Conservatism, Gender, and Same-sex marriage

The issue of same-sex marriage has been settled in Canada and a number of other countries for a number of years; long enough to determine that society and ‘traditional’ marriage have not collapsed. However, in some places it it still a hotly debated issue, and is nowhere more divisive than it is the the US, where it sharply divides the Democrats from the Republicans and may become a major election issue.

A number of US states have recently passed legislating explicitly declaring that marriage

Human chromosomes during metaphase

can only be valid between one man and one women. In an article first published in 2008 and updated in March of this year, Rick Moen explains how a policy of one man one women is not as simple as it appears. His essay compares the effects of such purportedly limiting legislation to the invasive plant kudzu that was introduced into the southern states from Japan to control erosion and had the unintended consequences of taking over. I don’t agree with his analogy, but his explanation of the difficulties of gender identification is accurate and pertinent.

Approximately 1% of the population is born outside of our concept of XY chromosomes as the defining characteristics of gender.

  1. You’re a girl with female sex organs — but, at puberty, your voice deepens and some testes descend out of your lower abdomen. (I’m steering clear of some of the more graphic details, here.) It turns out you have XY chromosomes (male), but you look like a young woman. You might or might not be fertile, but it would (if so) be as a male. This is a recessive genetic condition called “5-alpha-steroid reductase deficiency”, that causes testosterone to be chemically transformed in peripheral tissues before it can have its usual effect.
  2. You’re a man with all of the apparent parts, facial hair and all. One day, during unrelated abdominal surgery, doctors are surprised to find inside a full set of normal female parts (ovaries, Fallopian tubes, womb, etc.). Genetic typing shows you to be XX, but something called “Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia”, starting early in life, caused your adrenal glands (near your kidneys) to induce production of an unusual mix of sex hormones, changing your entire course of post-natal development, leading you to appear, and believe yourself to be, male.
  3. You’re a gal: All the gal parts. None of the others. Yet, you’re XY. It turns out that, during development, you ended up short of a hormone called “Mullerian Inhibiting Factor”. That factor would have let your Mullerian ducts develop into testes, which would have given you more androgens. Its absence means you end up looking, seeming, and believing yourself female. (This pattern of early development is called “gonadal dysgenesis”.)
  4. You’re a girl — but you don’t seem to be entering puberty. Genetic testing shows you’re XY, although in all other respects apparently completely female. What’s happened is that the sex-determining “SRY” region of the Y chromosome didn’t trigger the development of testes, with resulting female development. This is called “Swyer syndrome”, or “XY gonadal dysgenesis”.
  5. You’re a man, albeit somewhat on the tall and thin side. You and your wife are having fertility problems. You’re both checked: It turns out you, the husband, have “XXY” or “XXXY” or “XXYY” chromosomes. (There’s also been one reported case of “XYYY“.) You might be borderline fertile (as a man), or you might be out of luck. This is called “Klinefelter’s syndrome”. There’s also a variant “mosaic” form of Klinefelter’s where some of your body’s cells have XY chromosomes and others are XXY.
  6. Speaking of mosaicism: You’re a male with all the fixings, but also female equivalents — and raised as a boy. You then get the worst parts of both types of puberty, with both menstruation and your voice cracking, and so on. This is an incredibly rare but documented “cellular mosaic” condition where you have some XY cells and some XX ones, the only known way of generating true (bi-fertile) hermaphrodism, which is otherwise impossible and a medical myth. (There can be diverse combinations of mosaicism: XY with XXY, XX, XXXY, and so on.)
  7. You’re a man with all the normal parts. You and your wife are having fertility problems. Genetic testing shows you to be “XX”, but with the sex-determining “SRY” genetic bloc also present on some non-standard chromosome, and thus producing male development anyway.
  8. You’re an apparently normal man, with fertility problems. Genetic testing reveals “XX” genes, and no SRY block can be found anywhere. This “SRY-negative XX male syndrome” is observed but so far not fully understood.
  9. You’re a gal. You’re late entering puberty. The doctors find no womb or a partial one. Otherwise, you’re an (infertile, except via surrogacy) XX woman with absolutely nothing wrong with you. The causes are not really understood, but it’s called Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser (MRKH) syndrome.
  10. You’re a gal, but your secondary sex characteristics at puberty seem underdeveloped, relatively speaking. You turn out not to be XX, but rather have a single, unpaired X chromosome (also called either “XO” or “45,X” as opposed to “46,XX”) — or a second X is present but abnormal, or some single-X cells are mosaiced among XX ones. In any of those cases, you might be fertile, or maybe not, and it’s called Turner (or Ullrich-Turner) syndrome.
  11. You may be unsurprised to hear that babies also sometimes end up with mixed sexual characteristics caused by fetal conditions (e.g., Mom was prescribed a progestin-based medicine such as Danazol, a testosterone-related hormone once prescribed to treat endometriosis), or for no identifiable reason. Traditionally, obstetricians tend to pick a sex and use neonatal surgery to converge the baby towards it — something more common than people realize, as nobody wants to talk about it — yet another contentious, opinion-soaked issue I’m carefully avoiding. (But, anyway, the point is: Are you sure you’re not a man, or a woman, primarily because a scalpel made you that way?)

He goes on to discuss the difficulties the Olympic Games have had in determining the gender of individuals to ensure that gender specific competitions are kept separate, and how all tests devised by the committee are unworkable.

  • A judicial test defining sex by external genitalia will fail on citizens with ambiguous parts, of various descriptions.
  • One that defines female as XX and male as XY will fail on any number of genetic anomalies.
  • One that defines female as “having a womb” (or ovaries) will fail on men with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, people with cellular mosaicism, women with MRKH, and others.
  • One that defines male as “having testes” will fail on CAIS women, 5-alpha-steroid reductase deficiency women, and others.
  • One that defines male as “having the SRY gene” will fail on CAIS women, on SRY-negative XX males, and others.
  • One that defines male by hormone levels will fail on CAIS women and others.
  • One that defines sex by fertility will fail on (obviously) the infertile and on women past menopause. (Do we really want to define the infertile as neuter and forbid them from marrying? I hope not.)
  • One that defines a person’s sex as “whichever sex the obstetrician wrote on the birth certificate” will fail on people whose botched sex-assignment surgery is corrected later in life, on people with some of the developmental anomalies cited earlier, and on transsexuals and similar.

There really are no workable tests. This isn’t just a technical problem that hasn’t been worked out: Remember, the best minds in the International Olympic Committee, aided by the world’s top doctors and scientists, tried to solve it for 31 years, and gave up.

He then continues with some examples of how these issues affect the practicability of the concept of one man one women.

Consider a pre-operative transsexual XY male who wishes to marry an XX female, and end up living as two married women. The two first marry — which is lawful per the “marriage protection” law. Then, the male changes sex: Voila, same-sex marriage. (The law does not invalidate marriages automatically because of SRS — nor for more depressing reasons such as adultery or wife-beating. However, if it did, a male wanting to “game the system” could use measures to live as female short of full SRS. A female could do the reverse. If the state, by contrast, doesn’t recognise SRS as changing one’s legal sex, then marriage can lawfully occur either before or after surgery.)

This isn’t mere speculation. Texas’s “marriage protection” law is exactly what let two women, Jessica and Robin Wicks, one a male-to-female transsexual, win their marriage license in San Antonio, Texas: The women had been previously denied that marriage license as a same-sex couple, but successfully argued that the Texas 4th Court of Appeals’s 1999 “Littleton v. Prange” decision (Littleton being a widow barred from suing over her husband’s death from medical malfeasance, because she’d been born male and then had SRS) guaranteed them the right to marry, based upon their inferred chromosomes — because the judge ruled chromosomes rather than outward sex characteristics to govern which sex Jessica Wicks (né Grady Roland Wicks) is.

The Wicks newlyweds’ attorney was quoted as saying he was encouraging other transsexuals to travel to San Antonio to get married. (Same-sex couples giving public thanks to a “marriage protection” statute and a socially conservative judicial district: the first of many “marriage protection” ironies to come.)

Around the same time, in New Hampshire, another two women, Judi and Mikayla Howden, were in a similar situation: Mikayla started out as Michael, married Judi, and then arrived at the painful decision that he was rightfully a woman and underwent SRS to become Mikayla. The result? A lawful same-sex marriage, despite — and, in fact, courtesy of — New Hampshire’s ban on such things.

An article on the matter cannily points out:

Recognition lets existing, heterosexual marriages like the Howdens’ become same-sex. Denying recognition permits new same-sex marriages – like one between Judi and Mikayla if they were to marry today – because the spouses’ sexes differ only on paper, not visibly.Oh dear, oh dear. “Marriage protection” statutes not only fail to ban same-sex marriage, but also furnish a legal blueprint for its mass-production.

Opponents of same sex marriage most likely have not considered the biology involved in determining the actual differentiation of the sexes. John Gray popularized the concept that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, but in reality a great many people lie between those planets, most likely right here on Planet Earth.

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