To understand some of the controversy associated with 'civil unions' and Marriage Equality, it may be helpful to first examine some concepts and attitudes surrounding 'marriage'.
Concepts of marriage have evolved over time and differ from culture to culture
- Inbuilt primary biological drives of living creatures are to survive and reproduce.
- In the animal kingdom, such drives have been contained in various breeding practices, that have evolved for the best results for the survival of the species.
- In some species, there is no sexual reproduction, in others a mixture of sexual and asexual, in yet others, sexual only.
In the latter, the mating may be impersonal and random, such as fish spawning, or controlled by a hierarchy such as a pride of lions, or pre-determined by genetics as in birds, or a mixture of biology and social customs as with humans.
- In general, the trend appears to have been from simple life forms reproducing asexually, to more complex life forms reproducing sexually, to very complex organisms that reproduce sexually, but also involve very strong bonding between the breeding pair and long periods of care for offspring to be protected and nurtured until they reach adulthood.
For a society or a culture to survive, it needs to maintain and replicate itself within a structured framework.
This has achieved by a unit of society called a "family". Marriage was traditionally the name of the bonding arrangement whereby a "breeding pair or group" was granted status by their community, to contain their sexual drives, to have children and thereby to establish a family.
Therefore marriage, as a social custom for these purposes, required the parties be of the opposite sex.
- If one of the parties died, as was often the case in early times, then the surviving parent had custody rights and responsibilities of the children.
- If the couple had property, originally mostly in a small group of wealthy people, then marriage also involved inheritance rights.
Note: Until very recent times (last couple of centuries) where women were allowed to vote, own property, have access to their own money and be to abe to earn their own income, marriage was largely about the property, wealth and sexual rights of men.
These other aspects are not necessarily obvious from the definition of marriage itself, but from a number of other inter-related laws and practices.
For example the Australian Marriage Act 1961 does not mention children (associated custody, kinship or inheritance rights) in its definition of marriage.
Marriage according to Australian law, is defined as "the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life".
Australian Marriage Act 1961
For many countries, especially Western countires, the following aspects contained in this Australian definition apply, though there are exceptions.
Thus concepts and definitions that focus on marriage being the only relationship that society deems as the one defining a biological breeding pair, would exclude same sex relationships.
However now there are many countries where:
- younger couples marry without the intention of having children
- older couples are able to marry without the ability to have children
- couples marry without desiring the relationship to include sexual behaviour
- couples who are infertile are able to adopt or use artifical means to reproduce
Therefore concepts that remove the need to be a "breeding pair" can focus marriage as a lifelong relationship freely entered between two adults for mutual support and consenting adult sexual behaviour would not exclude same sex relationships. Read more