Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger have been denied the right to have their marriage in Canada recognised in the UK. . Whilst this ending to the High Court case was pretty predictable the comments made in the judgement are rather mystifying…
“Sir Mark Potter, president of the High Court Family Division, ruled Monday that the new law in England was sufficient to guarantee their rights without going further and allowing them to be considered a married couple. Marriage was, by “longstanding definition and acceptance”, a formal relationship between a man and a woman primarily designed for producing and rearing children, Potter said.”
So apparently heterosexual couples who are childless are also not fulfilling the definition of a marriage. Perhaps they should be downgraded to “civil partners” as well? The comment is, of course, ridiculous, many lesbian and gay couples “produce” and “rear” children (what a lovely way of thinking about parenthood one might add). Many heterosexual couples remain childless. The definition of a marriage cannot be about the production of children if the definition is to continue to exclude same-sex couples.
The convention of marriage (and it is a convention, it’s a social construct after all) is to ally individuals and families and to provide a setting in which they are economically secure. Marriage came about as a recognition of gifting one family member to another family to seal friendly trade or political allignments. At the time the convention of marriage became widespread it was also still the convention to gift young male children to be educated in a different family for the same reason (after all it’s unlikely you’d declare war on your best friend with whom you were raised isn’t it). Primogeniture (inheritance by the first male child) was then meant to guarantee the lasting alignment of families in both cases.
I think the rhetoric of “marriage for procreation” really fails to tackle the original and the evolved purposes of marriage. Marriage is no longer about ensuring inheritance rights, it’s about acknowledging the commitment made by two adults to each other irrespective of whether they have, or don’t have, children, pets, or pensions. In the meantime I think we should wait expectantly for the downgrading of all heterosexual, childless marriages to civil partnerships, or I suppose their annulment, for failing to meet the now case-law defined purpose of a marriage. Of course couple consisting of a man and a woman (who may or may not be hetero) cannot access civil partnership ceremonies, they are instead forced to have a “marriage” whether or not they intend to procreate.