Straight talking

Some things are difficult to explain, simply because they seem so profoundly obvious. My post on climate change felt rather like that. I found it hard to express myself, because it all seemed so fundamental, so clear, that it was difficult to grasp why or how anyone would need it explained. Nonetheless it sparked a fairly vigorous debate.

Legalising gay marriage seems, to me, to be a very similar topic. It feels obvious to me that anyone who who believes in equality, fairness, justice and compassion would argue that there is nothing to debate. If we disallow gay marriage, we tarnish ourselves and our society.

The tired old argument that “marriage is between a man and a woman” isn’t actually an argument at all. It is a statement of history. Sure, we used to discriminate. We used to discriminate on the basis of race, of gender, and of postcode. Once the statement was a little different. Once people would have said “marriage is between a man and a woman of the same race,” with just as much emphasis and strength of feeling. Possibly more. Yet now we recognise the fundamental insanity of that statement. Love does not recognise skin colour or genetic makeup.

Denying gay couples the right to marry does not protect marriage. This unattributed quote, seen on twitter, sums it up beautifully: “So, let me get this straight…Charlie Sheen can make a “porn family”, Kelsey Grammer can end a 15 year marriage over the phone, Larry King can be on divorce #9, Britney Spears had a 55 hour marriage, Jesse James and Tiger Woods, while married, were having sex with EVERYONE. Yet the idea of same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage? Really?”

Legalising gay marriage is no threat to my conventional, heterosexual marriage. But maintaining discrimination is a threat to my children. Whether they grow up gay, straight, or endearingly twisted, I want my daughters to grow up in a world where people are treated fairly and equally. Where people are valued for their minds and their hearts. Where their sexuality is their own concern, and of no interest to anyone outside their private lives.

We are not teaching our children that right now. We are teaching our children that gay relationships are somehow less deserving, less valid than straight. In doing so, we damage and divide our own community, just as much as we did when we discriminated on the basis of race. (I am rather naively assuming we don’t do that anymore – but we have at least achieved something when no-one, not even Andrew Bolt, wants to admit to doing it.)

Similarly, the argument that we could recognise gay relationships in a legal sense, without actually using the word marriage, is a decoy away from the real issue: equality. We could do that. It might even be an easier fight. But what would it achieve? We don’t gain anything by locking gay relationships out of marriage, but we lose a lot. Don’t give me dictionary or religious definitions of the word marriage. Give me, instead, the dictionary definition of equality.

It is time to state firmly, loudly, and unequivocally, that all people are equal and valued, whether gay, straight or kinky. The true measure of a couple’s relationship is in their love and commitment, not in their sexuality. One day we will look back and be appalled that this topic was ever debated, just as we look back on racial segregation with horror. Let’s bring that day forward.

*Australian MPs are consulting their constituents about gay marriage right now. Email your MP today.


7 thoughts on “Straight talking

  1. Joe

    Almost purely for the sake of discussion and debate…

    Ok let me interject a preface. I don’t give two hoots either way about gay marriage specifically, for which perhaps I may need to apologise to almost everyone. (I do have a strong ideal that people be treated with respect and dignity regardless of differences, where those differences make allowance for mutual respect and dignity.)

    But then again, that’s just it. I wouldn’t give two hoots. This topic, and I understand it’s a topic of import for many, still feels to me similar to an argument over, say, legalising epidurals for men in childbirth.

    Equality of value, mutual respect, doesn’t mean we are the same. It doesn’t mean having access to the same labels. More, it doesn’t even mean having the same access to the same opportunities or possibilities. Indeed I get somewhat riled at the often-seen assumption that equality means or requires homogenisation and that to value you and you and you all equally I have to treat you the same way.

    I feel chasing such access to “the same labels” and “the same opportunities” is actually destructive to recognition of equality. It actually says (to me) “I feel I am less than you until I have your labels, until I have what you have”. I’m sorry, that just doesn’t cut it for me. We are different from each other. Inherently, we don’t have the same possibilities. And (mostly) I like that we’re different. (Except the parts where I can never be pregnant, never give birth, never breastfeed, likely die before I truly know my grandchildren… … hey I’m married and I still don’t get access to the good stuff.)

    Somewhere in here I feel I want to mention something about “marriage” not really being about the love between two adults, but rather about a future family. If it were just about the adults… pffft we’re all grown ups here I’m sure we can look after ourselves fine. (And that might be a somewhat unrecognised instinct behind some part of the “it’s about a man and a woman” reaction.)

    Recognition is a good thing. Official marriage is state recognition of a personal partnership. (Or state control over partnerships depending who I’m talking to this week.) The state allows some of us to front up one day and say “we’re partners” and just as easily allows us to front up one day and say “we’re no longer partners”. As such, real bonds of adult-to-adult life partnership are no longer encompassed in the state granted label.

    For my mind, the small nudge of warm fuzzy for state recognition is about equal to the small nudge of cold prickle that someone feels the label helps bestow equal value.

    (If it’s ever put to a people’s vote, I’ll vote in favour and shrug.)

    1. lindamciver

      Hi Joe,

      I certainly see the force of what you say – what is the importance of “marriage” these days anyway? If there is legal equivalence, what does the term itself matter? But I think the issue is similar to that of outlawing smacking. Outlawing smacking sent a legal signal that smacking was not ok, and public attitudes to smacking changed dramatically in a very short time thereafter.

      Making marriage available to everyone sends a strong legal signal that everyone is of equal value. And that is why it’s important. I don’t think the “family” argument carries much weight, because otherwise we would not allow anyone infertile, past child-bearing age, or not intending to have children to marry. Also it’s perfectly possible, these days, for gay couples to want to raise a family – and be able to.

      That’s why the “small nudge” is important – because of what it says about our values and attitudes to people.

      1. Joe

        Hi Linda,

        I just realised one of the pivot points of the debate. A possibly subtle distinction … I wouldn’t have said “the law says a gay couple are not allowed to marry”.

        “The law” historically wouldn’t even have considered the point, any more than it has previously considered legal implications if I, as a man, give birth to a child. Or get cloned. The question simply hasn’t historically been within the terms of reference of “marriage” or the control that law and society want to impose through “marriage”.

        Hence barring the aged, the infertile, or those not intending to have children isn’t a comparable question. That would involve maintaining the terms of reference as they are but adding a whole bunch of … security and compliance checks. Whereas enabling gay marriage involves redefining the underlying terms of reference.

        Such a redefinition is by far the easier task I’m sure. But the point is, why bother? Why redefine something that simply has (in its current form) no relevance? Should I feel I’m a lesser person if I can’t obtain a label of “Torres Straight Islanded”? Should I feel demeaned if there are people at my work place who can obtain a badge of a religion and thus they access dress code exemptions that I cannot?

        Marriage (in it’s current legal form) is indeed very very much about “families”… offspring, rights, obligations, access, inheritance… all are bound up with the legalities of marriage. From the law’s point of view, the “loving partnership” aspect of “marriage” is dissolved with a couple of simple signatures. The law doesn’t care one iota about the status of our loving unions, but much of the “family” stuff has (relatively) permanent legal implications.

        It’s also very much not the same as outlawing smacking, which I agree sent strong and useful signals. That’s an example of law preventing an undesirable action that used to be permitted. There is no law (here) against a gay couple.

        Again … I’m not *against* gay marriage, I just think it’s chasing an empty “equality”.

      2. Joe

        Oops. To my embarrassment I missed an important sentence…
        “Also it’s perfectly possible, these days, for gay couples to want to raise a family – and be able to.”

        Indeed. This, vastly more than what I feel is the spurious “equal recognition of unions” argument, is the case for expanding the “marriage” framework.

        And as a related aside, here I’ll change tack slightly and expose myself for an old fashioned fuddy duddy. I would prefer that in “marriage” (gay or otherwise) taking a common name should be a requirement. I don’t care whose name, or even taking a new or merged common name. But it should be a requirement. I think if that’s an insurmountable obstacle, the participants are fooling themselves.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, but couldn’t have said it as well as you did!

    I found your blog because of your Fructose Malabsorption post, but will stick around because I like your writing.

  3. Andrew

    Hi Linda,

    Although this debate is often presented as being one part, there are really 2:
    – Allowing gay marriage/union to be given all the same legal status, ceremony, recognition etc.
    – Calling it marriage.

    Oddly enough, I know a lot of people who are against only because of the second point (I can think of 10 people off the top of my head who have said as much).

    Would the political amongst us (not I) consider breaking the debate into those 2 parts and treating them separately?

  4. Andrew

    Hi Linda,

    Despite being lumped together into a single issue, I suspect this comes in as 2 parts:
    – Allowing gay marriage/union with all legal rights, ceremony, recognition etc.
    – Being allowed to call it marriage.

    I reckon at least 10 people that I know support the first part, but stumble at the second. Could this debate be split into 2 parts – Allow the full legal rights etc, but looking at calling it marriage as a second part…

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