George Orwell once remarked, “There are some ideas so preposterous that only an intellectual could believe them”. The move to redefine the nature of marriage may be a case in point. When the Prime Minister recently suggested that our marriages laws should be strengthened, the reaction was as swift as it was hostile.
A number of commentators labeled this proposal “radical”. What a curious thing to say. There is nothing radical about reaffirming what most cultures throughout human history have always affirmed, namely that marriage is about the union of a man and a woman, full stop. That is not revolutionary. That is the accumulated wisdom of nearly every human society throughout recorded history.
Yet our intelligentsia did its best to make Howard look like a madman, or worse. High profile lesbian couple Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker for example went on the offensive. They claimed that John Howard’s attempt to block legal recognition of same-sex marriages was a “form of apartheid”. But that of course is errant nonsense. There is no comparison between apartheid and defending heterosexual marriage. Even black activists like Jesse Jackson have rejected such a disingenuous analogy.
Apartheid is about keeping races apart. Marriage is about bringing men and women together. Heterosexual marriage has been around for millennia. Talk of same-sex marriage has been around for a few short decades. Marriage was thus not created to discriminate against anyone, as apartheid was.
Rodney Croome also sought to play the race card in his attack on Howard. He said that keeping marriage between a man and a woman only is like denying blacks and women the vote. But this is just apples and oranges.
If we want a genuine comparison, however, let me provide one. The very same arguments used for legalising same-sex marriage could be used to argue for any number of other sexual combinations. If marriage is no longer one man and one woman for life, then any number of alternatives seem to be possible. If homosexuals can argue that a loving committed relationship should qualify one for the institution of marriage, then other equally binding and loving unions should be recognised. What about a bisexual who really does love both a man and a woman, simultaneously? Can this threesome qualify?
Indeed, polyamory (group marriage) has become a new cause, championed by both grassroots groups and academic supporters. A quick search of the Web will reveal just how popular the idea of polyamory is becoming. Family law reformers for example are increasingly promoting this new sexual cause in their attempt to redefine the family out of existence.
The truth is, all boundaries are smashed when we redefine marriage. There are even groups arguing for the right to marry one’s pet. Called petrosexuality, this new sexuality insists that a person’s love for his or her pet, including sexual relations, should be made official. Thus one Dutch web site encourages people to marry their pets.
Such proposals are not just being made by the lunatic fringe. Consider the Futurist, produced by the World Futurist Society based in America. This is not some whacko mag. A host of scholars and academics have graced its pages over the years. In the current issue of the Futurist a cultural historian wrote an article entitled “The Transformation of Marriage”. Stephen Bertman, professor emeritus of languages, literatures, and cultures at Canada’s University of Windsor, argued that marriage may be “a semantic artifact of a lost world”. He argued that it is not just the transience of marriage that is at issue now. “It is the very definition of the term that futurists must now address. A radical redefinition of marriage is now under way that promises to transform its meaning for all future time.”
He gave as his first example, of course, same-sex marriage. He did not stop there however. He then went on to speak of other types of marriage. Seemingly with a straight face, he raised the prospect of “interspecies marriage”. This is the “potential for the sexual union of human beings and aliens”. From there he mentioned the option of marriages to pets. Why couldn’t an “individual choose to affirm the emotional attachment he or she feels for a pet with the formality of a documented ceremony in which the human partner promises to love and honor the animal companion?”
And finally, presumably still with the utmost seriousness, he speaks of the “theoretical possibility” of “the marriage of human beings to inanimate objects”. He speaks of how many men love their cars, or how many people have formed an intimate relationship with their computer. “Why should not this bond of tactile intimacy be validated by more than an owner’s manual?” he asks, seemingly with complete sincerity.
As American social commentator William Bennett has put it, “Once marriage has been detached from the natural, complementary teleology of the sexes, it becomes nothing more than what each of us makes of it”.
Indeed, one of the most recent and compelling arguments for same-sex marriage has come from Washington journalist Jonathan Rauch. Even he admits that when we tinker with tradition, we never know what might happen. “A catastrophe cannot be ruled out” he concedes. Indeed it might.
The fact that we now take seriously a proposition that would have been laughed out of court just a few short decades ago indicates something. For those seeking to redefine marriage, it is an indication of progress. But for those of us who think otherwise, it is a sure sign of regression.
I began this piece with a quote from Orwell, and a discussion of what is truly radical. It may be fitting to end with him as well: “At a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act..”