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Samesex unions the real question is what is marriage

Wednesday, 27th November, 2013 7:10pm

Fine  Gael  TD  Jerry  Buttimer  is  campaigning  for  a  yes  vote  in  the  2015 referendum  on  same  sex  marriage.  A  recent  article  in  the  Cork  Independent presents  his  case  for  what  he  calls  â€œa  momentous  step  towards  true  equality”.  Mr Buttimer  makes  a  good  job  of  articulating  the  arguments  for  same  sex  marriage, and  calls  for  open  and  respectful  engagement.  In  this  spirit,  we  respond  and  ask whether  such  a  radical  redefinition  of  marriage  is  appropriate  or  desirable.  Mr Buttimer  presents  the  referendum  largely  as  a  debate  about  acceptance  of homosexuality  in  Irish  society.  'Marriage  equality',  says  Mr.  Buttimer  is  about “affirming  the  status  and  dignity  of  gay  and  lesbian  people”  and  â€œletting  them emulate  the  relationships  of  their  parents”.  His  opinion  is  quite  clear:  a  no  vote  in the  referendum  is  a  vote  against  our  gay  friends  and  neighbours;  a  yes  vote sends  the  message  that  â€œbeing  gay  is  OK”.  

Unfortunately,  our  eloquent  TD  almost  completely  ignores  the  real  issue.  This referendum  is  not  a  yes  or  no  to  same  sex  couples,  but  addresses  a  much  more fundamental  question:  what  is  marriage?  In  response,  society  seems  to  be  split between  two  perspectives.  Some  people  understand  married  love  to  have something  fundamental  to  do  with  men  and  women  and  sex  and  babies.  Others, like  Mr.  Buttimer,  say  that  marriage  is  only  about  â€œaffirming  loving  committed relationships”  and  that  gender  is  irrelevant.    

The  difference  between  these  two  ideas  is  substantial.  The  'traditional'  view looks  beyond  a  couple  to  the  children  that  their  love  produces:  'first  comes  love and  then  comes  marriage,  then  comes  baby  in  a  golden  carriage'.  The  alternative 'revisionist'  view  is  essentially  about  the  desires  of  consenting  adults.  

It  is  revealing  to  consider  some  characteristics  of  marriage  on  which  most  people agree:  marriage  is  about  two  people,  it  involves  sex,  it  is  monogamous,  and  it is  intended  to  be  permanent.  Right?  But  why?  Because  it  takes  exactly  one  man and  one  woman,  in  an  exclusive  sexual  relationship,  to  make  a  baby.  And  because babies  require  life‐long  commitment.    

This  certainly  doesn't  mean  that  marriage  is  only  about  babies,  but  that  it  is naturally  oriented  towards  babies.  Try  and  fit  same  sex  love  into  the  same equation…the  requirement  for  monogamous  life‐long  coupling  is  suddenly  a  bit arbitrary.  Why  only  two  people  and  why  stay  together  if  the  love  fizzles  out?  Only  the  traditional  view  explains  what  we  all  know  about  marriage.  

Gay  couples  can't  make  a  baby...  In  this  critical  sense,  they  cannot  â€œmarry  the  way their  straight  friends  can”.  Same  sex  arguments  are  thus  predicated  on revisionist  marriage  -it  must  be  nothing  inherently  to  do  with  sex  and  babies but  simply  a  legal  statement  of  committed  love.  To  achieve  a  yes  vote,  our intuitions  to  the  contrary  must  be  rejected  as  â€œbogus  and  misleading  arguments designed  to  confuse  the  debate”  -  to  quote  Mr.  Buttimer  again.

Fine  Gael  is  advancing  legislation  on  gay  adoption  and  surrogacy,  to  be  passed prior  to  the  referendum.  The  government  hopes  that  by  dealing  with  parenthood separately,  the  debate  can  be  'simplified'  to  an  emotive  question  of  homosexual welfare  and  equality.  But  this  fails  to  explain  why  the  government  has  an  interest in  marriage  at  all.  Marriage  legislation  developed  to  protect  the  institution  that produces  new  citizens!  

Of  course  we  must  accept  and  integrate  our  gay  friends  and  neighbours  â€  this  is simple  justice.  But  should  marriage  be  constitutionally  reduced  to  a  legal contract  affirming  the  romantic  desires  of  any  consenting  adults?  When  the referendum  comes,  it's  OK  to  vote  no.  

Anna Shephard  has a degree in theology, with a specialism in marriage. She also has ten years experience as a group facilitator in an international breastfeeding and mothering information organisation.  

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