Why opposition arguments against Marriage Equality simply don’t stand up.

In a Head-to-Head in today’s Irish Times (12th Feb 2015) journalist Bruce Arnold argues the ‘Marriage means procreation’ side. I’d like to think Bruce is doing this tongue in cheek…for the sake of it. Frankly anyone with a scintilla of intelligence sees that argument for the nonsense it is. It put me in mind of an article I published a year and a half ago. See copy of it below.

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This is a true story. I’m not 100% sure of the exact details and years, but the tale is true nonetheless. When I was a child I had an elderly aunt and uncle, Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Eddie. They’ve long since left this world, but I remember them with fondness for a number of reasons. Uncle Eddie always had a coin or two to slip in your pocket. Kathleen was always immaculately ‘turned out’ as was the Cork phrase for someone who took care of their appearance. They were the quintessential adorable elderly couple, clearly in love with each other well into their 80’s. But the best thing about them was their story. They had been childhood sweethearts early in the twentieth century but in the 1920’s circumstances saw Eddie emigrate to The United States for a life working on the US railroads. They kept up occasional correspondence, keeping them abreast of each other’s lives.

They both met and married others, and each celebrated a silver wedding, and more, with their respective partners. Sadly they were both widowed within a couple of years of each other, he still living in the USA and she in Cork. As they commiserated each other over the passing of their spouses, the correspondence became increasingly frequent, and I can only imagine, intimate. A few short years passed and Eddie asked his former childhood sweetheart to marry him, and move to live in the States. She accepted. Kathleen and Eddie married and lived in the US the few short years until his retirement in the 1960’s and they returned home to Ireland to live out their golden years. They celebrated another silver wedding, this time to each other and the local press in Cork covered it. By the time they married, Kathleen was beyond child bearing years.

They were married in a Catholic Church nonetheless, as they were both widowed, and not divorcees. According to today’s Catholic Church, and right wing religious groups like The Iona Institute, they should not have been allowed marry at all, much less in a church. They couldn’t have children. There wasn’t a functioning womb or ovaries in the relationship.

The central argument of churches, religious groups and conservative politicians, in their opposition to Marriage Equality, is that the primary function of a marriage is to produce children. By that yardstick, infertile straight couples should not be allowed marry. They can adopt of course, but so can gay people, and very soon gay couples. Infertile straight couples can go down the route of assisted fertility such as surrogacy. But so can gay couples. So the rule would apparently seem to be that natural conception, gestation and delivery within the confines of a marriage is their accepted norm. I’m unsure what they think of unmarried straight couples living together with children or situations where children are reared by a lone, unmarried parent. Perhaps they don’t exist.

These opposition groups also warn of the impending implosion of society as we know it. Changing the traditional structure of marriage will clearly mean Armageddon on the streets. OK, I’m being deliberately mischievous with that statement, but they do argue strongly that undermining traditional marriage will inevitably weaken society. They don’t like tinkering with traditional, and accepted norms that have been around for a very long time. Again, by that token, inter-racial marriage in the United States would still not be allowed. It’s only a few short decades since there were states in the Union that had statutes on their books forbidding black people and white people from marrying. Women have only been enfranchised within the last century, and slavery was widely accepted as perfectly normal in the decades before that.
Marriage equality exists in a growing number of countries across the world, and 70% of the population of the United States now live in states that grant full civil marriage rights to gay couples (Jan 2015). The US Supreme Court is expected to rule on nationwide Marriage Equality this summer (2015), and given their recent rulings the pro equality side is rightfully very hopeful. Repeated studies show that marriage, between two committed people regardless of sexual orientation enables an increasingly stable society, not less.

The other chestnut of course is that children raised by gay parents will somehow suffer psychologically, spirituality or morally. On this point studies show that children raised by same sex couples fare no better, nor worse than those raised by straight couples. One study indeed, came to the conclusion that very often a greater sense of openness in gay couples tended to allow children to have closer ties with their parents.

I don’t expect the Catholic Church to marry my partner Alan and I, nor do I expect the state to force them to do so. No more than I would expect my local priest to officiate at the wedding of two Jews or two Muslims. While I might concede the churches dibs on the salvation of my eternal soul, they have no place in weighing in on the ‘No’ side of what is a secular issue, not a religious one.

My Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Eddie did not marry at an advanced age to have children. They married for companionship and security. They married for friendship and support. They married for love.

© David Wilkins – November 2013.

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