Posts Tagged gay marriage
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?
And more importantly, WHY DOES IT MATTER WHAT THE GOVERNMENT THINKS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP???
*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.
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:
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. 
And his footnote said this (my bold):
 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.
My last post led to a war of words with a friend who is, shall we say, on the Orthodox side of things. We ended up agreeing to disagree – I think Israel should recognise Mazorti Judaism in its legal framework, he thinks it’s unfair to use the word “archaic” to describe the belief that women can’t be good leaders, because it has connotations of being outdated when that view clearly isn’t.
Meanwhile, I also had to explain my view on gay marriage to a different friend – who, thankfully, did not take quite as much of an issue with the Mazorti movement – and I saw a few Facebook conversations going on regarding the revelation that Tony Abbot has a gay sister and has *gasp* not shunned her. In fact, he treats her quite well.
Why is that a “shock”? Well, Tony Abbot holds the point of view that “marriage” is something that happens between a man and a woman. To numerous proponents of gay marriage, this means that he is a priori a homophobe. I definitely saw at least one comment thread (that I couldn’t comment on…) where someone accused him of trying to “hide” his “bigotry” through treating his sister well when he clearly is actually a bigot because he is against gay marriage.
This is a stupid argument to make. There seems to be this horrible tendency amongst fanatics to assume that anyone who disagrees with them must be doing so out of prejudice. I see it all the time with the Middle East conflict. Being anti-Israel is antisemitic, and being pro-Israel is Islamophobic and homophobic and sexist and normative and imperialist and neo-colonialist and… you get the picture. It also happens with immigration, feminism and plenty of other areas. It’s a very simple argument, it’s almost always wrong and it actually works against your point – no one is ever going to agree with you if you keep calling them a sexist because “Israeli occupation hurts Palestinian women as well as men”. Especially when you have a month-long summit on the global status of women and this is the only condemnation you could come up with – as if everything is fine and dandy everywhere else in the world (it isn’t). Yeah UN Commission on the Status of Women, I’m looking at you.
Big M little m
The problem is that they are arguing about different things. To gay marriage proponents, “marriage” is a right. To Tony Abbot, “marriage” means the marriage described by Lord Penzance in Hyde v Hyde & Woodmansee (1866) LR 1 P & D 130, at 133:
The position or status of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ is a recognised one throughout Christendom: the laws of all Christian nations throw about that status a variety of legal incidents during the lives of the parties, and induce definite rights upon their offspring. … I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.
When he said “Christendom”, he meant “Christendom”. He actually distinguished between “Christendom” and Turkey, where the Sultan had a whole harem of wives and “marriage” was between one man and one or more women.
Notice, though, there are two different components to “marriage” that the good Lord was talking about. Let’s call them “marriage 1” and “marriage 2”:
- The first component is the “status” of husband and wife. As he said, this status gives the married couple certain legal rights and also may give rights to their children. What rights are these? Well Lord Penzance couldn’t pin that down, mostly because it varies from place to place. For a whole variety of reasons, marriage law is slightly different everywhere, although everywhere has some kind of marriage law.
- The second component is this controversial sentence that half of Australia wants to remove from the Marriage Act and the other half is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep: “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”.
Protect what institution again?
This is why there is conflict. When Henry VIII broke from the Vatican and founded his own church, it was because he disagreed with the Catholic idea that you could not be divorced without approval of the Pope – and preferred the more progressive Anglican idea that you could not be divorced without permission from the King. He created the Anglican Church, appointed himself as its head, and declared that as the embodiment of the Church and the Sovereign, he could marry whomever he damn well chose.
So began the Anglican institution of Marriage that is now being strongly championed by Australia’s Catholic community – an involuntary union, forever, of one common church and one common law, to the exclusion of all others.
I believe that State marriage is destroying marriage. Enforcing marriage 2 in a legal system is done today in some Muslim countries and the results are horrible and inhumane. This is where adultery is criminalised and punished – in some cases with death by stoning – or where boys and girls are married-off by their families for money or social status and then never permitted to separate. Thankfully, “Christendom” has become “the West” and we no longer have a taste for this kind of thing. What that means, however, is that marriage has been watered-down over centuries.
What does marriage mean today? To some, it means permanent residency in Australia; to others, it means a tax break; to others, it means a baby bonus; to others, it means inheritance. It also does not carry much weight – the idea of a union “for life” is disappearing throughout society. Marriage is becoming a temporary arrangement, whereby a man and a woman can join in a union for a few years, one gets an Aussie passport, the other gets some nice inheritance, and both get tax breaks. Meanwhile, neither of them “excludes all others” and they eventually get divorced, meaning that the whole “for life” thing didn’t happen either.
What I have just described is the legal institution of “marriage”, as it exists in Australia in 2012. However it may be defined in the Marriage Act, this is clearly not “the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. So here is my question: why would any Catholic like Tony Abbot even want to keep that? Let alone exclude two men or two women from being a part of it. And how is excluding gay couples from that institution “saving marriage”? Do you really think that allowing two people of the same gender to “marry” is the silver bullet that will tear down the institution?
Honey, we need a divorce
This is why the whole debate is so wrong. The people who want to “legalise gay marriage” do not want to change marriage 2, but they want gay people to participate in marriage 1. The people who oppose “gay marriage” want to preserve marriage 2 and so they refuse to change marriage 1.
To put it another way: marriage 2 does not discriminate – any person, regardless of sexual preference, is able to become part of a “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. Marriage 1 does discriminate – it gives legal rights to heterosexual couples and denies homosexual couples those same rights.
So what do I want? I want a divorce – of church and state. I want to sever the centuries-old union between legal marriage and Christian marriage and allow each to go back to where they should be: one in court, the other in church.
I want to abolish the Marriage Act and replace it with something called the Civil Unions Act or similar. An Act that would allow two consenting adults to be joined in whatever over-politicised legal mess they want, but would leave marriage out of it.
Marriage can go back to being “a union between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others” in substance and not just in name. Different religious denominations could marry whoever they want however they want and could choose whether to recognise each other’s marriages according to their beliefs. The State would no longer need to be the arbiter of who can and cannot call themselves “husband” and “wife”.
My bet? Marriage would mean something again, because it would be something that people do when they believe in it. It also would also mean that marriage advocates could concentrate on things that would actually save marriage – like more accessible couples therapy and childcare.
Gay marriage is not the issue, there are plenty of provisions in the Marriage Act that have already eroded marriage beyond recognition. We need to stop talking past each other on gay marriage and realise the real enemy here – the Marriage Act. If you want to save marriage, stop making it a political issue and let it be about morals again.
One wonders whether Lord Brennan QC has discovered the “Ctrl-F” function, conveniently found in almost every commercially available word processing package, which allows thousands of words to be replaced in an instant.
Last month Stonewall published a draft gay marriage bill which removes the words “husband and wife” from the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, replacing them with “parties to a marriage”. When asked to explain, Ben Summerskill, the CEO, said: “In some clauses you have to replace the words husband and wife because you cannot have two husbands or two wives.” I doubt many husbands and wives will be happy to have the legal definition of their marriages re-written in such a way.
The remainder of their simplistic bill grants wide-ranging powers for a minister to amend the rest of the statute book on marriage, presumably to get rid of all the other references to husband and wife. The minister is going to be busy. The word “husband” appears 1,003 times in statute; “wife” appears 888 times; “spouse” occurs 2,740 times. In all, there are 3,000 references to marriage in current law. The oldest is in an Act passed in 1285, in the reign of King Edward I, part of which is still in force.
Given our present economic situation, why does Mr Cameron think that so much parliamentary time and energy should be dedicated to a change in the law which would obliterate vast amounts of our cultural and legal heritage? Surely not to burnish his “modernising” credentials?
In response to last night’s post, a reader says:
I just read your article about gay rights, it came up on my news feed.
I just thought you might want to incorporate one of the main differences between Australia and America in relation to gay rights: the fact that America is a very religious country. A huge percentage of people rating themselves “deeply religious”.
Australia is one of the least religious countries in the world. 28% of Australians see themselves as not at all religious, with religious practices and beliefs barely featuring in their lives. 44% of Australians say they consider themselves religious but that religion does not play a central role in their lives.
48% of Australians do not pray and 52% never or very seldom visit a church, mosque, synagogue or temple for religious reasons. I found those stats from an international survey carried out by the European Bertelsmann Foundation.
And considering Australia is one of the least religious countries in the world, and really the only reason to not allow gay marriage is a religious argument, it makes Australia look pretty bad that it doesn’t allow gay marriage.
I am not sure that everyone would agree that the religious argument is the only one to be made against gay marriage — most anti-gay marriage advocates would argue that they are defending a social institution, not a religious one.
Most importantly, there is a religious argument to be made in favour of gay marriage, as well as a socially conservative one. For examples of each, take two British Prime Ministers: former PM Tony Blair, the famous defender of religion, and current PM David Cameron, who led the Conservatives to victory for the first time in almost 20 years:
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who converted to Catholicism in 2007, is backing the Government’s plan to legalise same-sex marriage before 2015.
The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.
According to The Independent on Sunday, Blair has told friends that he “strongly supports the Prime Minister’s proposal” to enact a new law to make gay marriage legal.
Mr Cameron said on Wednesday: ‘We’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. To anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment.
‘Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.’
For those who have not been following the debate, America’s number one “shock jock”, Rush Limbaugh, recently made a whole lot of enemies when he called a woman on his show a “prostitute” because she was in favour of a Bill that obligates private healthcare providers to provide contraception to their clients. His thinking was that id she wanted this so she could have sex (she didn’t) then she was demanding to be paid to have sex, and was therefore a “prostitute”.
Note: there is every possibility that Limbaugh has never encountered a woman who would have sex with him without receiving some kind of cash incentive:
Point is, it seems that the whole brouhaha has alerted Big Money to the facts that young women buy a lot of stuff, angry old men do not buy much, and sponsoring Rush Limbaugh may make their products popular with old men, but it will make them unpopular with young women.
Ergo, they are no longer sponsoring Limbaugh’s show:
Premiere Networks, which distributes Limbaugh as well as a host of other right-wing talkers, sent an email out to its affiliates early Friday listing 98 large corporations that have requested their ads appear only on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”
This is big. According to the radio-industry website Radio-Info.com, which first posted excerpts of the Premiere memo, among the 98 companies that have decided to no longer sponsor these programs are “carmakers (Ford, GM, Toyota), insurance companies (Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm), and restaurants (McDonald’s, Subway).” Together, these talk-radio advertising staples represent millions of dollars in revenue.
… this latest controversy comes at a particularly difficult time for right-wing talk radio. They are playing to a (sometimes literally) dying demographic. Rush & Co. rate best among old, white males. They have been steadily losing women and young listeners, who are alienated by the angry, negative, obsessive approach to political conservations. Add to that the fact that women ages 24–55 are the prize advertising demographic, and you have a perfect storm emerging after Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments.
As pressure grows for advertisers and radio stations to drop Rush & Co., there will be much talk about the dangers of censorship, with allies talking about a left-wing “jihad” against Rush (language his brother David Limbaugh has already used).
But the irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.
The contraception debate is being championed by Catholics in the Republican party (primarily Rick Santorum) because of a Papal decree that makes contraception against Catholic dogma. Everyone else is defending the right of the Catholic Church not to have to indirectly pay for something which may be used in a way that would go against what the Pope says is right.
Liel Leibovitz has gave some insights into the differences in religious dogma between the Catholic Church and Judaism, even though both are applying the same passage from the Bible:
In the Yevamot tractate of the Talmud, there’s a tale of one Rabbi Hiyya and his wife, Judith. Having just given birth to twins, and suffered greatly in the process, she decides to put her child-rearing days behind her. Cunningly, she wears a disguise and comes before her husband with a halachic question: “Is a woman obligated to procreate?” Rabbi Hiyya hardly blinks; the answer, according to Jewish tradition, is no, as pru u’rvu is the domain of the man and is focused around the semen and its potentialities. Hiyya replies that the woman is under no obligation, only her husband. Vindicated, Judith drinks a sterility potion.
When Hiyya discovers the ruse, he is distraught, but there’s little he can say without contradicting his own rabbinic judgment. Judith had already given him two sons, which, according to custom, was enough to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation anyway. And as she was under no other obligation to reproduce, she was free to do as she pleased.
… Compare this complexity of roles with Paul’s decree—“man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”—and it’s not too hard to realize why Catholicism ends up with 1930’s Casti Connubii, a papal decree emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and prohibiting Catholics from using any form of birth control. Protestants, on the other hand, have largely moved away from such strict attitudes; since the Reformation, an alternate view gained traction, stressing the uniting element of sexual intercourse—the emotional and spiritual bonding of husband and wife.
Also interesting is a section in Rabbi Shmuely Boteach’s announcement that he is running for Congress. Boteach reflects on the approach that the “Conservatives” in the US are currently taking to family values, noting that for some reason the focus has been so incessantly on how to prevent marriage that no one has been trying to find ways to keep people married once they have already tied the knot.
The point being that the insane level of debate given to issues like gay marriage, abortion and, more recently, contraception is completely overshadowing far more important family values questions like why is the divorce rate so high?
The values that have dominated the American political landscape for decades are the American obsession with gay marriage and abortion, to the exclusion of nearly all others, which explains why our country is so incredibly religious yet so seemingly decadent. It’s time to expand the values conversation and policy agenda.
Let’s begin with really saving the institution of marriage by focusing squarely on the outrageous 50 percent divorce rate. I will promote legislation that will fight marital breakdown by making marital counseling tax-deductible.
Let’s give husbands and wives whose families are collapsing a financial incentive to get the help they need so that their kids don’t end up like yo-yos bouncing from home to home. I am a child of divorce and hosted a national TV show that saved families from being part of a tragedy that must finally be addressed on a grand scale.