exercise of our faith by using the State to enforce their own interpretation of matrimony.

    Sorry, but the country stopped asserting that marriage must conform to religious teachings decades ago.

    AFAIK the common law has recognized marriage as a secular institution for much longer than this.

    (Also lesbians can have vaginal intercourse.)

    While its probably just a symptom of linguistic heteronormativity, I’d hazard a guess that “vaginal intercourse” when unqualified refers specifically and exclusively to penile-vaginal intercourse, at least in most usage. Other forms of penetration, uh, don’t count.

    But I could be wrong……..

  9. Of course, if you ask why they don’t count, then they’re forced to come back to procreation, which doesn’t hold for many of the marriages recognised by the law, and therefore can’t be an essential term.

  10. All good points. I agree. But because I like to be the Devil’s advocate, here’s an argument against marriage equality, riffing on the procreation theme, by dover_beach at Catallaxy. This is an amalgam of several of his comments so you get the full flavour. I’d be interested in your response, because I’m not getting through to him.

    The state did not invent marriage. It simply recognized an existing institution, and one that has ever only been between men and women. … Because marriage is a transaction between the generations; a fact recognized by every known society. And a relationship between two men/women can never be this, so to speak. … Marriage, typically, produces children. ‘Gay marriage’ can never, of itself, produce a child. This last fact means that ‘gay marriage’ is unlike the social institution of marriage. … it is the institution through which we generate, care and educate each and every subsequent generation of human beings; that is why it is a transaction between the generations. … the generation of children for same-sex couples is not even an inherent possibility. It is, however, an inherent possibility for hetero couples even if, in some instances, they fail to achieve this.

  11. Gay marriage can produce children, in the sense of raising them, which is the critical element, particularly in an era where the biological side can increasingly addressed by medical technology. Besides, the argument to procreation has no rational comeback to Jeremy’s usual objection that we should thus also refuse marriage to couples who are infertile for age or medical reasons.

    And there have been societies, including antecedants to our own, that have recognised various marriage and marriage-like bonds that are not confined to heterosexual couples. The idea that one man and one woman is the sole historically precedented version of the relationship is simply a myth.

  12. Marriage, typically, produces children. ‘Gay marriage’ can never, of itself, produce a child.

    A lot, of course, is hidden by that word “typically”. What it hides is that there are plenty of heterosexual marriages that don’t produce children – and yet they’re recognised as marriages by the state. They are marriages despite there being no possibility of children

    Which unavoidably means that it’s not an essential element of marriage.

    It is, however, an inherent possibility for hetero couples even if, in some instances, they fail to achieve this.

    Nope, it’s not an inherent possibility for many hetero couples – those post-menopause, for example. And yet those are still considered marriages by the law. Because they ARE marriages, because child-bearing potential is NOT an essential element of marriage.

    This last fact means that ‘gay marriage’ is unlike the social institution of marriage

    No, it means that every childless gay marriage is just like every childless heterosexual marriage.

  13. Yeah, that’s what I said, basically. He still insists I’m not getting it. Thanks anyway.

  14. I’d be interested in your response, because I’m not getting through to him.

    You can’t get through to them. They’re broken.

    If it’s not obvious to someone that there’s no rational argument against gay marriage, then nothing you say is going to convince them. Ever.

  15. narcoticmusing

    Jarrah, if I may, perhaps you could ask him to qualify whether he believes women should be slaves and/or property to be exchanged? Because the tradition he speaks of, across generations, was that of property transfer, not so much genealogy. It was only genealogy for the men, for women it was a mechanism to transfer them from one family line to another as property.

    The state did not invent marriage. It simply recognized an existing institution,
    Shall we now recognise all previously existing institutions if we have any even remote version of it now? We evolve. Societies evolve. The state didn’t invent property. It was previously only holdable by men. Shall we return to that? What about elections? It used to only be allowable by white, land owning men. Shall we return to that?

    one that has ever only been between men and women. … That simply isn’t true.

    Because marriage is a transaction between the generations; a fact recognized by every known society

  16. narcoticmusing

    For some reason, by comment crashed/bugged before I finished it (and attempted to submit itself!)… and then it got shunted to moderation. Here is the complete comment – hopefully it will prevail.

    Jarrah, if I may, perhaps you could ask him (dover_beach) to qualify whether he believes women should be slaves and/or property to be exchanged? Because the tradition he speaks of, across generations, was that of property transfer, not so much genealogy. It was only genealogy for the men and sons, for women it was a mechanism to transfer them from one family line (from the father) to another (to the husband) as property.

    The state did not invent marriage. It simply recognized an existing institution, Yes, one of property transfer. It was also restricted to being within single religions and races too – shall we revert to that too?
    Shall we now recognise all previously existing institutions if we have any even remote version of it now? We evolve. Societies evolve. For example, the state didn’t invent property. It was previously only holdable by men. Shall we return to that? What about voting? Or positions of authority. These weren’t invented by the State and in Western countries these used to only be allowable by white, land owning men. Indeed, in countries ‘less evolved’ socially (by this I only refer to matters such as rights of women and family planning), these positions are still only allowed by men. Shall we return to that?

    one that has ever only been between men and women. … That simply isn’t true.

    Because marriage is a transaction between the generations; a fact recognized by every known society TO TRANSFER PROPERTY. That is why the ‘older’ more ‘traditional’ forms of marriage out there still involve a dowry.

  17. Splatterbottom

    We don’t choose who we love. Love takes hold of us in a gloriously irrational way, enriches and complicates our lives and in its full fruition serves as the permanent basis for our domestic arrangements.

    The state has no business creating artificial barriers to the expression of the love of two people in marriage. In order to even think it is in a position to do this the state must believe it is able to say whose love is legitimate and whose is not genuine enough to be recognised in this way.

    That the gender of the people involved is the sole criterion for the decision to deny marriage to particular couples is beyond reason. Just to say out loud that gender is the sole distinguishing test at once exposes the ignorant and irrational prejudice behind the current law.

    Whatever the history behind marriage, it is now clear that we can cope as a society with people making their own decisions about how they choose to live their lives. The state has an interest in promoting stable loving relationships. It should not withhold its recognition on the basis of the gender of the lovers.

  18. narcoticmusing

    Beautifully said, SB.

  19. Splatterbottom

    Thanks Narcotic. I like it when we agree on stuff. (But I also like a good argument.)

  20. Let’s repeat this: if you are happy with the Marriage Act recognising marriages between permanently infertile couples, then you cannot consistently oppose it recognising same sex couples on the grounds that they are also infertile.
    That’s a turn up for the books! You logic is skewed. Homosexual couples are not infertile!! That is an absolute joke and a sleight of hand with language. HS couples are unable to have children because they don’t have the correct body parts/fluids to have children. They can’t have sexual intercourse within their relationship. That’s not infertility!

  21. You logic is skewed. Homosexual couples are not infertile!! That is an absolute joke and a sleight of hand with language.

    No, the sleight of hand is you claiming in one breath that the possibility of children is a necessary condition of marriage, whilst not arguing that infertile heterosexual couples should be prevented from marrying.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Either the ability for a couple to procreate is a necessary condition of marriage or it isn’t.

    If it is, then how is the marriage of definitively infertile heterosexual people a “marriage”?

    If it isn’t, then you can’t logically argue that gay people don’t qualify for marriage on a ground that you have just conceded isn’t a necessary condition of marriage.

    One or the other. Make your choice.

  22. narcoticmusing

    Riian: To put it another way, is a castrated man/woman (either through no fault of his/her own or by choice) not allowed to marry on the grounds that he/she now does not “have the correct body parts/fluids to have children”. So your amendment to the Marriage Act would read something like, “Hey you who had that bike accident, you are now not recognised as fit for marriage! DEAL WITH IT FREAK.”

    Anyone with any permanent sterilization procedure (eg tubes cut; many cancer sufferers, particularly chemotherapy patients) will no longer “have the correct body parts/fluids to have children”. So, is your new rule: CANCER SUFFERERS ARE FREAKS THAT CAN’T MARRY.

    Men with low sperm counts (and women with low ova) essentially lack the “correct body parts/fluids (at least sufficient quantities of it) to have children” So, another sweet amendment required here…

    Or, are you just too afraid to admit that marriage isn’t about penile/vaginal copulation and it is more about two people in a loving committed relationship that wish to share a set of rights and responsibilities?

  23. narcoticmusing

    Riian86 your post made me very angry. I’m going to go back and read SB’s post now. Ahh, that’s better.

  24. Pingback: Brendan O’Neill in the Oz: gays getting married is the first step towards TOTALITARIANISM!!11!1! | Pure Poison

  25. Pingback: Brendan O’Neill in the Oz: gays getting married is the first step towards TOTALITARIANISM!

  26. Q. What do homosexual “marriages” lack that’s present in all heterosexual marriages?

    A. The union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life

  27. I take it you’re joking, Martin.

    Because otherwise all you’ve done is restate the question. What do homosexual marriages lack that’s present in all heterosexual marriages? Not being heterosexual. Well, duh. They also lack being supported by Martin Webb.

    You might as well answer “why can’t a woman do this job as well as a man” with “because she’s a woman”! Or “why aren’t black people equal to whites?” with “because they’re black”! It’s a moronic argument by definition.

    The point of the question is for you to identify what is present in heterosexual marriage and not homosexual marriage, and why is it an essential element of marriage? We’re asking if you’ve got any reasons in mind why it has to be limited to heterosexuals. Simply repeating that it has to be limited to heterosexuals without a reason utterly fails to do that.

    I’m giving you an opportunity to persuade those of us (a majority of Australians, in fact) who don’t see why marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. Do you have a reason or not?

  28. I’m not joking at all. It is the very essence of the argument. The government bothers recognising marriage as a relationship over & above other types of relationships because it has a vital interest in the welfare of children-the next generation of Australians. This principle is known as parens patria. Specifically, every child born has a right to be raised by both biological parents. The recognition & benefits of marriage are an encouragement to any couple (especially the man) to form a committed union for life (which has the best chance of caring for such children). Therefore, marriage can only be heterosexual.

  29. narcoticmusing

    So Martin could you clarify some things for me? My father died and my mother (who is post-menopausal) remarried. All of her children are adults and are no longer in her care. Her new husband also has children from a previous marriage (ended by completely legal divorce, not by death of a spouse) who are also adult and no longer in his care.

    Are you saying the State should not bother to recognise her new marriage over and above other types of relationships because there is no chance for children, thus no interest in the welfare of children by recognising this marriage. If not, why is it you don’t recognise homosexual marriage?

    Another example; my sister was diagnosed infertile so she and her partner went through some 7 courses of painful IVF. They eventually adopted a child btw (due to failing at IVF) – do you believe her marriage invalid because she could only procure a child from someone else? Is it not sufficient for you that he is not being raised by biological parents but rather, parents that want him and love him? Vis, the many wonderful heterosexual parents that child protection workers (such as my sister) have to contend with every day.

    Should the State not recognise their marriage because they were not able to conceive naturally and/or the child is not being brought up by the biological parents?

    I presume you would recognise both my mother and sister’s marriages merely because they are heterosexual. And yet, homosexuals can have children through the many mechanisms ustilised by heterosexuals (such as my sister) all the time. IVF; donation by a friend/relative (or even stranger – sperm donation is completely legal mechanism for fertilisation). Also, as in my mother’s case, children don’t appear to be a pre-requisite for marriage.

    As a heterosexual happily married women who was fortunate enough to marry prior to Howard’s amendments – I’d really appreciate it if you could explain your answers to the above.

  30. This principle is known as parens patria. Specifically, every child born has a right to be raised by both biological parents.

    No, it’s not.

    I’m not joking at all. It is the very essence of the argument. The government bothers recognising marriage as a relationship over & above other types of relationships because it has a vital interest in the welfare of children-the next generation of Australians.
    [...]
    The recognition & benefits of marriage are an encouragement to any couple (especially the man) to form a committed union for life (which has the best chance of caring for such children).

    No aspect of homosexual marriage prevents, inhibits, or has any other form of negative impact on heterosexual marriage, nor child rearing.

  31. “every child born has a right to be raised by both biological parents”

    Clearly, based on the number of children out there not being raised by both biological parents with no right to sue anyone about it, that’s simply not true.

    It also has nothing to do with gay marriage.

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