Marriage Equality, Is a Real Discussion Beginning?

St Mary's Cathederal


Earlier this week students from Perth’s Universities gathered outside St Mary’s Cathedral to protest against National Marriage Day.

Inside the church heterosexual couples gathered to renew their wedding vows, attend a mass and discuss the meaning of marriage. The program here in Western Australia was much more sedate than the Australian Family Association’s events in other states.

Members of the church came outside to the gates and greeted the students. They brought bottles of water, sausage rolls and cakes to share.

The students and the church members debated why they had different points of view about what marriage is, what it should be, and what it could be. There wasn’t an agreement, but there was an open discussion.

After talking about marriage, the conversation turned to other topics. People started talking about what they studied, what parts of the city they lived in, and a range of other topics. The reality is, the things that divide us are much less than the things that we agree upon and the things we have in common.

Whenever you take the time to think deeply about marriage equality, the arguments against it don’t make a whole lot of sense. Which is frustrating when you meet people who seem to have come to the opposite conclusion and to them – it makes perfect sense.

If you take the line that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, then you tend to sound Amish. Which is fine, if you want to believe that. But if your only going to hold back progress on just one topic, it seems a little illogical.

If you take the position that society is best when everyone grows up in a nuclear family. It just doesn’t make sense, because most of the people you’re talking to are most likely from the very families that you promote. It’s a long time since we proved that people are not gay because their fathers didn’t play enough sport with them, or because they had overbearing mothers.

Our society is filled with all sorts of families, as it always has been. The difference is that most of us stopped shunning families that had a different make up to the ‘nuclear ideal’ decades ago. Worrying about the child with two Mums, is like worrying about the child born out of wedlock, or the family that has all daughters and no sons.

An older member of the LGBT community said to me recently, “If you think about it, marriage equality really began when they ended slavery.”

Thinking about the various inequalities that have been fought against over the last century and before, it makes sense. Slavery, apartheid, suffrage are all about one group of society fighting inequality based on something which is part of who people are.

Opponents to marriage equality will argue that being born gay is not the same as being born black or being born a woman. Which brings us to their belief that gay people are just not trying hard enough to suppress their sexuality. It baffles me how someone who is not gay can suggest to a whole bunch of people who are gay about their belief that we chose to be gay. Once again the argument is just illogical.

There were more signs this week that a serious and real discussion about marriage equality might be on the horizon. In the leaders debate last Sunday the Opposition Leader acknowledged that marriage equality is a serious topic in our society. While it’s frustrating that Tony Abbott remains personally unmoved on the topic, his language was a big change from the brick wall response of ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’, which is what he said in the last election.

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster even put forward they suggestion that he is changing his mind, just very very slowly. Forster seemed to suggest that her brother was a little like a glacier. It is moving, you just can’t see it.

Tony Abbott’s continuation of the theme of ‘moving very slowly’ continued on Wednesday when he told John Laws he wasn’t being persuaded by passing fashions. People were up in arms because the Opposition Leader compared marriage equality to a fashion trend.

Tony made it worse, (while trying to make it better) – saying that he was talking more broadly than marriage equality. It turns out there’s a list of topics he’s glacial about, marriage, Australia becoming a republic, and many people would suspect also the fate of actual glaciers.

Even the Australian Christian Lobby seemed to be calming down recently.  On August 6th they put out a press statement asking people only to support candidates in the election that supported “man-woman marriage”. It was an interesting phrase to use, as if to acknowledge that in fifteen countries ‘man-man marriage’ and ‘woman-woman marriage’ does exist.

Following the Prime Minister’s declaration that a re-elected Rudd Government would introduce a marriage equality bill within it’s first hundred days of office the Australian Christian Lobby didn’t even bother to put out an angry press release. When SBS News described the comment they got from the ACL as ‘slammed’, ACL Chief of Staff, Lyle Shelton, tweeted that they were not “slamming” – they were just “disappointed”.

The state politicians were having a fair say in the marriage debate too. Lynn MacLaren, MLC for The Greens, said that she was still waiting in the wings with  state based legislation should the issue not move forward federally. Labor’s Lisa Baker said she too was up for bringing in state based legislation and called for all parties to work together.

The serious conversation may have come crashing to an end through when Liberal MLC Nick Goiran spoke in defense of marriage. Senator Goiran shared his worry that if we allow same sex marriage, then we’ll have to allow people to marry their siblings.

Speaking in the Western Australian parliament Mr Goiran spoke of a hypothetical couple who were related and were allowed to marry and have genetically defective inbred children. Mr Goiran is worried about the same ‘slippery slope’ that Senator Cory Bernardi was distressed about last year, the only difference being that Senator Bernardi is worried about people wanting to marry their pets.

I wonder if when they debated giving women the vote if there were politicians concerned that they’d have to start campaigning to animals in the future. Mr Goiran said in defense of his speech – he was only using logic. The problem with logic is that it’s fairly predictable where it will take you if you start with an illogical set off point.

As the week drew to a close the Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott appeared on ‘Meet The Press‘. Mr Abbott was asked, if he was the Prime Minister would he overrule states bringing in marriage equality. Mr Abbott said he was not being drawn on a hypothetical. Which was a pity because hypothetical discussions can really go  along way, Mr Goiran has already named his – they were called Ethan and Stephanie.

Where will this discussion take us in the week ahead?

Graeme Watson


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