A story broke on July 15 that I’ve been meaning to write about. During an interview with Florian Mundt, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made it clear that she does not want Germany to follow the American example of making legal provision for same-sex marriage. Merkel said she supports civil unions with benefits equal to marriage, but she “make[s] a different at some point.” For her, that point is the definition of marriage: “For me, personally, marriage is a man and a woman living together.”
While I disagree with Merkel that same-sex couples should receive the same benefits as married couples, her position is actually quite sensible. Essentially she is saying “Same-sex couples should be treated as equal to married couples in every way, but they have no right to have their relationship called a ‘marriage’ because a marriage is, by nature, a male-female union.” She is drawing on the intuition that “marriage” has an essence – that marriage is fundamentally a male-female union, and thus it is impossible for a same-sex union to be a marriage. This position is quite rational since it is based on objective observations about human nature and biological function.
Humans are gendered beings, and our sexual organs are designed to function only with the opposite sex (i.e. our sexual organs are inherently incomplete, and only achieve their biological purpose when united with the sexual organ of the opposite sex). A sexual union of male and female has the natural capacity to produce new life. Of all the different kinds of human relationships, the kind of relationship that can join together two sexual halves into a sexual whole capable of generating new human beings is absolutely unique. We call this kind of relationship a “marriage” (the marriage covenant formalizes this organic union with a commitment to keep the union intact until death).
So the institution of marriage is based on the objective nature of human biology and fulfills the practical need of managing the children that naturally and typically result from hetero-sex unions. “Marriage” describes a particular kind of relationship that fulfills a particular role in society. Since the sexual union of same-sex couples does not form a sexual whole and is not capable of generating new human life, their union is not of the marital sort and should not be called “marriage.”
Angela Merkel’s refusal to call same-sex unions “marriage” is not an example of unjust discrimination, but a principled position based on the objective nature of the marital relationship. “Marriage” refers to a specific kind of relationship, and since same-sex unions do not fit the description, they should not be called “marriages.” Merkel does not want to engage in verbal fictions by calling a relationship a “marriage” that is not of the marital sort. Calling a same-sex union “marriage” is like calling a person with brown skin a “Caucasian” simply because they want to be identified by that term. “Caucasian” is a term that refers specifically to people with white skin. To apply the term to people with brown skin would not just change the meaning of “Caucasian,” but would eviscerate it of its meaning. If “marriage” is expanded to include same-sex couples, then what word remains to describe the unique relationship that produces a sexual whole and is capable of generating new human life? It is absurd to change the definition of marriage simply because same-sex couples want their relationship to be identified by that term, and then be left without a term to describe the unique relationship of hetero-sex couples, or to come up with a new term. Merkel is absolutely right to draw the line at the definition of “marriage.”
David Trayner, “Angela Merkel doesn’t believe in gay marriage – ‘For me, personally, marriage is a man and a woman living together’”; available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/angela-merkel-gay-marriage-vote-germany-10389762.html; accessed 22 July 2015.