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August 20th 2016 print

Peter Smith

Beware the Loaded Question

The catchcry of ‘marriage equality’ when applied across heterosexual and same-sex couples is a complete red herring. When the plebiscite is held -- if it is held, that is -- those who draft the ballot's question need to bear that in mind

gay eyeI wonder what wording will be used in the upcoming marriage plebiscite, assuming it goes ahead. Maybe it will say something like this:

The current Marriage Act (1961) as amended in 2004 defines marriage as “the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” The Act therefore, as it stands, allows marriage only between a man and a woman.

The question before you is whether in your opinion the Act should be amended by the Australian Parliament to allow people of the same gender to marry? Put a cross in the YES box below if you think the Act should be changed to allow a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman or put a cross in the NO box if you think the Act should remain unchanged, allowing marriage only between a man and woman.

I am not an expert in these things and am confident that parliamentary draftspersons will do a much better job. But you will notice that in my amateur version there is no mention of ‘marriage equality’. This I believe is important. ‘Equality’ is such a seductive concept that hardly anybody could possibly disagree with it.

Some members of my own family have been seduced by it, I feel. Certainly the YES campaign will use it mercilessly to prosecute its case. That’s fair enough as part of a partisan campaign. But it shouldn’t be given any official imprimatur because it is entirely misleading.

As a non-transsexual, non-transgender, non-transvestite, non-gender-confused man I am cruelly excluded from Miss Trans Brazil or Miss Ladyboy pageants, to cite just two of many such events. Oh the sheer inequality of it! That’s not the end of it, nor is it the end of the beginning of it. I bet that if I were to ask whether I could try on a negligee in the women’s change room in a posh department store some sassy sales assistant would raise her eyebrows in a way designed to humiliate me. Gillian Triggs and 18C may eventually come to my rescue but, in the meantime, the damage to my psyche could be incalculable.

God is responsible for all this unequal treatment, as I will explain if you bear with me.

The Catholic Church in its Catechism (nos. 1936 & 1937 for those interested) makes it plain that inequality in physical and mental abilities and in wealth and other things is part of God’s plan. Similarly, God is responsible for creating inequalities and differences between men and women.

Men are taller and stronger than women on the whole. Women have more attractive and refined features. Men and women also have different anatomies; as one can tell when viewing them naked. This anatomical difference was put in place by God to encourage and facilitate procreation.

He could have made all human beings the same I suppose but decided, in His great wisdom, to create complementary genders rather than have a whole race of self-impregnating, child-bearing, hermaphrodites. However, His way of bringing this about through evolution inevitably leads to variations from the norm. Sometimes the human genome spirals out of sync; to be terribly scientific about it. Thus some men like men and some women like women, and some don’t know who they like; jolly good show. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

Where am I going with this you might ask? Well, where I am going is to say that equality is not the natural order of things. If the Olympic governing body won’t allow you to compete because you can only run the 100 metres in, say, 40 seconds you have to take it on the chin. Sure, you might feel hard done by. But take a well-rounded view. It is not as if they are excluding you because of irrelevancies such as your ethnicity, religion or physical appearance.

The world is full of open and shut doors. The key is whether the qualifying criteria which let in some and not others are fair, reasonable and relevant. Marriage is not and never set out to be an exclusionary institution. It was purpose built to formalise unions of one man to one woman, who were getting together to procreate and provide a stable home for their progeny. Often the objection raised to this model of marriage is that not all married people can or do have children. True enough, but they form part of a whole body of unions of males and females from which children spring.

Unions of people of the same gender can never bring forth children. Their unions are worthy of recognition but they are not marriages; as the institution of marriage has been defined and recognised since time immemorial. They simply don’t fit the criteria. There is nothing discriminatory about this.

Equality is a meaningful goal when applied across a homogeneous set. It is not necessarily meaningful when applied across a heterogeneous set. For example, it might make sense to aim for equal pay for people with the same skills doing the same job. It makes no sense to aim for equal pay for those with different skills doing different jobs.

Gay and lesbian couples are not the same as heterosexual couples. They don’t together form a homogeneous set. Ergo, treating them differently is not tantamount to treating them unequally.

The catchcry of ‘marriage equality’ when applied across heterosexual and same-sex couples is a complete red herring. Will that prevent it being used as a siren song to snare the unwary? Of course not, but the term should not form part of any information or material issued by the Government or the Parliament.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [19]

  1. Matt says:

    “Their unions are worthy of recognition …” Hmmm. Well, my own opinions on the matter don’t align with God’s stated opinion either. Ever stopped to seriously comprehend the opinion of the God whom you refer to? God doesn’t give us here today instructions on how to respond. But he does have an opinion.

    • Peter says:

      Matt, I prefer to keep out of purporting to know what God’s opinion is. It depends sometimes on what theologian you read. I am impressed by Jack Rogers’ book – Jesus, the bible and homosexuality – which sets out the case that the Bible, when viewed within its original linguistic and cultural context, is unclear on the matter of condemning homosexual acts per se. Beyond that it seems unsafe to judge how other people live their lives provided they don’t harm others, and very unsafe to treat them unkindly. Hence I think same-sex unions are worthy of recognition in law and by society at large. I just don’t think that such unions should be faddishly shoehorned into the institution of marriage.

      • Matt says:

        Yes, I’m well familiar with gay theology. I just don’t buy it.

      • pgang says:

        It’s original linguistic and cultural context has God describing homosexuality as an abomination. Obviously that is very unclear, in a postmodern context. Paul was also very unclear when he repeatedly warned the early church away from sexual immorality. So too was Jesus, in his ministry of repentance of sins.

  2. ArthurB says:

    I view the matter of same sex marriage with a mixture of cynicism and dismay. Same sex marriage seems to have been invented about a decade ago, and now it is the cause du jour, an index of how progressive and ‘compassionate’ you are. If it is such an important matter, why wasn’t the gay lobby pushing for it 20 or 30 years ago? Why should the institution of marriage, which in all human societies has been between a man and a woman, be redefined just to pander to the agenda of the gay/lesbian lobby? I suspect it is merely the latest tactic used by the Left to destroy the family, and erode the foundations of our way of life.

    The push for same sex marriage is being accompanied by a push for same sex parenting, which, I am sure, will have disastrous consequences. Western society is already suffering from the social problems caused by several generations of men raised in fatherless families. We will have more problems from boys raised by lesbians.

    • Jack Brown says:

      “why wasn’t the gay lobby pushing for it 20 or 30 years ago?”

      Back then the gay lobby was pushing for the state to get out of peoples’ bedrooms, now it wants the state back in.

  3. Jody says:

    Decadence. Nero fiddled (cough) while Rome burned.

  4. Keith Kennelly says:

    Ahem. Nero played the fiddle. History doesn’t record whether he fiddled.

    • Jody says:

      I was being metaphorical!!

      Today on “Insiders” (yes, I know I shouldn’t watch this crud but my husband had it on in the background) they talked about David Leyhenholm (spelling) and his action against Chris Kenny over this journalist’s insulting comments (“angry, white male” etc.). Kenny et al said “he’s obviously got nothing better to do with his time than complain”! Well, not like minority groups who are so BUSY with their lives that they have to take much-needed extra time out on discrimination actions!!! LOL. Like those 3 hapless students at UQ!! Time on their hands is one thing these students wouldn’t have, being drawn unwittingly into the most scandalous action this country has known in recent history.

      And they also took a swipe at Andrew Bolt saying “he’s got more air time than anybody else and he complains about lack of freedom of speech”. Two things: firstly, freedom of speech is WHAT you can say not the AMOUNT of talking you do. Secondly, it’s good to know these tired old lefties are listening to, and obviously disturbed by, the likes of Bolt et al!!!! And the “Insiders” crew just aren’t intelligent enough to get it. Typical of this lack of intelligence is the absence of penetrating questions from Barry (I’m a Labor luvvie) Cassidy. Well, he must truly be a relation of his infamous nemesis, “Hop-along”!!!!

  5. Alistair says:

    I always thought that the idea of marriage was to create a legal entity called the family in which children could be raised under the protection of the marriage law. These days children are just as likely to be born out of wedlock and hence not enjoy these protections, and those actually wedded are just as likely to avoid having children. The whole thing is a mess and so you might as well extend marriage equality to engineering structures or domestic pets. Why the hell not?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2688498/Rock-solid-The-Australian-woman-married-BRIDGE-celebrates-one-year-anniversary.html

    http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/denmark-woman-marries-own-horse-creates-legal-precedent/

  6. Ian MacDougall says:

    Assuming same-sex marriage is endorsed, though it will not have my vote, I think that a reasonable question to ask is “what comes next?” Legalised polygamy? Polyandry perhaps? Some Muslims practice and favour polygamy. Polyandry is rarer, but Tibetans and one or two tribes in South America have institutionalised it.
    And what about trans-species relationships legally endorsed?
    The field of possibilities will grow, I am sure.

  7. Warty says:

    I know Peter is writing a partly tongue in cheek article, with logic and rhetoric being dominant features. It enables we, the converted, a little comic relief; but the issue, so it seems to me, is a damn side more serious than this. And please, I’m not arguing against comic relief: any relief is more than welcome.
    But I rather like Peter Hitchens’s finger-pointing at the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which began the process, assisted by the wondrous discovery of ‘the pill’, enabling people to jump into bed, will-he nil-he, with whomsoever he or she wished. Back then, and I joined in with great alacrity in the 1970s, it was generally blokes jumping into bed with sheilas (they don’t use those terms nowadays) and great fun it was. But somewhere along the line, blokes and sheilas got so stoned they initiated identity confusion and the unmentionable began to happen. I say unmentionable, because those sorts of things could theoretically land you in gaol, pre 1980s, so best not mention the error in judgement/s.
    Now I’m not Jewish, but one of the most intelligent people in the world, Jonathan Sacks, mentioned the secularization of knowledge ‘in the form of science and philosophy’, in the seventeenth century; followed by the secularization of power, in the eighteenth century, and he gives the American and French Revolutions as examples of this; the secularization of culture, in the nineteenth century ‘as art galleries and museums were seen as alternatives to churches as places in which to encounter the sublime; but the secularization of morality, which is so afflicting us today ‘in which anyone, including the state, is justified in intervening in behaviour done in private is the prevention of harm to others. And so the codes of behaviour that traditionally regulated society become supplanted as ‘the unfettered sanctity of the individual, autonomy, rights and choice’ becomes inalienable, unquestioned even by many conservatives. There seems a slight contradiction here, but I think I understand what he means.
    For those of us who like the short pithy responses (of old) I must apologise: I do like to ram a point home, sometimes.
    of law.

  8. Bill Martin says:

    Well said again Peter, wit, sarcasm and all.

    Let me just add this. While “marriage equality” is unquestionably a loaded term, it is also unquestionable that absolute marriage equality has always been integral to Australian as well as western culture in general: All citizens over the prescribed age have the unrestricted right to marry, by mutual consent, any member of the opposite sex over the prescribed age.

    Of course, the nub of the matter is not gay marriage but the destruction of the traditional family. Many prominent advocates of “marriage equality” have openly and repeatedly acknowledged that aim.

  9. sorgsy says:

    Hello, To whom it may concern,
    Would one consider surrogacy and/or adoption in homosexual couples as a legitimate means to fulfill the marriage requirements of “procreation”? If not, could you please explain your reasons why?

    Thanks in advance.

  10. gardner.peter.d says:

    Marriage for the purpose of providing the foundations of society pre-dates religions such as Christianity and Islam. However, most religions have incorporated marriage into their beliefs as a self-evidently ‘good thing’. In his book, ‘The Selfish Gene’, wot’s-is-name (Richard Dawkins, who has gone a bit wonky of late) explains why genes, which act in the interests of their species’ survival rather than that of an individual, rather favour the inequality of male and female and that while these make marriage a tad difficult on occasion, both the differences and marriage itself are necessary for the nurture of children and hence the survival of the species. In the past human societies have in various ways encouraged marriage in recognition of the inherent difficulties to be overcome and the overall benefits. Also over time most societies made it easier for a marriage that is not fulfilling this purpose to be dissolved.
    Our genes would be delighted to see their random failures in the form of lesbian or homosexual individuals not reproduced and so far have managed to avoid that possibility in couplings between people of the same gender. However, mankind in its superior wisdom, is devising ways round this. Whether this is a ‘good thing’ or not remains to be seen but nevertheless it is possible to argue that a same-sex marriage can be formed around the same objective. Most studies to-date indicate that the best family for children has natural parents comprising their own father and mother. So the genes are probably winning the argument thus far.
    Dawkins also argues that one of the main differences between the human and other species is the ability of the former to recognise that where they are today is not where they had hoped or intended to be. Humans are good at hindsight, poor at foresight. Other species good at neither. A self-evident truth in respect of humans to any honest person.
    Whichever way you look at it, homo-sexual or lesbian marriage is not the same and, if our genes have anything to do with it, never can be the equivalent of heterosexual marriage. Mankind will always try to improve on nature but it seems to me we would do better to celebrate the institution of hetero-sexual marriage by maintaining its special status, symbolising it in elaborate and distinctive ceremonies and giving it the utmost encouragement. Changing the definition of marriage will do nothing towards. On the contrary it will remove the core of its meaning and further contribute to Western societies’ losing their way and degrading. As authors such as Niall Ferguson have pointed out, nations and civilisations fail when their institutions become weak or corrupt.
    By all means find ways to encourage stability among homosexual and lesbian relationships but not by undermining a foundational institution of human society.

    • gardner.peter.d says:

      Oh, I forgot to say, that since we recognise that heterosexual marriages should be dissolved when no longer fulfilling their purpose, how shall we define grounds for homosexual and lesbian divorce? When I was an engineer under training I was alway taught how to turn a machine off before I was taught how to turn it on. Perhaps we should first define homosexual and lesbian divorce.