This is my response to one of the articles on the “Protect Marriage New Zealand” page that they cite as supporting their argument; if this is the best they can do, then we have nothing to worry about.
The case for caution
by Julian Rivers
Professor Rivers states that “challenges” to the exclusivity of marriage would risk it becoming a “formalised domestic arrangement between any number of people for any length of time”; yet in the same article, he acknowledges that marriage defined as between “one man and one woman” has only existed since the 11th century (note ), and that only within Europe (Interestingly, it was Cnut the Great who made this rule, who nevertheless is recorded to have had two wives and a concubine). One can assume, therefore, that for all of human history prior to that (or outside the European region), at least 5,000 years according to archaeological records, humanity not only survived but thrived with a far broader description of marriage. This blows a hole in his argument so wide that I’m astonished he can’t see it; it must be due to his theological blinkers.
The common law has always defined marriage as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others….
English Common Law (and as a result, the common law of all her colonies) was begun in the reign of Henry II in the 12th Century, well after the Romans had imposed Christianity on the country in 200 AD. Therefore, Common Law, like Professor Rivers, carries the baggage of Christian doctrine against homosexuality; a doctrine which has no place in a secular, 21st Century society.
The debate about same-sex marriage is a debate about using law to change the meaning of the social institution of marriage. And that affects everyone.
He’s right about that; I would just like to see him defend the unstated assumption inherent in his argument that Gay and Lesbian citizens should not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the other members of the society in which they live.
The Government’s arguments
The argument from equality
… It follows that for marriage to be ‘equal’ on grounds of sexual orientation, the law should not be restricted to just one type of sexually-intimate companionship. Why can’t a man marry two wives? Why isn’t prostitution treated as a form of short-term marriage? Why, for that matter, should single people be deprived of the chance to pass on their pension rights to a best friend? There may or may not be reasons for drawing the legal boundaries in any particular place, but until those reasons are stated, the argument from equality is incomplete.
This is just the “slippery slope” argument revisited; it has absolutely no basis in observed history and is an emotive and irrational appeal to fears of societal disintegration. In the numerous states and nations in which same-sex marriage has been legitimised and legalised, there have been no negative consequences whatsoever; none of them have enacted further legislation resulting in the redefinition of marriage to include every conceivable sexual union. It is dishonest and disingenuous to use such a tactic and it is neither rational nor logical to conclude that such events will result from the granting of equal marriage rights to all New Zealanders.
The argument from stability
…It is fair to assume that, practically speaking, no same-sex couple would be willing to marry who are not already willing to enter into a civil partnership. So the argument depends on the relative stability of marriage as opposed to civil partnership. … the truth is that we simply do not know the relative stability of marriage and civil partnership. Civil partnership has only been available since 2005. The data so far might even imply that civil partnerships are more stable than marriages. …. the argument from stability is speculative.
This is a complete furphy; the issue is not about whether or not civil partnerships are more or less stable than civil or religious marriages, but about whether or not homosexual unions are more or less stable than heterosexual ones. The evidence for this is overwhelmingly that same-sex unions are just as stable as opposite-sex unions when given the same legal rights and obligations; much like same-sex parenting has been shown to be just as advantageous (in fact slightly more so) than opposite-sex parenting. Professor Rivers does himself and his argument no favours by resorting to this clear straw-man fallacy. Again, this is an unproven and fallacious argument which has no basis in logic or rationality.
The argument from convenience
…The difficulties of a small group of people are emphasised at some length by the Government…. The argument from convenience is negligible.
This one is so shallow that even Professor Rivers himself spends very little time on it; it almost seems as if he would prefer people to skip right over it without noticing. It is simply absurd to claim that, because this issue affects only a small minority of people, it can be conveniently ignored. Civil rights, one of which is the right to legally marry, affect everyone, as Professor Rivers is at pains to point out at the beginning of the article. Here, however, he seems to be suggesting that this minority can be safely relegated to second-class status because they lack the numbers to be considered worthy of attention. This is an appalling attitude, and it does not surprise me that Rivers does his best to skate over it as rapidly as possible. Just how big a number of members does a minority need to fulfil Professor Rivers’ requirements for recognition? Again, there is NO logical or rational basis for this argument, which moreover flies in the face of many of the moral arguments in favour of democracy.
Two arguments against same-sex marriage
Marriage secures the equal value of men and women
… we live in an age and society which has done more than most to ensure that gender roles are fluid, that men and women are equally able to access jobs, careers and other social opportunities, as well as taking up domestic responsibilities. Yet we still recognise that men and women are in various ways different….
It is only marriage which harnesses gender difference to the purposes of social cooperation….
Redefining marriage to be indifferent to sexual identity reinforces this individualistic tendency because it turns human society – from marriage outwards – into a matter of individual inclination and choice. Marriage will cease to be an institution which reflects the necessary and natural interdependence of men and women.
In this one, Professor Rivers shoots himself squarely in the foot. No doubt he was hoping that the average reader would not notice that he uses two completely different definitions as if they are the same thing; gender identity and sexual identity. They are not. By attempting to conflate these two essentially distinct elements of human personality, he shows that he actually has no rational basis for this argument at all. The idea that opposite-sex marriage is the basis from which all societal inter-gender cooperation flows is so absurd that I’m surprise he had the effrontery to postulate it, as is the concept that allowing same-sex couples to marry would in some way permanently damage this societal cooperation. Again; an illogical and irrational argument poorly dressed up to look as if it is not so.
Marriage promotes the welfare of children
…In spite of these developments, there are still connections between marriage as currently defined and the bearing and rearing of children. Most married couples of childbearing age will be able to have children and will have to take steps to avoid having children. By contrast, individuals and same-sex couples have to take active steps to acquire a child, at some point involving another party. Far fewer do. So there is a social and practical presumption connecting marriage with children….
Only a man and a woman can form the biological unit capable of pro-creating another being ‘free and equal in dignity and rights’. No new human being can exist as a living expression of the intimacy of a same-sex couple….
The prevailing view is that there is no significant deficit in same-sex parenting, although a recent major study has called this into question.…
Redefining marriage breaks the necessary connection with childbearing, in the sense that marriage will no longer mean ‘the relationship which is normally and naturally productive of children and thus a nexus of kinship.’ Its intrinsic purpose will be reduced to sexually-intimate companionship.
Here we have the ultimate emotive argument that all those opposed to same-sex marriage inevitably resort to; what about the children? Every study ever conducted into same-sex parenting (apart from the now totally discredited Regnerus study Professor Rivers cites in note  above) shows emphatically that there are no negative consequences at all for children that arise solely from being raised by same-sex couples; however, this fact rarely if ever succeeds in preventing those opposed to same-sex marriage rights from raising this issue. Furthermore, this argument runs counter to his earlier argument about the rights and needs of minorities, in that he claims that very few same-sex couples have or want children. Thus, by the logic of his own argument earlier (if that argument were credible), we could conclude that the effect on society from the children of same-sex couples would be negligible.
He also seems to be under the mistaken impression that same-sex couples can only have children by adoption or through in-vitro fertilisation. This is increasingly not the case. Many same-sex couples – including the highly stable (27 years) Lesbian couple with whom I have fathered two children – elect to have children via a known donor who continues to have contact with the children after their birth. As I find it difficult to believe that a person of Professor Rivers’ education would be ignorant of this fact, I can only assume that he has neglected to mention it because it so effectively undermines his argument.
The fact is that legalising and recognising same-sex marriage, far from putting the children of such unions at risk, will legitimate the relationships that brought those children into being and raised them, thereby providing them with a greater psychological and emotional stability than they would otherwise enjoy. Same-sex couples can and do successfully raise children in ever increasing numbers; individuals like Professor Rivers and organisations like “Protect Marriage New Zealand”, far from ensuring the future happiness of children, are in fact seeking to undermine the happiness and psychological well-being of the ever increasing number of children being raised by same-sex parents.
The permanence of marriage will be undermined
…The fragility of marriage is a major cause of harm in twenty-first-century British society….
Again, Professor Rivers shoots down his own argument here; the study he cites in note  (Counting the Cost of Family Failure (2010)) relates to the increasing number of failures in heterosexual marriage. How, I wonder, can he contend that allowing more people to marry will make this situation worse? Furthermore, the article he cites points out that the most serious threat to marriage per-se is not same-sex marriage, but poverty. It seems even someone like Professor Rivers can’t actually manage to find any evidence to support his arguments; probably because there aren’t any.
The sexual dimension of marriage will be undermined
In law, marriage is a sexual relationship. Incapacity and wilful refusal to consummate a marriage are grounds for annulment, and adultery is one of the five facts which demonstrate irretrievable breakdown….
A close same-sex companionship need not be sexually active, so marriage and sex will be similarly disconnected….
If marriage includes relationships which are not necessarily sexual, the companionship of any adults who aspire to formal recognition and its other advantages could be called a marriage.
I honestly have no idea where Rivers is going with this one; the argument is so illogical and the reasoning so Byzantine in its confusion that it’s hard to see what he’s trying to say. Quite apart from the well-know and documented fact that many heterosexual marriages become less sexual in nature as the years progress, how on Earth does he manage to conflate allowing same-sex couples to marry with the idea that marriage and sex will become somehow disconnected thereby? The telling point is in the second line quoted; he uses the words “…need not be sexually active…” in the first part, but then goes on to say “…marriage and sex will be similarly disconnected (my italics).” Again, Professor Rivers is conflating two disconnected ideas here in a deliberate attempt to create a false association. In short, he’s attempting (and failing) to fabricate an argument from nothing.
The moral weight of marriage will be undermined
…. marriage as currently defined derives at least part of its social significance from its historic location in Christian theology….
The insufficiency of the individual points also to human dependency on God, just as the joint capacity to ‘procreate’ children is testimony to our creation in his image. Furthermore, marriage is a symbol of the mutually loving and dependent relationships between the different persons of the Trinity. It also pictures the relationship between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church. The exclusivity and permanence of marriage represent the faithfulness of the one true God, and our commitment to him. The pleasure of sexual union points to the greater joy of spiritual union with God.
He just couldn’t help himself, I guess; despite his earnest attempts to keep his theological bias out of the argument, he just naturally gravitated to the “my God doesn’t like it” position, even though he expressly stated that this article would not do so:
The purpose of this paper is to set out a non-religious case for retaining the current legal definition of marriage. It does not seek to question the morality of same-sex relationships, the provision of civil partnerships, or the current law prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation….
What this final section does is to reduce Professor Rivers’ argument to what he actually thinks; that his religious beliefs should dominate and rule the lives of everyone, even those who do not follow them. Essentially, he’s a Christian apologist posing as a rational intellectual and failing to succeed in maintaining that posture.
… Marriage risks becoming any formalised domestic arrangement between any number of people for any length of time. On such a trajectory, marriage will eventually unravel altogether.
Even here, Professor Rivers’ argument fails in the final analysis; prior to the 11th century, marriage was defined in many ways that modern liberal democracies would find problematic, if not downright illegal. However, marriage did not “unravel”; the fact that we are here now to discuss this very issue is clear evidence of this. Furthermore, marriage was not even the sole province of the Christian church until the middle of the 15th century, and then only in Europe. Marriage existed in numerous forms long before the advent of the Christian religion and it will continue to exist long after that religion has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Professor Rivers and Protect Marriage New Zealand would do well to remember that.