Bodies Like Ours: Intersexuality and the Marriage Debate

Defining One XX Man – One XY Woman

The arguments in opposition to marriage for gays and lesbians are being framed around the basis of a "one man – one woman" definition. From the very onset, the attempts are farcical because they are trying to legislate what exactly defines a man and a woman.

How we identify ourselves to others is not always a simple binary mechanism for the many thousands of individuals in this country who were born with an intersex condition. Intersexuality in its pure medical definition is a congenital variation of the sex and/or reproductive organs and /or chromosomal make-up that differs from standard male and female.

An intersex person may be born with ambiguous genitals that make determining the sex of the baby at birth impossible; or with a chromosomal make-up that is a variation of the standard XX for female and XY for male.

For example, some individuals are born XXY, and some XXXY. And then to confuse matters even more, individuals with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) are born XY yet emerge from the womb looking quite female, are generally pronounced female in the delivery room, and may identify as female throughout their entire lives. While these examples are in no way exhaustive, they should present enough of a basis in fact to muddle any attempts to legally define what makes us male or female (or both for that matter).

Should a woman who is born with AIS and is heterosexual be denied the right to marry the man she loves because it would be a union of two XY individuals?

How should we classify an XY individual born with genitalia that didn’t fit "male standards" and so was subjected to a sex-reassignment surgery during infanthood without his consent? If this person identifies in their gender of rearing, which will not match their genetic make-up, who can they legally marry? And if this person decides at some time in his life that he should’ve been left alone – without surgical reassignment – and transitions back to his birth gender of male, the answers don’t get any clearer. Would marriage prior to gender transition (remember, this person was born male but underwent sex reassignment in infanthood to female) to someone appearing to be of the opposite gender be acceptable even though both partners are XY? How about marriage to that same person after he transitions back to his birth gender? What appeared at the onset to be a heterosexual relationship now becomes a homosexual one if we are to base gender on appearance. If based purely upon genetics, it was a homosexual relationship all along. It gets pretty convoluted trying to keep intersex people neatly classified, much less legislated.

Will individuals born XXXY be prohibited from marrying anyone, thus sentencing them to a life without any form of equal protection under the law? Perhaps they will be the true winners in this silliness by being given the green light to marry whomever they desire.

Sometimes it may take several days or weeks before sex is determined or gender of rearing is decided upon by someone other than the child. Let’s hope those doctors and the parents make the right choice because if they don’t, it could mean little Johnny or little Jane will be constitutionally prohibited from getting married to their heterosexual lovers someday; but wait, even if "the right choice" is made, little Johnny and little Jane may still be constitutionally prohibited from equal protection under the law due to narrow definitions of what makes us male and female.

Some religious arguments against marriage for gays and lesbians have centered on the basis of procreation. Pity the poor girl born without a vagina and uterus because she won’t be procreating anytime soon and under that definition of one man-one woman, she could be excluded from heterosexual marriage. Based upon the procreation argument, we should ask all individuals to proceed immediately to the clerk of the court for genital and fertility checks to make sure God’s will of heterosexual sex for procreation is being adhered to.

Nor can we try to define male and female based upon genitalia present at birth. Boys are born without a penis every day, just as girls are born with a clitoris that resembles a penis.

Suppose the parents respect the child’s right to choose for his or herself any cosmetic genital surgery, and the person decides that their genitalia are fine the way they are. Will legislation attempt to deny them their basic right to heterosexual marriage because their genitals don’t match their gender identification?

In the few cases outlined above, any legislation that attempts to define one man – one woman for the purpose of marriage could cause thousands of individuals unnecessary angst and grief. While some intersex people identify as gay or lesbian based upon their gender of rearing, not all do.

However, most intersex people clearly identify as male or female, it’s just that their gender identification may not match their genetic marker of XX or XY or XXY, or XXXY or XXO or XXYO. Can a gender identity ever truly match a genetic marker of XXY or some variation thereof? Some intersex individuals may very well confuse the issue even further for lawmakers when they declare that they are intersex only and identify as neither male nor female, or perhaps identify as both male and female. If they have the genetic make-up to do so and that is how the government defines us, what will keep them from entering into what appears to be on the surface a homosexual marriage but genetically is really neither?

If the legal definition of male and female comes down to whether we are XX or XY, the law will effectively be prohibiting heterosexual marriage in many instances. If it is based it upon gender identity or genital appearances, any such legislation may in effect be giving the green light to marriage for "genetic homosexuals" according to the government’s own definition.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of intersex people in loving heterosexual relationships and marriages that could be called into question due to one partner having a chromosome make-up that doesn’t match their gender. Then again, there could be thousands of gay and lesbian intersex individuals lining up to get legally married based upon these futile attempts at legislating and defining male and female. If such a law is to be enforced, accommodations for genetic testing to determine gender and genital checks may need to be written into the grand plan to keep us safe from the imagined dangers of marriage for homosexuals.

The danger is not from people in loving homosexual relationships getting married, the danger is coming from attempts by the government and religious institutions trying to define the concept of one man – one woman.

Medicine has for decades been trying to surgically force intersex children into a male or female box according to their narrow definition based upon the genitalia. Those attempts are now under sharp criticism and debate.

We can only hope that Washington doesn’t further antagonize those often futile attempts through misguided legislation trying to define one man – one woman through a constitutional amendment. Such legislation which would only serve to further the stigma thousands of intersex people face from the moment they are born by extending it into legally defined marriage.

Betsy Driver
Executive Director
Bodies Like Ours
PO Box 1732
Easton, PA 18044

street address: 827 Spring Garden St, Easton, PA 18042

610-258-7466 voice 908-447-6671 cell 610-258-6631 fax

Bodies Like Ours is a 501(c)(3)organization incorporated in NJ and based in Easton, PA. Bodies Like Ours provides peer support for people born with atypical genitalia and intersex people and helps them erase their shame and secrecy.