Why you should care about same-sex marriage, even if you don’t care about same-sex marriage

Of course, you should care about marriage equality. For all the right and obvious reasons – equality before the law for gay and lesbian people first and foremost, the right for all grown-ups to make their own life choices, because it will make people happy and happiness is good…and weddings. Regardless what you think about marriage (and I’ve been a bit up and down on the subject myself), weddings are AWESOME.

In fact most people, over a relatively short period of time, have come to this conclusion. The oft-quoted Crosby-Textor poll (that’s Mark Textor, Liberal Party pollster and strategist) found 72% of Australians of voting age support marriage equality. That, in polling terms, is a slam dunk.

Which leads me to the other reason that you should care. The failure to bring about marriage equality in Australia is a symptom of what is deeply wrong with politics in this country. If there was ever the possibility to elevate an issue above narrow political self-interest, it’s this one. It should be easy. Yet our political process has fundamentally failed.

There are hard debates, to be sure, that need to be acknowledged as such. On the current tax settings, which privilege gains from the accumulation of capital over income from personal effort, and make the distribution of wealth increasingly unfair. On the funding mix between public and private schools, which has caused many middle class parents to abdicate the public system. Or the delicate balance between economic growth and environmental costs. I’m not suggesting these oppositions are zero sum games, but they are distributive. There are winners and losers. That’s what makes these debates difficult.

Marriage equality is not. There is no finite amount of marriage to go around. No one will be compelled to get married who does not want to. There won’t be any unintended marriage contagion. Eric Abetz should be reassured: Dolce and Gabbana won’t feel any compulsion to tie the knot (regardless of the fact their romantic relationship ended in 2005).

Certainly, there are legitimate misgivings on the left. A couple or family doesn’t and shouldn’t need the blessing of the state to legitimise it. Marriage still has historical patriarchal associations that will linger well passed the time that Costco starts selling two-groom, three-tier cakes. And some argue, as Helen Razer has in her virtuosic and exhausting fashion, that marriage equality is death by assimilation.

But basically, we have an issue where no tough choices are required. No one loses an outrageous tax perk or middle class entitlement. No workers in declining industries need retraining. No budget need be allocated. You won’t need a new adapter for your TV. No one loses.

The political response to this? A Prime Minister stacking the bench within his own party room to engineer an outcome. Then, having manipulated this outcome, he suggests a constitutional referendum might be the best way of establishing the people’s will. I may be a political amateur, but I thought it was the Prime Minister’s job to divine the people’s will? No change to the constitution is required – but rather than a simple plebiscite, we somehow need a constitutional referendum in which marriage equality must receive majority of the vote in every state.*

Marriage equality has been part of the ALP’s platform since 2011, but there have been moments, let’s face it, when Labor hasn’t showered itself in glory either. I believe history will show Julia Gillard to have been a great Prime Minister in trying circumstances who navigated an extremely difficult political situation (partly of her own making) to legislate important reforms. But she will also be known for her feeble justification of her opposition to marriage equality on the grounds that she didn’t see marriage as a big deal. I suppose she couldn’t readily just admit, “I only got here with SDA backing and, as the Country song says, you gotta dance with them that brung ya!”

For many years, politicians on both sides who didn’t want to support marriage equality, but also didn’t want to not support it would describe it as “inevitable”. As if they, as our elected representatives, didn’t have “making stuff happen” in their job descriptions. As if they just had to sit back and watch a slowly encroaching rainbow overtake ignorance and bigotry. As if our political process was just that – a process – with no catalysts or rational actors needed to move it along. Try that in your job. If your boss complains you’re not doing the work you were hired to do, try calmly explaining to him or her that that work is “inevitable”.

Say what you like about Tony Abbott, but he can’t be accused of passivity. His Prime Ministership is in trouble, but I take no comfort from that. The longer this ugliness drags on, the more cynical people will get about our political process. With an unpopular Prime Minister whose position increasingly relies on a dwindling right-wing base, things can get a lot nastier. And gay men and women, mothers and fathers, will continue to feel attacked and unwelcomed by a PM who doesn’t care what collateral damage his intransigence causes.

I grew up in a single-parent family. My own family is a blended family. It’s said that you can chose your friends but not your family, but we chose each other, and that’s pretty amazing. Because despite having different parents, our kids don’t merely tolerate each other, they love each other. So we don’t need a certificate signed by a duly authorised representative of the state to make us a real family.

But my partner Sara and I are getting married, if only to celebrate our family, through the civil rite of marriage, in a room full of friends and loved ones. We have that legal right. So does Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and Scott Morrison. And 72% of Australians believe everyone should, but our elected representatives won’t allow that to happen.

In the Labor party, allowing a “free” vote against the party platform – allowing MPs to vote against the Marriage Equality Act – is described as a “conscience vote”. It seems a misuse of the word. I’m not religious, but I’ve read enough to know that all of the major religions have a version of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The corollary is also true: don’t deny others that which you want for yourself. As my kids would say, it’s not manners.

*It has been pointed out that this is incorrect, a constitutional referendum requires a double majority – a simple majority of all voters and a majority in at least four states or territories. Of course, this is the kind of procedural complexity and confusion Abbott is hoping to cause.

2 thoughts on “Why you should care about same-sex marriage, even if you don’t care about same-sex marriage

  1. Michelle

    You state that no one loses out if there is equal marriage, but have you read any of the research from Canada, where they have had equal marriage or similar for nearly 10 years? This research shows that people DO lose and are negatively impacted. Freedom of speech is impacted, children are impacted, other’s rights and freedoms ARE impacted. I am for equal marriage. I think anyone should be able to marry whomever they choose. But I think it is dangerous to argue that this will not cause any consequences. It will, based on evidence from other countries.


  2. Pingback: All the terrible arguments against marriage equality in one handy piece (and why they’re wrong) | keirpaterson

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