Monday, 5 March 2012

Marriage: who's it for?

Alastair Roberts: courtesy Bump Babies Beyond
I'm going to dip my toe into the stormy waters of the gay marriage debate once more, because I think this article that appeared on Bump Babies Beyond over the weekend is very good.  Written by a PhD student at Durham University, Alastair Roberts, it makes a useful distinction between two ways of looking at the definition of marriage and from this explains why a commonly-held definition (as opposed to different individuals or sectors of society holding different ones) is important.

One position, which would be supported by defenders of gay marriage, can be defined as "additive" in character.  This means that the current definition of marriage can be "enlarged" to include a class of couple not currently included, without infringing on the rights of those already included.  The second position is "ecological" in nature.  As Alastair puts it, "Gay marriage does not just ‘extend’ marriage to a wider set of persons, leaving the institution itself fundamentally unchanged. Rather, gay marriage changes what marriage is for society as a whole: it alters the DNA of the institution itself."

Marriage is not simply a question of the private affections and interests of two individuals, or even the public celebration of their affection.  It is a public institution with ramifications for social structure and stability and the nurture of our future generations.  Its function in society transcends the interests of the two individuals who are getting married; that is why we need to consider carefully as to whether we can really consider its definition to be expandable, or whether the current definition is in fact reflecting an ecological reality beyond power of law to alter. (In Christian terms this roughly corresponds, in a sociological context, to the "natural law" argument, as alluded to by Fr Ray Blake today on his blog.) I will not attempt to repeat what Roberts says much better in his article; please read the original!

For Christians and pro-lifers there is another important consideration.  A homosexual couple wishing to bring up children, unless they adopt, will have to conceive via an "assisted" means like artificial insemination or IVF, using a surrogate mother in the case of a male couple.  These means of conception are an issue in themselves, as a future post will consider.

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