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Does equality require same sex marriage?

By Sam Clements, Rex Ahdar

Gay unions are inherently different, writes one contributor, while another argues all love deserves respect.

Two people in love are two people in love. Photo / Getty Images
Two people in love are two people in love. Photo / Getty Images

The issue of gay marriage is one that elicits strong views from its opponents and supporters throughout the country. We asked the question, 'Does equality require same sex marriage?' to Sam Clements and Rex Ahdar and their written responses are featured below.

Yes - Sam Clements

It is logically flawed, and a nonsensical argument to suggest the redefinition of marriage by the state is in effect an attempt "'to abolish it". How absolutist and sweeping a statement. This bill seeks to grant same-sex couples the ability to marry, and in so doing bring formal societal recognition to their committed and loving relationships, which are no different to those of heterosexual couples.

Some appear fixated with the idea that "sexual union" is only truly possible from a marital perspective when it is between a man and a woman.

In essence, placing the ability to procreate as emblematic proof of this. This is one of the sadder and more naive statements often raised by opponents of the bill.

It is also grossly offensive.

The love of same-sex couples is just as emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and physically as deep as that between a man and a woman; arguing that marriage ought to continue to be accorded an exclusively heterosexual status based upon procreative grounds is a specious and fatuous argument to make.

Ditto the notion that there exists a "conjugal" form of marriage, which according to your contributor Professor Ahdar's argument is the righteous form, versus a "partnership" one, which is somehow "second-class".

Two people in love are two people in love, pure and simple. Their desire to cement that commitment and signal it to society through marriage ought, if we are humanly decent, to be recognised in law.

The fact that children cannot biologically be produced by same-sex couples does not make their relationship any less valuable or less deserving of recognition. The professor's arguments are made all the more fatuous given plenty of heterosexual couples either cannot reproduce, or choose not to have children.

Marriage as an institution well preceded Christianity's monopoly of it. It arose from pre-recorded history as a means of protecting property rights, recognising legitimate heirs and ensuring clan loyalties.

That the state plays a central and critical role in defining what marriage is, and is not, is right and proper. Governments, and for that matter parliaments, are elected to represent the interests of the citizens they serve as a collective whole, and to make difficult social and political laws following careful debate and discussion.

The discussions over the Marriage Equality Bill have been thorough and substantive.

We should be grateful for such a democratic process.

Many citizens of the world, (often living in countries dominated by governments consisting of religious fanatics), do not remotely enjoy such robust parliamentary processes.

Most importantly, the equality bill does not impact upon heterosexual marriage in the slightest. Individuals are not going to "turn gay" on a whim, and the churches have retained their right to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Sadly, for many Christians this is not enough. They wish the state to retain the church's historical and interpretative monopoly of marriage as being that between a man and a woman.

Thankfully, our separation of church and state has long helped us prevent undue influence from the religious right. This is a great virtue to be protected at all costs. This debate has reinforced that.

Additionally, yes, children ought to be raised by a father and a mother, however, no evidence exists to support the notion that same-sex couples make "lesser" parents, nor that the environment in which they are raised is any less nurturing and loving than that of heterosexual ones. In addition, many children are raised in sole parent households, so having two mothers or two fathers would surely be a bonus, and preferable to having one caregiver.

The suggestion that marriage equality is radical and an experimental concept, is extraordinary. How can two human beings loving one another be akin to a scientific experiment with potentially dangerous outcomes?

Those arguing that ought to openly admit they wish to have maintained and upheld by the state a biblical interpretation of what marriage constitutes, despite the fact that we live in a secular state and society, which continues to increasingly reject the concept and notion of church weddings in favour of civil marriages, partnerships, and de facto relationships.

Sam Clements holds graduate degrees in arts and commerce from the University of Auckland. He is a lifetime inducted member of international honour society Beta Gamma Sigma.

No - Rex Ahdar

"Give us equality" ... "don't discriminate" ... These are catchcries of proponents of same-sex marriage. Gay couples assert the right to equal treatment and to deny them legal marriage is, they say, blatant discrimination.

This assertion deflects attention from the real issue: what is the true nature of marriage? Two visions of marriage confront us. The conjugal model says that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman. The partnership model says marriage is a contract between committed, loving couples.

So what is marriage? Conjugal marriage is a comprehensive union (mental and physical, emotional and sexual) of a man and a woman. It has a true essence, a fundamental nature; it is a real phenomenon, not just a human invention or convention. A hedgehog is a hedgehog, a tree is a tree, a river is a river. We did not invent hedgehogs, we simply named them. We can call a cat a hedgehog if we want but that does not change its essential nature. All it does is lead to confusion.

Marriage is a pre-political institution, a social solution that pre-dates governments. States recognise marriage; they do not invent it. Marriage is a valued institution because it channels the natural impulses between men and women in a socially beneficial direction. Men and women commit indefinitely and exclusively to each other and to the children their sexual union commonly (but not invariably) produces. It is a stable institution that provides for the rearing of the next generation.

Gay marriage advocates will reply: you have just defined marriage so as to exclude gay couples, a neat trick that fools no one.

Not so. Recall the key claim: gay couples deserve equal respect and legal recognition by the state.

But arguments based on equality are empty. To insist upon equality is to require that "like things are treated alike". So X and Y should be treated equally for X and Y are alike. But we need to know in what respects X is like Y and whether these characteristics are valid before we can be confident that they merit equal treatment. We must have a rule or standard for deciding which characteristics count and which don't. Statements of equality are mere conclusions that logically derive from the prior application of a standard.

Is gay (partnership) marriage "like" conjugal marriage? In some respects, yes: both may involve monogamous couples who may have a deep, lifelong commitment to each other. Both can express this caring commitment in a sexual fashion; raise children (if any) in a thoughtful, caring way. In other respects, however, the answer is no: lacking sexual complementarity, gay couples cannot achieve complete sexual bodily union. And lacking reproductive capability they cannot be biological parents.

They can provide love but they cannot provide the example that a father and a mother can. They lack the inherent structure to rear well-rounded, psychologically secure children. A parent of each sex is needed to raise and teach a child, because the child needs a model of his or her own sex, a model of the other, and a model of the relationship between them.

Some may gasp: how antiquated! Who says these attributes - sexual complementarity, reproductive capacity - are essential? Who says this is the standard? We did. We long ago recognised that marriage involves the comprehensive sexual union of a man and a woman. By contrast, common race, religion and class are not essential. We discerned that, ideally, children are best raised by their biological father and mother. (This is not, of course, to demean the valiant efforts of single parents, or step, adoptive and foster-parents that successfully raise children, but merely to affirm that both biological parents are, as empirical research attests, the optimal configuration).

By "we" I mean virtually every culture, tribe and race since antiquity has affirmed these as essential elements of this thing called marriage and accorded such unions special status. It might be that nearly every society through the ages (with a few short-lived exceptions) has got it wrong and we alone in the West have now stumbled upon the truth. But I think not.

The use of the slogan "equality" cleverly skews the debate. Brazenly repeat that conjugal marriage and partnership marriage are equal (as if this were somehow self-evident). Repeat that principled differentiation is the same as egregious discrimination. The onus then shifts on those who would deny this to show why "unequal", "discriminatory" treatment is justified. And who can be against "equality" or defend "discrimination"? Opponents must show why this enlightened humanitarian proposal is wrong, rather than the gay marriage proponents having to demonstrate why the new model deserves to replace the existing institution.

And make no mistake. To redefine marriage (to allow same-sex partners) is to abolish it. Partnership marriage does not keep the existing institution and simply allow more persons to join it. No, it eviscerates it and substitutes a new concept. Such a redefinition, while internationally fashionable, would, I suggest, be a radical unwarranted move and would begin a social experiment the long-term results of which are wholly uncertain.

Professor Rex Ahdar is of the Faculty of Law, University of Otago.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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