Australia’s postal vote on same-sex marriage has now started, despite a concerted effort by the pro side to prevent it. Why have same-sex marriage supporters fought so hard to block a popular vote, even as they claim to have majority support?

The rhetoric used against the plebicite is revealing. We’re told it will unleash homophobic hate, and that the gullible voters will be sucked in by the fearmongering and lies of the no campaign. Despite polls showing solid support, same-sex marriage proponents just don’t trust the dumb-ass public to vote “correctly”, or even to restrain themselves from hating on gay people. This mistrust and contempt of the general public has been an ugly feature of same-sex marriage campaigning, which typically seeks to use legalistic rather than democratic means to achieve its goal. It seems likely that the push for parliament to amend the Marriage Act won’t slow down, even if “no” wins.

The other argument against a vote is that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, and as such isn’t negotiable or subject to majority opinion. This is nonsense. Literally no one has a “right” to get married, and this framing of marriage in terms of rights shows how little the same-sex marriage campaigners actually understand what they’re seeking to change.

Marriage is a social contract, an institution whose rules are established by society. Over a long period of time, social norms have developed regarding whom may marry whom and under what circumstances. But aren’t these rules discriminatory? Yes, absoultely marriage is discriminatory, and this an essential part of its meaning and power. I understand we live in an age that views discrimination as universally bad, but this is not the case. In many contexts, discrimination is not just good, but essential, and so it is with marriage. Remove discrimination from marriage and you rob it of all meaning, you make the most over-the-top slipperly slope arguments come true. You have to let the crazy cat lady marry all twenty of her cats, because, what are you going to do, discriminate against her?

But traditional marriage specifically discriminates on the basis of gender, and that kind of discrimination is unacceptable, right? In almost all contexts, this is true. However, few people believe gender is irrelevant when it comes to our intimate personal relationships — if it were, then the whole concept of a sexual preference would not exist.

If we accept that same-sex and opposite-sex relationships are different, even slightly, then discrimination on that basis is not mere bigotry. You may argue the difference is not significant, and witholding marriage from same-sex couples does no good, and I’d agree with you. But the case needs to be made on its merits, simply asserting “equal rights” doesn’t cut it. Marriage simply isn’t a right.

Another common argument against the vote is that no one else has the right to pass judgment on the personal relationships of gay people. This is simply incoherent. You cannot demand that the whole of society sanctify your relationship as marriage while simultaneously asserting that it’s none of their business. Any gay couple who wants to live a private life without “judgment” can already do so, certainly more than at any other time in history. But if you say that’s not good enough, if you demand society redefine an ancient institution to include you, then you’re going to have to put up with a little judgment.

The pro campaign is incoherent in other ways, too. They insist, ad infinitum, that same-sex marriage is Really Super Important And Must Be Enacted Immediately. But when offered a means to achieve this all-important goal, via a national plebicite, no less, what is the response? “Why waste all that money?”, “parliament could sort this out in five minutes”, “the Howard goverment changed the law, this one can just change it back”. This supposed civil rights issue is suddenly treated with all the gravity of closing a tax loophole. How much do these campaigners really value what they’re so keen to redefine?

One can’t help but notice that many of those who now attack anyone questioning same-sex marriage, were not all that long ago attacking marriage itself. There was a time when the more radical elements of feminist and gay activism would tell us that marriage was a patriarchal racket, designed to keep women in a state of domestic and sexual subservience. There’s a consistent pattern in places where same-sex marriage has become recognised: many activists see it as not an end, but rather the beginning of more activism. It seems that for many of the loudest proponents, same-sex marriage is just one part of the wider struggle to smash so-called “heteronormativity”. It’s not enough that gay people be merely tolerated, that is, be free to live their personal lives in peace, and it’s not enough that their relationships be recognised as marriage. No, the demand rapidly becomes that everyone must celebrate all non-heterosexual relationships, no heterodox views allowed. Read about some of the tolerance and diversity the UK has enjoyed in recent years.

In short, the fear amongst conservative and religious people, fear that there’s a great deal of bad faith on the pro side, is well founded. This campaign across the entire western world seems less interested in improving the lives of gay people than it does in reengineering society’s attitudes towards gender, sex and relationships.

I find this to be a tragic state of affairs, because I think there is actually a strong argument to be made for same-sex marriage. The irony is, it’s a conservative argument. For decades now, conservatives have been selling us the idea that stable, nuclear families are good for individuals and good for society; that this depends on adults in a committed, monogamous relationship; and that marriage helps maintain such relationships. The view of same-sex marriage that makes complete sense is that it represents gay people agreeing with this conservative world view. If two people want to make that commitment to each other, that seems very valuable, regardless of their sexual preference.

It really is bizarre that all these conservative-hating social justice fans are putting all this effort into getting more people married. What could be more stodgy and conservative than marriage? Once again, the suspicion of bad faith is unavoidable, and this begets my dilemma.

On the merits of the issue alone, I’m very much inclined to vote yes. However, one must also consider the consequences of a yes result in our current social and political context. I’m afraid the recognition of same-sex marriage will be followed by less freedom of speech, less freedom of religion, and less freedom of conscience. Same-sex marriage could make Australia a much less tolerant place.

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