Last month, at a Sydney Writers Festival panel discussion on the question, “Why get married when you could be happy?” Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen had this to say about same-sex marriage:
It’s a no-brainer that we should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist [cheers from the audience].
That causes my brain some trouble. And part of why it causes me trouble is because fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there—because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist. And I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. That’s sort of not what I had in mind when I came out thirty years ago. I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally….
[After my divorce,] I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three…. And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality. And I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.
This just illustrates the fact that the institution of marriage is inextricably connected with children and reflects an unchangeable reality: One man + one woman = children. The reproductive system is divided in half—the man has one half, the woman has the other—and when they come together, the result is a whole, functioning system that creates children. Therefore, the state protects the union between a man and a woman. By doing this, the children are legally protected.
Gessen wants to fight for marriage to legally include different types of relationships because she wants the government to declare there is no difference between a heterosexual union and a homosexual one. But there is a difference. A very important difference based on the unchangeable realities of biology. A difference that’s relevant because it’s at the very heart of the institution of marriage. A difference that justifies the government treating the different unions differently.
So Gessen is conflicted. She wants the unions to be treated the same, but she recognizes that, by nature, they create fundamentally different situations. And since the institution of marriage can’t accommodate a union that has only one woman and one woman (because another person—a man—is needed somewhere in the picture in order for a family to be created), she understands that an entirely new legal system must be created in order for the government to be able to address her situation.
So here’s the thinking (a summary in my words, not hers): “I want all unions to be treated the same, but since we’re not the same, due to biological realities beyond our control, and since marriage can never work for the union and children I have, we need to drop marriage and come up with a new idea so we can all be the same under that new system.” Or even more succinctly stated, “You shouldn’t have marriage because we can’t have marriage.”
Marriage can’t be separated from biological realities. And that’s why this upheaval won’t end when same-sex marriage is accepted—why Gessen’s ultimate goal is the end of marriage.
I’m glad to hear her honesty about this.
[HT: John Sandeman (click to see more quotes from the panel)]