By Susmita Abani:
In 2012 president Barack Obama in the United States expressed solidarity with marriage equality supporters. In May 2015, Ireland’s vote for marriage equality came as a surprise to many. The deeply Catholic nation shook off the weight of tradition and was praised for its progressive direction. In my own country Australia, the reigning Prime Minister Tony Abbot remains repellent to the idea, while opposition Minister Bill Shorten has introduced a marriage equality Bill that will overwrite the definition of marriage as it stands. With only a handful of votes in question, marriage equality has been at the forefront of the Australian political discourse.
While many around me seem to know for certain what side of the debate they prefer, I’ve often felt conflicted towards the issue. For the most part, I support marriage equality, but the determination of its opposing forces have always intrigued me. In the wake of Ireland’s momentous decision, I caught up with a friend on my commute to work. As a Roman Catholic, he was sure of his stance. Marriage, he said, has a societal function. It’s an institution built as a mechanism for rearing children, protecting women, and the bringing together of families. This is not an uncommon argument presented by the religious conservative – the claim that modern definitions of marriage is now a mere symbolic gesture by two individuals through which they accept commitment for their relationship. The emphasis now is on mutual love, while the traditional utilities of marriage are being disregarded or changed.
While I acknowledge the merits of this argument, when considering his view in light of Christian scriptures it becomes rather hilarious. In most secular constitutions, the concept of marriage has travelled far from true Biblical tradition. Right from start in the Bible, we see examples of polygyny when Esau, the son of a very important Biblical figure named Isaac, takes two wives in Genesis 26:34. Isaac’s second son Jacob winds up in an even more convoluted marital arrangement than his brother in Genesis 29-30. He falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, but is deceived into marrying her elder sister Leah instead, and only manages to marry Rachel after providing seven years of service to her father. Rachel is then unable to conceive a child for Jacob, and so urges Jacob to impregnate their servant Bilhah. In a single lineage, we see how the sacred institution of marriage was “defined” by the Bible – as one that included incest, polygyny, extra-marital intercourse, the treatment of women as a currency for business dealings and the reductive use of women as vessels for child-bearing. In those days, marriage was also used for political expansion, with leaders of one tribe marrying from another to build alliances. If all this is supposedly exemplary of how a marriage should be, then I’m rather disturbed.
Having studied at a Catholic school, I know some may protest that the Old Testament is now obsolete. This, again, is a deflective argument. Because it is only in Leviticus 20:13, a verse in the Old Testament, where homosexuality has been explicitly condemned by the Bible. Is it not double standards, then, to selectively quote the Old Testament to vilify homosexuality while ignoring its other teachings? This is why it’s difficult for me to understand how the harmless act of two people in love uniting under a homosexual marriage degrades tradition, when traditional marriage itself was so fundamentally flawed.
To me, the only poignant argument from the conservative voice relates to children. Studies often show that children raised by homosexual couples are generally content, possessing a more mature outlook on gender neutral domestic roles. Being homosexual doesn’t hinder one’s ability to love and nurture healthy children, and I’m not denying this notion. But if a child could choose their parents, would they pick two men, or two women? Assuming Kinsey was right, about 10% of people are homosexual. So there is no hesitation in saying that an overwhelming majority of people are heterosexual. Children of homosexual couples will undoubtedly be outnumbered by children with heterosexual parents – and due to this fact, research has shown that “children raised in lesbian and gay-parented families worry about being teased, harassed or bullied, particularly by peers in the school environment.”
Last year I read an article by a man raised by lesbian parents, who also wrote about the apprehensions he and some other children of homosexual parenting have experienced. “They feel disconnected from the gender cues of people around them,” he wrote, “feel intermittent anger at their parents for having deprived them of one biological parent (or, in some cases, both biological parents), wish they had had a role model of the opposite sex, and feel shame or guilt for resenting their loving parents for forcing them into a lifelong situation lacking a parent of one sex.”
I know that it is within every well meaning couple’s right to rear children. I understand that parenthood is complicated, and most heterosexual couples cannot guarantee a perfect environment for their children either. My only concern is that in the midst of defending ones civil liberties, gay rights advocates forget to address the potential emotional consequences of boxing a child into a confusing lifestyle, that is vastly different to most.
Being different, and the path to accepting that you’re different, is an incredible journey. The world’s LBGTQI+ community has faced this challenge throughout history, and those who’ve succeeded at accepting, appreciating and even celebrating their difference has shown commendable courage. I see marriage as an expression of love and loyalty between any two consenting, adult parties – a personal affair that is solely their own to define. Only when one’s lifestyle begins to encroach on another’s does the matter become more complex and unpredictable, such as in the realm of raising a child. Some issues are larger than the equality debate, and gay marriage is often one such can of worms. And one can only hope that through trial and error, people can one day find the right balance between individual freedoms and the future of a society.