In recent times, the debate around marriage equality has shifted from the relationship between two consenting adults to the well being of children. Australian politician Penny Wong, mother of two with her same sex partner, stated that the argument, “Is not an argument against marriage equality. It is an argument against gay and lesbian Australians being parents. Actually, it is an argument about gay and lesbian Australians being at all.” However, some conservative Christian bodies remain firm in their belief that allowing marriage equality will create a new stolen generation of children in Australia.
But is marriage really about children? When a couple stands before a celebrant or minister, are they really thinking about the number of kids they will produce? How they will raise them? How they will pay for their education?
Conducting weddings used to be part of my job. As a minister, I would take couples through several weeks of pre-marriage counselling in preparation for their lives together. The idea of having children was raised, but rarely had a couple given much thought to having kids. At this stage of the journey, it was all about celebrating love and making plans for life together.
I now work as a counsellor. In my practice I see couples each week who are experiencing a range of different relationship issues. The cause of most can be traced back to one thing – a lack of intimacy.
When I use the word intimacy, I do so in the biggest sense of the word. Emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, spiritual intimacy and so on. Intimacy is giving our inner most self to another, knowing they will hold that vulnerability gently and safely. In return, we hold the vulnerability of our partner in the same way. Intimacy involves both a knowing and being known.
Marriage encapsulates our most intimate relationship. Marriage is the relationship we have with somebody that says, “I will offer my whole self to you knowing that you will hold and protect it. And you will do the same for me. And we will do that for the rest of our lives.”
For some, from that place of intimacy, there comes a desire not only to experience life together, but to create life together. A child. This child does not become part of the marriage. This child becomes part of a family.
A new form of intimacy is experienced in family. It’s difficult to describe, but parents reading this will know of the intimate bond you have with your child. Words can’t describe the strength of that bond when you hold your child, when you laugh with them, when they cry on your shoulder, when you watch them sleep.
However, when the intimacy of the parent-child relationship becomes greater than the intimacy in a marriage relationship, the marriage suffers. Because marriage is not supposed to be about children. Marriage is about intimacy between a couple.
This is not an article on what makes a healthy marriage or how to build happy families. But the aim is simply to point out that marriage is not, and should never be, about children.
Let’s be clear. Even in the happiest of families, married couples need to take time out for themselves to focus on their relationship. Time away from their children. Because the marriage belongs to the couple. Not the kids. In the same way, families take time out from their normal routines to build memories together and experience new things together. Family holidays are important. Those times belong to the family.
Again, in this article I have no intention to debate whether one family type is better than any other for children. That can be kept for another time. Simply put, marriage is about intimacy. Family is about children.
Using the wellbeing of children as an argument against marriage equality shows a misunderstanding of marriage, family, relationships and intimacy. If you are against marriage equality, by all means state your case, but don’t use children as an excuse. You need to show how a consensual, loving, intimate relationship is bad for the couple involved.
If you can’t, then please let other couples get on with their lives and you get on with yours.