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.