By John Haly
The starter gun has officially “legally” fired on the government’s campaign for the alternative postal survey formerly known as the plebiscite. The all too predictable debate surrounding the question of Marriage Equality in Australia has finally begun in earnest.
Initial salvos have already been shot across the bow by the “No” campaign in recent weeks, raising uncertainty amongst the uncommitted. Despite this, the polls have long demonstrated a clear majority of Australians wanting Marriage Equality for some years. What is interesting to note here – presumably due to the prolonged nature of the political resistance – is that the “no” campaign’s latest arguments against Marriage Equality reform appear to have evolved.
In part, this could simply be due to the rebuttal against the “no” campaign’s original arguments having already been trotted out ad nauseam. Indeed, Eric Abetz, a long time serial disparager of anything remotely “gay” / homosexual, published his objections in the Canberra Times in 2015. I penned a long response of my own, although it is ground I am not looking to retread here.
The earlier anti-reform arguments haven’t been abandoned entirely. Andrew Hastie has rehashed them recently. At a cursory glance, the local “No” campaign in their latest tack would seem to be most obviously singing from the same song sheets already utilised by largely unsuccessful opposition campaigns run by organised religious interests opposed to similar reforms (now won) overseas. But on closer inspection, the reality is more invidious.
This “new” campaign angle is really not so new. It is in many ways an age-old playbook of home-grown homo/trans/bi-phobia harkening back to every major campaign conducted in Australia opposing any and all LGBTI legal reform dating back to decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 80s. But with the re-purposed survey upon us and their lack of success to date in prosecuting these earlier positions, the “No” campaign has revved up their anti-Marriage Equality rhetoric. Demonstrated by suddenly expanding their oppositional repertoire. Evidenced by the surprising emails, I began receiving from the “oktosayno” website. While the arguments may have shifted subtly, I would suggest if I may, that the reasoning on display is still not that nuanced, intellectually rigorous or engaging. But if burying yourself in disingenuously privileged and solipsistic opposition for its own sake doesn’t sound like your idea of dear leader Malcolm’s long-promised exciting times, I’ve already done the work, so you don’t have to.
Sodomy is sexual abuse
Religious concerns are often based on the fallacious belief that sodomy, as it was expressed in the Bible, was about homosexuality. But even an ABC article has pointed out that “Sodomy”, as it was expressed in the biblical literature, is about rape and sexual abuse. That the church has illegitimately changed the meaning of the word, is understandable. If you’re in the Catholic priesthood, you wouldn’t want the bible to be condemning predilections that your organisation’s members are infamous for, especially concerning small children. More surprising is that “homosexuality” as a word – not in existence till the late 18th century – has found its way into the Bible. Christ said nothing about homosexuals but had a lot to say about “loving one another” which seems to be a point many in the evangelical community have missed.
Then there is the recurring issue of children. Often raised by those most in denial about the already large numbers of same sex couples that are quite happily and successfully producing and raising children. Concern for children seems restricted to those that are raised by heterosexual couples, despite the fact that when it comes to family stability, studies are proving that heterosexual parents are not always managing better family outcomes. But the opponents to Marriage Equality seem to be unduly concerned about issues of procreation.
Procreation and Marriage are not necessarily related. Either one may be the cause of the other to occur, but the sequencing can fall on either side of the other. Alternatively, procreation or marriage may happen in isolation without the other ever being involved. The Marriage vows in contemporary western society are usually about an expression of love between two adults. Children aren’t involved, even if they are already at the ceremony standing by their mom or dad or step-mum or step-dad. It’s not their marriage!
Marriage Equality is about justice and law, not about religion and procreation. Modern religious communities have appropriated “Marriage” and claimed it is theirs to dictate how and to whom it should be applied. However, marriage as a religious undertaking not only predates these religions but in the Christian’s case, it wasn’t even included as a religious celebration till the 9th century. Even then the ceremony didn’t include a priest till the 12th Century. Back then, as Peg Helminski very smartly points out, Marriage was, in fact, a contract between two men.
“In the beginning, marriage was a relationship between two men. A man exchanged goods or services with a girl’s father to procure a virgin bride—a bride who likely became one of several wives. This way, he could assure himself that any children he supported held valid claim to his property. Yes, marriage began as a business transaction to assure male property rights. Often, marriage provided other benefits; increasing the family labour force, acquiring a trade agreement or securing a political alliance.” Marriage and its legal prerogatives have changed a lot since then, regardless of any religious claims to inviolable and unwavering immutability.
Marriage, today, should be about the two non-related Adults legally acknowledging their love for one another. I am appalled that I have to expressly use the term “non-related” as I have seen social media claims suggesting it a slippery slope to incestuous relationships. In the unfounded nature of arguments that arise, the assumption that the parties are not direct descendants or siblings, including adopted (by law) relationships, has to be re-stated. Disallowing relatives are all outlined in Part 3 of the Marriage Act 1961 under the heading “Void marriages” Section 23. Not being able to marry minors is in Part 2. Marriage equality is about changing the Act’s definition of Marriage as between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman” and removing section 88EA in Part 5 (added by Howard), not Parts 3 or 2.
The marriage equality movement wants to change only five words for two in the Act and remove the section Howard added in 2004 because he realised the Act was “gay-friendly”. That renders genderless, the subject of who can legally marry. In short, “two people“, not exclusively “a man and a woman“. So no Eric Abetz, polygamists, need not apply. Also prohibited by Part 3! Nobody in the Gay and Trans lobby groups is asking you to change Parts 3 or 2 so why do you – as a Lawyer – not understand?
Church’s will still retain the right to deny marriage ceremonies from people they don’t want to have married in their churches. Irrespective of whether they are Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, non-attendees, the great spaghetti monster worshippers, or even gay. (Part 4, Division 2, Section 47 of the Marriage Act) It is about legal equality not ceremonial! It is, not about excluding a group in the community, even if they follow the great flying spaghetti monster. (The supreme creator of the universe – OK I am getting personal here, and I must confess in the interests of transparency, to being a signed up member of that “church”). It is about allowing a relatively significant minority group access to the rights and privileges the vast community already has. It’s access to the legal (not religious, not procreational) right to be married. Marriage ratified by the State, not the Church.
Resistance to political correctness as an argument is odd or at the very least, anti-social. Yes, extreme aspects of PC have become draconian. But marriage equality isn’t about being draconian; it is about being fair. For the most part, political correctness is what everybody who isn’t a bigot, calls politeness. Yes, Mr George Brandis and Mr Scott Morrison, you do have the option (perhaps rather than right) to be a Bigot, but the rest of us want a civil interaction that will build a cohesive society that binds us all together, not separates us. The likes of Peter Dutton, Andrew Bolt, and Tony Abbott may rail against political correctness, but if the alternative is the sort of hate speech and fear mongering you lot love to express quite freely, the rest of us wouldn’t mind skipping. Political Correctness started as a “counterweight to prevailing orthodoxies and power,” and although it in particular cases turned oppressive and shrill, it originated out of trying to protect communities such as the gay ones, and as such, still has value and relevance. Marriage Equality is working to do that. So despite the enduring prevailing will amongst the oppressed and marginalised to speak truth to power, the “no” campaign’s freedom of speech is still equally well preserved.
The unbeatable argument
There is one “No” campaign argument for which I have no rebuttal. It is one advanced in one of the many satirical pieces that arose out of opposition to the first televised Ad of mothers talking about concerns for their cross dressing children and safe school issues. (Small note: Safe schools is about bullying in schools and has nothing to do with marriage equality, people). The counter Ad shows young women talking about how she had planned her marriage for months but that it would never begin to compete with gay individuals who have been planning their marriage for decades. That “wedding competition” line has to be the most valid argument for the “No” vote campaign. It made me laugh and then realise, that’s quite a valid fear. You’d better believe they have been waiting for that day for years. It will come, and the weddings will be fabulous!!
This article was originally published on Australia Awaken.