The public, legal recognition of marriage has a flip-side. It comes with the feeling that the public expects the publicly married couple to stick to their public promise to stay together until death. After all, they've got our signatures. We probably all know of people who have felt, and been influenced, by the great moral expectations of marriage.
This is the deal for those who wish to situate their private choice within public official record keeping: we get public-marriage-recognition, but the flip-side is the birth of the feeling of public-marriage-obligation.
And we public, by the mere fact that we officially hold the signatures of married people, do create the moral force of a reminder of the until-death pledge the married couple made. Perhaps not everyone will feel this moral force, but some will, especially those who are more sensitive and who make their marriage vows with more sincerity.
It is extraordinary that the community is happy for any of its free and independent citizens to hand to the public their legal signatures, pledging exclusive faithfulness to another adult until death. It is extraordinary that we are happy for even one of our citizens to feel even the slightest public moral expectation to stick to an until-death pledge. Our justification for getting tangled up in private affairs of such magnitude needs to be massive. What is it?
In the case of heterosexual couples, our justification for getting involved in a way that causes the birth, within these free and independent citizens, of public moral expectation, is the potential biological children who come from the union itself.
In practice, or in theory, along come children. The public has an interest in these potential children, not only because these children will be Australian citizens, but also because the couple marrying have invited the public to get involved in an encouraging role as signature holders. So, we bear some level of responsibility for these children. Specifically, we bear responsibility for the good of these children that directly relates to our holding of their parents' signatures, signatures that declare that this marriage will be exclusive and permanent. What good comes to the children from our joining their parents to declare that the marriage will be exclusive and permanent?
Whether the couple planned it or not, their production of children within the context of a permanent, exclusive love-union, with no third biological contributor, creates an all-inclusive, total explanation of the children's historical and biological origin and identity, which explains the children's beginnings and promises to exist for as many years as the parents' biological life makes possible. The very fact that the heterosexual couple has chosen this permanent, exclusive union gives this couple's children a unique potential for security and peace.
However, if I abandon my spouse, I introduce into the minds of my children an uncertainty about their origin, I withdraw the stability that existed regarding their identity, I remove from them something that really ought to be there. My children have a right to see me stick to my pledge to love and honour my spouse until death. And these children have a community which is also interested, because their community has the role of backstop in case I fail these children. So, when heterosexual couples offer to the community their signed pledge of faithfulness until death, the public has no hesitation becoming official holder of the pledge.
But where are the children to justify public moral expectations for people in homosexual unions? True, some people in same sex unions have children. However, each of these children is the fruit of only one of the adults in the relationship, together with someone outside the relationship. The situation of these children raises ethical questions especially regarding the planned absence of one of the biological parents. Katy Faust, Millie Fontana and other children who grew up within the context of a same sex relationship have written and spoken extensively on this point.
There are no children who could ever come from the same sex pair themselves, and therefore no justification for the public to get involved in any way that gives birth to even the subtlest feelings of a public moral obligation in either of them to stick to a permanent-exclusive-marriage-rights-until-death pledge.
Some married heterosexual couples have no children. True, but in a Making Sense of Marriage video Patrick Langrell says the sadness of childless heterosexual couples confirms the fact that man-woman unions are by nature ordered towards being fruitful in children; the community respects the natural ordering of man-woman unions, regardless of whether children do come.
What if a heterosexual couple commits to deliberately and permanently remain childless? Regardless of any private / religious motives the couple might have, the community itself could never consent to be official holder of legal signatures that would bind two of its citizens to forever renounce the possibility of having children with each other! So, any private agreement to remain childless will never officially be part of a public marriage pledge.
Public moral expectation of marriage-rights until death is not fairly put-upon men and women who choose homosexual unions. But heterosexual marriage, with its natural link to producing children within a secure environment of permanent and exclusive love? This has vital and organic links with the health of society. An appropriate level of public moral expectation is fitting because it helps biological parents to stick to their natural responsibilities and because it profoundly benefits their children and the whole of our society.
And one does not have to be straight to recognise this subtle but real birds-and-bees, love-making-and-life-making connection, between marriage recognition and marriage obligation. People in the gay community of all ages recognise this, people like Keith Mills, Ben Rogers and Mark Poidevin, and Wilson Gavin, all of whom wish, for the sake of Australia, to leave marriage as it is.