Gender difference, not gay marriage, at center of family fight

Posted: Aug 02, 2006 12:01 PM
When social conservatives make the arguments against gay marriage, we usually lose the debates before we even begin.

We make a terrible mistake whenever we focus the discussion on the nature of homosexuality – is it a sinful and destructive erotic perversion, or a valid, harmless way to express affection and sensuality? Since many Americans feel sympathetic to homosexuals because of their personal contacts, or else through media imagery and messages, they resist the notion that same sex love is wrong by its very nature. Even within religious communities, advocates of the gay agenda score points by asking, “If homosexuality is a sin, then why did God make me this way?”

The real issue behind the gay marriage dispute isn’t the validity of homosexual attraction, it’s the importance of gender differences--- and that’s a question on which nearly all Americans can agree.

Though a few radicals among the previous generation of feminists may have claimed that no significant distinction separated males and females, and promoted wishful thinking that insisted that all gender differences had been socially conditioned, thirty years of scientific investigation and real world experience now prove that the gap between men and women is huge and immutable. It’s no wonder that a triumphant bestseller (“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”) proclaimed different planetary origins for the two genders—confirming our instinctual understanding that vast contrasts in physiology, psychology, brain structure, and even spirituality continue to separate the sexes.

Certainly, the “GLBT Community” (designating “Gays, Lesbians, Bi-Sexuals, and Transgendered Individuals”) recognizes the overwhelming significance of gender differences. After all, modern gay identity emphatically denies the notion that the sexes are interchangeable: homosexual activists insist that gay people have no choice at all in selecting the gender of their significant others. The conventional wisdom suggests that opposite sex love is just as unthinkable for gay people as same sex love is unthinkable for straight people. This conviction, of course, brings with it the certainty that women remain so vastly, unbridgeably different from men that you could never substitute a woman for a man as the object of your affections, no matter how convenient it might be to do so.

On a similar note, transgendered people also maintain that gender differences are all-important – so much so that they’re willing to undergo painful, elaborate and humiliating surgical and hormonal procedures with the hope of “reassigning” their gender identity. If men and women are, in any sense, interchangeable then the whole notion of this sort of sacrifice and discomfort for the sake of achieving your “true” sexual identity would make no sense whatever.

If, then, society has achieved a new consensus -- near unanimity, in fact-- on the issue of the significance of gender differences, it ought to be possible to reach more widespread agreement on key elements of the same sex marriage debate. If men and women remain irreducibly different, it’s dishonest to suggest that marrying a man is the precise equivalent of marrying a woman. That doesn’t mean that a male-male relationship is evil, or decadent, or doomed, but it does mean that it’s hugely, inarguably different in its very essence from a male-female relationship --- or, for that matter, from a female-female relationship. Man-woman connections involve a fusion of opposites in a primal, elemental way that same sex associations can’t replicate. You may believe that this binding of the two genders is no better – or perhaps even less beneficial – than a connection between two people of the same sex, but no honest observer can maintain that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are indistinguishable or interchangeable. The endlessly repeated argument of gay union advocates that “we don’t want to change the institution of marriage, we want to expand the institution of marriage” is deceitful on its face. Of course the expansion of matrimony to include same sex couples involves a huge alteration in the long-standing definition of marital dynamics. It requires the abandonment of the timeless notion that bringing male-and-female together in intimacy achieves special power not just because of the reproductive potential but because of the combination of two vastly different genders. A love between people of the same gender may be beautiful, sentimental, even noble, but it’s not he same thing as the union of male-and female. The basis of the natural family has always arisen from the idea of a “Marriage of Opposites” – and that phrase serves as the title of the forthcoming book by my own better half, psychologist and author Dr. Diane Medved.

This recognition answers one more of the constantly invoked arguments of the activists who seek to redefine marriage. “Why is it a threat to your marriage,” they ask, “if the government gives similar recognition to the marriage of two guys or two women in gay relationships?”

The response ought to be obvious: the problem with gay marriage isn’t that it harms my marriage, or yours, but that it changes the institution of marriage – for my children, my grandchildren, and all future generations. It downplays the essential, irrevocable nature of gender differences – and serves to undermine the crucial importance of gender specific roles in all relationships. A gay couple might claim that they fill distinctive roles in their relationship – with one woman working hard to support the family, for instance, while the other cooks and decorates and nourishes the kids. But choosing complementary roles for the sake of convenience or preference isn’t the same as recognizing that these contrasting approaches arise from your very essence as a man or a woman. There’s something arbitrary, synthetic and, indeed, temporary about a same sex couple attempting to imitate a heterosexual marriage by fulfilling distinct responsibilities in the relationship.

It’s entirely possible that gay marriage proponents might allege that it’s healthy for society to abandon long-standing gender roles, and that same-sex couples perform a public surface by blurring or erasing these old distinctions. That argument, however, flies in the face of an increasingly overwhelming consensus, as well as common sense, that views men and women as irreducibly dissimilar, and instinctively opposes trendy efforts to blur the distinctions. In that context, the gay marriage debate rightly takes its place as one crucial battle in a much larger struggle – to preserve recognition of male-female differences. And that’s a battle that conservatives should (and must) be able to win.