Unhelpful Voices on Gender and Sexuality

June 27, 2012

The Vimeo clip ‘The Marriage Act’ to which this post refers can be viewed on the ACL site. It was removed from this site, and is no longer able to be embedded…  

This is a valiant effort on the part of the ACL to explain a position against same-sex marriage. As so often happens when we are trying hard to communicate with others whom we know don’t share our views, it is the media of our message that betrays us.

This presentation was all wrong for me from the get go.

Pink for girls and blue for boys. Marriage as the terminus of male-female relationships via ‘falling in love’. Gender and Sexuality represented as Boxes. Sexuality and Gender represented as heads (as if being a male or female was only a matter of thinking male or female). Head represented a boxes!

The anthropological symbols here left me in no doubt about the difficulties the designers of this communcation would have wit me. If I don’t fit into a pink box head – what kind of girl am I?

I know what kind of girl I am. I think outside the box. I wear black everyday not pink. I have an unusual marriage that is constructed around task and functionality, not being in love (well, it began functionally…after 20 years we are getting quite fond of each other.)

The narrative of this presentation rests on the presumption that marriage between men and women begins with romantic love. This may be culturally true for several hundred million people on the planet presently, but it is by no means historically standard. It goes so far as to try and make the audacious claim that this ‘boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl get married’ process is ancient and organic.

The Ancient narratives I am most familiar with are those found in the Hebrew Bible. These marriages are arranged by families. They are polygamous. Explicitly characters like Jacob are compelled to marry the woman he doesn’t love. It’s clear that marriage on the basis of romance is the exception, and considered  an inappropriate basis of social structure. The examples of those who do marry for love, like Samson, are  stark examples of the dangers and vulnerabilities of this situation, personally and even nationally.

I am not arguing that e bring back arranged marriages. I am questioning the near sighted claim that ‘boy meets girl, falls in love, gets married’ is organic, natural, ancient, intrinsic, preferable or superior  to other ways in which people might come to live in the covenant of marriage.

There are a couple of different stories of marriage floating around.  There is the straight Hollywood story; find someone you love and desire, get married, try and make it last. If you can’t get out and try again. A whole lot of pain in that last sentence.

There is the gay story; find someone you love and desire, and make a commitment to them, that is not recognised by your government, petition the government if you have the energy, whilst trying to make it work same as everyone. If you can’t, get out and try again. And a whole lot of pain in that last sentence, too.

But there is another largely untold story of marriage.

There are those who never marry – and whose whole stories are compared with those who do marry. Especially, but ironically if they are people of faith.

There are those who marry, not on the basis of passion or affection, but to construct a fruitful life of collaboration. Passion is hard to sustain – our bookstores and web pages are full of advices for relationships that are losing their Zing. Some couples know that Zing is overrated, or comes in surprising ways, but is not the basis for stable relationships.

And there are those who marry to suppress homosexuality that for some cultural reason (and e can think of many) has been disallowed. As I have walked in the christian culture that produced the video clip above, I have met more than a few of these marriage stories – in various stages of denial, accommodation, and disintegration, and mostly pain. We ought not to be ignorant of this by-product of the line that is being run by conservative christian groups.

For many of us who were not born with either a pink or a blue shaped box for a head, the choices for enabling a life of mutual loyalty, care, intimacy, accountability, acceptance and support, don’t start and end with a fairytale white wedding.

While some of the LGBT community may wish for that kind of marriage expression as an outcome of changes to the Marriage Act, there is a deeper outcome for all of us.  Gay, Straight or just strange.

It is to recognise that sexuality comes in more than just pink and blue. That all kinds of associations and partnerships can be life long and sustaining and of the identitiy forming quality that marriage entails.

This aspect of human identity in marriage is at the core of this debate. You can be gay and in a defacto relationship, you can be straight and maintain a lifelong business partnership…

But marriage is a binding of identity to one another. This giving of self to one another, whether male or female, gay or straight, whether in an arrangement of family, society or passion, is perhaps the ancient and organic pattern. The pattern that is at the heart of the self-giving faithful identity of God.


  1. I am way overdue to be back in touch with you. I met a fine Pauline Scholar this week at OCMS and she reminded me of you in many ways. I wanted to make sure you knew of her book ‘That We May be Mutually Encouraged:Feminism and the New Perspective on Paul’ 2009, T&T Clark by Katherine Ehrensperger

  2. great post

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