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Children are not the only reason for marriage

Thursday, 12th December, 2013 9:14am

In an article in the Cork Independent of 27 November, theology graduate Anna Shepard stated that same-sex marriage challenges the traditional view of what marriage is for; producing children.

In the words of Tina Turner, “what's love got to do with it?” However, if you ask most couples why they decided to marry, be prepared to hear the simple words, “because we love each other”.

In one respect, Ms Shepard is correct. Traditionally marriage was not about love. Indeed, the concept of marrying for love is a relatively new one, which can be traced back to the Enlightenment back in the 18th century. Of course, people have always fallen truly, madly and deeply - Romeo and Juliet is proof of this - but in general, loving the person you found yourself shackled to for life was seen as a sort of pleasant bonus. Instead, marriage was about property, and insuring allegiances of families and assets, hence the existence of dowries and matchmakers.

If we are to focus on what marriage meant 'traditionally' then we might as well reconsider the idea of the married woman as property of her husband. In Britain- and by extension, Ireland - this was only scrapped in 1882.

Delving further into history only shatters the ideals of traditional marriage further. In the Bible itself, polygamy was seen as quite normal. King Solomon was believed to have 700 wives, and traditional Judaism advises men on the right way to treat their wives - note the plural. Polygamy still exists in some branches of Islam.

Even same-sex marriage is not new. In ancient Greece and Rome, men lived with men without much comment. The early Christian Church seemed to be far more tolerant of homosexuality than today. Records have been unearthed showing a marriage between two Galician men in 1061.

So when we speak of 'traditional' marriage, which exact tradition do we mean? Marriage is not a fixed, natural state. Instead, like all human constructs, it is mutable and ever-changing. We have already redefined it to an expression of love. This is just another step in its evolution.

The idea that marriage should be exclusively heterosexual “because it takes exactly one man and one woman, in an exclusive sexual relationship, to make a baby. And because babies require lifelong commitment,” is even more problematic.

I am not sure how familiar Ms Shepard is with Catwalk at closing time, but a baby can be created without an exclusive sexual relationship, and indeed, a great many of them are. It takes only two opposite-sex eejits with fully-functioning genitals to make a child, which makes the marriage being for the protection of children argument increasingly irrelevant.

Of course, having children is a lifelong commitment, which makes the eagerness of gay couples to embrace it only more admirable. Think of the hoops gay people have to go through to raise children. It only follows that they would be as good at parenting as a straight couple. With some third of Irish children born out of wedlock in 2011, and the horrible concept of 'illegitimacy' thankfully consigned to the dustbin, the notion that marriage is necessary for babies grows incredibly weak.

Here Ms Shepard's argument becomes downright offensive. “This certainly doesn't mean that marriage is only about babies, but that it is naturally oriented towards babies.” How must those struggling with infertility feel reading those words? There are more of these couples than ever, and while they have the option of IVF (condemned by the Vatican, by the way) and other fertility treatments, it must be infuriating to read that their marriages are essentially invalid due to their lack of children.

Not every couple wants to have children, either, and frankly, this is to be admired. With seven billion humans on this poor old creaking world, the last thing we need are more of us. Callous as this may sound, many experts think we are heading to a resource crisis caused by overpopulation. It's clear that the human race is far from endangered. If a few people decide not to reproduce, humankind will remain.

Lastly, Ms Shepard asks, “why only two people and why stay together if the love fizzles out?” Children are not a substitute for love between a couple. Many late-age divorces are often a result of two parents realising the only thing they had in common was their children. The answer is the kind of love and companionship that doesn't fizzle out- something that is not limited to heterosexual couples.

Roisin Peddle is a journalism graduate living in Dublin. She has been published in the Evening Echo, The Galway Advertiser and The Guardian among others and blogs and randomdescent.wordpress.com.

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