Gay marriage musing

In response to the debate that I have been having with commenter “Greg”, beginning here and then moving here, I thought that I would do a quick thought exercise to explain why I do not necessarily support the reforms to the Marriage Act that are being advocated by Greg, Labor left, the Greens and various other such groups.

1. The “equality” paradigm

The way that the gay marriage lobby is trying to frame the debate is “marriage equality”. The use of “equality” to push their agenda is an obvious choice given where they are coming from — fighting for “equality” for groups including homosexuals is something that people on the left are used to doing, so framing the discussion this way allows gay marriage to easily form a part of their broader agenda.

I am not entirely convinced by the “equality” idea, however. “Equality” implies that there is some form of inequality currently being perpetuated through the marriage legislation. In terms of actual rights afforded, the current marriage laws to not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference as the gay marriage lobby claims. Anyone can currently get married — homosexual or not.

The real issue is not that homosexuals are being prevented from marrying, it is that the definition of “marriage” refers only to couples comprised of one man and one woman, and so does not encompass homosexual couples. Introducing same-sex marriage into the Marriage Act would not be ending discrimination, it would be redefining the idea of marriage and introducing a meaning that “marriage” has never before had.

This is where the conservative argument comes from — they place a huge amount of value in marriage as it is and they do not want to redefine it.

2. Placing a value on marriage

Bearing this in mind, the point that the gay marriage lobby will raise (as Greg did) is that it is discriminatory for society to place more value on heterosexual couples than on homosexual couples and that, in being denied the right to be a “married couple”, homosexual couples are being told that their relationship is not worth as much.

This argument relies on the premise that a relationship is inherently of higher value if it is registered as a “marriage” with the state than if this is not the case. This is where I take issue.

3. The alleged primacy of state marriage

I do not see how being married by the state makes a relationship more valuable. There are many couples who are not formally married but have lived together happily for decades and are “married” for all intents and purposes, as there are many couples in “sham” state marriages for some kind of benefit. I see the former as far more valuable than the latter.

I gave Greg the example of a Jewish couple that I know who decided not to be married by the state because they believe that God and not the government is the appropriate authority under which Jewish couples should marry, and I tend to agree with them on that.*

Greg was repeatedly mentioning the importance of marriage in society and seemed to believe that I was dismissing this by not placing value in state marriage. This is where we fundamentally differ on the issue — he is unable to distinguish “society” from the state, whereas I do not recognise the state as an entity with any legitimate place in marriage. When he saw that I did not want the Commonwealth to grant licenses to conduct marriages, he assumed that I meant that the States would grant these licenses instead and did not seem to grasp that I was arguing for these licenses to never be granted.

4. Gay marriage, marriage equality and marriage freedom

To summarise: the debate is about redefining marriage under the law, the argument for doing so rests on the idea that state approval gives a relationship higher value, however it is not legitimate for the state to be accepting or not accepting peoples’ relationships as valid. If you accept these premises, you should be able to understand why I am not particularly supportive of the idea of codifying same-sex marriage — doing so would only further entrench the idea that the state should be the entity that decides whether or not my relationships are valid and I fundamentally oppose that idea (clearly, it should be Facebook).

As usual in such debates, the two sides are talking past each other — one is fighting a rights issue and the other is fighting to defend an institution that is extremely important and meaningful to them. The unusual fact about this one is that there is a solution that would allow both sides to have what they want. Why would anyone want to fight for one that would only continue to be divisive?


*UPDATE: just a thought, but maybe the current value placed on state marriage is a remnant of the time when the state was thought to be the embodiment of a Sovereign that was appointed by God. Our current system does come from when the Henry VIII made himself the head of the Church of England so that he could have the power to marry and divorce instead of the Pope.

In a way, it’s a subtle means of not allowing Church to truly separate from State.

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  1. #1 by jskaif on July 19, 2012 - 1:42 pm

    With so much opinion offered on this topic, have you ever spoken with any gay couples face-to-face to ask them about it, instead of getting all academic on the semantics?

    It does matter to those who who believe in the state’s institution of marriage…just because you’re gay doesn’t automatically make you not care for the ‘approval’ or norms of this institution. Without it, people are refused the opportunity for traditional marriage ceremonies, as guided by the state (who has been influenced by the Church) refuses to adapt. To put it simpler – do we assume a lesbian doesn’t want to walk down the aisle somewhere in an off-white meringue puff simply because of her sexual orientation? It’s like ‘hey darling, you rejected society’s “norms”, why should this trifling matter perturb you?’

    I hear where you’re coming from MK, but it translates to pretty much the ‘diatrash’ Gillard etc will spew on the matter.

    • #2 by MK on July 19, 2012 - 2:06 pm

      I have spoken to a number of gay people about this, believe it or not. It may surprise you to hear that they don’t all agree with each other (in fact, I actually caused an argument between two guys once where one was very upset at his boyfriend for agreeing with me).

      Basically, the ones who were open-minded agreed with what I was saying and the ones who were closed-minded defended their “right” to marry under the state because, as you say, it was “important to them”.

      I don’t give any weight to the “it’s important to me” argument. That’s exactly why people are preventing same-sex couples from marrying — it’s “important” to them that marriage remains as is. I will not support gay people who follow an irrational idea without question over straight people who follow an irrational idea without question. I don’t have much respect for either, to be honest.

      • #3 by jskaif on July 19, 2012 - 2:40 pm

        Ok, re-read this, because when you see it, you will shit yourself…

        ” Basically, the ones who were open-minded agreed with what I was saying and the ones who were closed-minded defended their “right” to marry under the state because, as you say, it was “important to them”. I don’t give any weight to the “it’s important to me” argument.”

        Did you see it?

        Wait try this one then:
        “I don’t give any weight to the “it’s important to me” argument.”


        You can’t seriously present an valid argument or opinion like that?! Ner-ner-ne-neee is all I hear.
        Where is your jpg. of “Your argument is invalid/Computer says no”?

        You can’t deny people the right to express or have an aspiration that is important to them by placing your opinion over theirs with greater value. You also can’t sit there and claim that a difference of opinion to you, is ‘close-minded’.

        Let me also point out, that the gay couple who had an argument, are not destined to marry anyway…so not the best example, and you should come between two men you know….oh wait….

        >> you know I’m trying to get a rise out of you 😉 but in earnest:

        I’ve actually said the same thing to a friend of mine, when she expressed her heartbreak on FB one day about this very issue, I told her, fuck what the State considers a marriage and institution, that what she has with her partner is greater than some document with a government seal. I said “Marriage” is the love and union YOU and your partner swear to each other, and you should have a massive celebration, for your friends and family because they are the only ones who care and that you should be excited to share this with.

        She never responded. I’ve actually not heard a word out of her since. She deleted her post and the ensuing responses.

        Everyday, many friends of mine asking me to sign petitions for this and I’ve come to realise at the end of the day – and what I’m trying to impart to you – is that this is not a matter of clever arguments and throwing down the logic. It’s not about Politicians and their agenda. It’s not about how tax, divorce or custody may play out. It’s about how many couples out their feel, wanting to express their love and commitment to their partner, in the way that you and I will always take for granted. This is not an academic argument, this is about how people out there feel and how they crave for the Government and our people, to understand their desire. Why deny this on the grounds of logic. Can ‘love be explained logically? Do we want to really pick at the seems now…..

        Can I post this to my FB? I think you may enjoy some varied and interesting opinions hopefully…

      • #4 by MK on July 19, 2012 - 3:34 pm

        Nup, I remain unsoiled. The reason being that “it’s important to me” says that you are going on “gut feeling” and refusing to think it through.

        Using that argument is no different from justifying excluding same-sex couples because “it just doesn’t feel right”. It’s the same as saying “I just don’t like the idea of voting for a female Prime Minister”.

        I try to keep my mind open to any argument with substance and I will at least hear anyone out if they have one, but “it’s important to me” has no substance unless it comes before “because”. I can’t abide “it just is”.

        And again, I don’t really care about hurting peoples’ feelings. Legalising same-sex marriage would also hurt a lot of peoples’ feelings. They can get over it.

  2. #5 by Apeck on July 19, 2012 - 2:30 pm

    The problem is, having your marriage/relationship recognised by the state allows important legal rights with couples to come to fruition. Whilst I do not really care whether the government knows how much I love my partner, I DO care that, if I were in a homosexual relationship, and should my partner become in some way incapable of managing their own finances/estate (and I have been their partner, living in the same house as them and pouring money into our relationship for decades), my partner’s family would currently have all rights of control of finances, estate, health and care choices (including where my partner would live, if they would go to a nursing home etc) as the Guardianship Tribunal, a government department, cannot legally recognise our relationship. If I were in a long-term homosexual relationship, I may also be over-ridden by family in important medical decisions I may need to make for my partner if anything serious ever happens, despite my partner nominating me as next of kin. These reasons, and numerous others, are why it is important for state legal recognition of gay marriage, not to “recognise their love and partnership”, but to ensure really important rights that heterosexual couples can take for granted can be applied to ALL marriages.

    • #6 by MK on July 19, 2012 - 3:50 pm

      I answered that point in the earlier posts, see HERE and HERE.

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