On Marriage Equality
Note, this article was originally published on my blog. Footnotes still point there.
For my readers outside Australia, you may or may not know we’ve been grappling with the issue of legalising same-sex marriage. It came to a head this month when the Turnbull Government, which had promised a plebiscite on the issue, changed tactics (after the Senate voted it down) to launch what is effectively a postal survey run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics1.
Human rights, not politics
I’ve made a point of not writing about politics on this site. So why break on this issue?
Fundamentally, I believe this issue is not about politics but rather it’s about basic human rights. I also read something in the Age yesterday that pissed me off.
In fairness to Dr. Donnelly, his arguments — while deeply flawed — are not ostensibly or explicitly hateful. However he falls in to the trap of conflating marriage equality with un-related issues, just as did former Prime Minister, Tony Abbot.
What annoys me — really, really annoys me — and what I’ll address here, is threefold:
- The moral authority claimed by objectors on religious (or traditional values) grounds and,
- Speaking as though his definition of marriage applies to my marriage and the marriage of others.
- Dragging kids into the issue.
Moral authority and traditional values
To address my first point briefly. Religious organisations lost all moral authority following the horrific, widespread sexual abuses and cover-ups revealed by the ongoing Royal Commission. As for objections on the basis of tradition…tradition for tradition’s sake is not something to hang your hat on. Those who practice Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriages and honour killings argue on the basis of tradition too.
“Harrumph”, I hear you say, “they are not our values.”
Yeah well, Christian values aren’t mine either. I recognise their importance in shaping parts of Western Culture and our legal systems, but we’ve picked and chosen what we’ve wanted from these sources to suit the culture and Zeitgeist as time has progressed. I for one am glad we don’t murder people for working on the Sabbath given the amount of weekend work I did in my youth. We forget too that Aristotle and Plato have also shaped Western Culture enormously and both advocated same-sex relationships.
I’m tired of privileged middle-aged white men monopolising national and private values — and I’m a privileged, almost middle-aged white man.
My marriage is not your marriage
The second point will take me a little longer to unpack. In many respects its tied to the first. This is because the religious/traditionalist argument would have us believe they own not only the definition of marriage, but they own marriage itself. They frame marriage as a sacrament where a deity, and its proxy (i.e. the religious organisation) is the ultimate arbiter and facilitator.
In reality, marriage under Australian Law, is a legal construct. Marriages are recognised under law; they are defined in Law. Should a marriage end, it is terminated under Law. Secular Law — after all, we live under the rule of Law. We are not a theocracy. I will say that again.
We are not a theocracy.
Religion is optional in marriage under Australian Law; the same rights that guarantee religious freedom also give us the right to be free of religion. Even where religion is involved, it is typically only in the marriage ceremony itself. Very few Australians, even those who hold religious beliefs, conduct their participation in marriage according to strict adherence to doctrine. In fact, religious organisations have recently proven to be wholly inadequate in dealing with marriages harbour domestic abuse. Telling a battered wife to go home and pray for her abuser to reform is sadistic.
When my wife and I married, the ceremony was performed by a civil celebrant. There was no mention of God in either the vows or the necessary legal piece spoken by the celebrant. To formalise the process, my wife and I signed a document and that document was witnessed i.e. just like a contract.
Does that made us less married? Certainly not under Australian Law.
Does not having a priest present weaken our bond? No, the bond we share is the bond of love and to quote the Princess Bride, ‘you cannot break that, not with a thousand swords’.
Is our marriage lesser because my wife and I are atheists? I can’t imagine anyone would make that argument.
What does our marriage have to do with the marriage of others? Nothing.
Conversely, same-sex marriage in no way undermines mine or yours. Rather, having something that a segment of the population is barred from experiencing makes me deeply uncomfortable.
There is no rational argument against marriage equality.
Marriage and children
But what about the kids? Surely, it’s about the kids, you stupid, liberal, religion-hating communist!
Dr. Donnelly argues very strongly for the kids, which I think is a straw-man argument.
The thrust of Dr. Donnelly’s argument that marriage is about procreation first. After which, its then up to the parents to facilitate the transmission of (heterosexual, fixed gender) culture between generations.
There’s no doubt that central to the concept of family is a definition of marriage involving a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation. With only minor exceptions over some hundreds of years and across all the major religions, this is how marriage has been, and continues to be, defined.
~ Dr. Kevin Donnelly
Direct and to the point, but logically flawed. Firstly, family is not synonymous with marriage: where do de-facto partnerships sit in this world view? Familial lines can be drawn by blood, by adoption, by fostering, by Law, by court order — even in the historical contexts to which he alludes. The nuclear family is a relatively modern construction, even in the West. From the Romans to the Celts, the most important social group was the clan, a much larger unit defined by descent. The Catholic Church did not even control marriage until the reforms of the Canon Episcopi — previously under Roman and Germanic Law, marriage was secular. I’ll leave you to do your own reading on that one.
The view that marriage is primarily for the procreation of children is hardly true of all marriages. Here’s a concept: my wife and I married for love — our children came almost a decade later. When John Howard raised the age of dependency to 25, I knew people who married for emancipation.
Just as not all families are marriages, so too not all marriages have children or indeed must be in the business of producing them.
What of couples who are infertile? What of couples who choose not to have children? What of couples who are still together beyond their childbearing years? What of couples who adopt or foster children who are not their own offspring? Dr. Donnelly makes no mention of them.
What of children born via IVF or through donors and surrogates?
Actually, he’s clear on that one…
It’s also true that the ideal situation is where children are raised by their biological parents instead of conception involving a third party donating sperm or paying a surrogate mother. As any parent well knows, the intimate and unique bond between a biological parent and his or her child is primal in its force.
~ Dr. Donnelly
Far out. I’d love to know where he’s getting his evidence for this ideal situation. In one paragraph he’s trashed IVF, adoption, fostering and the children of re-married couples while glossing over the terrible abuses that occur as a result of domestic violence and sexual assault.
He’s not done, far from it. His next bombshell is the assertion that only biological parents can best raise their children and serve as the right gendered role model to steer their children into adulthood. Again, it’s another boot in the guts of the concept of gender fluidity. It’s not hard to read the subtext of his meaning: strong men and feminine women don’t raise the next generation of gays and lesbians.
He uses this as a segue into another issue: absentee fathers and (black) youth crime2. I almost stopped reading at that point. Does he imply that all young men (especially black ones) from broken homes are subject to be criminal? This does a tremendous disservice to single parents.
My wife’s cousin tragically lost her husband to brain cancer last year. The very notion that she is somehow incapable of raising her son to be every bit as good as his late father or her daughter to be every bit as strong as she is deeply insulting not only to her, but in the wider family who will support her without question.
The kids are already in mix
As a student, I learnt that the problem with absolute rhetoric is that you only have to find one example to the contrary to discredit your entire argument. While I believe that children’s issues are separate to the marriage debate, I’ll go there because the No campaign has.
Same-sex couples are already raising children both here in Australia and abroad and from what I can tell, most are doing a bloody job of what is the hardest thing you can do.
Take Senator Penny Wong and her partner Sophie Allouache. When I look at this picture, I see a couple positively glowing with love for their child.
Damn, he almost had me
This is smoke and mirrors; a badly constructed straw-man argument. By playing the ‘it’s for the kids’ trump card, he’s trying to distract us from the real issue. The rights and protection of children has nothing to do with marriage issue; they are separate issues.
I almost fell for it; not his argument, which I find ridiculous, but the distraction it provides. Here’s me de-constructing his arguments and showing them for what they are: the weak rhetoric of an out-dated and bigoted world view by a man who defends a religious institution that has lost its moral authority.
Biology, children, natural law, religion — whatever, it’s all smoke and mirrors.
No, the issue is about equality.
There is no rational argument against marriage equality. None whatsoever. The No campaign can argue on the basis of tradition, faith, religion, history, free speech or political correctness. But they can’t on moral, legal or compassionate grounds — because there is no moral, legal or compassionate argument to be made when denying human rights. The rhetorical devices of the No campaign serve one purpose: to mask bigotry. They don’t want legalised same-sex marriage because they hate gays and don’t believe they should have the same rights that others do.
Marriage is a public and legal recognition of a loving relationship. It doesn’t matter if that love between is people of the same or different sex. It doesn’t matter if a couple choose to have children or choose not, or cannot.
Marriage is a human right as defined by Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is not a political football to be hand-balled off by spineless politicians. It is not an institution owned by any religion. It is the right to publicly formalise your relationship under Law. It is the right to declare your next of kin.
It is a right what should be equal and accessibly to all. After all, love is love and that’s why I support marriage equality.