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.