Marriage equality? I don’t

For the last few years marriage equality has been one of the major rallying points for activists from the LGBTI community. Yet the push for equality marriage is not supported by all of the community, and the voices of those who disagree with it are often drowned in the clamour for equal rights.

 Mark Woodman is one such dissenter. A long time contributor to the LGBTI community, which has included a stint as GLCS Chairperson and several appearances as a panellists at community debating events, Mark spoke at length to OUTinPerth about why he does not support the current marriage equality movement.

‘It’s not that I don’t support same-sex marriage, but that I don’t support marriage and you know my objection is to what is an outdated cultural condition that’s allied to nonsense stone-age religions that are homophobic, sexist and so on. As a means of recognising intimate relationships, it fails fifty percent of the time – it’s irrelevant to modern relationships and families, it’s blinded to the realities and vagaries of human nature it doesn’t actually fit nicely to who we are as people and our frailties and our needs very well.

I think, when unfortunately the LGBT community pushes to get it, if anything we’re at risk of validating an institution that should be eradicated and replaced with something better. So I’m all for equal relationship recognition but I think the way we achieve that is to do away with marriage altogether and have civil partnerships for everybody regardless of gender and sexuality. It would be intellectually inconsistent and I think unprincipled to be anti-marriage and to demand that for me, allegedly in the name of equality. That’s my broad first principle, and then I have a range of other issues that relate to the way it’s been used by a subsection of the gay community.

‘It has become what I’d call an obsession by probably a small number of elite members of the community and it’s really taken over the LGBT agenda in terms of activism and rights – to the extent that I think it has it’s become resources sapping and a distraction. It’s something that’s not particularly important, it’s marginal and I’d say, if anything, it could be harmful because if it happens it will further entrench marriage as an institution and prevent the development of more evolved and modern ways to recognise relationships.

‘It’s resource sapping – we’re a small community with only a very small number of individuals, really, who are politically active. All you ever hear about is ‘gayrriage’, gayrriage this, gayrriage that.Meanwhile, in WA we have schools that are toxic environments to our children, which are rife with homophobia and bullying. You know, it’s 2012 and we haven’t sorted that out – we can’t. We’ve got trans issues that are problematic. We’ve got a lot of really important areas where activism could be focussed where it has a very direct impact on homophobia.

‘They say if we get this sorted that will be it that it will have some magic trickle-down effect that will resolve all of these other examples of bigotry and discrimination –  well that’s absolute nonsense. If you’ve got someone… who is an experienced activist within our community actually saying that, I think that says that the gay marriage thing has become a slightly delusional system within our community. That someone can really seriously write ‘once we’ve got this ticked off we’ll be there’, it’s nonsense – it won’t have that trickle-down effect. Not only that, but at the same time as people are pushing for it we’re sapping resources from direct action programs that target where discrimination occurs.

‘The other thing that’s irritating I suppose about it is that it has become this orthodoxy within the community. Dissenting voices are not allowed, it’s just assumed that if you’re gay you’re for it, as it’s clearly a human right – which it’s not. The right is to have our relationship recognised equally by the State; the right is not to marriage. Just as a human right is to have freedom from hunger, it doesn’t mean we all have to eat McDonald’s.

‘Even though the universal declaration [of Human Rights] mentions ‘marriage’ it’s because it was written by the Americans in the 1950’s – it should say equal recognition of relationships by the State. There are many ways to do that – we know that in Australia we are very fortunate, we actually have common law marriage, so we know that our rights are 99 percent there in that respect. Many people who I’ve spoken to who are very actively and uncritically supporting gay marriage in our community don’t even seem to be aware that they effectively are married – there are rights and responsibilities they have under law. That’s one interesting irony of this. Certainly that orthodoxy issue is very irritating for me. For a community that’s supposed to be open minded and diverse you’re absolutely cut down if you dare suggest that this is the case.

‘Of course you get that line ‘Oh you may not want marriage but why don’t you shut up and let us get on with getting it for ourselves?’ Now this is crucial, I think, because it is predicated on the assumption that obtaining marriage rights for gay people will be harmless, that it can only be positive and I think that is a view that is not discussed enough – because I see some clear harms here.

‘The jeopardy and harm is that it will further entrench marriage as the primary privileged form of relationship recognition and that prevent what we need to do in the community in my view for everybody, which is; to have more adaptive and flexible means of legal recognition of intimate relationships that minimise the role of the state and maximise the flexibility, so that people of varying kinds and characters can have effective relationships that last and are well supported by the State. ‘

Mark Woodman spoke to Zoe Carter.

Equal marriage or equal relationship recognition? Does it matter? Join our conversation in the comments below…

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