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August 16th 2013 print

Philippa Martyr

Some ‘marriages’ are more equal than others

If you are a Labor MP and think marriage equality stops at gays, go right ahead and sneer at animal lovers, advocates of incest. There won't be any backlash because, unlike Cory Bernardi, you are on the correct team


Here we go again. Website perthnow.com.au helpfully headlined a recent piece ‘Liberal MP Nick Goiran’s bizarre gay marriage view’. I have met Nick Goiran MLC, and ‘bizarre’ is not a word that springs to mind. So I had a look at what he actually said.


In a speech in the Legislative Council, Western Australia’s upper house, Nick Goiran posited a hypothetical situation where a half-brother and half-sister wanted to marry. This is currently against the law. But we could argue – as Goiran did — that because they love each other, and are in a stable relationship, and would be good parents, and want to marry, the law should be changed to allow them to get married.

What is actually wrong with positing this? More to the point, why are we standing in their way? If marriage is a fundamental human right, then we really can’t stand in the way of two or more people who want to get married legally, no matter who they are.

Labor MP Sally Talbot pretended to be shocked, and published Goiran’s speech on Facebook. ‘Nowhere in the world where we have marriage equality have we had the kind of slippery slope that Nick Goiran fears,’ Ms Talbot told the ABC.

What slippery slope? Surely, Ms Talbot, you’re not passing judgment on the many sincere and happy incestuous couples and threesomes and other variations who would like to be entitled to marry legally?

Surely it would be better to free up the legal institution of marriage completely, so that any person/s who felt drawn to marriage would be entitled to access this basic human right?

In the Netherlands, gay marriage was recognised early, and now civil unions between more than two persons have full legal recognition there. In Sweden, half-siblings may marry. This sibling couple in the UK are already married. Why should they be forced to live overseas? Surely the law in the UK needs to be changed so that this couple can live in safety and peace once more?

Last year, film director Nick Cassavetes, who produced the film Yellow which had an incest theme, said at the Toronto Film Festival, ‘Who gives a shit if people judge you? … I’m not saying this is an absolute but in a way, if you’re not having kids – who gives a damn? Love who you want. Isn’t that what we say? Gay marriage – love who you want?  If it’s your brother or sister it’s super-weird, but if you look at it, you’re not hurting anybody except every single person who freaks out because you’re in love with one another.’

The world somehow failed to end when he said this.  Yet Cory Bernardi’s speech last year did cause the world to end. Here’s what Bernardi actually said: ‘The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society – or any other type of relationship.’

As I said before, this is now legally the case in the Netherlands. In Canada under legislative changes in 2011, polyamory was not legalised, but it was also not criminalised. A pro-polygamy writer, John Ince, commented on the British Columbia Supreme Court ruling as follows:

“I compare the legal situation of polyamorous folks to that of gay people in the 1950s. Then the criminal law prohibited gay relationships. But in the 1960s those laws were repealed and in a few decades the gay community grew and thrived in Canada, with gays ultimately receiving the same rights as anyone else. I think a parallel trend is likely with polyamory. Now that the court has found that polyamorous relationships do not cause harm and are not criminal, we can expect to see polyamory gradually become social mainstreamed, exactly as gay relationships have.”

Poor old Cory Bernardi – that’s clearly where he went wrong. If he’d been in the ALP or the Greens, they’d have lauded his farsighted proclamation of the extension of the human right of marriage to everyone and everything on the planet. But as it was, he was bawled out for the following comments:

‘There are even some creepy people out there… [who] say it is OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, “These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union”. I think that these things are the next step.’

Why not? Bestiality – so sorry, zoophilia – is already legal in a lot of places in the US (and I read that in Mother Jones, not PalaeoConservative Weekly.) As soon as the German government moved to ban bestiality in 2012, someone from Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information (in German ZETA) got antsy:

‘It is unthinkable that any sexual act with an animal is punished without proof that the animal has come to any harm … We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don’t force them to do anything. Animals are much easier to understand than women.’

ZETA’s website is very interesting, as you can imagine, and they are quite clear about their motivations:

Zoophiles will remain a part of society as much as they have been a part of society since its beginning. As fellow humans they deserve the same basic constitutional rights and duties as every other citizen. Through the German basic principle of a free and democratic composure of society, they are entitled to develop their personality within the measure of the law and shall enjoy protection from discrimination. Our initiative wants to promote that an open zoophile-lifestyle is possible without incurring negative social backlash.’

Let us close on the last and most important objective of this initiative – to lobby against the looming criminalization of sexual human-animal encounters. It happened already in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands; now a multitude of pressure groups may succeed in Germany … We want to fight this – in our opinion – injust treatment by compiling available scientific literature and for example volunteering for further scientific studies as well as acting as the official advocacy group of the zoophile community.’

Bernardi’s real crime came later, when he exposed the Greens link with the polyamory movement, for which Sarah Hanson-Young demanded his disendorsement.

And this makes me think that Sally Talbot is more interested in scoring cheap political points against Nick Goiran than actually saying anything about marriage equality. Sally Talbot should also be roundly condemned for passing judgment on polyamorous couples by calling their right to marriage a ‘slippery slope’. How dare she!

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City, but only when she can.