Ron Hay: Momentous shift a loss for us all

NZ Herald 25 Feb 2013
Ron Hay says the proposed law change redefining ‘marriage’ will have deep implications for society.

…The proposed legislative change, however, is no light thing. To change the meaning of the primary relationship in adult life and the foundation stone of all human societies is momentous. For more than two millennia Western society has defined marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman. While some societies took longer than others to move from polygamy to monogamy, the complementarity of the two sexes has been seen as of the essence of marriage in every age and culture.

Even societies notably tolerant or even encouraging of homosexual relations, such as ancient Greece, never contemplated equating such relationships with marriage.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex unions is to turn our back as a nation not only on our own cultural heritage, but also on the legacy of wisdom from every age and from every society as to what makes for human wellbeing.

Proponents of the change say there is no intention in this legislation to down-value heterosexual marriage and its linkage to the nurture of children. The good of marriage is simply being extended to homosexual couples as well. And therein lies the major problem. Marriage is not just being stretched, it is being redefined, and with that comes major loss.

What is happening is not the creation of a new all-inclusive term to embrace both heterosexual and same-sex unions.

Instead, the two types of relationship, which we currently distinguish, are to be conflated under the term “marriage” which till now has applied to only one.

So how will currently married couples feel when they no longer have a term which describes what is distinctive about their relationship?

As British commentator Andrew Goddard points out, the force of this is at present hidden from us because we still distinguish these two relationships with qualifiers such as “same-sex”, “opposite sex” and “homosexual/heterosexual”. But the proposed legislation won’t create a new category with a new name – “same-sex marriage” as distinct from “opposite-sex marriage”. Instead, it will do away with the old category and give its name to a quite different new category – “marriage” as a new gender-blind institution. Are there good grounds for such a momentous change? The whole case for change rests on the call for equal treatment for homosexual couples. But equality under the law has already been granted with the legislation for civil unions. As this legislation was being introduced only a few years ago, a number of politicians including then Prime Minister Helen Clark assured us there was no need (or intention) to change the nature of marriage.

Tim Barnett, the mover of the bill, said “The Civil Union Bill is an acceptable alternative; marriage can remain untouched.”
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