Sorry, Daily Nation, Ben and Steve are not married

The Daily Nation happily proclaimed yesterday the nuptials of a 33-year old Kenyan man, Mr Ben Gitau with a male American Mathematics professor in Michigan, USA, which happened last Saturday.

The article started by putting the event within the context of a seemingly gathering movement, saying, “in a trend where Kenyan men are getting married to other men in countries whose laws allow it, a Nakuru man has tied the knot to his American mathematics professor.” It then goes on to chronicle the joy of the men and their families, and to declare the marriage, in the voice of another US-resident Kenyan, Mr Kararu Ririe, as a sign of courage on the part of Ben.

In itself, the announcement, and the “marriage” it talks about, seem a harmless consummation of the deep love between two people. But, in trying to put my head around it, I have hit a few roadblocks. The first one is this: two or three, or even tens of, Kenyan men getting married to other men in countries where the legislation allows it constitute anything but a trend, so proclaiming it as one smacks of an attempt to normalise what for many Kenyans is still taboo.

Second, the union of two men is not marriage. Now before you lose your head and start calling me a homophobe and all those niceties the gay lobby has been bandying around for labelling people like me, take a moment and go through this with me. I must point out that I have no personal issues with gay people. The fundamental question here is what marriage really is, not what I feel about gays.

Now there are two major, seemingly contrasting views of marriage.

One view of marriage, which we have had since we ever knew about marriage, is that it is between a man and a woman, falls within the context of family life and is permanent and exclusive to the married couple. It is from this that we get the concepts of mother, father, grandpa, grandma and all those relations we have known for ages. It basically stems from the acknowledgement of the differences between men and women, and the fact that their union and its products is beneficial to society and are better kept together.

The other view of marriage is that it is an emotional union. This view places greater emphasis on the fulfilment and happiness of the couple, and leaves the decision of whether or not to have children to their discretion. So far, there is nothing inherently religious or gay or homophobic about these views of marriage, and there is nothing to say that any of them is the correct view of marriage. So do not dismiss them as being occasioned by any of those meta-labels.

Nevertheless, there has recently been a great drift, driven by cultural trends and popular media, towards the second definition of marriage. It is this definition that characterises the union of our compatriot Ben and his sweetheart. It is about their love for one another, about their being let by society to live a normal life of intimacy and love like all other married people, with all the benefits and protections that come with it. An emphatic testament to this is the detail about the two “kissing and fondling in public” which the writer of the Daily Nation article makes a point not to miss.

But this is where we hit the first of several snags. If marriage is all about emotional fulfilment and intimacy and love, why then should it just be between only two people? Many friendships have the same attributes, and commonly unite more than two people. Why do we not let these be recognised as marriages too?

And if it is all about intimacy and love between two people, then what business have society and government in regulating it, giving certificates and providing benefits and protections, and deciding what can be called marriage and what cannot? We do not see these kind of interventions in committed friendships, for instance. And, finally, why should the marriage be “till death do us part” yet we know that intimacy and love come and go? If it solely rests on the two people being in love then they should be able to scatter the moment the love dies.

What we get here therefore is that intimacy and love, while not in themselves bad, and are actually to be desired in marriage, alone do not explain marriage. Marriage therefore has to be about more than just intimacy and love and optional babies.

This is where the procreative aspect comes in. Sex between a man and a woman can make a baby; sex between a man and a man cannot. Society needs babies; a society that does not get babies dies off. And babies need a father and a mother to have the ideal developmental experience; take one of these away and things usually crumble. So far, again, there is nothing homophobic or bigoted about anything I have said. They are just facts; all three backed by common sense, and the third augmented by thousands of studies. I have not quoted the Bible, and I have not said they are committing a sin. So you need a man and a woman to come together and stick for life for the benefit of the babies they bring about and the society whose survival they alone can guarantee.

Let me say again that this it is not about me hating on Ben and Steve, but about what marriage truly is. And by that definition, whatever they have procured is not really a marriage, but rather a registered friendship. A committed and loving one, sure, but just a friendship backed by a certificate.

Feature image: Daily Nation.

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