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24.9.03

Gender complementarity and gay marriage

Eve Tushnet has a response up to Ampersand's excellent post criticizing the "gender complementarity" rationale for exclusively heterosexual marriage. She says:

We're talking about marriage, and therefore we're talking about sex. And in heterosexual relationships, yes, the sexes do need to be reconciled. The risks they take are very different. The possibility of pregnancy (including the fact that women have a shorter reproductive life than men) is only one reason for these sharply differing risks.

One of the reasons I didn't write this post yesterday--besides the inzombia thing--was that I didn't think I could be non-bitchy about it after a much longer than usual session of follow-up calls for the pregnancy center. Do my calls for me, then we'll talk about how men and women in sexual relationships don't need any structures to reconcile their differing risks, needs, desires, and interests. (Was that non-bitchy? Maybe a little bitchy?)


There's a difference between needing reconciliation (i.e. needing to resolve conflicts in an already-existing relationship) and needing complementing (i.e. needing to create a relationship because you're incomplete on your own). If you have two people with different risks, needs, desires, and interests, obviously those things will need to be reconciled in some way -- some structure to their interaction -- so that their relationship can be productive. This applies to any relationship, not just sexual ones. So we have things like employment contracts, parent-child responsibilities, rental agreements, and marriage.

But this is, if anything, an argument for gay marriage. Two people of the same gender can still have widely varying risks, needs, desires, and interests, the importance of which is greatly increased by long-term sexual and emotional intimacy. And thus they have a need for some structure to help them reconcile their differences. Marriage is an excellent option (if it's available), since it combines the commitments of the parties involved with the support of the wider society and legal system.

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