Divide and conquer

After Dr Kerryn Phelps’ excellent skewering of the weakness of marriage equality opponents’ non-arguments in The Punch yesterday, “It’s the vibe” is not a valid argument against gay rights, the blog follows up today with a cunningly disingenuous retort by a spokesman for the Australian Family Association (although you have to click through on his name to see the affiliation, as he’s careful not to mention that or his church links).

Here’s his question-begging argument:

In the same-sex marriage debate, everyone seems to assume that marriage is somehow valuable, but no one in the same-sex marriage camp is bothering to explain why.

We need to go back to the beginning. Before you start telling me that refusing to recognise same-sex marriage is a breach of human rights, you need to explain what you understand marriage to be, and why you think it’s a good idea in the first place. You need to explain what the key characteristics of marriage are (or should be), and why each of those characteristics is essential.

You need to explain why you think it is appropriate that marriage should form part of our legal framework at all.

First, no, you don’t. Arguing for equality simply requires noting that the law is there, that it discriminates on the grounds of gender (which it clearly does – I’m allowed to do something as a man, marry a woman, that a woman is forbidden to do), but that there’s been no good reason given for it to discriminate. The marriage equality movement is not arguing for marriage to be scrapped, and nor are their opponents. Both sides concede – and, in fact, regularly argue – that marriage is important and necessary. If Tim Cannon honestly hasn’t seen marriage equality advocates talking about what marriage means to them, then he’s clearly not been following their campaign.

Second, could there be a more shameless appeal to divisions in your opponents? What Tim has produced is akin to the monarchists in 1999 talking up the “direct election” republicans in order to create division within the other side. He clearly doesn’t believe the argument at all – his organisation makes the biggest noises about marriage being important – but disingenuously demands that the other side argue amongst themselves over a point that he himself is not pushing.

It’s also like anti-equality proponents saying “well, if we have gay marriage why shouldn’t we have polygamy”? They’re throwing up an argument that is not being seriously put – and because it’s not being seriously put, nobody can evaluate it. The strong argument against polygamy would not be an appeal to tradition, or religion, both of which are fundamentally hollow and would in the former case have refused, say, female suffrage, and in the latter case logically dissolve the marriage of everyone who isn’t religious (or, in the minds of some, who isn’t Christian) – no, the argument against polygamy will be on the specific proposal put forward, and how it would address the concerns on things like oppression of women and how to arrange the adding or removing of parties to the polygamous union. ie, a practical debate that can’t be had until someone puts up a specific proposal.

Quite different to the marriage equality debate, where the specific proposal is very clear: remove the parts of the legislation that specify gender. And where, despite that specific proposal being available for scrutiny, opponents have yet to find a single rational argument against it, hence this little gambit today. It’s an appeal to confusion and division – the sort of tactic you run when you have nothing cogent to argue, and have no shame.

The one positive thing out of Tim’s smarmy little screed is that he highlights a problem with his own organisation’s fatuous campaign:

You need to explain what the key characteristics of marriage are (or should be), and why each of those characteristics is essential.

Easy. Off the top of my head – commitment for life, to care for and love and support. A sexually-exclusive relationship.

Anyone disagree with those elements of “marriage”?

Now, Tim. AFA. Follow your own demand and explain the key characteristics of marriage such that they cannot be shared with gay people. Remember, defining children in marriage as a necessary condition requires you to call for the immediate dissolution of all childless marriages, particularly ones that have no possibility of children being conceived (like post-menopausal marriages).

Can anyone on the anti-equality side do that? No? Deafening silence? As usual.

9 responses to “Divide and conquer

  1. jordanrastrick

    Yeah, that article was absolutely pissweak. “The Bible/Koran/Torah/etc says so” is at least an honest, logically self-consistent basis on which to disagree with gay marriage. Attempts to come up with fatuous secular reasoning to justify why civil marriage should be discriminatory all end up falling flat on their faces.

  2. Actually, even “The Bible/Koran/Torah/etc says so” is not logically self-consistent unless the person is also campaigning against secular marriage/divorce/the failure of government to execute gay people etc.

  3. Anyone disagree with those elements of “marriage”?


    1. Marriage does not have to be sexually exclusive, and
    2. Marriage does not have to be for life.

    I would define marriage in a much broader way than that, perhaps “An undertaking, recognised by the State, in which two participants make a consentual and formal commitment to act as a family unit.”

  4. Wouldn’t that cover carers?

    Although, I suppose, there are plenty of non-sexual marriages, just as there are plenty of non-exclusive marriages. Maybe you just have to leave sex out of the definition.

    I suppose if carers have made that formal commitment to look after each other for life then it’s a marriage.

    I think the “for life” part is an essential element – yes, we have divorce, but parties entering into a marriage shouldn’t be envisioning that.

    Basically, the “essential elements” of marriage in Australia do not exclude any of the relationships the law currently calls marriage, which include:
    * childless marriages
    * post-menopausal marriages
    * marriages where the participants don’t have sex at all
    * marriages where the participants share their sexual lives with other people
    * marriages that are not Christian
    * marriages that are not religious at all.

    Opponents of equality have to answer why the above are marriages but gay marriages are not.

  5. Wouldn’t that cover carers?

    Hmm – maybe you’re right about that.

    Although I think the ‘family unit’ bit could potentially be defined to exclude people who are in a carer/caree relationship.

  6. Although I think the ‘family unit’ bit could potentially be defined to exclude people who are in a carer/caree relationship.

    “Family” is one of those words that means to people whatever they want it to mean, just as “marriage” does. The word itself is too wishy-washy to use in any legal context unless it is defined in the law itself. So long as loaded language such as “family” are left out it should be easier to define.

    What gets me though, is that we already have a legal definition of who is considered to be in a cooperative, “marriage”-like relationship: de facto. Or in other words, “for all intents and purposes”. If we lived in almost any other western democracy it would be called a “common law marriage”. It has almost all the same automatic rights as a marriage except for a couple of (admittedly important) bits — like financial and medical Power of Attorney — but this country seems to be unable to get over that last hurdle.

    Why is it so difficult to go from “a relationship that is the same as a marriage, is legally recognised as being like a marriage, and has almost all the same rights as a marriage” to “a marriage like any other”?

  7. Because they want to be able to continue to discriminate.

    By the way, Labor’s changes haven’t undone all the discrimination. Compare the rights of an Australian who marries a partner of the same sex overseas with one who marries one of the opposite sex. Compare the rights of their spouse. Compare the rights of their children.

    There is only one fool-proof, efficient and just approach to resolving discrimination on this issue, and that is full equality.

  8. Why is it so difficult to go from “a relationship that is the same as a marriage, is legally recognised as being like a marriage, and has almost all the same rights as a marriage” to “a marriage like any other”?

    Don’t waste your time seeking a rational explanation for this reluctance as there is none. As Jordan said above it would be far more honest for those “safeguarding” the institution of marriage to just admit that they’re following religious decree, rather than attempt to reverse engineer logical justifications for their prejudice.

  9. As a Biology undergrad I’ve got a mischevious urge to define “family” as “anyone you’d treat half as well as your own kids”, with smaller values possible if you’re considering relations further than first cousins

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