“You and me me baby ain’t nothing but mammals. So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” [Bloodhound Gang]
It should humble us to remind ourselves what we are. Biologically speaking, humans are animals, who reproduce sexually, by mating. Some say that that is all we are. Even those who say we are more than this, admit that we are, at least, this.
Many other species have instincts that determine the mating behaviours used in their sexual reproduction. These behaviours cover a wide range.
Mating behaviours found in species that reproduce sexually include those which involve parents never knowingly meeting one another or their offspring. A female lays unfertilised eggs and goes on her way. Later, a male passes by, notices the eggs (or not as the case may be), and casually fertilises them, before going on his way. Some time later, the eggs hatch, and the offspring fend for themselves thereafter.
Other species instinctively form life-long pair bonds to do their breeding, with both parents sharing quite intense and long-lasting, offspring-rearing responsibilities.
We humans have less instinct, and more reason, than other animals. We therefore have choices to make, as to which of the wide variety of reproductive sexual behaviours observed in the animal kingdom we wish to practise ourselves. We have even had the ingenuity to invent some new reproductive behaviours of our own .
In the past, governments have felt entitled (and perhaps even obliged) to encourage certain choices over others. Governments have taken into account that some of our sexual reproductive behaviours would be disfavoured by natural selection, if they were instinctive rather than chosen, because they harm children. One of the longest-lasting and most widespread of governmental encouragements of one particular reproductive lifestyle in preference to another, has been “marriage” as still found in most post-Christian societies, and indeed elsewhere in the world.
So, referencing back to biology, that is what marriage is. The view of marriage of a secular anthropologist is that is a social convention, encouraging us to mate and raise our young like swans, not like salmon do.
Same sex domestic partnerships aren’t equivalent to the traditional marriages that they mimic. To maintain a linguistic distinction between the real thing and the mimicry, wouldn’t therefore be to belittle the mimicry, as something other than “equal” to marriage. Still less would maintaining the distinction amount to moralising. The linguistic distinction doesn’t speak explicitly about sex acts; neither the mating that begets children and consummates marriages; nor the parodies of the mating act with which those who mimic marriage’s domesticity with others of their own sex amuse themselves. It was a previous and recent British government that introduced this linguistic distinction in the first place, when it invented “civil partnerships” as, in effect, same sex marriages by a different name. Why did some Labour MPs who had voted to introduce that linguistic distinction in the first place, recently repent of their former decision, and vote to abolish the linguistic distinction that they had proudly helped to introduce themselves in the first place?
Some (myself included) have toyed with the idea that governments should get out of the marriage business altogether. Sad though it would be to witness the passing of an era that had lasted so long that nobody can rightly remember when it began. Since many governments (our own included) appear to have forgotten what marriage is, perhaps those governments at least, should get out of the marriage business, and leave it to the multiple cultures of our multi-cultural society, to define marriage for themselves, all of us differently, however we wish. Would that really be to make the diverse cultures too “equal”?