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Gay Marriage or Marriage Equality, the words you choose matter

By Alison @TurnLeft2017

Imagine you walk into a pub, and a sign behind the bar says Whites Only. You point out to the barstaff “hang on, that’s racist”. The barstaff looks, takes the sign down, and makes an adjustment Whites and Blacks only, and you are told “see, now it isn’t racist”. Of course it is, we all know the sign should say “Everyone welcome, all served”.

That is the situation the current debate on marriage is in. When people talk about “gay” marriage or “same sex” marriage, that is not the same as marriage equality.

Look at who is using the terms “gay” or “same sex” marriage – Tony Abbott, Lyle Sheldon, the No people. They are making the postal survey a pseudo debate about the rights of gay people in general.

Apparently ABC have told their on air-staff to not use the words “marriage equality”, as that is politically biased, and they must use “same sex” marriage instead – how is that any less politically biased?

Detouring here, to remember a recent public debate that engulfed the nation, a debate which hung on choice of words and led to the downfall of a government. CARBON TAX versus CARBON PRICE. The very first time Tony Abbott said the words “carbon tax” and no one corrected him, was the moment that ALP lost the 2013 election. Peta Credlin came out recently and said the choice to use TAX was deliberate, and inaccurate. I told an ALP politician at the time, why did he say “carbon tax” when it wasn’t a tax. His response was when people see it working they won’t care what it is called. Grr, of course they will, people don’t want to pay more tax than they should. At the time I noticed one ABC on-air presenter start to say “carbon pri-” then stopped and change it to “carbon tax”. I believe (and have no proof) that staff were told to use the words “carbon tax” as a political choice, even though they must have known it was not a tax. Words matter.

When media organisations use “same sex” marriage, when celebrities and campaigners say “gay” marriage, they are making a political choice because they know those words have an impact.

Words we choose frame the debate. The word tax instead of price brought down a government. Will the focus on gay instead of equality crash the marriage equality postal survey?

Many people who support marriage equality continue to use the words “gay marriage”, and I ask them: how will gay marriage be any different to straight peoples’ marriage? The answer is, it won’t. There is no special category of “gay marriage” created the same but different – that is the point, it is about equality.

People like Tony Abbott say “gay marriage” instead of “marriage equality” because they want the discussion to focus on gay people, not whether the current marriage act is discriminatory. Tony Abbott launched out of the starting blocks of the postal opinion poll saying it was about freedom of religion (how, I would like to know, does who I marry or don’t marry affects in any way his ability to practice his religion), freedom of speech, political correctness. It is about none of these things, nor is it about gender rights, or Safe Schools, or what kids wear to school, procreation or adoption – these are deliberate distractions.

Marriage equality is about removing the discriminatory language from the marriage act, not about who can get married.

Studies have shown when presented with changing the marriage act in terms of discrimination and equality a larger percent of people say it should change than when it is presented in terms of gay rights. Removing discrimination is never about giving one group special rights. As it stands now, only the hetero couples have special rights.

Marriage is a legal contract, and the exclusion of a segment of society from being legally able to enter that contract is as discriminatory as if I refused to hire a woman in my business, rent a room in my building to a Jew, sell a house to a Polish person, or provide medical services to a red head.

When women got the vote, it didn’t suddenly become “women’s vote”, when interracial marriage was no longer criminalised, it didn’t suddenly become “black and white marriage”, it was the same marriage. Removing discrimination from the marriage act as it is now won’t make it “gay”, it will just make it “marriage”.

There is a difference between allowing gay people to get married and remove the barriers that prevent gay people from marrying, or transgender or intersex. The focus on gay or same sex couples doesn’t address transgender or intersex or non-binary and is just as narrow and limiting.

Marriage as it currently stands is limited to one man and one woman. Changing those words to “two consenting adults” means the marriage act is no longer defined by gender. Campaigners are not asking for the marriage to be changed to “one man and one woman or one man and one man or one woman and one woman”. It is about equality regardless of gender of both people.

So next time you find yourself saying “gay” marriage or “same sex” marriage instead of marriage equality, that is what the No people want, they want this to be about everything not just marriage to muddy the waters of debate.

As Ricky Gervais famously said: “Same sex marriage is not gay privilege, it’s equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. Like churches don’t.”

*Note, at this time no-one knows what the question will be. The assumption is Yes will mean marriage equality. But Australia remembers John Howard gaming the republic question.


34 comments

  1. jim

    And remember all it takes for bad things to happen is for good folk to do nothing. And when will we stop the ones draging us all backwards to the dark ages?.

  2. Terry2

    I love Ricky Gervais’ comment !

    I also noted a conversation Fran Kelly had with somebody on ABC RN when the person being interviewed consistently said marriage equality and Fran, as per ABC management instructions, consistently said same sex marriage

    I cannot understand why the ABC would play with the language like this, clearly we are talking about equality.

  3. Me

    But it’s not really marriage equality if it’s limited to ‘two consenting adults’ is it? What about polyamorous families with more than two consenting adults who would like to be legally married????

  4. TurnLeft (@TurnLeft2016)

    why cant i marry this slice of pizza, this rock, this goat, this bridge – well done ME for continuing the ridiculous strawmen distractions of the homophobes in the No campaign are pushing

  5. Jaq

    Too true ME. Semantics. We are all talking about the same issue regardless .

  6. Papuq

    I’m not gay, but my partner is transgender. We want to marry, but how could we if it was “gay” marriage. Marriage equality is the only fair description.

  7. TurnLeft (@TurnLeft2016)

    people who dismiss the power of words as “semantics” are probably the type of person who would argue their right to call people the “n-word” …. it’s just semantics, right? and diversities, equalities or person of colour is mere political correctness gone mad

  8. Peter F

    The wording of the question will be decided when those writing it know whether the vote is most likely to be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Where is Sir Humphrey when you need him?

  9. Carol Taylor

    TurnLeft, as long as the pizza is over the age of 18 years, then I can’t see a problem. ?

  10. Jaq

    On please Turn Left! You are putting words into others mouths. Would never say the words you mentioned – they are off limits and you know it! ME has a point- we are talking about same sex couples here- the idea of polygamous couples & couples of transgender are not presently being discussed. They should be but they aren’t.

    And no- there is offence when no offence is meant. Intention, and intonation plays a large part.

    “Gay”was a derogatory term once. It isn’t any longer.

    If you cant handle being in a debate- don’t .

  11. Michael Taylor

    If you cant handle being in a debate- don’t .

    If you can’t debate in a civil manner without making personal attacks – don’t.

  12. ME

    TurnLeft I say you shouldn’t be allowed to marry the pizza, rock, goat or bridge because of one very important reason. One that is at the core of every functional polyamorous relationship- consent of all parties involved. If you are saying that polyamorous people should not be allowed to marry their multiple consenting partners, how is that different to someone saying people of same sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry? I believe everyone needs to be included in these changes. Same sex marriage is just the first step in the right direction.

  13. havanaliedown

    The “massaging” of the language (surprise surprise – just like GlobalWarmingClimateChangeExtremeWeatherClimateChaosRainBombsManBearPig) is evidence of clever nuanced political spin.

    Many people (like myself) have no concern about same-sex couples marrying (by all means, get married and argue in IKEA like the rest of us)… the concern is that when a change to the marriage act happens, very quickly the Muslims will demand their own special version of “marriage equality”: multiple wives and child brides. It is in their culture. And we can’t be such bigoted fascists as to exclude their cultural preference – can we?

    It’s rare to observe anyone from the Left arguing against these repugnant cultural practices… they are silent on the topic of female genital mutilation, bagging children and women up in “freedom sacks”, OK to beat your wife if she’s disobedient etc etc… crickets chirping

    A very interesting article from the ABC of all places – quite startling to read:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-31/same-sex-marriage-why-have-muslims-been-so-quiet-in-debate/8860486

    Perhaps Michelle Guthrie is sweeping a new broom down the corridors? Well done, if that’s the case.

  14. Möbius Ecko

    Ah the straw man of “I don’t see the left condemning insert topic here –> ……

    You do know our marriage act has been changed 17 times?

  15. Kaye Lee

    I am not sure if you are being serious or not ME but I see problems – a marriage is a contract between two people which confers reciprocal rights.

    Interestingly, whilst polygyny is allowed and legally sanctioned in quite a few countries, polyandry is illegal in virtually every state in the world.

  16. Möbius Ecko

    Having a go at havanaliedown Kaye Lee.

    BTW, I don’t know what’s got them riled at the moment, but the right in my sphere of social media have suddenly gone ballistic against the everything they consider left. Some of the stuff is nasty and all of it is factually incorrect.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Sorry, I meant the other ME.

    As for the nastiness, the Libs have given up pretending they are doing a good job and have made the conscious decision to go attack dog. I really don’t know why they bothered getting rid of Tony.

  18. Michael Taylor

    MO, this bloke makes Neil look intelligent.

  19. paul walter

    Is it the real ME?

    I hope it don’t become all about ME.

    Carol Taylor, obviously if the laws were changed you can will your possessions to your pizza and even leave a bequest to certain french fries without fear of foul relatives claiming your estate while your alfalfa has to miss out and end up destitute.

    F*ck off, havana.

  20. Michael Taylor

    Paul, looks like you’re joining the long list of people who don’t like seeing Havana on this site.

    We hear ya.

  21. ME

    Yes Kaye Lee I am being serious. You say this- – ‘a marriage is a contract between two people which confers reciprocal rights.’ I say it should be this- ‘a marriage is a contract between two or more consenting adults which confers reciprocal rights’. By the way Polyamory= ethical non-monogamy that takes the form of many different relationship structures/models. Not the same as polygamy which is either a man with multiple wives (polygany) or a woman with multiple husbands (polyandry).

    Do you people truly believe in complete marriage equality? Or just same sex couples and heterosexual couples being allowed to marry?

  22. TurnLeft (@TurnLeft2016)

    Ahahaha, reductio ad absurdum, islamaphobia? gay transgender and non binary people shouldnt be allowed to get married because muslims?

    if muslim men really have more than one wife, that would be related to heterosexual marriages not non-straight marriage

  23. Deanna Jones

    ME they believe in couples full stop.

    Alison, thank you for saying this. I have been asking the contributors and commenters on this site to stop referring to “gays” and “gay marriage” for a long time now. So far they don’t listen. The last time I asked I was told that “gay” is some kind of catch all term for the entire rainbow family. Straights on all sides of politics still just do not get it. I’m frankly over allowing straight people to frame this discussion and to define us.

  24. John Haly

    Damn, that is too good a point. I have written six articles on my site about marriage equality issues and have used the “gay marriage” terminology with … dare I say it … gay abandon. Struck by the guilt of my carelessness, spurred by your well-worded rebuke, I have spent the afternoon in some backtracking through them, to remove the term from all and sundry. I consider my wrist slapped. Thank you Alison. The way the debate is framed and the language we use sets the tone for the debate both consciously and unconsciously. It is hard to be always mindful of the subtleties of language as a writer but at this point in the midst of this critical juncture of the debate, this is a very relevant concern to be clear and conscious about what we write.

  25. Kaye Lee

    Deanna,

    I think you may be referring to an exchange we had and I would ask for some tolerance as I try to explain.

    I did listen to you. I agree that words are important and they can influence perception. The insistence that it be called same-sex marriage rather than marriage equality is a prime example.

    I am uncomfortable with saying gay community or LGBTQI community, just as I often feel uncomfortable saying Muslim community. We are all members of the same community. I have used the term gay community before and I think I used the justification of “gay mardi gras” in asking if it was an offensive term or what gay actually meant – I did think it was a bit of a coverall term but I concede ignorance about the nuance. Whilst rainbow family is a nicer term, it still ignores that we are the same family.

    “I’m frankly over allowing straight people to frame this discussion and to define us.”

    Some people are trying to frame this discussion for their own purposes but most of us are just trying to show support. How can anyone define someone they have never met? Are “straight people” to be excluded from a discussion about equality? Can’t “us” include those who want to see discrimination stopped?

    Let’s all listen to each other and learn but don’t hate people who are on your side – help us improve our language.

  26. Deanna Jones

    Kaye, when you write about issues that are within the scope of your expertise, you nail it pretty much every time, and your articles are the main reason I started reading here in the first place. But this topic is clearly outside of your expertise. Being an ally means listening more than talking, and being ok with being wrong. An ally does not argue back against a person who is in the group they are trying to support, to tell them why their perspective is wrong. It does not mean trying to reframe the discussion as excluding straight people, or making them uncomfortable, just because the people in the group you are trying to support are saying you are not being helpful. It does not mean accusing the people in the group you are trying to support of “hating ” you for f#cksake, just because they attempt to correct you. I’ll tell you what it’s like to be hated on. Please do not tell me we are all the same, in the same community, the same family. We are not, and that’s a good thing. LGBT+ peoples are allowed to have their own separate identity, and this so-called debate about whether we are human enough is having the effect that many of us in my community predicted. Assimilation language is beginning to emerge out of this. The people who already have the rights in question, are speaking louder than those without the rights. It is a really difficult time for people in my community, the bigots are more obvious than usual and it’s degrading, it’s painful. Trying to silence me when I point out the flaws of your language, however, minor they seem to you, is to support the No people, and is fundamentally conservative. When ME said something to the effect of “but what about poly?” and you fired back immediately with “marriage is defined by…” I was instantly reminded of Howard. Your thinking around this issue is very conservative, which is maddening in left-leaning internet space. At least the No people are clear cut. They are hateful bigots who will never listen and I accept that, I don’t bother with them. But our so-called supporters do my head in over their stubbornness and need to be right about every little aspect of this complex issue.

    You might have heard the terms “mansplaining” or “whitesplaining”. What is going on here, and not just from you, is hetsplaining. If you are not familiar with the issue of splaining, maybe google it. Maybe google how to be an ally, too. Because if you can’t listen to and take on the words of the people in the group you are trying to support, then maybe don’t talk about it. Maybe stick to what you do know about. Now I am done with trying to communicate about this here. There are multiple other pockets on the internet where I can discuss the marriage equality issue without becoming upset or infuriated, thankfully. I can’t keep having this circular argument here any more.

    Enjoy Sunday.

  27. TurnLeft (@TurnLeft2016)

    KayeLee says “Are “straight people” to be excluded from a discussion about equality?”
    – if this is in terms of marriage – !how are they even excluded when a politician changes a law to privilege the straight people in the marriage discussion.

    “Straight Lives Matter”?

  28. John Haly

    Kaye Lee & Deanna,
    The Gay and Trans community (or what ever you want to call it) simply do not have the numbers alone to change the national conversation without the support of their straight friends. In the same manner that the suffragette movement needed men. Some men actively played a part in militant suffragette activity, and Male allies were vital to the success of the women’s suffrage movement. In the same manner, Refugees need the support of Australian born and bred residents. That fight, I was just discussing with other Australians in a policy meeting in which only one person was an ex-refugee. She certainly had a voice in that conversation. So many of your vocal supporters, protesting, writing and pontificating are neither Gay nor Trans, and yes, we don’t fully understand everything you have suffered or go through. We do although listen; we do – although in our awkward way – try. I live next door to a community of Trans folks who live in community housing. We chat regularly and help one another out with many issues.

    We may all be humans, but we are not in the same community however you are uncomfortable with saying that. But at the end of the day, I am a heterosexual married baby boomer white male with the full complement of wife, child, dog, cat, and fish that quite frankly could easily choose to side with the many conservative members of my class. I fully recognise that there are classes in our society even if I would rather there was not. I don’t choose to participate in approving of my class’s conversation. We are your allies, but we are not you! We wish not to exclude you and seek in whatever awkward way we can to support you.

    As I said earlier, I have been framing the debate in my writings as “Gay Marriage, ” and upon reading this article, I realized I was wrong to do so. I spent an afternoon updating my blog’s language because I realised my writing choices helped invalidate my stance. I don’t know all the variables, or all the pain, or what suffering this debate is causing. I am trying to understand, and that is the best any of us can do. From that perspective, we need your support and would appreciate not being kicked because we got something wrong. Is that a fair thing to ask?

  29. Deanna Jones

    John Haly, right so we had better be nice to you because hey, we need you to throw us a few scraps of your human rights? And yet YOU need OUR support, and we are really mean to you because you can’t be bothered to learn the entire acronym? Can you hear yourself?

    Also, I sincerely hope you did not spend all day changing “gay” to “gay and trans”.

    Turnleft, it’s awful how oppressive this whole debacle is to straight people. Seriously, what they must be going through…

  30. Deanna Jones

    Looks like the straight people abandoned this thread once they lost control of the conversation.

  31. Harquebus

    Deanna Jones
    Would you like me to fill the void?

    theAIMN
    Don’t worry. I’m not about to.

  32. Carol Taylor

    John, I would suggest that the suffragette movement had “some” prominent male supporters, but that the real work to gain the vote was done by women. Likewise with marriage equality, decades of hard work done by others. Through this blog and Michael’s and my former blog Cafe Whispers we have had the opportunity to add our support over the years, but that’s all we can do, the real slog is by the LGBTI communities themselves.

  33. nurses1968

    Deanna Jones
    Not sure about your comment. I’m straight but have been out assisting Rainbow Labor in campaigning for a yes vote.I’m doing it personally because I believe in a persons right to love the partner of their choosing and Marriage equality, that’s all.
    Tell me, am I doing something wrong or in some way offending the LGBTI communities. If so I’ll stay home tomorrow and just wish the yes campaign well

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