Malcolm Turnbull on gay marriage: so near and yet so far

There has been a lot of attention on Turnbull’s recent Michael Kirby Lecture but I only just got around to reading it. Overall, it’s very hard to fault him – he systematically goes through the different arguments against legalising gay marriage and quite convincingly debunks them. Whatever your views on gay marriage, it is worth reading as food for thought.

HOWEVER, he did not quite follow his reasoning to the logical conclusion – a conclusion that I reached a while ago. And no, I am not saying “so near and yet so far” because he said that he wanted civil unions rather than pushing a bill on gay marriage at this time. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Reflections on gay marriage – Michael Kirby Lecture 2012 | Malcolm Turnbull MP.

So there is a clear distinction already between what constitutes a valid marriage in the eyes of the state and in the eyes of the Church.

Of course this distinction is more clear cut in countries where a marriage is recorded by a civil official at a registry office or town hall and then, subsequently, by a religious ceremony where one is conducted. I don’t doubt that explains why the legalisation of gay marriage has been less controversial there.

In Australia however ministers of religion are authorised to perform both the civil function, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the religious one on behalf of their denomination.

My point here is that the question as to whether same sex couples’ unions should be termed a marriage by the state is not one which calls for a religious answer. No denomination can be compelled to recognise any particular form of marriage – it is entirely up to them.

So here’s the question: if that is true (which it is), WHY IS THE STATE STILL TRYING TO DO JUST THAT? And why is Turnbull supporting it? So long as the state figures it should be defining the word “marriage”, there will be problems that will be unnecessarily divisive and create a lot of avoidable public outrage. Why not let people who get married define what “marriage” should mean for them?

He only briefly supports state-regulated marriage substantially once, like this:

Study after study has demonstrated that people are better off financially, healthier, happier if they are married and indeed, I repeat, if they are formally married as opposed to simply living together. [13]

And his footnote said this (my bold):

[13] There is widespread evidence that marriage leads to better mental health, greater wealth accumulation, more stable households and better well being of children raised in a household. A 1998 study by the RAND Corporation, for instance, found that the median household worth of married households was almost four times higher those who were never married, with a median wealth of U.S.$132,000 compared to $35,000. Lupton, J., & Smith J., (1999), “Marriage, Assets and Savings”, available online here. The study measured 7600 households containing a member born between 1934 and 1941 (so between 51-60 years old). A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found varying levels of serious psychological distress according to different the different categories of marital status. Among adults aged 18–44 years, 6 per cent of those who were divorced or separated experienced serious psychological distress compared with, 3.6% of those living with a partner, 2.5% of never married adults, and 1.9% of married adults. Schoenborn, C., (2004), “Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999–2002”, available online here. The study also found married couples enjoyed much greater physical wellbeing…

Did you see what was wrong? Turnbull is a highly-educated and very intelligent person, so I am a little disappointed that he would be making such a basic mistake.

Those results are not causative – they do not necessarily show that getting married has any benefits at all. What they could just as easily indicate is that people who are generally more wealthy, and who have better mental and physical health are more likely to get married and, if married, are less likely to be divorced.

I would put my money on the latter being the case, rather than the former – I see no logical reason why the piece of paper proclaiming you to be “lawfully wedded” would make one iota of difference to your income or wellbeing, however I can definitely understand why a couple in good health and with steady incomes would be more likely to spend their lives together happily than a couple living paycheck to paycheck while battling psychological illness.

STATE MARRIAGE is a harmful institution. Legal interests should be attached to demonstrated co-dependency and not on a ceremony conducted by an official with a license. Marriage should be conducted by the clergy, or by some kind of communal leader, or whoever the hell else wants to do it – that is not something that the Federal Government needs to have anything to say about.

Turnbull is definitely on the right track, he just needs to take that extra leap.

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  1. #1 by Greg on July 16, 2012 - 3:35 pm

    “I see no logical reason why the piece of paper proclaiming you to be “lawfully wedded” would make one iota of difference to wellbeing” – really???????

    Philosophical arguments aside, the fact is, marriage is State-regulated. Surely there are going to mental health implications for members of the community who are considered second-class by the current legislation, simply because they are in a same-sex relationship.

    • #2 by MK on July 16, 2012 - 3:46 pm

      I’m not sure you quite understood what I was getting at. That sentence had nothing to do with gay marriage.

      That aside, I don’t agree with your characterisation of marriage anyway, it assumes that there is a “first class” that attaches to heterosexual couples through state marriage and that to be outside of that institution is somehow of a lower class.

      I know a heterosexual couple who are happily married under Judaism, but never had their marriage registered by the state because they believe that God, and not the government, is the authority that can recognise marriage. I come from a very different place, but I agree completely with that perspective. I do not think that they are in any way in a “second class” of relationship when compared with the “first class” of state sanctioned marriage.

  2. #3 by Greg on July 16, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    Firstly, I don’t know how else to interpret this quote “I see no logical reason why the piece of paper proclaiming you to be “lawfully wedded” would make one iota of difference to wellbeing”

    Secondly, what we’re talking about is the RIGHT to marry under Australian law. The fact that your Jewish friends decided not to exercise that right because they have a different conception of ‘marriage’ is great, but it’s irrelevant.

    Same-sex couples aren’t afforded this same opportunity to decide whether or not to get married, and have that marriage recognised by the State. (I don’t believe they’d be able to have their marriage recognised by Jewish law either).

    State marriage is the only type of marriage that is relevant and recognised by all Australians. And thus to deny a same-sex couple the right to a state marriage simply because it is a homosexual relationship is to treat their relationship as being of lesser value or less importance that a heterosexual relationship, that is, ‘second-class’.

  1. Gay marriage musing « Major Karnage

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