It 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.