OPINION: Gay marriage is about more than just legal equality, writes Uri Khein.
In Thursday's Dominion Post, Gordon Copeland argued that the Relationship Act 2005 rendered Louisa Wall's private member's bill for marriage equality "unnecessary". Invoking a "different but equal" argument, he argued the Relationships Act already granted all couples equal rights regardless of whether they were legally married or in a civil union/de facto relationship.
He saw no reason, therefore, to risk a "radical change" to the "traditional definition" of marriage. He worried that allowing committed same-sex partners to be considered married under the law would undermine child-rearing and the "stability" of society. That same-sex couples already contribute to the stability of society and also raise children of sound body, mind and heart do not seem to occur to him.
Mr Copeland attests that marriage equality "does not stand up to scrutiny" because "all of us can surely agree that a marriage between a man and a woman is biologically different from a union between two women or two men". Of course, the "biological difference" between men and women and between heterosexual and homosexual partners is something any fairly intelligent 13-year-old understands. The same 13-year-old is also learning to tell when a distinction is important and when it is laboured to the point of stifling what is crucial.
As it happens, true marriage, or committed lifelong intimacy between two people, encompasses the full spectrum of "biological difference", adding those things that are common to all of us, regardless of sexual orientation.
People who bring to relationships all of their idealism, playfulness, fortitude, weeping, bickering, hand-wringing and nail-biting are heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, "traditional" folk, religious ones, pagans, atheists, hipsters and fuddy-duddies.
They are all, it is to be hoped, crazy about the people they want to spend their lives with. So while "biological difference" is hardly incidental, to quibble over it does seem rather fanciful.
It seems to miss the point of what it is that makes married people married.
All of this begs the question why it is Mr Copeland insists that marriage is exclusively heterosexual? Given that he is a conservative Christian and former employee of the Catholic Church, it is appropriate to speculate on the role that religious doctrine plays in his own case.
There is no doubt conservative Christians sincerely believe "God's Plan" prescribes that men and women should dwell and prosper in holy matrimony.
They hold heterosexual marriage up as a last bastion in a frightening world in which all values are being turned on their head. In this world view, gay people are outside of "God's Plan" and their lives, their loves and worth permanently in doubt.
The problem is this doctrine is increasingly meaningless to broader society, which is why many religious opponents of marriage equality prefer secular arguments instead.
Quibble though they do, they never appear to find an argument against same-sex marriage that would strike most fair-minded people as being graceful, worthwhile or even compelling.
Added to this is the growing emergence of a different view within progressive Christianity and some other religions that "God's Plan" - if that phrase is used - is about humanity fulfilling its spiritual and moral potential in a way that is necessarily inclusive.
Discrimination against gay people is not only morally wrong but a sign, among others, of humanity's failure to evolve beyond its present limitations.
This view certainly values tradition but recognises it is not something we inherit passively. With each generation tradition is revitalised, remoulded. Tradition must evolve with us, inspiring us with what is good and right rather than constraining us with what is trite and false.
If marriage is fundamental to what makes us human, it can only continue to thrive. Marriage is something real; something that real people want.
Many Kiwis from Generation Y, the Facebook generation, want to get married and hold a view of marriage that is open-spirited and fresh.
They are often prepared to sacrifice everything for that chance at happiness. They look forward to a fulfilling experience not only for themselves but for their friends.
They may well be open to a spiritual view of marriage but they expect that view to be informed by down-to-earth benevolence. It isn't for nothing that many of that generation can't respect or take seriously the notion that same-sex couples should be excluded from legal marriage. They expect society to be better than that.
The law change proposed by Louisa Wall's bill is about nothing if not this.
Uri Khein is a Wellington writer.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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