4th Place: "The State's Gender Equality Interest
in Heterosexual Marriage"

Grady Killlian of Provo, Utah

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall 2009)






            In 2004 the debate on homosexual marriage came to a head in France as the marriage between two men that had been performed by a mayor was ruled null and void by the government.  Although France is one of the most liberal democracies of this age, this heated debate has concluded with the acceptance of civil unions, but has saying “no” to same sex marriage, adoption, and inheritance (BBC 2004).  The reason?  Gender equality. 

           The issue of homosexual marriage has now become a heated debate in America.  There are those who support same sex marriage in the name of individual rights.  On the other hand, there are those that oppose same sex marriage in the name of traditional values.  In all of this there has been a prominent void in non-religious argument for those that are opposed to same sex marriage.  Pulling this debate out of a religious context and into an academic one, it is possible to see that there are many reasons, both socially and politically, that monogamous, heterosexual relationships are the most important and politically viable institution for a state to support. 

           The purpose of this essay is not to disparage the sexuality of individuals or to draw moral implications about the correctness of certain types of sexual behavior – I will leave that to the realm of religious discussion.  Instead, the heart of my argument addresses the equality of the sexes. 
It is important to note that sexuality is different from sex.  While the former is a definition of sexual interest, the latter is a definition of gender.  There are key distinctions between these two. Sexuality defines what gender one may be attracted to, whereas sexual gender involves a person’s physical and mental predispositions and characteristics. Gender has a much larger impact on the lifestyle of a person than mere sexuality.

           The confusion of the two has drastically negative consequences.  When a state decides to vindicate marriages that are entirely male or entirely female, the equality between the sexes diminishes.  It is the duty of the state to ensure that the conditions of respect, peace, tolerance, and true equality exist for each person for which it is responsible, not just for homosexual and heterosexual, but between male and female as well.  To do this, the government must defend gender representation in marriage.

           While those who are proponents of gay rights claim that it is a breach of individual rights to disallow same sex marriage, individual rights are precisely the reason that traditional marriage must be protected.  First of all, it must be understood that marriage is an institution—an organization of humans formally recognized by the government.  Institutions have specific rights and responsibilities given to them to fulfill their purpose.  The legal purpose of marriage is not to celebrate the love between two individuals, but was originally intended to legally unite potential parents and give them benefits as they support each other and raise children.  Simultaneously, traditional marriage supports gender equality by demanding equal recognition. When a government supports an institution that excludes one of the genders, the state sets a precedent that vindicates and reinforces this exclusion through all strata of society, be it in the home, the school, the workplace, or the government.  The exclusion of gender leads to a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of gender as well as a misunderstanding of the dependency of the sexes.  The result would be either a loss of gendered identity or a reinforcement of sexist stereotypes that particularly favor men. [1]

           No matter a person’s ethnicity, economic background, or religion, the greatest source of personal identity, beyond that of being human, is a person’s gender.  Independent of time, place, or culture, the concept of what gender is and what it entails has remained surprisingly consistent.  While there are many aspects of gender roles that we learn from our own society, there seems to be an aspect of gender that goes beyond environment. 

           Women’s roles are traditionally highly centered on domestic responsibilities—that of giving birth to and raising children and taking care of the household.  Men’s roles are traditionally highly centered on labor outside the home to provide for and protect his family.  In Russia today, the woman is considered the one responsible for family affairs (Sandnes 2008), just as she was in ancient Egypt (O’Brien 1999) and Renaissance Italy (Benson 1992). In Japan (“Japan” 2009) men are generally given the responsibility of doing hard labor and working outside the home, just as they were in ancient Mesopotamia (Asher-Greve 2009).  In nearly all of the diverse cultures seen throughout history, male and female genders are distinguished in this way, suggesting that the essence of gender goes beyond socialization. [2]

           Gender goes further than mere function.  In order to be a man, you do not have to sow fields, kill animals, or make business deals.  In order to be a woman, you do not have to have children, wash dishes, and sew.  Ideally, men should have as much capacity to succeed in domestic responsibilities as the woman, and the woman should have as much success in labor outside of the home as the man.  However, they would thrive in these tasks in different ways—different, but equal.  Gendered identity dictates how a person approaches their roles and responsibilities by their physical and mental capabilities.  These social, physical, and mental differences between men and women are highly dissimilar yet complementary.

           The physical difference between men and women shows a high degree of interdependence.  Each gender has a different role and advantage, and marriage acts as a balancing force.  Parenthood is one example. Physiologically, childbirth belongs to women.  While men are only involved in conception, women at the very least attend to the development of the child from conception to birth, as well as the nurturing of the child until they are weaned.  Because of this imbalance, it would be easy to see women as the only sex to have a meaningful role in the lives of children.  However, this imbalance between genders in the birth process between genders was equalized by the institution of marriage.  The union of the man and the woman established a man as a father of a child and had his own progeny.  In this way, marriage gives men an influence in the rising generation and hence an active role as a father (Agacinski 2001).

           Physiologically, men are the stronger sex.  “Men usually have greater upper body strength, build muscle easily, have thicker skin, [and] bruise less easily,” (Connor 2000).  Women in comparison have more body fat, fewer twitch muscle fibers, and are 10-15% smaller than men (Lewis 2007).  Because of this imbalance, women are more physically vulnerable.  Women, without a husband, would have to perform their reproductive labors alone, as well as provide support for her family. Again, marriage helps bridge this imbalance. Marriage uses the physical advantage of the man to give the woman a source of defense and provision as she fulfills her female roles.

           Mentally, men and women are also different, yet complementary.  An example of their differences comes from an observation of groups of girls and groups of boys finding their way through a corn maze (Connor 2000):

A group of boys generally establish a hierarchy or chain of command with a leader who emerges on his own or through demonstrations of ability and power. Boys explore the maze using scouts while remaining in distant proximity to each other. Groups of girls tend to explore the maze together as a group without establishing a clear or dominant leader. Relationships tend to be co-equal. Girls tend to elicit discussion and employ “collective intelligence” to the task of discovering a way out. Girls tend to work their way through the maze as a group. Boys tend to search and explore using structured links and a chain of command.

           Each method of problem solving and thinking is important when solving problems. “Leaders invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the needs of their own genders,” (Chattopadhyay and Duflo 2004, 1).  While men tend to focus more on economic and military issues, women pay more attention to domestic and social issues.  An instance of this is shown from a study of community organizations in India; once at least one third of the seats were occupied by women, more attention was given to improving public services and helping the impoverished women in the area (Ibid.).    

           Women also categorize differently than men.  Men tend to focus on singular, specific issues; for women, there is less of a distinction between public and private, meaning they focus on a broader spectrum of issues (Fineman 2005).  Effective policy is created through the analysis provided from both perspectives.  An institution needs this balance of viewpoints in order to effectively identify problems and prioritize how they are solved.  

           The importance of gender is embodied even in the way we speak.  Female and male pronouns not only give a description of gender, but act as an identifier of knowledge, sentiency, and true “human-ness.”  For instance, in the English language we use the pronouns “he,” “she,” and “it.”  When asked to narrate the actions of another, there is a huge difference between “he sat down,” “she stood up,” and “it walked in.”  The first two present beings doing a purposeful action.  The third connotes something nonhuman, acting more from instinct than thought.  The gender identifiers we use in this way explain a sense of humanity and meaning.

           As each generation of humanity passes, it is important that each child sees these gender differences and understands them.  A healthy perspective allows each person to recognize that while men and women have their differences, these differences are meant to be complementary.  Marriage gives each gender an opportunity to use its strengths and balance its weaknesses, acting as an example of cooperation and understanding.

           A rejection of the differences between male and female and their different roles would eliminate this important sense of identity.  From this standpoint, every human being must realize that a lack of gendered society does not create a situation of equally same individuals.  Rather, it ignores the differences and creates a society devoid of diversity and understanding of differences.  By recognizing one’s self as male or female, he or she must also realize there are others who are different, whose difference is important and essential for the continuation of mankind.

           Society has never had a gender-less approach, yet some continue to try for it.  Many of these so-called feminists push for a “sameness” ideal, one that claims that women and men are alike in every way.  They contend that the state cannot make any distinction between them in policy.  In truth, however, this gender-neutral approach to identity leads to not only a rejection of the special attributes of gender but ultimately leads to a celebration of the “strong” masculine type and denigration of the “weak” feminine type.  When suffocating gender, norms are created that lean not toward an identity equally male and female, nor an identity that is “beyond sex.”  Instead, it reinforces the classical hierarchy of male over female.

           Classical philosophy established an ideology that saw female attributes and as weak, flawed, and lacking, and it has continued to permeate Western society to this day.  Men are seen as powerful actors, women are seen as passive subjects. For example, to ask a team of male sports players to act more like women would be a mockery, whereas to ask a team of female sports players to act more like men would be an invitation to be stronger.  A female lawyer is seen as strong and smart, while a male dancer is seen as asinine and weak. 

           Attempts at “gender-neutral” policy tend to lean toward this male-centered policy because of this cultural predisposition.  Single mothers are expected to conform to male work patterns, as shown by the lack of day care, part-time benefits, and strict forty-hour work weeks in the business world.  It is difficult for a woman in the United States to fulfill her maternal roles because she must first conform to male roles to survive.  Reproductive labor is given little if no value in the American economy.  Success and prosperity lie in the male realm of business and employment; hence, women are put at a disadvantage.  As the government learns to think in terms of duality—male and female—the policies it develops will rectify this problem. 

           When a state allows sexuality and not sex to determine the viability of an institution, it supports this warped classical ideology.  When gender is considered unimportant, male attributes are celebrated over female attributes.  Male relationships gain progeny independently; the female necessity is gone.   Women lose the temporal and physical support that men provide.  Same sex marriage allows the justification of the segregation and the continued inequality between the sexes. 
Negative consequences of gender confusion result from this.  Women are expected to “improve” their status by making themselves more masculine.   In order for a woman to achieve the ideals of success defined by masculinity, she must reject all inclination toward the economically worthless female activities concerning children and household cares.  In fact, in order for a woman to be successful in the male world, a woman must not have any children or relationships to others that compromise her work schedule. This change does not happen on the reverse.  Men continue to strive for achievement in their own realm.  As a result, society conforms more and more to masculinity.
When same sex marriages are deemed permissible, the state reinforces the acceptability of the separation of the sexes.  By supporting marital institutions that leave out one gender or another, it adheres to the idea that institutions can ignore one sex and still remain completely functional.  A person of one gender does not need the other.  The perspectives, unique qualities and capabilities of gender are all easily replaced or unimportant.  In the name of equality of the sexualities, the state sacrifices the equality of the sexes.

           True gender equality realizes that each sex is different and equally important to society.  It realizes that men and women have to work with different situations and responsibilities in life.  True gender equality recognizes that when one sex is not present there is a lack and imbalance in the priorities of the government, the community, and the family.  True equality levels the playing field for both men and women to achieve fulfillment and success.  All men and women are created equal, and the activities and input of each are essential for a just and prosperous society.  Because of this, traditional marriage is the most equalizing force that a state can protect.


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Asher-Greve, Julia. “On images of men, gender regimes, and social stratification in the late Uruk
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[1] For a much more in-depth discussion of this point, I highly recommend reading Sylviane Agacinski’s book, Parity of the Sexes, Columbia University Press, 2001. 

[2] There is ample evidence to support this.  A scientific experiment testing whether gender predisposed preference of certain toys, male monkeys were found to prefer boys’ toys over girls’ toys (Callaway 2008).  A more extreme example of this concept can be made of David Reimer, who after an accident at birth had been raised as a girl and dealt with serious personal conflicts as a result (“David Reimer” 2004).  The way a person acts and thinks is not completely defined by what others tell them to act and think, but also by a more innate sense of being male or female.


Full Citation for This Article: Killian, Grady (2009) "The State's Gender Equality Interest in Heterosexual Marriage," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleKillianMarriage.html, accessed [give access date].

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