Are the Sexes Really Complementary?

Following the passage of the same-sex marriage bill in Queensland despite probable public opposition to it, and the widespread publicity given to the change in the Australian Labor Party policy on marriage, the task of arguing against same sex marriage is more urgent in Australia and other countries of the world than ever before.

A few weeks ago on national television’s Q&A, the eminent moral philosopher, Raimond Gaita, a grandfather, said that although many people consider homosexual acts disgusting, homosexual love is as deep as heterosexual love. This remark about emotional depth reminded me of a Shakespearean observation in Antony and Cleopatra: ‘There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned.’

Of course we can’t measure depth in love—whether it’s husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, relatives, or friends. Since we all have parents, we know what it is to love an adult male and an adult female. No sensible person, soundly raised, would want to, or could, say that they’ve loved either parent more than the other parent.

Nevertheless, I think it is sentimental to move from an observation about depth in loving to an endorsement of gay marriage, which is the move made by Raimond Gaita on Q&A and in other public forums. The move is sentimental not only because it overlooks fundamental biological differences in men and woman that profoundly affect long-term unions, but because it takes it for granted that any definition, however wise, can be changed with impunity.

In some American States anyone outside the traditional marital or family orbit is denied hospital visitation in cases of terminal illness. This practice could be changed under the law without significantly harming society, since good friends visit the terminally ill when they are dying in hospital in many parts of the globe.

Nevertheless, it is hubristic to think that we can redefine a concept that has not changed since the dawn of history. Except in polygamous societies, marriage has always been defined as the intended, freely chosen, permanent union on this earth of a man and a woman.

There are good reasons for this centuries-old definition: not simply the bedrock reason adumbrated on MercatorNet many times, namely, that the aim of marriage is two-fold: unitive and procreative. A vitally important additional reason needs to be highlighted: namely, that men and women have distinct, complementary, natures which govern what marriage is and what over the years, in the richest terms, it can become for the married couple and their children.

Essential, complementary, differences between males and females govern daily life. How they do so must be squarely faced by everyone involved in discussions about marriage and child rearing. Certainly people of faith are obliged to speak up as prudently as possible with those who think differently. Many heterosexual adults, who regard themselves as secular ‘liberals’ on sexual matters, do think differently.

It is not gender stereotyping to indicate what some of the large, usual differences between the sexes are. These differences persist across time, class, and social background. In my own field of classical world literature for adults and children, representing deep realities, the differences are normally obvious; but they are also clear in ordinary life in many countries around the globe.

In the usual marriage resulting in progeny, the man dispenses justice in the home and the woman nurtures. Typically, in domestic and other settings, women do much more talking than men do about personal relations—emotional needs and difficulties, conflicts requiring sound resolution—and jobs linked with keeping family members well fed, healthy, clean, knowledgeable, and safe. Men focus in conversation on less intimate matters: eg, sport, politics, civic issues, and workplace and domestic matters to do with the exercise of authority, money, and competence. As a rule, men are more direct, women more hidden and complicated, in what they usually reveal.

In boys’ and girls’ schools, for similar reasons anchored in gender, the atmosphere is appreciably different, as those of us who have worked in schools for decades know. In Australia, in boys’ schools, there is habitual, often noisy, humour and jesting; there are tests of physical prowess involving touch—from handshakes to friendly or combative slapping to wrestling in grass; and sporting activity predominates over conversation. In girls’ schools noise is linked with laughter, entreaties, and uncontrolled expressions of satisfaction or anguish (eg, shrieks); physical contact is often a matter of arms on shoulders or around waists; and at recess conversation, rather than racing around, is the norm.

Gender differences of this kind naturally surface in sexual relations. But in same-sex partnerships, which in statistical terms are less long-lived, there is more obvious and endemic role-playing along gender lines, with one partner behaving in more ‘masculine’ (more dominant and controlling), the other in more ‘feminine’ (softer, more recessive), ways.

Marital roles, commonly, are more flexible in conventional gender terms. Typically, husbands and wives negotiate about who controls which spheres: eg, gardening, housework, taking out the garbage, looking after children, booking for outings. It is usual for wives to organise social activities involving other couples or families, and for husbands to handle the nitty-gritty requirements of holiday trips involving car travel.

Because there is an unfortunately high incidence of homophobia in Australia, life for gay people tends to be very emotionally stressful. A group called ‘Encourage’, which has taken off in America, has been slow to grow Down Under. Its commendable aims of helping gays to be more restrained about their sexual orientation, and helping family members who are distressed about homosexuality to behave more sensitively to those of their number who are gay, are in practice difficult to fulfil—most obviously, in homes with strong religious foundations.

Aggressive lobbies are much less likely to form when charity, in the most profound Christian sense, governs behaviour. Belligerent homosexual groups, defensive about their wishes and rights, and embattled in their efforts to gain equality and social acceptance in the wider community, are as difficult for outsiders to handle as combative heterosexuals who consider it their duty to berate and/or condemn gay individuals or couples for being what they are.

Human dignity is better preserved when everyone distinguishes without aggressiveness between inherently sound and unsound sexual behaviour. Particularly difficult in many Western nations today are troubling inaccuracies, publicly aired, about the nature of sexuality. Prejudice and political correctness, rather than knowledge, often assume centre stage. On sexual terrain the underlying issue is not equality, as many Australians today claim, but what is best for children.

It is especially unpleasant for people with sound moral formation to have to listen to poppycock about sexual inclinations being uncontrollable and/or fixed in concrete, or to be sanctimoniously told that every form of sexual activity that allegedly ‘hurts’ nobody is totally acceptable, or to have to ward off the untrue accusation that the Catholic Church, which distinguishes carefully between licit and illicit sexual acts, is a neurotic bully mired in repression. Charitable acts are one thing, but sloppy thinking is another.

In a world as permissive, and as confused in its public strictures, as ours is, it is essential for those of us who are fortunate enough to have been given sound, not priggish, sexual formation to speak out about what best preserves and most gravely threatens human happiness. Those of us who understand same-sex attraction because of our knowledge of the human heart and/or direct experience of gay people have a particular obligation to emphasise the essential difference, in soundness, between homosexual and heterosexual unions. Otherwise, the vital issue of child rearing, and the importance of a sound father and mother in the home, cannot be discussed with appropriate balance and maturity.

Even though many marriages are troubled, marriage as a sexual ideal lodged in an understanding of completeness is unrivalled. The street-wise concept widely being disseminated in Australia at the moment, namely, that what is at stake is ‘equality’, is preposterous. Equality is anchored in human dignity. It is not dignified, nor is it emotionally mature, to impose a ‘new’ concept of marriage on a nation or on the world under the pretence that the traditional concept is flawed.

Two people of the same gender, no matter how much they love each other, are not by nature complementary in the immutable ways that males and females are. In practice, happy marriages are much more likely to produce morally sound, joyful children than other sexual partnerships can or do. If all reasoned argument fails, as it has thus far failed with many, the research record demonstrates this unequivocally.


This article was originally published on under a Creative Commons Licence. If you enjoyed this article, visit for more.


Susan Moore, PhD, is a retired teacher and inveterate reader who has written books and articles on adult and children's literature, education, religious thought, and the history of ideas. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

  • This column is less a criticism of marriage equality for Gay couples than it is of Gay relationships.

    Are men and women complementary beings? Certainly for the majority of people who are heterosexual, the answer is YES. But where does this leave people who are Gay? I don’t think it’s very fair to say to them,

    My question for would be this: Why is it that it’s perfectly acceptable, even admirable, for Straight (i.e. heterosexual) couples to date, get engaged, get married, and build lives together in the context of monogamy and commitment, and that this is a GOOD thing … but for Gay couples to do exactly the same is somehow a BAD thing? To me this seems like a very poor value judgment. It surely can’t do with sexual compatibility, since I would be no more compatible with a Straight woman (or a Straight MAN for that matter) than Susan would be with a Gay man.

    There seems to be this sheepish adherence to a double standard for Gay and Straight people. If you’re Straight, it’s all so wonderful to be able to find a compatible person of the opposite sex, court and get engaged and marry and live happily ever after. But if you’re Gay, all of that is completely out of the question. Don’t even bother trying to find a compatible person. Lesbians and Gay men are precluded from any hope for romance or commitment. Gay people are simply told: “Gosh, sorry about that. You make us uncomfortable; acknowledging your existence means we might have to revise what we’ve been teaching all these years – meaning, Whoops! No infallible Magisterium or “literal” Bible … so you’ll just have to sacrifice your life and any hope of finding somebody to love. Tough luck, kid. God said it, I don’t necessarily understand it, but there it is.”

    Gay people will inevitably find the arguments about how the two sexes are “complementary” completely irrelevant. In our secular society the real question is whether a purely Constitutional argument can be made for denying law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples the same legal benefits and protections that Straight couples have always taken for granted. I don’t think there is such an argument. Most people are and always will be Straight, and they will continue to date, get engaged, marry, and build lives and families together as they always have. None of that is going to change when Gay couples are allowed to do the same.

    • Briana
      • Thanks for posting that link; I’d encourage anyone interested in the arguments surrounding gay marriage to read it. In my opinion, it makes a much clearer and stronger argument for male-female marriage than this article does.

        Sexual complementarity is a sound principle generally, but the notion that homosexual couples often develop complementary roles seems to undermine the need for opposite sexes in a marriage. Thus, a counterargument to the article here might be as follows: “If gay partners can each adopt one of the two traditional gender roles, children reared by that couple would still experience both roles and develop optimally.”

        On the other hand, it is much more difficult to argue against the idea that marriage is ordered toward creating a society in which as many children as possible are raised in a home with both biological parents, as advanced in the National Review article above.

        • Briana

          Thank you, Ms. Cherie. That article was one of the best ones I’ve ever read in defense of heterosexual marriage. There is no way I could resist sharing it. 🙂

    • JP

      The same arguments can be made by polygamists. As a matter of fact, hetros can also argue that it is unfair not to consider the needs of those who must have multiple spouses in order to be happy. In many Muslim nations a man can have up to 4 wives.

      • DEAR JP:

        The issue of polygamy will have to be considered on its own merits or lack thereof. It is no more relevant to marriage for Gay couples than it is to marriage for Straight couples. The only difference between a married Gay couple and a married Straight couple is the sexual orientation of the two people who have made the commitment.

        • Micha Elyi

          The phrase “married gay couple” assumes what you’re trying to prove.

          Try again.

    • Michael PS

      People do get married for all sorts of reasons, from romantic love to a residence permit. Similarly, people join the army for all sorts of different personal reasons – travel, to learn a trade, as an alternative to prison – but the public purpose of the army remains the defence of the nation.

      What is the public purpose of civil marriage? If the state’s interest in civil marriage is to ensure, as far as possible that the legal, biological and social realities of paternity coincide, why relevance does it have to same-sex couples, who are incapable, as a class, of reproducing? As the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, a prominent atheist, observed, “But for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex, It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.”

      As to the old canard about infertile opposite-sex couples, the problem for the legislator is that they (unlike same-sex couples) do not really form a readily identifiable class, at all. Such individuals may be suffering from a range of pathologies, they may be too old, or it may be simply a question of volition. Some of these conditions may appear to be irremediable, whereas others are plainly not. Besides, some conditions that, in the past, were irremediable, are now treatable and it would be a bold legislator who attempted to anticipate advances in assisted reproduction. Laws are made for the general case.

      Moreover, in the context of adoption, an infertile opposite-sex couple present to the child, and to the wider community, the model of the natural (procreative) family, which, some experts assert, makes the establishment of the parental bond between the adopters and the adopted child possible or, at least, easier and spares adopted children the additional difficulty of having to integrate into a “non-standard” family, however loving.

    • John2

      Dear Chuck A,

      I nearly drowned in a sea of verbiage, but much of it is specious and need not be taken seriously. Let’s simplify: mutual masturbation is not sex. Therefore all “same-sex couples” are infertile, unless they come to the light and see what sex is, and what it is for, and choose to correct their behavior. JP II cleared it up in the Theology of the Body.

      To put it in secular terms (I am guessing that you are more secular than Catholic), mutual masturbation is not sex.

      And then — one hopes — the homo”sex”uals will see that they are not same-sex “couples” and that they cannot marry. This takes some discernment and may be beyond the homo”sex”ual person’s current capabilities. They are disturbed (in natural law terms) and their behavior is deeply disordered (in supernatural terms).

      If unfortunate children are misplaced in dependence upon unfortunate grownups, then at some point (the sooner the better) the children deserve a chance to be raised by a normal heterosexual couple. That is the positive good of adoption.

      Prayer is appropriate all around: for you in your error, for the unfortunate homo”sex”uals, for the children, for those who will have to deal with those poorly formed children when they grow up and have to be reformed, for me in all humility,…. for all of us, I think.

  • Pardon the sloppy editing.

  • Johann

    Why has the American culture become such a champion of homosexual marriage and abortion at the same time?  Those in positions of leadership in the American culture in the media, government and leftwing educators are in a frenzy to redefine traditional marriage as the key to proceation.  In America it is all  about recreational sex, recreational sex and recreation all the time.  America is doomed and so are the countries like Australia who follow the life style of American movie stars.  God will owe Sodom an apoloty if he allows this to go on.