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September 18th 2017 print

Keith Windschuttle

SSM: Spurious, Specious, Misleading

One argument for altering the definition of marriage is that it will 'dignify' gay unions, but dignity in personal relationships cannot be conferred by the state and its impersonal bureaucracy. The best a state can offer is legal protection, which it does already. Dignity is beyond its reach

noIt should be now clear to everyone that, in the debate over the looming plebiscite on same-sex marriage, those advocating a Yes vote have a very weak case. At best, they are putting forward an anti-discrimination argument: homosexuals who want to marry should not be denied because that would perpetuate the discrimination they have long suffered under the law. To give this a positive spin, as their PR people have obviously advised, this translates into a demand for equality: “marriage equality” and “equal love”, or as the Kerryn Phelps television commercial puts it, marriage would “dignify” a same-sex relationship, as it does for heterosexuals.

Some conservatives have also offered a John Stuart Mill libertarian argument, claiming that since homosexual marriage is between consenting adults in private, and does no public harm, then there is no good reason to deny it. Other liberals and conservatives have argued that since political change is inevitable, it is better it were done now by the Turnbull government, which would preserve the rights of religious interests, than later by Bill Shorten, who would give full rein to the demands of radical activists.

However, none of the Vote Yes arguments are sound. The anti-discrimination case is impossible to sustain at a time when the legal position of all homosexuals in stable relationships is that they have long had the same rights as heterosexual couples. Since 2009, same-sex couples have been protected, along with all de facto couples, in terms of taxation, superannuation, social welfare, immigration, employment, workers’ compensation, veterans’ affairs, and the legal right to have and retain children. They even have access to the Family Court.

Our federal state fully recognises same-sex unions, except it does not sanction them with the term “marriage”. What difference would a change here make? Would it dignify the relationship, as the Phelps commercial maintains? Hardly. If a homosexual couple enjoy a dignified relationship, as many have long done, they have created it themselves. Dignity in personal relationships cannot be conferred by the state and its impersonal bureaucracy. The best a state can offer is legal protection, which it does already. Dignity is beyond its reach.

This essay, along with three others addressing same-sex marriage, will be re-printed in the upcoming October edition of Quadrant
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The slogan that claims gay marriage would confirm “equal love” is another abuse of terminology, derived more from the lyrics of popular songs than any depth of thinking about the subject. Marriage is not just about love. Many people love one another without wanting or needing to marry. Parents and grandparents love their children and grandchildren, who mostly love them in return. There are many other long-term loving relationships, most but by no means all based on kinship, between people for whom marriage would be unthinkable.

Marriage is something else. It long predates the rise of civilisations and the great religions. It originated not in theology or politics but in nature, and the unique needs of human children for sustained nurturing during their long rearing from infancy to adolescence. Marriage is about procreation and is designed to transform the romantic love of two people of the opposite sex into a union for the rearing of children. It is essentially a heterosexual institution. It binds a man as family provider, especially at the crucial time when children are babies and demand constant care from their mother. Through its insistence on sexual fidelity, marriage also ensures that the child for whom the man provides is his genuine offspring. The fact that these ideals are not always preserved—some men are feckless providers, some women cuckold them, some mothers now rely on the state or even another woman as provider—does not alter the principles that define the institution.

Of course, some people marry and never have children. But if this kind of relationship was all the institution meant, there would be no need for marriage as we know it, with its legal bonds to offspring and property, its public promises of sexual fidelity, and its strict incest taboos. Marriage is something far more important that providing love, pleasure and companionship to a couple. It is an essential institution for the survival of the species. In logical terms, homosexual marriage is a category mistake. Heterosexuals who endorse this error are allowing radical sex activists to lead them by the nose. Intelligent gays who go along with this charade should know better.

On the other hand, the Vote No campaign has presented a powerful case. The television commercials by the Coalition for Marriage went straight to the issue of the Safe Schools program and its indoctrination of school children with radical gay propaganda. The commercials immediately imply that there is a wider issue involved here, that activists are engaged in a campaign to exercise their political influence by persuading children to experiment with gender change, getting boys to try on dresses, girls to pretend to be soldiers, and children of both sexes to role-play their opposites. In short, there is a great deal of potential public harm buried within this issue. “Marriage equality” is a front for more radical changes to social mores, especially an assault on the right of parents to have the principal say in the moral education of their children.

The Coalition for Marriage’s campaign is backed by a list of twenty-eight partners, most of them religious organisations, including the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the Catholic Archdioceses of Sydney, of Hobart and of Broken Bay, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, the Sydney Chinese Christian Churches Association and Australian Baptist Ministries. The full range of consequences for religious freedom that these groups have identified are formidable but unfortunately most of them have not yet been advertised to the public. Beyond church circles, few attempts have yet been made to spell out for those who will vote in the plebiscite what these consequences are. However, in an illuminating article in Quadrant in January-February 2010, Cardinal George Pell listed a number of them. He wrote that if same-sex marriage became public policy “the consequences for religious freedom could be enormous”:

Marriage preparation, relationship counselling, decisions about medical treatment by next of kin, school enrolments, sex and relationship education in secondary schools, the hire of parish, school and church facilities for functions and events, and arrangements for married couples in emergency housing, retreat, conference and aged care centres are only the most obvious examples of where Christian beliefs about marriage could collide with public policy on anti-discrimination which prioritises the equal treatment of same-sex marriage.

The final point from the Yes camp that I want to respond to here is the claim by former New South Wales Premier Nick Greiner and the Victorian MP Tim Wilson that same-sex marriage is inevitable and therefore those like George Pell who worry about religious freedom should support the move to get a quick decision so it can be introduced in the current term of the Turnbull government, which is more likely than a future Labor government to insert some appropriate guarantees in the legislation. This, however, should not count as an argument in the debate. It is simply a crude political tactic by supporters of the change, designed to deflate rather than debate the case of opponents who believe same-sex marriage is wrong in itself and must be opposed, not appeased. Rather than an appeal to evidence and logic, it is a call to surrender.

Keith Windschuttle is the Editor of Quadrant.

Comments [5]

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    One way to defuse this issue might be simply to add a rider to the legislation to the effect that no cause of action shall arise from the refusal of any individual or corporation or any church or association to provide any service whatsoever to any individual. It ought not to be assumed that denial of service is based on any prejudice. To force people to do what they don’t want to do is surely conscription of labour, aka slavery.

  2. Warty says:

    I don’t disagree with him, but in a sense Keith is preaching to the converted. Unfortunately his arguments simply will not wash with any of those intending to vote yes. In part this is due to the now almost universal acceptance of the concept of moral relativity, in other words most of us feel there is no such thing as moral absolutes, despite the fact that our current legal system (those aspects not blown clean out of the water by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) still retains residues of the belief that some actions are considerable more culpable than others.
    Yet this same Declaration of Human Rights begins by telling us that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’. To me this is clearly false, and for millennia prior to December 1948 most people would agree with me, but Article One is a legal definition, not a statement of fact and as the scope of its meaning expands over the decades since its promulgation, it laid the foundations for the acceptance of homosexuality, then the granting of full civil rights to homosexuals, leading to the situation we are facing today, viz whether or not to enable LBGTI people to marry.
    Article Two ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty’ ensures that any country signed up to this Universal declaration of human rights cannot escape its provisions, and that eventually the full scope of its possible interpretation will catch up with each and every one of us. It took twenty years before this same article could be ‘seen ‘ to apply to ‘African Americans’ for instance. Another five or so years before it applied to homosexuals and more than twenty years before it was seen to apply to children, and corporal punishment was finally dispensed with and discipline began to deteriorate in schools.
    John Howard, Tony Abbot and many others on the ‘No’ side can see further expansion of LGBTI ‘rights’ unless there is suitable legislation put in place BEFORE THE VOTE. If it isn’t and the plebiscite is carried in favour of SSM, and the fact that conservatives do not enjoy a majority in the senate, then what is to stop the Safe Schools programme being instituted in schools across Australia. Who is going to protect those parents that refute the gender fluid stuff their children will be taught in school? Who will protect those individuals that in one way or other conscientiously object to SSM? We have only to look to Canada, England, Ireland and other countries to understand the range of punitive measures that can be brought to bear against those who do not cling to the new orthodoxies.
    As Cory Bernardi pointed out in his book The Conservative Revolution: we need a conservative revolution, so that we can begin to unravel some of the considerable damage done since the 10th December 1948. We need to pull out of the UN, reject any codification of the law, and return to the Common Law system we enjoyed in full back when I was a little boy. But in particular, we need to ensure the majority is not dictated to by radicalised minority groups, lest it emasculates the whole bloody lot of us.

  3. Stuart says:

    My thoughts exactly, Mr Windschuttle, well said. I particularly enjoyed this part:

    In logical terms, homosexual marriage is a category mistake. Heterosexuals who endorse this error are allowing radical sex
    activists to lead them by the nose. Intelligent gays who go along with this charade should know better.

    It remains the best argument against gay marriage: it’s strange, crazy, dippy, bonkers, nuts!

    It’s rare to hear the positive case for marriage, partly because it’s so obvious to supporters that it doesn’t occur to us to spell it out, and partly because we’re all so busy swatting away at madness. This issue causes so many otherwise sensible people to take leave of their senses. But the really infuriating thing is that instead of admitting that they’re going to join the radicals on this issue, they try to frame it as a logical theorem of conservatism — spurious indeed! James Paterson and Janet Albrechtsen have both cited conservative and libertarian reasons for voting “Yes”: conservative, because, à la Christopher Pyne, marriage is a conservative institution, so greater participation in the institution is a more conservative state of affairs; libertarian, because marriage is a freedom of whose enjoyment by homosexuals the government is presently obstructing. But the essence of conservatism is faith in enduring social institutions, and the essence of liberty is freedom from coercion; so their arguments are sophistries.

    Given that gay couples already have the same rights as straight couples, the John Stuart Mill argument is neither here nor there regarding the vote, but it does support the cancellation of child-rearing and other rights that gays presently have, in view of the very great harm that gay parenting will cause. In any case, no idea has done more to undermine the family-centric moral system of which marriage is a part, than Mill’s libertine amoralism, so we need not appeal to Mill. We ought rather to heed James Fitzjames Stephen’s warning that liberty needs to be channelled towards the good by commonsense moral, religious, and conscientious sanctions.

    Greg Sheridan, meanwhile, seems intent on enhancing his reputation for getting only the big calls wrong, by supporting “Yes”, after supporting Hillary last year. He began his recent article in The Australian with “Assuming we get to vote on same-sex marriage, the most important question is the principle of the thing” — and then abandoned the principle of the thing, made practical arguments in the manner of Nick Greiner and Tim Wilson, and imagined that Thomas Aquinas would probably be a “Yes” man — ahem, person. I can just imagine him in a rainbow robe — can’t you?

  4. Keith Kennelly says:

    The problem for the yes vote is that rather than promote tolerance they are demanding acceptance and sanction.

    In the hearts of heterosexual people homosexuality wrong and is not truth.

    Everybody understands this and the yes campaign is frustrated and angry because they know in their hearts that this is also truth.

    They know everybody tolerates their behaviour but the vast majority still see it as wrong and they will not sanction it.

    The survey has turned into a vote on sanctioning, not marriage, but on sanctioning homosexual behaviour.

    Nearly 80% will vote no.

  5. Tricone says:

    All Australian legal residents, gay, straight or indeterminate, already have equal rights to marry another unmarried person of legal age and the opposite sex.

    Australians are all equally unable to marry a member of the same sex or any other infinite number of categories.

    So it’s not about equality.

    Equally, anyone is equally able to call their relationship with anyone else “marriage”.

    Just the state won’t sanction it.