The row in the UK over the "redefinition" of "marriage" raises some tricky questions, none of which seem to be receiving much attention. If one follows the media, it is something the "majority" want and a handful of "religious nutters" don't. Funny how no one seems to be actually looking at what "marriage" is really supposed to be about.
This is possibly because, certainly in western societies, it has more of a legalistic status than a religious one. That means that in a wide range of matters, from registration of births, through inheritance, succession and adoption, that legal status of "married" is required somewhere along the way. Most western societies understand "marriage" in purely reproductive terms in their legal systems and it must be said that even in less formal societal arrangements, that is the understood purpose of a man wishing to marry a woman and vice versa. Even in the permissive societies of ancient Greece and Persia no one ever suggested that two male lovers or two female lovers should "marry" - essentially because there was no legal need for them to do so. Inheritance, 'legitimacy' and even adoption were not an issue, but the moment "marriage" became a legal as well as a religious requirement all of that chaged.
Does "marriage" somehow confer "legitimacy" upon a union not predicated on the concept of legitimate procreation? In religious terms, probably not. In legal terms it becomes more difficult, since the legal "definition" of a "marriage" states that it is not a "marriage" until it is "consumated" by the act of intercourse. In English legal history quite a number of "marriages" have been anulled on the grounds that this "act of consummation" has not occured. If those who wish to see the change in the definition of a "marriage" changed to include same sex relations do not consider it an essential for sexual relationships to be legitimised, what exactly do they hope the change will achieve?
It seems to be a question of "status" only as far as most are concerned. They see it as somehow essential to recognition of their relationship being "recognised" as being equal to the religio-legal status accorded to male-female unions. While I have no problem with same sex partnerships being legally recognised, I do hesitate at the use of "marriage" in this context. If it is purely supposed to be an "equality" issue in terms of legal standing for, for example, the couple's intention to adopt a child, then it would make sense to simply change the laws which require "marriage" to reflect a different form of sexual partnership as a "union'. If, on the other hand, it is to enable same-sex couples to force those who, perhaps for religious reasons object to such relationship, to accept them, it becomes something entirely different.
Now the law is being abused to compel acceptance, and history abounds with examples of cultures where the opposite of what was intended has been the result. It is now postulated that perhaps 3% of any given population is Gay, and while I have every sympathy for those who are - and I must add that I know many who are perfectly happy to live their lives as they are - I fail to see why an entire religio-legal institution must be thrown out so that a minority of a minority can have the satisfaction of compelling those who do find it unacceptable, to be forced to do so.
A YouGov Poll suggests that 52% of the population do not have a problem with the change to the definition. However, such polls can also be misleading, since everything depends on how the question is or was worded. Rephrasing the same question may well elicit a completely different answer. It will be interesting to see how the vote in Parliament in this coming week goes. I suspect that Cameron will go all out for the change, motivated by a desire to win over the Gay lobby antagonised by the previous Conservative government's clause 28, which forbade the promotion of homo-sexuality. Milliband and Labour will vote for it because they wish to hold onto the soft-liberal vote it represents.
So how do we define marriage? Is it merely a "license to procreate" or does it have a far deeper and more spiritual meaning. Is an unconsumated marriage, still a marriage? I rather suspect that, in the usual fashion of Whitehall/Westminster a bull will be loosed in this particular shop filled with delicate porcelain goods - and more will destroyed than saved by it.