New article: Marriage Equality – a History of Avoidance

“This festival of dumbarsery began in 2004 when the government of John Howard decided to change the wording of the 1961 Marriage Act because it didn’t specify that the people being married could not be of the same gender. A line was added to make marriage “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. And thus was an entirely avoidable political problem created.”

Even as you tick “yes” and send your voluntary survey ballot paper in THE VERY DAY you receive it, thanks, it’s important to remember the completely unnecessary bullshit that has brought us to this ugly point in Australian cultural and political history – and, importantly, the people who lied and keep lying to you about it.

That’s my new article at Rolling Stone Australia, Marriage Equality: A History of Avoidance.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: As anyone who listens to my’n’Dom Knight’s podcast The Double Disillusionists (available at Omny, or subscribe on iTunes) would be aware, the constant barrage of homophobic No arguments does a lot to send the message to LGBTIQ folks, especially young people, that they’re not welcome and not valued.

Therefore, I’m instituting a zero tolerance policy on my social media and this site: if you have a problem with marriage equality, you’re very welcome to rant about it somewhere else because I’m just going to delete anything hateful that’s submitted.

I don’t imagine that the sort of people wanting to check out an Andrew P Street website are huge No voters, to be honest, but in any case they don’t get to use my platform to spread their weird fears.

Yours ever,

APS

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Why Marriage Is Nice

Dear the Internet,

I don’t want to go on and on about marriage equality – after all, it’s going to be passed eventually in Australia, bring people nothing but security and happiness and make exactly zero difference to anyone else.

However, there’s an argument that gets used a fair bit – heck, Mark Latham used it on The Verdict only last night as a way of telling gay people to stop annoying him about the issue, which is what reminded me of it – which is that you don’t need a piece of paper to validate your partnership.

And that’s absolutely correct, just to be clear. You can support marriage equality as the removal of a pointless piece of discrimination without feeling that you need to enter into it yourself, or necessarily support the institution. I know plenty of people that don’t see the need to do it themselves, and it makes no difference to the strength of their relationship – and neither does it mean they can see any reason to deny others the option simply because they don’t need it themselves.

However, I’d like to explain why I am a fan of marriage. It definitely changed things – just not between, y’know, the two people that got married. We were pretty damn into one another before we got hitched, and we remain so today.

Seriously, best day. How goddamn good to we look? Amazing. Photo by Anna Kucera

Seriously, best day. How goddamn good do we look? Amazing. Photo by Anna Kucera

 

That’s because weddings aren’t just about the people that wed, as I learned in 1989, the year my mother and stepfather got married.

Both were sole parent to three children apiece, families they’d created with their late spouses.

He’d moved interstate to be with mum, which wasn’t an easy thing for his family, and was living next door to our house so things were still very separate. The plan was that we’d all live in the one house after the marriage – and I, as the eldest, had already kinda figured that I’d be there for a couple of years at the absolute most so had the least to lose from the arrangement.

It was a volatile time for all eight of us, with the marriage bringing up a lot of fairly predictable grief for the six kids aged between seven and seventeen who had lost parents and could see their lives once again changing dramatically.

Even so, we six kids did get along pretty well among ourselves, even if there were differing levels of enthusiasm about blending our families, and a few excitingly dramatic screaming matches (But there was also Press Gang and Degrassi Jr High – yes, ABC’s Afternoon Show with James Valentine/Michael Tunn, you were the scaffolding upon which our family’s fragile bond was constructed.)

The wedding was very nice – lots of family and friends and people saying lovely things – but much to my surprise, something fundamental changed in the wake of it.

I didn’t think my relationship with Lance would change all that much at the time, since I really liked the guy and was glad he was marrying my mother. But my relationship with my stepfather’s family changed dramatically – his sister was now my auntie, his parents were now my grandparents, and most importantly his children were now my siblings. These people were now going to be part of my life for the foreseeable future. And something just… clicked.

I’m not going to pretend it was all smooth Brady Bunch sailing from then on in, but the struggles that followed were those of a family. And not to put too fine a point on it, the six of we sibs are still stupidly close. It helps that my brother and sisters are all amazing human beings, admittedly, as are the growing number of in-laws and children that have joined the tribe since.

I felt the same thing in May when I married my wife: there was a shift in my relationship with her brothers, her parents and (especially) her nieces. That’s because when you’re a kid there’s a fundamental difference between a chap being some-guy-that’s-seeing-your-Auntie, and being Your Uncle – not least because it makes clear that this person will be sticking around, and is another adult that can be relied upon.

And of course the other way for kids to know that someone’s there for a long time and can be relied upon is, you know, for them to be around for a long time and be consistently reliable. Again, the paper doesn’t change things – but we’re a species that responds well to symbolism and ritual. I still melt a little bit inside whenever my nieces call me Uncle Andrew, even if it usually means I’m about to run around the park with one or more of them on my back.

Also, as I made clear at the time, outside of weddings how many opportunities do you have in life to stand up in front of all the people that you adore most in the world and say “seriously, how good is love?” Not nearly enough, if you ask me. And it’s something well worth celebrating.

So: can we get this stupid niggling civil injustice sorted out, Australian Parliament? That’d be great.

Yours ever,

APS

How To Address The Stupid Arguments Against Marriage Equality: a cut out and keep guide

Most of these sorts of discussions end very productively.

Most of these sorts of discussions end very productively.

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.

Yours ever,

APS