Gender is really at the heart of the same-sex marriage debate. Well, at least that’s what David Quinn, the figurehead of the anti-marriage equality movement in Ireland, thinks. He says that the debate comes down to whether or not we attach “any particular importance to gender differences.” In an article of his published last month in the Independent, he criticises proponents of same-sex marriage for ignoring things like the “sexual complementarity” of men and women and the importance of the “blend” of motherhood and fatherhood in the rearing of children. His argument is neatly summed up by this paragraph:
In the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’ Irish people are being asked to abandon the notion that motherhood and fatherhood are complementary roles of special value to children and society.
What are these apparently important and complementary gender differences? Curiously, David Quinn doesn’t elaborate on them on his article. In fact, he never elaborates on this point, even when I’ve asked him directly in the course of our interactions on Twitter. His use of the terms gender differences and complementary roles rather than gender roles is also evasive; the latter term is associated with an era when women stayed in the home and had dinner waiting for their husbands when they returned from exclusively male workplaces. Gender differences seems to suggest something altogether different, but in reality, it doesn’t. The idea of motherhood and fatherhood as complementary only makes sense if we think of them in terms of particular roles that are, or should be, fulfilled by men and women in the home.