Some objected to my suggestion that London’s new Tory Mayor Boris Johnson might be a hero to gay conservatives because he saw accepting gay marriage akin to consecrating unions “between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.”
I grant the Mayor’s analogy is a little over the top, but it seems he’s mocking the notion of redefining marriage from its traditional understanding as a union of one man and one woman to a bond of love between two individuals. If we depart from the traditional understanding of the insitution as a union of two individual of differing genders, where, then, he (as well as many others) asks, do we draw the line?
Sensible gay marriage advocates would say we draw the line at the union of two consenting adults in a monogamous bond. But, other advocates don’t want to set such strictures on the institution, in fact they don’t see it as an institution. They would rather redefine it.
No matter how much we dress up our arguments, we can’t change the historical and sociological meaning of marriage. While, various cultures accepted polygamy (mostly polygyny, one man to more than one wife, but also rarely polyandry where a woman has more than one husband), that tended to be limited to the upper classes. Even then, the man was married to each of his wives; the women were not married to each other. Gender difference still defined the institution.
As I have studied cultures recognizing same-sex unions, I have observed that that societies which (up until the 1990s) consecrated same-sex unions called them something different than marriage. Yes, there were cultures (notably many Native American tribes) which called same-sex unions marriage, but they required one of the partners to live in the guise of the opposite sex and accept the roles assigned to that gender in an order far more sexually stratified than contemporary Western society.
If an Athapaskan woman, for example, wanted to take a bride, she would have to wear male clothing, kill a female bear and tie its ovaries to her belt while she lived and socialized with the men of the tribe. She would become a hunter. Her bride could not hunt with her, but would stay home, running the household, living and dressing as a woman.
Thus, even those cultures recognizing same-sex marriage saw sexual difference as a defining aspect of the institution.
As we have that necessary conversation on gay marriage, we need to understand the reality of that institution. Sexual difference is part of that reality.
If you don’t believe me, turn to any study on marriage and you will see that, traditionally understood, marriage ceremonies involved the ritual joining together of two individuals from different groups.