Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

To The Unique and Precious Nature of Marriage

Same-sex people, who desire to love each other, do not qualify to be subsumed among those with the unique access to procreation which is at the heart of marriage between a man and a woman. They may qualify for a different kind of union with access to children through a variety of different methods. But the difference is an unbridgeable one and the language for describing that difference cancels out all attempts at invention or contrivance.

This difference, between a ‘union’ and a ‘marriage’, is the dilemma at the heart of the present debate in Ireland. Marriage is unique in nature and in human life within our society and with the societies of all nations on earth. Nature itself could not exist without the same instinctive and positive continuation of all species by procreation through the sexual conjunction of male with female.

That is what the Irish Constitution protects, and it does so in words that are written on my heart and sustain me in my beliefs. These concern the most precious things I have had in my life and which I still hold to with a firmness that is backed by prayer and experience, by work and by caring, by holding fast, lifelong, the beliefs that inspired me at the outset.

The greater part of my life has been lived under a set of principles of which the most important, without any shadow of doubt, has been the state of marriage in which the whole of my personal happiness has been enshrined. I would not, for one moment, wish to detract from the beliefs and expectations of same-sex couples. But they can never be the same. I do not and cannot accept that theirs is a parallel marriage at all. And my refusal to do so, linked with that of other Irish men and women who feel the same, is the bedrock on which the No Vote seeks to preserve the Constitution in the wording it has.

This is the wording. In it “The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.” Though that wording will remain as Article 41.1.1. it will be undermined and lose its place in “positive law” if the Yes Vote wins the Referendum.

The No Vote requires all men and women who value the inalienable and imprescriptible primary law governing our lives to register there view that it is not to be changed. It is the basis for the lives and happiness of the vast majority of Irish men and women. They must fight to keep it, declare their intention of doing so, and Vote No.

My views expressed here are part of my Nature and it is the unique and precious Nature of true pro-creative Marriage that has blessed my whole adult life. It is what we have in common with all living organisms on the surface of the world. Within Nature we are motivated by simple and basic instincts the two most important of which are survival and procreation.

A great part of the actual meaning of my life, and the marriage that is an embodiment of what I am and have been for more than half a century, is vested in this simple but unique truth. The meaning of marriage is a unique accomplishment shared not just with the vast majority of human beings on the planet, but something that is shared also with all living creatures. Their instinct to survive and procreate is the primal reason for the existence within the human condition of the union between male and female we call marriage.

The determination to change this, as it is enshrined in the Constitution, into the nonsense of language now being offered as a new interpretation of Marriage is what has resulted from the Yes Vote campaign and from the meddling of Atlantic Philanthropies in Irish life. This intends to, and will, destroy the unique and precious nature of the state I have personally lived in for my whole adult life.

No law, no willingness to help other people of the same sex who love each other and wish to declare and make permanent in law that love, by the making of new laws, can be achieved by redefining “Marriage”.

They already have what they want to have twice over. And by pressing for the change they will undermine and destroy the unique nature of Marriage as protected by the Constitution. And such an objective can be achieved, and has been achieved, in other ways. There are distinct and valid formulae for so doing, one example recognised being Civil Partnership. There is also the more natural and immediate solution of living together. But their union cannot reach any kind of climax or reality under the term of Marriage. A gulf is fixed between the term Marriage as I know it and the term “Same-Sex Marriage” which is quite different and, sadly, sterile in terms of Nature’s laws. The Marriage I believe in is a unique human condition. It can only manifest itself in the union between a man and a woman.

I understand this view of marriage in a personal way and hold to it after experiencing its reality for more than half a century. It never occurred to me, as a young man, that I would not marry. This may have been influenced by childhood experience. I came from an unhappy household, turbulent, uncertain, perilous. My parents were not married. My father had a previous marriage that had broken down. His wife declined to give him a divorce and my mother’s situation was the difficult one of making a choice between the man she loved and her father, whom she also loved. He threatened to disown her if she went to live with a divorced man she could not marry. She disobeyed him. He did indeed disown her and the wreckage of that cruel destiny shaped the lives of the family until, and then indeed long after, her death.

I do not now regard the confession of this background to my personal life as significant or material, although I do see it as having played a part in my unswerving early belief in my own yet-to-be achieved marriage which took place on 1 August 1959. I have told the story of that early life in fiction and in memoir form, and a good deal of it now lies irredeemably in the past, if one leaves aside the exercise of memory and imagination.

What came out of it however is part of the present and future and represents unequivocally the cornerstone of the edifice of marriage that I hold both dear and unique. It is in fact the most precious possession I have and it is a joy to me that I still share it with my wife.

It has been harshly earned. Two years after that marriage, one that brought together two notable families, my wife and I had our first child. She was christened Emma. She died in infancy, less than three months old. Nature can be a cruel tyrant, cutting down the fruits of procreation and rendering barren for a time the whole of the shared life within a marriage.

It is within the nature of marriage that this sharing embraces friends and relations who value and contribute to the family that is one of the wonders of marriage. And so we survived. We ran away from the tragic circumstances. This was a mistake. We came back to find an outpouring of consolation and love which helped us to recover.

In this there lay the other unique mystery of marriage, that it is recognised universally as unique and precious, deserving of mutual protection and understanding by friends and relations the world over. We met with, and were moved by the widespread counselling towards survival and, behind it, the vital, perhaps suppressed message that we should go on. Nature called on us to procreate again, and of course we did.

Our second child, a son, was christened Hugo and was precious beyond belief – perhaps because we had passed through a barrier of belief with Emma, a barrier that changed irreversibly our earlier sense of inviolability. Nature had taught us to feel secure and then taught us not to be complacent in our belief that we were invincible. We were not. But a growing army of relations and friends endorsed what we were and what we believed life contained.

A second son was born to us twenty-one months after the first. We called him Sam. He was sickly at birth and had a difficult time with his health during his childhood. Then we had a daughter bringing us a different kind of joy and romance.

The fulfilment of these thirty years of survival and procreation came to an end at that point, by which time brothers and sisters of the wider family had produced many different equations of the unique and precious nature of marriage. A widening towards infinity seemed to be the message of the family expansion that governed and shaped our lives. The incredible magic of procreation had endless ways of colouring the ever-growing number of lives that derived from the primal human need to imprint upon time a bloodline that was unique.

The existence of the children, even with one cut off in infancy, had expanded our impact on the world and had expanded too the rich rewards of giving birth. Life was lived as an expression of destiny, heritage, a space to live and expand in, and the prospect of family life and human life containing our genetic inheritance forever.

The experiences of procreation shaped us, just as survival had shaped us. And in the middle years of life, with children growing up and departing, and with the welcome likelihood of them marrying and going on with the business for which we provided the example, we counted the cost and set it against the incomparable richness of what we had.

Darkness descended with the death of our second child, Samuel, at the age of 49, and was deepened still further by the irreversible mental illness of my wife, who contracted Alzheimer’s Disease. Her diminished ability to respond to what had happened to her son was a kind of relief. Nature, in all its revealed richness, taught us the baleful side of that unique and precious nature of marriage – that it gives the full variety of life but with all the painful inevitabilities of the shared journey through that life.

What I describe cannot be compared with any other state of human existence or of alternative forms of Marriage. There is an immovable gulf between your own child and the children of others. That same gulf exists with a form of marriage which is not open to birth and procreation. The sad truth must be faced, that a form of marriage that is reliant on adoption, on fostering, on surrogacy, or on any other form of family expansion, is different. However precious or well-meaning, such unions will always remain “a clean different thing”.

Regrettably and unfortunately, this is also the case with adoption and fostering by heterosexual couples, those who cannot, for various reasons, have their own children. Yet another category is that of couples who do not want to have children or cannot have children and have wonderful or satisfactory marriages.

I hold that the Marriage I describe, for the vast majority of people throughout the world, has an intent and purpose unique to itself and for that same majority requires the procreative element, at least potentially, in order to grow and enrich human beings within Nature. Life on this planet relies on that truth. Nothing else will do. That is why you who read what I write have no choice but to Vote No.