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Redefining 'marriage'

Published:Monday | May 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Garth A. Rattray

This is such a sensitive topic that I need to make several declarations up front. Nevertheless, some will make it their mission to email and decry my personal opinion on this very touchy matter.

Because sexuality is such a complex psychological matter, there is no hard and fast or fully satisfactory explanation of why some people are heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual.

A fair number of people opine that sexuality is a purely lascivious choice (and, therefore, totally avoidable); some say it's a malady (and, therefore, treatable with psychological/medical intervention); others seem to believe that it's like a satanic possession (and, therefore, amenable to spiritual healing); while some think it's as a result of molestation at a stage within the child's life when sexuality is not securely anchored to any particular side of the 'sexual stream'.

However, having grown up in a home where bias and prejudice were eschewed, and even forbidden; and having listened attentively to homosexual men and women explain their emotions to me in my doctor's office, I believe that sexual leaning is mostly inborn, sometimes instilled and fewer times investigative (this last group of individuals also tend to be unrestrained and risk-taking).

Notwithstanding all of the above, I, like many other people who believe that they understand and, therefore, tolerate the spectrum of human sexuality, would have preferred if 'marriage' were left for heterosexual couples only. It seems to me that there needs to be something uniquely defining about the heterosexual marriage. I find the concept of same-gender marriage confusing - since such a union is not Mr and Mrs, is it Mr and Mr, or Mrs and Mrs?

Personal, political declaration

On May 9, United States President Barack Obama openly supported same-sex marriage and, therefore, his disagreement with the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA - in effect since September 1996), which defines 'marriage' as the union between one man and one woman. I saw his utterance as a personal and political declaration. This dividing issue has social, legal, political and religious ramifications (yes, religion is also in flux).

Quite frankly, I found the resultant furore somewhat curious in a country where open homosexuality has become very popular. Movies, music, the military, situation comedies, plays, advertising, comedic stage performances, the electronic and print media, the courts all affirm an overall acceptance of the lifestyle.

I am not arguing about whether or not that is a good/right or a bad/wrong thing. My view is that the next step, the 'evolution of the homosexual lifestyle', would end up with such couples needing a marriage of some sort in order to protect and enjoy the rights conferred on other couples.

I wondered why homosexual couples were making such a big deal by insisting on civil marriages instead of civil unions or domestic partnerships (both of which are legally accepted in several states). I discovered that whereas civil marriage carries status, an expectation of commitment, tax benefits, social-security benefits, retirement benefits, leave, family benefits, spousal and family decisions for incapacitated or incompetent persons, the ability to divorce, rights in hospital visits, health-care decisions and the death of a spouse, health and life insurance benefits - those do not automatically apply to civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Aside from all that, I also learned that homosexual couples want civil marriages because only that institution represents an expression of love between two people.

Since what I call 'gay-force winds' are blowing away traditional mores, it looks as if 'marriage' is going to be redefined sooner or later (at least in the USA), perhaps a compromise can be found in naming such unions, 'non-traditional marriage'. A nomenclatural distinction is definitely needed.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.