[The Federal Parliament has seen fit to compromise upon its election policy of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, so that we are to get a postal survey or some such, in which the citizens can have a say and from which, possibly, legislative reform might ensue. There has been a considerable resistance to the move, on the grounds of cost, the non-binding nature of the poll, its vagueness and uncertainty, and the disharmony wreaked upon the minority by a national debate.
Under the Constitution, the Federal Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to Marriage, Divorce and matrimonial causes. Under the Federal Marriage Act 1961, “marriage ” means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. It might have once been argued that the Constitution only gave power to the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to marriage as that concept was understood in 1901, but the High Court, in Commonwealth v ACT (2013) handed the Federal Government a baguette de merde by deciding that it could pass a law re-defining the concept. In other words, whilst the Australian Capital Territories’ same sex legislation was invalid, the Court found that the Federal Parliament could validly pass such a law. This is why we’re having a plebiscite (of sorts) rather than a referendum.
The Varnished Culture held an inter-office debate on the topic, in the interests of a candid airing of the various issues.]
Peter: Well, we’re to get some homework in the post. Have you formed a view yet?
Lesley: I’ll be voting “No.”
P: I’ll be voting “Yes,” although it would be more accurate to say, ‘I’ll be voting “Okay.”‘
L: Why is that?
P: Well, speaking personally, it’s a 10th order issue. Call me boring, but I get more revved-up by energy policy, tax policy, arts policy…and getting the Federal Government to stop spending money like Elton John, on the loose in Nice. But if the country as a whole votes for change, that’s fine with me.
L: What is the case for change as you see it?
P: I think broadly, there are two arguments in favour. But can I first demolish the main case, which I think is flawed?
L: Go ahead.
P: I have always found the argument from equality to be suss. It isn’t equality at all: it is special pleading. That doesn’t bother me too much. But how can you seriously advance the notion that same sex or other couples are discriminated-against when legislation is in place, designed to eradicate any special advantage enjoyed by married couples, except the symbolic?
L: How do you view the religious aspect?
P: Askance. The established churches have appropriated the concept of marriage, which is fair enough, but marriage is basically a social construct, recognition of a procreation and rearing unit, which has been in place since the Assyrians some tens of thousands of years ago. Marriage pre-dates the God of the Old and New Testaments, it pre-dates Allah, has it all-over Buddha, and Shiva, Devi and Vishnu et al, and has years and years over Richard Dawkins. But I’d hope that the anti-clericalism of the enlightened left doesn’t mean we put priests in prison (on doctrinal grounds) or impose fines on conservative bakers of wedding cakes. Incidentally, it is the fact of established social understanding and validation of traditional marriage that makes me more comfortable with a popular vote.
L: So society can have a say.
P: Precisely. People ‘need stretching room for their feelings’ as Elmer Gantry would say, and there is a hell of a better chance the minority will go along with the vote if they’ve had the chance to put their view.
L: Yes, I agree that we must have a vote on it. Everyone will feel better if they have a say. It makes you wonder, this resistance to a vote. I think that those members of the pro-lobby who blithely say that ‘most’ or ’86 percent’ of Australians are for same sex marriage have plucked that out of the air, or from a dubious survey, and are in fact fearful that a public vote would result in the negative. Some, in their self-righteousness, believe they know better than the bigots and homophobes out there, who should be bypassed. To hide this, they say that a plebiscite will result in hate crime. Why should it? Would it incite hate crime more than legislation to legalise same-sex marriage without a popular vote would? I do think that a non-binding postal plebiscite is a spineless compromise and will create more trouble than it will solve. The government should put it to the people in a binding referendum. And to indulge in the soft sexism of low expectations, by suggesting the mere debate will take lives, is a ridiculous, repulsive stretch.
P: I tend to agree. If anyone on the LGBTTIQQ2SA spectrum can’t take the heat, then they need therapy anyway. Nor am I sure, with the profoundest respect, that I agree with the High Court that Federal Parliament can extend its legislative powers over a subject by simply extending its definition. But if a referendum were required, the bill for it was never going to pass the Senate.
L: The Senate has descended to farce.
P: Spot on. It seems to be a sheltered workshop for the lunatic fringe, the dregs of the major parties and a fashion runway for burqa-wearing dills.
L: What are your points in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote?
P: First, that there has been a quantum shift in society’s outlook. The social mores and conditions that have underpinned the elements of marriage for millennia have changed. And although some proponents of change have debunked the nuclear family, what they are in fact promoting is the nuclear family, albeit in extended form. Formalising same sex relationships is a way to bolster the cohesion and stability that flows from a nuclear family, and the nuclear family in this day and age of IVF and abundance does not need to be extolled purely as a procreation and rearing unit.
L: I can’t agree. Biology doesn’t shift (at least not that quickly). And the other point?
P: This is cynical, but from an economic viewpoint, it would bolster the marriage, honeymoon and divorce industries. But if I had my way, I’d repeal the Marriage Act and let people team-up any which way they like. Get the government out of the bedroom (and elsewhere for that matter). I’ve expressed this view in somewhat coded terms before. And your ‘No’ vote? What informs that?
L: Firstly, I think that marriage is between a man and a woman. I also think that it is best for children to have a mother and a father. I don’t have to deconstruct those views and they do not make me “homophobic”, or a bigot. I find it surprising that people in the NH* community wish to join an institution which so many of them in the past have decried as “antiquated, reactionary, old-fashioned, ‘just a piece of paper'” and so on.
P: But what do you say to a lesbian couple who ask, ‘why isn’t our relationship as important as yours?”
L: Your relationship is as important – but it is different. By definition it is different, and most NH people are at pains to point out that they are “other” and have different experiences and life paths from the mainstream. As you have said, there is really nothing missing from their relationships other than a mere “piece of paper”, the importance of which today, derives from the Christian religion, which so many NH people deride, and which regards them as ‘unnatural’.
P: What do you care?
L: Redefining marriage in this way is monumental. It’s a major change in – yes – the fabric of our society. Cory Bernardi’s comment about bestiality went too far, of course, but if two women or two men can marry; why not three women, or five women and one man? People in polygamous relationships will tell you that their love is as valid as any other, and why shouldn’t they be able to legitimise it? Furthermore, with the current hysterical emphasis on “gender fluidity”, very soon we may find that people identifying as this today and that tomorrow will be able to marry and the whole thing falls apart, becomes meaningless.
P: Not meaningless, surely? Doesn’t everyone’s marriage mean what they take it to mean?
L: That’s precisely the problem. If, like The Mad Hatter, a word – a legal term – means precisely what I want it to mean, and what you want it to mean, it means nothing. Marriage is a “legal institution” and not a lump of play-dough that can be squashed into a ‘one size fits all’ mould. For example – I have been told by my gay friends, and general experience tells us, that more gay men have ‘open’ relationships, than do heterosexual couples, and I think that is unlikely to change if homosexual couples can marry. It’s fine if you want to have a relationship with no – or few – boundaries about sexual infidelity, but why call it a marriage ‘to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’? Yes, I know, there are open heterosexual marriages and there are homosexual couples bonded in fidelity for life, but I am talking about a general tendency.
P: You can’t know how it feels to be denied the right to marry the one you love.
L: No, no more than a member of the NH community can know how I, a person who was married according to the old ways (albeit by a secular celebrant) can know how I feel at having this bond which is so important to me all of a sudden completely rewritten.
P: Surely this is not “all of a sudden”?
L: There have been rumblings about same-sex marriage for a long time of course, but it is only recently that it has become an obsession. Like you, I think that we should be spending this $122,000,000 on defence, or finding the cure for cancer. I will be howled down for that, by the people who are vocal about how important this matter is to the NH community, but there is only so much taxpayer money to go around. I do think too – and again I will be howled down – that this is a bit of a fad. It’s a long-standing sore spot which a strident, screeching minority have started going on and on about so much that people in the NH community are forced to think about it every day, and the sore spot is getting worried and inflamed so much by the leftist media et al, that many people who might not have been too bothered by it are now forced to think about it as a great burden.
P: “A bit of a fad”?
L: Yes, it’s today’s obsession on the part of the school of “You’re The Norm and That’s No Good”. What will they have to go on about when we have same-sex marriage (and I think we will)? I think it will be even more of the current business about four-year-olds choosing to commence gender reassignment and boys wearing skirts to school. And that’s a long way from saying that NH people should be treated fairly. It is a mad and greedy grab for attention by the professional resentment school, who drag everyone along with them, more confused and unhappy than ever. People are not all the same. That’s the whole point that the NH community have been trying to make, isn’t it?
P: That is perfectly true. Equality can’t mean uniformity. Why do you suggest everyone is being dragged along?
L: Well. obviously not everyone. But many people who think as I do are too scared of the rabid PC police to speak up. Furthermore, many people who regard themselves as ‘socially progressive’ or ‘open-minded’ are so beholden to the left and their “four legs good, two legs bad” lecturing, there’s is just a knee-jerk reaction; without thinking about it they declare, “all love is good, therefore everyone should be able to marry whomever they want to marry, and if you don’t think so, you are a nasty bigoted, narrow-minded gay hater.” But, I say that, just as it’s a long way from same-sex marriage to arrays of school toilets for every conceivable sexuality (thank you, President Obama), I don’t think that the path from the reasonable proposition, that NH people should be treated fairly to saying that the ancient concept of marriage should be pretty well gutted, is straight and narrow (forgive the pun).
P: What do you think is going to happen?
L: As I said, I think it will become law. That has been decided. There will be a bad period if the plebiscite result is ‘no’; the government will have to get around that somehow. Then there will be a sweet and sour period, with lots of wedding bookings, rainbow flag-waving and referring of Catholic priests and conservative bakers to the Equal Rights Commission. Then there will be the expensive period of Unintended Legislative Consequences. Next, the genie being out of the bottle, the professional school of resentment will start in on the next thing – which will be much less palatable.
P: We have long and happy friendships with homosexual folks. If the Marriage Act is changed, as proposed, will you boycott their weddings – if you should be asked? Will you pretend they are not married?
L: No, as I said, I believe this will happen and I will accept it, although I think it is a mistake and not the will of the people. I will be most honoured if my friends should invite me to their weddings and I will be very happy for them indeed. They are my friends and obviously that has preceded all of this. And the law is the law. So be it. I just hope they will let me have a “Straight is Great” or a “Being Clothed in Public is Best” float at the mardis gras. No?
P: Well, The Varnished Culture takes care to speak wise words, but doesn’t believe in having the last word. I hope we can gather views ahead of the vote later in the year that enhance our understanding of different positions, even if they don’t change our minds. But as things stand, we each cancel out the other’s vote. I only hope people engage and have their say. If they don’t, it will diminish the weight of any complaints they advance about the result. And a low turn-out will diminish the weight of the result so far as the Parliament is concerned.[*In order to reduce the risk of offending anyone by using a controversial acronym such as LGBTQ+, I have opted for NH (“Non-Heterosexual”). I trust that does not offend any “gender-fluid” person who might, from time to time, consider themselves as heterosexual.] [UPDATE, 7 September 2017: The High Court has confirmed the constitutional validity of the government’s ‘mail-out’ plebiscite, so away we go…let’s all play nice, please!]