Is love the basis for every marriage? Is that why Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, in support of equality, announced that he did not think it was the job of the State to “determine who people should fall in love with, or who they should spend their lives with”?
We know that marriage is a legal relationship that brings with it rights and responsibilities. We know it is a (potentially) life-long, exclusive commitment, but after that, surely it must mean different things to different people. This is the point. As it stands, the State dictates who I can marry, on the basis of gender, but the State will never dictate why I marry. These choices and these decisions are aligned to my autonomy, my liberty, and my freedom as an equal citizen of this country. Who is to say what marriage means to anybody else?
The reality of the matter is that people choose to get married for many different reasons. And these reasons are one’s own, be it for love, legal, financial, spiritual, religious reasons, a combination, or some other reason entirely. To my mind, I believe marriage is about love, and I’m behind Tanaiste Gilmore in that respect. But that’s the way I see it. It’s not necessarily the way everybody sees it.
Some opponents to equality argue that the sole purpose of marriage represents the basis for procreation. Equality will never be defeated by such preposterous suggestion. For one, the Irish courts have repeatedly held against this notion and even the divorce amendment to the Irish Constitution envisages the dissolution of marriages with or without children. And marriages with children from either parent for that matter. And of course, any reference to children includes adopted children. The text of Article 41.3.2 (iii) provides that a divorce may be granted, where, inter alia:
“such provision as the Court considers proper having regard to the circumstances exists or will be made for the spouses, any children of either or both of them…” (emphasis added). If our Constitution envisages divorces with or without children, it can only follow from a Constitution that envisages marriages with or without children. There is nothing in law to mean that marriage as an institution represents the basis for procreation. There never was.
It is a most demeaning argument. Those that suffer the backlash of this kind of prejudice and delusion, are not only couples who comprise the same gender, but also married couples who do not produce their own offspring, together with married couples that do not want to have children. The advocates of this “procreation argument” must necessarily hold the proposition that these marriages are of some type of substandard status. After all, these marriages are not fulfilling the sole purpose of the institution as they see it. It is an argument that carries with it offensive disregard for many people.
To my mind, a most realistic, reasonable, sound, and sensible statement about marriage came from the judgment of Marshall C.J. in Goodridge v. Massachusetts (the case that secured the equal right to marry in that state).
Marshall C.J. stated that:
“Our laws of civil marriage do not privilege procreative heterosexual intercourse between married people above every other form of adult intimacy and every other means of creating a family… Fertility is not a condition of marriage, nor is it grounds for divorce. People who have never consummated their marriage, and never plan to, may be and stay married … People who cannot stir from their deathbed may marry … it is the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another, not the begetting of children that is the sine qua non of civil marriage.”
On the topic of divorce, which had the effect of eliminating the permanency aspect of marriage, one will note that the opportunity to exercise one’s freedom not only to enter a marriage but also to end one, did not reduce the value of marriage. The opportunity for all couples to marry will not reduce the value of marriage.
I would like to make a point on this concept of procreation. Here’s the thing. Some people may very well see their marriages as the basis for procreation. And that’s fine. Why? Because they are entitled to see their own marriages that way. We don’t have to agree on the purpose marriage serves for everybody. None of us has any say in why someone else gets married. What they intend to get from it, what they intend to put into it, is a private matter. What purpose marriage serves in their own lives, as they want to live them is for them to decide. They make their vows to each other, not to any other. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that such aligned intentions of two individuals to a marriage, is a good thing. They share the same outlook. Their views align together. This “meeting of the minds,” a consensus ad idem, is something that incidentally is a prerequisite for all contractual relationships, and marriage is a contractual relationship. They are entitled to see their own marriage as a basis for procreation. They are not entitled to attempt to compel anybody else to see marriage that way, or attempt to obstruct justice on the basis of their views. This is the point; procreation may be an implicit or express wish between the parties to their own marriage, but it is not an implicit, nor an express requirement of marriage as an institution.
A further issue concerning attempts to rely on the “procreation argument” as justification to maintain inequality overlooks another very important point. It overlooks the importance of “family” to people and to couples. “Family” for the purposes of the Constitution is based on marriage. A married couple, with or without children, is a family under our Constitution. The current state of the law means that couples of the same gender are denied the status of a marital family, together with its rights and responsibilities, whether children are involved or not. The point overlooked is that many people want to bring up children in the marital family setting. As Marshall C.J. in Goodridge noted, there are many means of creating a family. Indeed, it is something that I could potentially see my own future involving. And how I go about bringing a child into this world or into my family, is of my concern only. Call it a family matter.
In November last year, the Irish Times ran an article about Robyn O’Connell and Denise Boyle, a committed female couple, who plan to enter into a civil partnership in June of this year. The article makes it abundantly clear. Civil partnership is not their first choice. They want to affix some legal form and recognition to their relationship. If they want to do so, by way of a formal commitment, civil partnership is their only choice. They love each other, they want to start a family and have children; they want to get married.
What sort of fairness is it, should these two ladies embark on a civil partnership that their big day brings with it a big concern, not only over the status of their union, but importantly, concerns over their legal relationship to their future children that they want to raise together. As it stands, once a couple is not married, whether they are in a civil partnership or not, one of the parents remains a legal stranger to the child she or he is raising. If Robyn and Denise want legal recognition of their relationship, they are forced to settle for something inferior while their peers have opportunity to enjoy a superior status, with superior rights. There are no two ways about it. Civil partnership is their only option (which offers no protection where children are concerned). There are two standards however. There are two rules; civil partnership and marriage, and this double standard is not acceptable. There is nothing inferior about Robyn and Denise’s relationship. They love each other, they want to start a family and have children; they want to get married. This is something very familiar to Irish society.
From my own personal perspective, I believe marriage involves love. To Phoenix Flame, “Marriage is love personified.” Some might say I sound like a soppy old romantic. I’d probably agree, but I would also say that I’m far from alone. I’ve got company. Over the last few years I’ve been to a number of weddings. Some were family, some were friends. They were all quite similar, in that they were church weddings followed by a day of celebrations. But they were all uniquely special in their own personal ways. I always find weddings to be such endearingly personal days. I feel like I’m sharing in the couples’ personal happiness for that day. The energy is infectious. They are wonderful experiences. Whatever their uniqueness, there was no variation as to what the prospective spouses joined together to embark on and what had brought them there. Love had brought them there. It was a willingness and a want to commit to each other, to be loyal to each other, to honour each other, to mutually devote their lives to each other committed together in matrimony, that’s what brought them there. Love and romance pervaded the churches. Good will and blessings showered the couples. It was their big day, it was their beginning of something new, something very special. They did it together, for each other, in the name of love, in the love of committed togetherness. They each arrived at the churches as individuals; they left together as unions, as one. Though surely a wedding must signify a commitment already made by the heart, signed by the hand on the day of marriage.
It was on one of these special occasions that I came across a marriage poem. I kept it. It found it special. It reads;
Marriage is more than a walk down the aisle.
It’s a promise that’s shared.
It’s an intimate smile.
It’s a personal bond that
You look on with pride.
And the knowledge that someone
Will be by your side.
It’s a vow of commitment that’s
blessed from above.
It’s a hope and a dream
For a lifetime of love.
One minor difference, for me anyway, concerns the church element on foot of my being Catholic. But these are thoughts I shall tackle another day! I happen to think church weddings are beautiful. And yes, in the future, I would like a beautiful wedding. But what I will want is a beautiful marriage. There is nothing, absolutely nothing at all that took place on those special days that I don’t see myself doing similarly, if not identically. With the very same hopes, and the very same aspirations held by my friends as they made their vows, their commitments underscored by love, and became a family as our constitution so defines one. It is beyond me why anyone would think that I would feel any differently on my special day, that I would want anything different from what my friends embarked on. Marriage is special in our society. Marriage is special to me. And I’m a part of our society. The gender of the person I will want to marry concerns only me. And our marriage will concern only us.
At the end of the day, there is no necessity and no requirement that we, as a society, be uniform in our opinion as to what marriage means to us as individuals and as couples and whether it includes children, or whether it does not. Who is to say what marriage means to anybody else? No uniformity is required relating to what we want from it or what we want to put into it. And this will never be the case. It is essential however, that there is uniformity in the law of our State and its treatment of all individuals and indeed of all couples. Our equal citizenship is by way of guarantee, which guarantees us equal entitlement with full and equal access to enjoy all the benefits of our society. The institution of marriage is seen as one of these benefits and it is the duty of the State to facilitate and enforce that guarantee.
As we move toward equality in marriage laws, it is important that we move away from these elements of tradition that purport to divide us, that interfere with fairness, that obstruct justice, and that are not necessary. It is abundantly clear; marriage is something held high in value and close to heart by most. What’s love got to do with it? It would seem very much. What’s gender got to do with it? It would seem very little. In fact, the only role that one’s gender plays is that it currently operates to deny the opportunity of marriage. Where as, the sanctity of marriage, that we hold dearly, would be far better upheld by a society that promotes the values of love and commitment, not by one that operates to deny them.
It is time to retire this futile “procreation argument.” It is time to uphold the autonomy, the liberty, and the freedom of every individual in our country. It is time to respect love. It is time to respect justice.
Published version appears on Huffington Post Gay Voices