Dear The Internet,
One of the nice things about having a column is that I get to rant about stuff I think should be ranted about, but sometimes I just want to rant EVEN MORE. And the biggest thing that’s baffling me at the moment is the pointless and downright silly arguments against same-sex marriage being implemented in Australia.
There is a strong, sensible argument against marriage equality, and it goes like this: “I don’t like gay people and I don’t want them being happy.”
It’s intellectually honest, it cuts right to the heart of the matter, and it doesn’t mess around pretending that the speaker cares about civil rights or human happiness. Unfortunately it also makes clear how little someone’s personal ick-feelings should contribute to crafting legislation in a modern democracy.
Thus campaigners prefer to go with elaborate justifications about how they’re actually worried about protecting marriage and and preserving the sanctity of marriage, and respecting the values of tradition, because they’re largely meaningless statements that are therefore hard to argue against, and also because bigots get very sad when people call them bigots.
And then there are more practical arguments which I’m sick of slapping down regularly on Facebook, so here’s my list of responses to the current crop of stupid, stupid arguments against marriage equality. This way I can just send a link and get on with my day.
Stupid Argument The First: This is so very very important a change that we should have a Referendum, like in Ireland! You know, to see what The People think!
No, we shouldn’t. More specifically, not only do we not need to, but it would achieve literally nothing.
In Australia a Referendum can only be called in order to change something in the Constitution, and since the definition of marriage isn’t in the Constitution – it’s in the Marriage Act, a piece of Federal law – it can only be changed through federal legislation. You know, like the Howard Government did in 2004. Remember that referendum about defining marriage as being between “a man and a woman”? No you don’t, because there wasn’t one.
The other option that’s been thrown around is a plebiscite, which is like a Referendum but a) not necessarily a compulsory vote, and b) not about something in the Constitution. That’s what we had about changing the flag, for example.
The problem with that is that the Constitution prevents the Federal Parliament from limiting its own power to create laws, so a plebiscite would have to be non-binding BY DEFINITION in order to work. What’s more, it would leave any change potentially open to a High Court challenge regardless of the result.
So either way, it would require Parliament to change the law independently of any such citizen vote – exactly as it does at the moment without one.
Stupid Argument The Second: B-b-but kids deserve a mother AND a father!
Leaving aside that this is a meaningless statement – kids grow up without one or both parents all the time – this has absolutely nothing to do with the Marriage Act. Parental rights are determined by a suite of laws mainly created by the states, and if you’re worried that kids might be legally raised by same-sex couples if the definition of marriage was changed then you might want to sit down: it’s already legal.
More specifically: same sex couples can adopt in WA, the ACT, Tasmania and NSW, and a same-sex partner of a parent can legally adopt their partner’s child in WA, the ACT and NSW. In the other states a partner can apply for a Parenting Order, which is much the same thing but doesn’t remove an existing parent’s rights as per an adoption.
So if that’s the big concern then a) the Marriage Act is the wrong target and b) that battle’s already been lost.
Stupid Argument The Third: OK, let’s make all partnerships “civil unions” and define “marriage” exclusively as a church-sanctioned thing!
Well, for a start this would require altering the Marriage Act to change the definition of marriage – which is the exact thing that people are so gosh-darn worried about doing, right?
But also, this would require stripping marriage from heterosexual couples who didn’t have a religious ceremony, which is the vast majority of Australians. Removing it from a majority of straight people seems a bit at odds with arguing that it’s a precious special magical thing for man and woman to share.
Then there’s the fact that an increasing number of churches are totally fine with marriage equality, which will kinda dilute this terribly important distinction, surely?
But the main thing is that it would never get public support necessary for it to be passed. People like being married, which is why people want to be married. That’s the entire reason this discussion is happening in the first place.
But what if, on the other hand, churches want to decide that the only marriages that “count” are ones done in their own faith tradition? Well, in a lot of cases, they… um, already do.
Stupid Argument The Fourth: B-b-but the law will make religious me do gay things I don’t like!
A popular side argument to the above is “b-b-but these changes will force me, a religious minister, to marry gay people against my faith! My religious freedom will be curtailed! CURTAILED!”
Except that churches won’t be forced to marry gay people they don’t want to marry. You know why? Because they already don’t marry straight people they don’t want to marry.
Most churches at least require the couple to be part of their faith, and usually also their congregation. There are already arbitrary hoops through which people have to jump to get access to any religion’s clubhouse.
Also, let’s be realistic here: no sane person is going to decide to hold a celebration of partnership and commitment, surrounded by all the people they love most, that’s officiated by someone who openly despises them. Weddings are typically delightfully upbeat affairs, and that would kinda bring down the mood.
Stupid Argument The Fifth: But tradition! TRADITION!
Even assuming that tradition was a strong prima facie reason to not change something (which, as the replacement of the traditional practice of bloodletting with the modern alternative of antibiotics has demonstrated, it is not), which tradition are you talking about, exactly?
The first recorded marriages in history predate the major religions by a few thousand years, were in Egypt (and quite probably in other places that didn’t conveniently have a written language that was preserved in stone) and were designed as a way for families to record lineage of offspring in order to maintain family ownership of property. They were a romantic people, them ancient Egyptians.
And while there are plenty of examples of same-sex, polygamous and weird sibling-heavy arrangements in different epochs and locations, we’re perfectly cool with ignoring those traditions when they don’t suit what we like, or what our society will accept.
That’s because marriage is like so many other things that humans care about, like the unalterable word of God in religious texts, or the Star Wars prequels: people inevitably pick the bits they think are good and quietly ignore those they don’t, whether it’s prohibitions on wearing mixed-fabric clothes or the existence of Jar Jar Binks.
So inevitably it comes down to people being very selective about the traditions they want to follow, which is why we currently have the very modern idea of two people voluntarily entering into a partnership for reasons predominantly connected with love. It’s hard to see why the genitals of these people would make a fundamental difference to that broad concept.
Stupid Argument The Sixth: But changing the definition of marriage will inevitably lead to polygamy/child-marriage/dogs and cats having adorable tiny weddings!
Since those are all entirely different questions, no it won’t.
The argument behind this otherwise-silly statement presumably goes something like this: “if we alter the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act now, what’s to stop us altering the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act again later?”
And the answer is “nothing, beyond having the motivation to actually do it”.
More specifically, we can change any word of any Act at any time, provided that Parliament has the numbers to do so and can be arsed spending the time doing it. That’s literally the entire point of Parliament. They make and change and repeal laws, loads of them, all the time (for an average of 50-ish days per year, at least).
If your fear is that Parliament might alter words in a law sometime now or in the future, then perhaps representative democracy isn’t the right political system for you.
Stupid Argument The Seventh: Oh, why is this still a thing? I mean, who cares? There are more important things to worry about!
Exactly. It’s a pointless and tedious argument, and it’s going to keep going until we finally have marriage equality because more people want it than don’t. If it gets brought up in Parliament and defeated, that’s not going to make it go away (hey, it didn’t last time). It’s going to keep going and going and going and going until it happens.
You want the endless debates to finish? Pressure for same sex marriage to pass so we can all get on with our lives.