One of the most important questions which might be asked about gay marriage, if enacted in Australia, is just how many such unions there are likely to be. As it happens, it is possible to provide a fairly precise answer to this question. The 2011 Australian Census asked how many same-sex couples were living together in de facto relationships, the equivalent of legal marriage or de facto partnerships among heterosexual couples. It also asked how many heterosexual couples were living together, either in a legal marriage or in a de facto partnership. By state, the figures are as follows:
Same Sex Opposite Sex
New South Wales 12,731 1,488,136
Victoria 8722 1,160,882
Queensland 5986 938,314
South Australia 1930 351,178
Western Australia 2576 487,189
Tasmania 606 109,048
Northern Territory 288 38,271
A.C.T. 872 77,473
Australia Totals 33,714 4,650,986
In 2011 there were precisely 33,714 gay couples living together in Australia (67,428 persons), compared with 4,650,986 heterosexual couples (9,301,972 persons). Gay couples thus comprised 0.7 per cent of the total number of persons living together, gay or straight — about one gay couple for every 143 heterosexual couple (while opposite sex couples constitute 99.3%). Even this almost certainly exaggerates the proportion of gays to straights, since these figures omit all adults who are currently single, divorced, separated or widowed, while they include all actual gay couples.
Taking this into account, in all likelihood not more than one adult Australian in 200 is in a gay or lesbian partnership, the groups from which gay marriages, if enacted, will be drawn. The total number of Australian gays and lesbians living together is less than one-half of the population of Toowoomba (158,00), spread out from Hobart to Broome. Put another way, there are, on average, 225 gay couples (450 persons) for each of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, probably fewer than the number of first-preference votes going to the Monster Raving Looney Party.
Moreover, since there are certainly more gay couples living in or near Oxford Street, Sydney, than in Moonee Ponds or Woop Woop, in many seats their numbers are insignificant. Politicians who think that a vote for gay marriage taps a wellspring of potential new voters capable of swinging the seat their way are certainly deluding themselves. If there is a bloc of gay voters — take that to mean those whose vote will be decided by support for gay issues — it is no larger than the bloc of votes for the bird watchers, the ramblers, the veteran car enthusiasts, or any other fringe minority lobby.
It is very likely that most readers will be very surprised by the figures presented above. If asked, I imagine that most Australians would say that about 10% to 15% of the population is gay or lesbian, when the actual figure is less than one-tenth of that number. Yet the statistics found in Australia are virtually identical to for other, similar countries. In America, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a survey in 2013, “Sexual Orientation Among U.S. Adults“. Among Americans eighteen or older, it found the following statistics of sexual self-identification:
Gay or lesbian 1.6% 3,729,000 persons
“Straight” 97.7% 229,163,000 persons
Bisexual 0.7% 1,514,000 persons
The total number of gays and lesbians in the entire US is thus about the same as that of metropolitan Seattle, but spread out among the fifty states, from Hawaii to Florida.
In the United Kingdom, “civil partnerships” — a kind of gay marriage-lite — have existed since the passage of enabling legislation in December, 2005, and statistics exist as to how many civil partnerships have actually been registered. Between 2005 and 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available) a total of 53,417 civil partnerships were registered in a country with an adult population of nearly 50 million. That number represents perhaps one-fifth of one per cent of Britain’s adult population over a six year period.
Could it be that gay couples have been waiting for the Real McCoy: legalisation of genuine same sex marriages, rather than a half-way substitute? Actual same-sex marriages became legal in England and Wales in March, 2014, (Scotland has a separate law; same-sex marriages remain illegal in Northern Ireland.) As yet, we have statistics for these same-sex marriages only for the first three months (April- June 2014) of their existence. Was there a mad rush for gay couples to wed? In these first three months there were exactly 1409 same-sex marriages in England and Wales, probably less than the number of persons queuing at 6 a.m. for the start of Harrods’ Boxing Day Sale.
If there are any statistics for Australia, or any similar country, showing a significantly greater number of gays and lesbians in the total population these are unknown to me. I am talking, of course, about actual figures based on firm evidence, not anecdotage or propaganda.
Given the near-microscopic numbers of gays and lesbians, one may ask why on earth the law should be changed to alter the definition of marriage, which has been operative for thousands of years and went unquestioned until a few decades ago, in order to accommodate a new definition of marriage pushed by a noisy but tiny lobbying group. No one today says that homosexuality should be re-criminalized. What consenting adults do in private is their own business, providing that there is no obvious public reason to penalize their activities. Probably most people would agree to the legalization of civil partnerships for gays throughout Australia, in order to protect their legal and property rights. Same-sex marriage, however, requires altering the very definition of marriage as an institution, as fundamental a transformation as one can imagine.
The gay movement has also benefitted from a major, but largely misunderstood, change in the mainstream perception of male homosexuals during the past fifty years or so. To many heterosexual men, probably the most objectionable feature of male homosexuals were their almost universal perception as mincing, effeminate “pansies” and “nancy boys,” who were too ladylike to fight for their country, or for anything else. This image was perpetuated by extravagantly effeminate characters, especially on British television, and by some entertainers of the 1950s and 1960s like Liberace (who once successfully sued a British newspaper for suggesting that he was gay, when of course he was). In the 1960s, however, and probably before the “gay liberation” movement had gotten underway, the dominant image of male gays altered to the exact opposite: the hyper-masculinity of black leather jackets, moustaches, motorcycles, and chains. Arguably, this refashioning of the image of male gays was significant in creating greater community tolerance.
Several other things may be said about the current drive for gay marriage in Australia. Although it may eventually succeed, there is nothing “inevitable” about its triumph. Much the same thing was said in the 1990s about the “inevitability” of the drive for an Australian Republic, yet it failed at a national referendum in 1999 and would probably fail by an even larger majority today. “Inevitability” implies an automatic, relentless move to the left as a virtually preordained natural progression — the very essence of “progress.”
This concept of inevitability was also the very essence of Marxism’s historical theory of dialectical materialism. But if any single idea has been totally discredited by events during the past generation, it is Marxism, which has virtually disappeared without trace. Ironically, what has taken its place throughout much of the world is religious fundamentalism as an expansionist political movement, a movement which, in most of the world where it holds sway, is violently anti-gay.
Although the movement for gay marriage has many sources, it should also be seen as a component of the Western left’s agenda of the subversion and destruction of existing institutions, with ethnic and sexual struggle and conflict having replaced the now-discredited class warfare as its modus operandi. What could be more fundamental to this than conventional marriage? Finally, apart from some outspoken political and religious conservatives, there has been a notable reluctance by opponents of gay marriage to raise their heads above the parapets, no doubt for fear of being branded as “homophobes.” This is unfortunate; they should have the courage of their convictions.
William D. Rubinstein taught at Deakin University and at the University of Wales, and now lives in Melbourne.