Issue Debate: Against

Tom White argues against gay marriage in Australia.

As our progressive Prime Minister recently stated, marriage is the bed rock of our society – a vital ingredient in the recipe our civilisation’s successes. Our populations have grown and flourished, and our societies developed around the family unit, reinforced by the institution of marriage. The current definition of marriage, entrenched in the Marriage Act by the Howard Government in 2004 as the union of a man and woman – to the exclusion of all others – is not only supported by our current Prime Minister, but every one of her predecessors. That definition ought to remain unchanged.

While we’re on Prime Ministers – gay marriage advocates often deride the motives of mainstream political leaders who oppose their plight as purely political. That is, that their public statements on gay marriage are motivated by an intention to appear inoffensive to an electorate that would revolt at the ballot boxes should they say otherwise. In some cases this may be true, but this argument is wholly inconsistent with another made by the same people – that public support for gay marriage is high. If public support for gay marriage is so high, as many progressively minded pollsters suggest, the political imperative for a leader not guided by their own sense of principle would be to scream their support for it from the rooftops. Either every major political leader this nation has ever had holds genuine views thoroughly inconsistent with those they represent, or those polls don’t accurately reflect public sentiment.

Amending the Marriage Act to facilitate gay marriage dilutes an institution conceived and maintained to regulate procreation and the continuation of the human species. Marriage has existed for centuries primarily to facilitate kinship and creation of families. If one appreciates this as a key function of marriage (and I appreciate that this definition if not universally acknowledged), then one must also appreciate that extending the bounds of marriage to couples who by their very biology are precluded from procreating renders marriage itself redundant. Why should marriage exist if those who marry are necessarily unable to form biological families?

A common argument one encounters when discussing the concept of gay marriage is that obstructing the ability of two homosexuals to marry is in some way similar to placing the same legal barrier between a black man and a white woman – a practice observed in many countries right up until the mid-20th century. This argument ignores one important point. While no evidence exists to suggest that people of different racial persuasions exhibit significantly different emotional or psychological characteristics, men and women are vastly different, and it is the coming together of those opposing traits which makes marriage unique and special. Stopping interracial matrimony is racist, and should be abhorred, but upholding marriage between man and woman simply recognises important and inherent differences between the two genders. There is nothing unequal about recognising difference.

In Western Australia there exists no significant legal difference between de facto relationships, whether they be gay or straight. Gay couples enjoy all the same legal rights and responsibilities as straight couples. This is as it should be – the law should not discriminate in any tangible way between long-term and stable gay relationships and similar relationships between men and women. As such, the gay marriage debate should no longer be fought on the grounds of legal rights conferred by the institution, as all reasonable parties with an interest in this debate stand as one on this point. This may lead some to suggest that equal legal standing for gay and straight de facto relationships condenses the gay marriage argument to mere symbolism. This provides an interesting dynamic, one which could be interpreted as strengthening and weakening the arguments on both sides – what’s all the fuss about symbolism? The inevitable answer expressed by ‘gay rights’ advocates is that marriage enables two people to express a love for each other which is somehow beyond reach otherwise. Does it therefore hold that two people’s love is illegitimate without the institution of marriage behind it? I would hope that the love that exists between two people is able to flourish irrespective of ceremony or nomenclature.

Interestingly, libertarian elements in the Liberal Party (and outside it) have called for the deregulation of marriage. That is, getting the state out of the business of marriage, perhaps recognising de facto relationships alone, and allowing individuals and the respective religious groups to recognise ceremonies and traditions as they wish. This argument, while undoubtedly interesting, is beyond the realms of political reality at present, and would require some significant legal shifts also.

On a related point, concern has been expressed by those opposed to gay marriage regarding the threat such legal arrangements may pose to religious groups.  If gay marriage were to become legal, and a church or other religious organisation were to deny a gay couple the right to marry under its banner, would that organization expose itself to legal action on the basis of discrimination? By providing freedom of marriage, which no reasonable person would describe as a human right, might the state dilute freedom of religion, which no reasonable person would not as such describe? While a Bill of Rights might bring this idea closer to reality, it’s certainly worth considering, especially considering the appetite amongst some within the community to push their own agendas of political correctness through bodies such as the Human Rights Commission. Gay marriage could give rise to tensions between the competing interests of ‘marital freedom’ and ‘religious freedom’.

Some, but not all, homosexuals parade as a badge of honour the incongruence between their lifestyle and values and those of the mainstream. Some might say there’s flexibility in juggling the celebration of an alternative lifestyle in one hand while decrying one’s inability to partake in the very conventional institution of marriage in the other. That said, the concerns of gay people in the community on this issue are legitimate and should not be diminished. Legal equality should be paramount in this discussion. Beyond that, society should recognise each stable relationship for its significance and the love that underpins it. What should also be recognised are the unique characteristics which define relationships and the according ceremonies, traditions and principles from which that should flow.


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