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Rebuttal to Tony Abbott’s “Why I’ll say no to same-sex marriage”

Tony Abbott wrote an article in the Australian on why he’ll vote no for same-sex marriage. Here is my response.

Same-sex marriage is a tough issue. It divides families; it splits political parties; often enough, it tears at individuals, too.

Agreed. Needlessly so.

It was definitely rending the Liberal Party in mid-2015 between those sure that the institution at the heart of our society must not be redefined to suit a politically correct minority, and those worried that our stance was unfair and standing in the way of history. We needed to find a way forward that would not just decide the issue but would reconcile the public with the result.

This is a conflation between religion and legislature. The Marriage Act doesn’t seek to define marriage in the eyes of God. It defines marriage in the eyes of the law and the proposed changes simply afford same-sex couples the same rights as straight couples. The use of the phrase “political correctness” is an emotional appeal to those who oppose it despite the issue of marriage equality having nothing to do with political correctness.

The conclusion I came to (and that Malcolm Turnbull has respected) was that a plebiscite was most likely to reassure people that their views had been taken seriously and that the outcome was fair. It would ensure that the issue had been carefully weighed and the best possible decision made.

The decision is a binary one, it is not a discussion or a series of options.
The mental and emotional toll on LGBTI community is clear. Quantifiably, independent modelling by PwC estimates the economic costs of a plebiscite at half a billion dollars. Marriage equality is about fairness by definition, straight sex couples already have the right to marriage; marriage equality is seeking to redress that. In terms of the pathway to marriage equality, wouldn’t it be “fair” to use the same process used by the Howard Government in 2004 to exclude same-sex couples from the definition of marriage?

It was least likely to produce ongoing acrimony, for who could back their individual judgment against a vote of the whole people? After all, it’s marriage that creates families, families that make up communities, and communities that build our nation.

As evidenced by the hurtful and hateful commentary already, acrimony has been magnified rather than mitigated. Agreed, marriage is a societal glue, all the more reason to open it up to all Australians without prejudice.

On such an issue, where change would never have been imaginable to our constitutional founders, it was right and proper to refer it to the people rather than just leave it to the parliament because everyone would have some ownership of the final result.

Many laws are enacted by parliament that would never have been imaginable to our constitutional founders. That is the role of parliament.

Now that the vote looks like going ahead, the challenge is to have a debate that takes seriously the ramifications of changing something that is so central to the way we live. It’s a pity that the advocates of change haven’t finalised what they think are fair protections for freedom of religion and freedom of speech in an era of same-sex marriage because it’s hard to be sure about something without knowing exactly what it may entail.

These are valid and well understood concerns the detail of which will be debated and addressed in parliament irrespective of any plebiscite.

Another disappointment is the tone of so much of the same-sex marriage advocacy. If polls are right, most support change so the plebiscite should be a way of reassuring people that it won’t strain the social fabric. Instead, the activists have insisted that the general public can’t be trusted to have a sensible debate and make a considered decision.

The concern isn’t that the general public “can’t be trusted”. It is the responsibility of parliament to redress the inequality without subjecting the LGBTI community the humiliation of having the rest of the population cast an opinion on whether they are to be afforded the same rights as the rest of society.

Last week, one very senior Labor senator attacked the Prime Minister for allegedly exposing her children to “hatred” because of their family circumstances.
It is not homophobic to maintain that, ideally, children should have both a mother and a father. Yet I fear much moral bullying in the weeks to come — invariably from those demanding change.

The opinion that “ideally, children should have both a mother and a father” is not what Senator Wong was referring to. She referred to the hateful and explicitly homophobic comments by organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby. It is disingenuous to promote a plebiscite only to characterise the defense of victims of abuse as “moral bullying”.

For me, voting no will not be a criticism of gay friends and family members; it won’t be an assertion that there’s only one right way to live your life or to express your love. Rather, it will be an affirmation that the things that matter should not lightly be changed and that marriage is different from other relationships.

Same-sex couples will exist in and out of wedlock, as do all couples. I would argue preventing same sex couples from marrying weakens marriage as an institution, love exists regardless of marriage. Again, we are not debating the religious definition of marriage.

Ask yourself what is the most decent and respectful thing to do: is it to endorse this change that the gay lobby is stridently insisting on or is it to question whether a few years’ agitation should unmake a concept of marriage that has stood for many centuries and has always been regarded as the rock on which society is built?

The decent and respectful thing to do is to respect the choice of all members of society to participate in the institution you hold dear; an inclusive approach can only strengthen the rock.

Ask yourself what’s more likely to maintain respect for marriage and to reinforce the notions of constancy and selflessness that sustain all lasting relationships: an ongoing recognition that marriage is a union of one man with one woman, preferably for life and usually dedicated to children; or changing marriage so that it can mean any two people who love each other?

There are straight couples who marry and divorce or do not have children. It is not up to external parties to impose familial requirements on others.

Thankfully, censoriousness towards gay people has long gone. I admire the courage of those who battled discrimination (and worse) to establish the equal rights and dignity of all people regardless of race, gender, religion or sexuality. I am grateful for the decency of gay friends (such as Christopher Pearson) who have deepened my understanding of the human condition.

Agreed. It is important that it be reflected not only in our words but in our actions.

But I am baffled by the claim that gay relationships are somehow diminished without the badge of marriage. Unmarried people are not lesser humans than married ones. Couples with children are not greater than those without. Same-sex partnerships are not lesser than opposite-sex ones. They’re just different.

Indeed, love is love. One does not have the right to dictate the manner in which a couple wishes to consummate their relationship.

We Australians are an easy­going and open-hearted people. Our tendency is to take people as we find them and give them the benefit of the doubt. We hate injustice and yearn to help everyone who’s doing it tough. But that doesn’t make it right to acquiesce in every request or to accommodate every demand.

We are not acquiescing to every request or demand, we are simply affording a group of people the same rights as another group of people.

Of course, there has always been an honour in marriage beyond that of other relationships. By all means, let’s find means to solemnise same-sex commitments and impose on them the demanding mutual obligations that spouses undertake; but I doubt that’s what most activists have in mind. To them, I suspect, it’s about status rather than responsibilities.

Marriage equality advocates are not asking for a special category of marriage with diminished responsibilities; just one with the same set of entitlements, protections and responsibilities as straight couples.

The best claim for same-sex marriage is that it will reinforce stable and committed relationships.

Agreed.

In New Zealand, though, where civil unions have been allowed for more than a decade and same-sex marriage since 2013, the marriage rate has been in the same slow, steady decline as elsewhere in the West, so it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that broadening marriage weakens it. Given all the other pressures on us right now, is that what we really want?

Whilst you correctly pointed out declining marriage rates overall, there is evidence to suggest lower divorce rates in states that have legalised same-sex marriage.

Needless to say, I will be voting yes.