Does Gender Matter?

Marriage is much more than a simple legal convention or social tradition.

Humanity knows many different forms of relationships: close friendships, cousins, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. Why is it that every society throughout human history has favored the relationship between a man and a woman who commit to one another? And why is it that this unique relationship is called “marriage,” and nothing else is?

Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss calls marriage “a social institution with a biological foundation”. He notes that throughout recorded history the human family has been “based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children.”

Marriage provides a stable, nurturing relationship for both husband and wife, and for any children they bear, by reinforcing and disciplining human biology, in the interests of society.

After all, while not all marriages result in reproduction, the conception of human life requires both a male and female. As children require prolonged nurturing, it is in the vested interest of society to encourage stable and healthy marriages in which this nurture can take place.

The timeless anthropological purpose of marriage is to unite a male and a female to each other and to their child. Historically this has been important for the protection of the pregnant woman and vulnerable children, as well as for the economic viability of the family unit.

Advocates of same-sex marriage argue, in defiance of nature, that marriage is not related to mammalian biology and raising young, but is just about any two adults with an ‘emotional commitment’.

For example, the prominent homosexual advocate, Andrew Sullivan, writes that the essence of marriage “is not breeding” but instead “a unique and profound friendship”. A Washington superior court judge in 2004, ruling in favour of same-sex marriage, could only offer this limp definition: “To ‘marry’ means to join together in a close and permanent way”; that marriage is “a close personal commitment” that is “intended to be permanent” and which is “spiritually significant”.

But this vague sentimentality applies to many different adult relationships, and says nothing specifically of marriage.

As marriage expert David Blankenhorn comments:

I have a number of profound friendships and some intense personal commitments, all of which seem to me to be emotional enterprises. I am involved in a number of mutually supportive relationships, many of which, I am sure, enhance social stability. But none of this information tells you to whom I am married or why.

It is, therefore, anthropologically inadequate, to assert that marriage is all about “love and commitment” between any two adults, unrelated to biology and the responsibility to nurture children.

Even the libertarian philosopher Bertrand Russell acknowledged “It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.”

While same-sex relationships may be a significant private relationship, to be treated with neighbourly respect by all, they cannot give rise to children, so are of no institutional importance to society.

If intimate sexual relations did not have the momentous consequence of creating a child who needs stable care over prolonged periods, there would be no incentive for a legal institution of ‘marriage’ as society does not involve itself in the regulation of friendships. Society would mind its own business.

Marriage within society is all about gender. Society would cease to exist without the procreation of children, and intimate sexual relations can indeed create a child who needs stable care over a prolonged period. Therefore, society encourages the strength, health and longevity of such relationships.

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