It occurs to me that there is a fundamental gap in the same-sex marriage debate, which is seeing one question asked and another go unanswered. The question put is about ‘marriage equality’ and whether or not the law should allow same-sex couples the same ‘rights’ as heterosexuals. The question not being addressed is whether we as a society believe same-sex couples should be able, in effect, to manufacture children in order to overcome biology and begin families.
Many, if not most Australians seem to want gay couples to enjoy as much equality as they possibly can, and thus, probably, the majority really does wish to see same-sex marriage legitimized. That, at least, is what the opinion polls are telling us. However, when it becomes clear that this will ‘mainstream’ same-sex families with children, the clarity of the debate becomes cloudy and more than somewhat mute.
The gay lobby, of course, is both quick and correct to point out that same-sex couples already have the right to raise children, being able to foster, adopt, employ surrogacy and gain access to IVF. But that covers only part of the issue. The debate we should be having is about the rights of children to have access to their biological parents, and the status of their general rights under adoptive homosexual parentage. Of this topic we hear very little indeed.
The irony here is that the same-sex lobby, as usual, has not been backward in coming forward. Its advocates have cited the children of gay couples to argue that public debate about changing the traditional definition of marriage will cause much distress by opening these kids to playground taunts and abuse. Bill Shorten, ever the advocate of hyperbole, has warned of a suicide epidemic if the matter were to be widely discussed and debated, rather than decided by our representatives and alleged betters on Capital Hill. Thus, the Labor Party, in its existential compassion, decided to vote down the plebiscite proposal.
Yet strip away the posturing and verbiage and the whole thing eventually and irrevocably comes down to children. If they are to be ‘commodified’ — in effect, purchased for the cost of IVF treatments, surrogacy or adoption fees — what does this say about their human rights? More to the point, what does it say about the rights of children and our collective humanity? Gay-rights activists would counter that heterosexual couples already enjoy access to those same services, so declining to extend them would be unjust. Yet there is a difference, or so many would argue, in that children are the goal and natural product of heterosexuality while, for gay unions, they are an option that necessarily involves a third party for whom no right of access is being discussed. On top of that there is a broader question, applicable to both hetero and homosexual unions, of the ethics in endorsing what amounts to the trade and trafficking in human lives.
These are large and serious questions and they deserve to be debated and discussed. In fact, the issue of same-sex marriage cannot be fully understood or settled until these foundation issues have been addressed and, ideally, resolved.
Until then, the key question remains: ‘Should we as a society endorse the commercial manufacturing of human beings? It is not being asked, but it should be.