This is the third (and final) instalment in a series on Australia’s current debate over making same-sex marriage legal.
The first instalment looked at the backstory to the issue.
The second instalment looked briefly at the Yes and No campaigns, as well as my view on the issue.
In this final instalment, I’d like to look at a few of the key issues and try to shine some light on those issues.
The ‘Yes’ campaign has a pretty simple platform: It’s time for same-sex couples to get the same access to marriage as heterosexuals. Australia is an egalitarian society and it’s time our marriage laws stopped discriminating against same-sex couples.
The issues that have made this such a complicated affair are pretty much all raised by the ‘No’ side of the debate. They’re the issues that I’d like to address here.
Same-sex couples in civil unions are treated the same as de-facto couples and the law has already been changed to give de-facto couples the same rights as married couples.
Umm, no. This is not true.
Yes, de-facto couples (couples in a relationship under the same roof but unmarried) do get many of the protections offered to married couples under the law. But not all.
The rights of a married couple are established as soon as the marriage certificate is signed. The rights of a de-facto couple are different from state to state, and they also differ depending what area of the law you’re looking at. The definition of a couple used by Centrelink is different to that used under migration law, and different again to that used under family law.
Married couples have more automatic rights with regards to IVF at the beginning of life and more rights about health decisions for their spouse at the end of life. They have less complicated proceedings available for divisions of property, and estate management. They have more rights and simpler procedures when it comes to superannuation.
Another key problem is that civil unions are administered by state law. The Marriage Act 1961 is a national law and all marriages in Australia are recognised under this law. Civil unions are established under inconsistent laws across the states and territories that actually have them (you can’t register a civil union in Western Australia or the Northern Territory at all).
If your partner is in a car accident in Sydney and ends up in hospital, a doctor will immediately know what your rights are if you can tell them you are that person’s spouse. The terms are clear. Saying “I’m their partner according to a Queensland civil union” lands you in far muddier waters.
Furthermore, while Australian marriages are recognised pretty much everywhere around the world, civil unions registered in applicable Australian states are barely recognised anywhere – a big problem if a couple moves overseas for work.
This piece at The Conversation will give you the full breakdown.
The bottom line: significantly similar rights are indeed available to both married and de-facto couples but de-facto couples have to jump through a lot more hoops to get access to them (well, the ones they actually have access to). It’s far from automatic.
I don’t necessarily see a problem with parts of that. If a couple does not want to marry, if they don’t want to declare their relationship in public and commit to one another in that way, then that’s their right. They can choose to forego the rights that marriage offers them and stay as a de-facto couple if they wish.
The problem is, a lot of same-sex couples DO want to declare their relationships in public and commit to their spouses. They’re not choosing to live together as de-factos. They want their family unit just like their hetero brethren, and it’s being denied to them purely on the basis of their sexuality.
Why can’t we just amend the laws around civil unions so that same-sex couples get the same rights as married couples, but without it being called marriage?
Because that’s not marriage equality. We don’t need to create something new and different for same-sex couples. We already have something – it’s called marriage.
There is social currency in marriage. A married couple is one that has decided to declare for one another in the presence of witnesses and according to the laws of the land. They carry obligations to one another and have rights under the law.
Marriage is understood by society. People know that some marriages last and some don’t, but they know that a married couple has been serious enough about each other to tie the knot and they respect that.
Former speechwriter to Tony Abbot, Paul Ritchie:
“Allowing same-sex couples to marry is not just a matter of law. It’s also a matter of heart and soul. It reflects a universal hope: to be blessed by family and friends, and to share your life, with its trials and tribulations, laughter and joy, with the one that you love.
“The institution of marriage affirms us as people; gives standing to our most significant relationship; and changes our families for the better. It is an institution that points to a better life and helps us answer the deepest question: can I selflessly love another and find meaning and purpose in that love? This is a conservative ideal,” he writes.
What’s at question here is whether or not the respect that society gives to married couples should be given to all couples, or just heterosexual couples.
This is where a lot of Christian conservatives get their noses out of joint.
To Christians, marriage is a sacrament – “til death do us part”. It’s a human manifestation of the unbreakable bond between God and humanity.
To the courts, marriage is a legal arrangement that’s defined by statute. Like all good first-world countries, Australia has a distinct division between church and state. The definition of marriage in this instance is a matter of law, not a matter of religion.
This really is a key point that gets stuck in a lot Christian craws.
They want marriage how they see it. It’s theirs. It’s ordained by God and being married is something special that they don’t want to be confused with something so fundamentally sinful as homosexuality.
Other ‘sins’ are OK. But not this one.
It doesn’t matter that many of the people getting married are Hindus, or Muslims, or Buddhists, as long as it’s a man and woman. It doesn’t matter that many of the people getting married are shite at being married and end up divorced (multiple times), as long as it’s a man and a woman. It doesn’t matter that many of the people getting married are shite at being parents to their progeny, as long as it’s a man and a woman.
A conservative Christian sees all those situations as redeemable. They can equate their marriage with those people by saying ‘there but for the grace of God….’
But not this. Homosexuality has a special place in hell to them. Presumably one without lubricants*.
While it’s mostly unspoken, one of the things Christian conservatives hate the most is the idea that two gay people getting married might be equated with their marriage.
They want the word ‘marriage’ to themselves.
This is why you hear things such as “I’ve got nothing against gay people, but…..” and “I’m happy to see their rights protected, but……”
I’ve actually had one person propose to me that a new arrangement could be set up for same sex couples called a Homounion.
I’ve heard Christians raise concerns about gender fluidity, free speech, political correctness, paedophilia (which I consider ironic, given the nature of some priests in the Catholic church) and other issues. When it all boils down to it, though, Christian opponents to same-sex marriage simply want marriage to be the singular domain of people who bump uglies in the way it’s described in the bible.
I’ll say it again. In this debate, on this question, the word ‘marriage’ is a legal definition in a statute. It’s not the religious interpretation that people are seeking to re-frame here.
It’s a point. of. law.
As the wise man says… If you don’t like the idea of gay marriage, don’t get gay married.
Changing the definition from the current “between a man and a woman” will open Australia up to people marrying animals, and even stranger things such as bridges.
Yes, one Australian politician gave that as an example. Hit the link to see the story.
There is a LOT of dis-information being circulated at the moment and it’s designed to whip up fear of the unknown.
A classic example is the notion that changing the existing definition in the Marriage Act 1961 (a man and a woman) will leave the statute unclear on gender, or even completely genderless. And if the statute is genderless, then it’s just two….. things getting married – hence the reference to a person marrying a bridge.
Bollocks. Unnecessary, fearmongering bollocks.
Why assume that the wording will change from “between a man and a woman” to a genderless statement? Why not trust that our legislators can re-word it to something like “between a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.”
That wasn’t so hard to solve, was it?
“This is all part of a strategy for gay people to recruit and abuse children.”
This sort of rubbish is actually being bandied about. Seriously.
Kids deserve a mother and a father
This is something that’s a little easier to empathise with. “I grew up with a mother and a father and I liked it that way, therefore every kid should have that.” It’s easy for us to relate to (if you had both parents and the outcome was a good one).
Personally speaking, I’m not opposed to the notion that a child should have knowledge of (and preferably access to) both biological parents. I definitely don’t see that as a dealbreaker, however.
I don’t see it something that happens now, either. There are kids in broken homes all around the country that don’t see one (or more tragically, either) parent.
Having both Mum and Dad around isn’t a formula for success. Having a good family around you is a much better deal, and there are social studies to prove it. Being hetero provides no guarantee of being a solid family. In fact, I’d argue that in 2017, a family comprising same-sex parents is likely to be stronger than most, because they’ve had to fight to get there.
What kids need – what society needs – are solid families, not prescriptions as to what those families look like.
“Same-sex marriage is a trojan horse for…..” (killing free speech, rampant political correctness, promoting gender fluidity via the Safe Schools program, insert hobby horse of your choice here)
This is the classic Strawman argument, designed to whip up fear and distract from the actual issue at hand.
Once again, the ballot has only one question on it:
If any of those side issues are a chance to be affected by changes to the Marriage Act 1961, then that’s the time for legislators to do their job and ensure there are protections in place so that people who want to get married can get married, and the reasonable rights of others aren’t infringed.
The law is there to do a job. Make sure the lawmakers get it right. That’s all part of the parliamentary process.
Also, let’s not pretend that these issues are going to go away anytime soon. The ‘No’ campaign would have you think that these are issues solely because same-sex marriage is being proposed.
Does anyone really think that if same-sex marriage is not implemented – i.e. if the ‘No’ campaign wins – that the content of the Safe Schools program will stop being an issue? Do you think Andrew Bolt will stop whinging about free speech?
These are all sideshows. They’re Strawman arguments designed specifically to get people upset and waste time. They’re issues that can, and will, continue to be discussed and legislated upon.
I’m fine with people having religious convictions about marriage and what it should be. I’m fine with people voting their conscience. I don’t necessarily agree with your convictions but I respect them and I’ve got no problem with that.
What makes me scratch my head, though, is people ignoring the REAL question and choosing to muddy the waters with dis-information and, in some cases, outright deceit.
Same-sex marriage will create more families. It’ll bring dignity and respect to a group in our society that have been figuratively and literally bashed for decades. It’ll give the people who want to access it much-needed and much-deserved rights and protections under the law. It’s not going to hurt you, or your family.
Modern WASP civilisations have got plenty of things wrong over the years. We kept slaves. We didn’t let women vote. We didn’t let indiginous people vote. We didn’t allow interracial marriage. This is just another thing that future generations will look back on and say “what was all the fuss about?”
Same-sex marriage will be legislated in Australia eventually. Be on the right side of history. Of justice.
* I should apologise to my Aunty Joan and my sister for the lubricants gag because there’s a fair chance they’ll read this. Actually, Aunty Joan will probably find it quite funny. So sorry, Sis.