What is marriage?
Marriage is defined in our law as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. This definition aligns with the time-honoured understanding of marriage throughout recorded history.
The cultural phenomenon of marriage is present in every society from the earliest recorded history while the concept of ’same-sex marriage’ is a uniquely post-modern construct.
However, marriage is much more than a legal convention or social tradition. Marriage reinforces and disciplines human biology, in the interests of society, and provides a stable, nurturing relationship for both husband and wife and any children which they bear.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss calls marriage “a social institution with a biological foundation”. He notes that throughout recorded history the human family is “based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children.”
After all, while not all marriages result in reproduction, the typical marriage does – and any social institution is based on the typical case. Most basic of all, the conception of human life requires both a male and female. As children require prolonged nurturing, it is in the interests of society to encourage stable and healthy marriages in which this nurture can take place.
Marriage exists in all societies (with only rare aberrations which only prove the norm) because infants at every time and every place need the patient love and nurture of both their mother and their father. All cultures take the biological ‘given’ of the natural pair-bond and reinforce it with customs and ceremony to achieve the social goal of stable families and communities. Historically this has been important for the protection of the pregnant woman and vulnerable children, as well as for the economic viability of the family unit.
Marriage mattered to the earliest recorded human societies, because marriage helps create order out of chaos: it assists with the civilising of sexual behaviour, helps protect women from exploitation, promotes stable nurturing of children, and knits society together through kinship’s ‘blood and belonging’.
The male-female pair bond is something ‘given’ by nature, not something invented by society. The social customs and laws surrounding marriage are just our best effort to reinforce this biological reality, to help build up the loyalty of a male to his mate and both to their children.
Therefore marriage is beyond the authority of any political party to re-define. Nobody can repeal nature.