As the time for submissions to the Senate and House of Representatives inquiries into the I-can’t-believe-we’re-still-seriously-arguing-whether-we-should-stop-discriminating-against-gay-people marriage equality bills comes to a close, it seems to me to be a particularly pertinent time to revisit the fundamental question in the whole debate: why on Earth shouldn’t the law consider marriages between gay people marriages?
And that unavoidably comes down to this question: can you identify a single factor that is an essential element of heterosexual marriages that cannot be present in a homosexual marriage?
Here are some that sound like they might work, but actually don’t, because none of them are present in all marriages now:
- Procreation: It’s very difficult to find a single person who will seriously argue that heterosexual couples where procreation is impossible (for example where the woman has had a hysterectomy) should be prevented from marrying. I’m certainly not that person. Unfortunately for advocates of the “procreation is essential to marriage” argument, if you genuinely believe that “procreation (or the possibility of procreation) is essential to marriage”, then you must believe that these are not marriages. If you believe the government should not recognise marriages where procreation is impossible, and you think the Marriage Act should enforce that belief, then you must be advocating for a change yourself to make procreation (or the possibility of procreation) an essential element. Because it isn’t in the present Marriage Act. Let’s repeat this: if you are happy with the Marriage Act recognising marriages between permanently infertile couples, then you cannot consistently oppose it recognising same sex couples on the grounds that they are also infertile.
- “Uniqueness”: There is something “unique” about male-female pairings other than the ability to procreate. To which I can only ask: what precisely is “unique” about all heterosexual marriages? Nobody putting this line ever specifies what exactly they mean by this beyond “complementarity”:
- Complementarity: A marriage must, this “argument” asserts, have a masculine participant and a feminine participant so that there’s the complementary benefits of each. Except that there are many masculine women and feminine men. There are many marriages the law recognises right now where both participants are masculine. Or both feminine. There is no requirement in the Marriage Act that men be “masculine” or that women be “feminine”, or that there must be a representative of each stereotypical gender role in the couple. It’s not a requirement of marriage right now, and nor is it “implied”. If you genuinely believed those complementary roles are essential before a marriage can be recognised by the law, then you’d have to be calling for a change to the definition of marriage to include that requirement, so all these non-stereotypical heterosexual marriages can be stopped.
- Role models: The assertion here is that children have a “right” to a mother and a father. More specifically, to a parent with a vagina and a parent with a penis (even though many fathers are stereotypically feminine and many mothers are stereotypically masculine; apparently the essential element is that children need to know that their parents have different genitals). And this should be enforced in the marriage law (even though an increasing proportion of children in Australia have unmarried parents and the Marriage Act doesn’t affect them at all). Anyone who seriously argues that the law should somehow be creating such a “right” for children has to tackle (a) the number of children raised by single parents; and (b) all the laws where the state actually takes a parent away. For example, if you argue that all children have a right to a father where possible, are you arguing that having children should be a full bar to the criminal courts imposing a long custodial sentence on an offender? Because that’s taking away the kids’ access to their father, which you’re asserting is their “right”. Alternatively you probably should just concede that you don’t really believe that kids have a “right” to a father or a mother at all, even where it’s possible.
- Approved by religion: The Marriage Act has long recognised non-religious marriages. Sorry, but the country stopped asserting that marriage must conform to religious teachings decades ago. If you’re seriously proposing that all civil marriages must be banned, then you can make this argument on those grounds. If you’re not, then you don’t really believe it. And even if you do, based on the number of civil marriages solemnised every year, clearly the law (and most Australians) don’t agree with you.
So, sadly, none of those objections stand up to any scrutiny. Can anyone name a single essential element of marriage that is absent homosexual marriages? A single one?
I thought not.