Monthly Archives: August 2017

All the terrible arguments against marriage equality in one handy piece (and why they’re wrong)

Dr Kevin Donnelly, take a bow. Research Fellow, Australian Catholic University, author of “This is why I’ll be voting against same-sex marriage,” you have done us a huge favour in producing such a tightly packed, closely reasoned summary of every “argument” against marriage equality, that none of us will never need to read another version of this rubbish again.

Surely that’s worth something. So, first up: Kevin, thank you for your service. Now, if you can bear it, go and read his article.

If you did manage to get through it, you can now descend from the ceiling, make yourself a cup of tea, and if you’re so inclined, read on. (If not, and fair enough, I summarise the main points below.)

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University.

I’m not an academic, I’m just a blogger, but I’m fairly sure that being a Senior Research Fellow has something to do with research. I say fairly sure because no actual research made it into his article. Read it again, if you dare: research-free.

And I don’t wish to question Dr Donnelly’s religious devotion, but it doesn’t accord with my experience of Catholicism. My beloved, her extended family and many, many of my friends are Catholic and I don’t detect their loving, refugee-helping, union-joining, equality-promoting presence in Donnelly’s writing at all. (Admittedly, I often don’t recognise them in present-day Vatican dictates either, but fortunately these days we frown on taking orders from radical theocracies abroad.)

As the U.S. comedian-turned-Senator Al Franken has said, if you take a copy of the New Testament and cut out all the references to Jesus helping the disadvantaged you end up with a box.

Donnelly opens:

“There’s no doubt that central to the concept of family is a definition of marriage involving a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation.”

I like to think at this point Kevin hit the carriage return (he uses a typewriter, surely?), ripped out the piece of foolscap and sent it off to Fairfax with a self-satisfied “…nailed it”. I also like to imagine his annoyance when the Editor rejected it until he could come up with another 774 words, because there’s no other explanation for the perfunctory way in which the rest of the article tosses out half-baked assertions as universal truths.

But let’s conduct a little thought experiment with his opening “there’s no doubt” gambit.

1960:     There’s no doubt that central to the concept of family is a definition of marriage involving a man and a woman of the same race.

1920:     There’s no doubt that central to the concept of family is a definition of marriage involving a man, and a woman denied all reproductive rights.

1850:     There’s no doubt that central to the concept of family is a definition of marriage involving a man and his female property, as negotiated with her father.

1750:     There’s no doubt that central to the concept of family is a definition of marriage involving a man whose ownership of his wife can only be overridden by the lord of the manor.

In fact, there’s no doubt that the only immutable fact about marriage is that it is constantly changing.

He then trots out the “there are more important issues” argument:

….according to the 2011 census figures only 1 per cent of Australian couples are same-sex, with surveys suggesting only a minority want same-sex marriage. There are more important issues to worry about.

There is so much wrong with this argument, but it’s a common one from marriage equality opponents, so let’s dispatch with it quickly:

  1. Protecting the civil and human rights of minorities involves…people in the minority. Well, duh. It’s both circular and fatuous – not easy to pull off.
  2. It’s not an important issue…but if we let gay people marry it will lead to the downfall of civilisation. Sorry, you don’t get to hold both views simultaneously.
  3. There are more important issues to worry about. We actually expect our elected officials to be able to think about multiple issues simultaneously. That’s literally their job. And we expect the vast machinery of government to be able to do more than one thing at a time. Hence, John Kennedy managed to put someone on the moon and introduce the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He didn’t tell African Americans to wait until he’d sorted out this moon thing.

Next we get the talk-back radio “Adam and Eve Not Adam and Steve” argument:

“To put it bluntly, gays and lesbians are physically incapable of procreation and having their own children. For them to believe otherwise is to deny the life choice they have made and to believe they should be entitled to something normally associated with biological parents.”

It’s at this point that Kevin starts to lift the curtain on his grim Handmaid’s Tale concept of marriage as a loveless vessel of joyless procreation.

“Parents who have conceived naturally as a key aspect of what it means to be married also know that children require a male and a female role model if they are to fully mature and develop as young adults.”

This is when I start pounding my mental typewriter until my fingers are bloody stumps. As a man raised by a single mother, this is not only hurtful, it’s stupid. There are reams of research that find quite the contrary – that poverty is the independent variable driving poor outcomes for families, not family make-up. If Donnelly really cared about outcomes for children, he would be fighting inequality, not equality. But I am the better person, so I will take a deep breath, pause, and offer you this photo montage of abject failures not raised by a Man and a Woman in Wedlock.


“Both genetically and emotionally, and what is expected socially, men and women are different. While much has been done to promote equality of the sexes the fact is that boys need strong, male role models.”

Again with the hurtful and stupid. Kev, serious question: do you know any of The Gays? Because, leaving aside the question of what a strong male role model looks like, there are many, many strong role models, male and female, gay and straight, in this community in all colours, shapes and sizes. This is the gaping chasm in your understanding of the modern Australia that I know and love: a boy born in 2017 who can’t respect, engage and love his community in all its diversity won’t thrive emotionally, socially or economically. You hate that, don’t you?

“Forget the mantra that equality only occurs when all sexes are the same – it is possible to be equal but different.”

He may not realise it, but he’s done us another huge favour in this short sentence. Anyone who has ever doubted that marriage equality is a human rights issue in the proud tradition of the advancement of civil rights to ALL need only read these 21 words. If the de-segregation movement in the US, the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and the black rights movement in Australia have taught us anything it’s that separate is never equal.

“There’s no doubt that we are living in a time of significant social change, where social institutions such as marriage that have stood the test of time are being critiqued and undermined.”

Critiqued, yes. Undermined? No.

Social change movements do well to downplay the nightmare scenarios conjured by their opponents. No, your marriage will not be less valid. No, clergy will not be forced to bless the union of Adam and Steve or Cheryl and Beryl. No, you won’t be enslaved in the production of rainbow wedding cakes.

But now that Kevin has done us the favour of outlining his dim view of marriage existing solely for the production of progeny and transmission of Western culture, it’s worth asking the counterfactual: if we had to have a non-binding postal survey to approve his version of marriage, would ANYONE vote for it? It’s so grey and joyless, it actually makes me sad for him.

For those of us who choose to view marriage as a joyful declaration of love and a community recognition of family, it hurts to have it denied to other people that we love.

I wrote two years ago about the reasons my wife Sara and had decided to bring our blended family together in marriage. And the kind of marriage I would want for my kids (should they want it, if they don’t that’s fine too) bears no resemblance to Donnelly’s grim vision.

Donnelly is right in that the meaning of marriage is changing, which should make us rejoice not despair. As Senator Penny Wong said, we didn’t want this farce of a postal survey, but now that it has been forced on us, let’s make sure we win. First and foremost, because it’s a civil rights issue of equality before the law. But The Gays that so terrify Donnelly could be pushing us towards something unexpected: saving marriage from the dustbin of the past.