Yes or No … Same Sex Marriage

Image: NT News

So during September and October 2017 the Australian people have an opportunity to participate in a non-compulsory survey on marriage in Australia, specifically whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry under federal legislation. Since the survey was announced, there has been an astounding amount of misinformation, fear-mongering, and deliberate redirecting taking place, so I wanted to write a piece on where we’re at, and addressing some of the concerns raised by those looking at voting No.

Full disclosure: I am firmly in the Yes camp. Why? Because to me this is a human rights issue – nothing more. If you believe all human beings deserve the same basic rights, then a Yes vote is really the only way to go. Plus I haven’t yet heard one logical argument to support a No vote (most being based on a personal moral belief system or religious dogma).

A lot of the No campaigning has been around religious objection, and fears that the fabric of society will somehow be torn assunder if same-sex couples are given the same rights as others. This article will attempt to address the more common objections with facts.

At the outset I should point out this article is NOT intended to change the minds of voters – as is your right in a democracy you should vote as your conscience dictates. The article does attempt however to respond to typical objections with facts without any of the fear-mongering or political posturing. These are also actual objections that I have directly heard during discussions around the issue.

You need to know what exactly it is you are voting on. With each objection I have looked for facts around the issue and references are included at the end of the post for further reading.

There are no laws currently preventing either side spreading false or misleading information about the other in this debate. So let’s attempt to clear some of it up 🙂

1.   The ‘No’ Campaign TV Ad

This ad, which was put together and aired by the Coalition for Marriage (comprising the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, and 25 other organisations) misleads viewers into thinking changing the law will impact school curriculum and parents’ rights to choose for their children not to participate in certain school-based programs. You can view the ad here.

Fact: The postal survey has nothing to do with curriculum or the Safe Schools Program (the program this ad is actually focussing on). A Yes vote will have no effect whatsoever on either State-based or Federal-based education policy. State and Federal governments will make decisions on whether to continue the anti-bullying program regardless of the outcome. Parents’ rights to exclude their children from the program is at a school level and won’t be affected by the outcome of the survey.

2.   What about children?

Some people have said that if same-sex couples adopt, for example, a boy, they will “probably interfere with them.”

Fact:  Just because they are gay doesn’t mean they are pedophiles. There are plenty of straight pedophiles being arrested and sitting in our gaols. Likewise there are plenty of straight people in hetero relationships who abuse children. Let’s not even get started on the state of ‘pedophile priests’. Same-sex couples have been able to adopt children for many years in Australia – the law around who is legally the parent however is incredibly complex and a whole other issue! Gay couples can also already foster, use IVF or a surrogate – so the postal survey won’t affect this at all.

Additionally, this argument ignores the current abuse of children by foster carers, church leaders, by caregivers in boarding schools and institutions, or by their own families. To say only same-sex couples are likely to abuse children is absurd. Statistically a child is more likely to be abused by a family member than by a stranger. According to research by Professor Stephen Smallbone of Queensland’s Griffith University, “In 70 to 80 per cent of all child sex abuse cases, there is a familial relationship between the child victim and the offender. Around 15 per cent of those abusers are the victim’s biological father. The rest are boyfriends, or stepfathers, or other adult males in an authority role”.  This is happening right now – across hundreds if not thousands of homes around the country. And given the number of people who identify as gay, and of those the number in same-sex civil unions, statistically the majority of the homes we’re talking about belong to hetero couples in supposedly ‘traditional marriages’, de facto relationships or second marriages.

3.   They can already get married.

Fact: Yes they can, but only civilly – meaning their union doesn’t have the same legal status as a federally recognised ‘marriage’. Marriage law in Australia appears to be quite complex. There is State-based legislation and Federal legislation. Marriages under state-based law are deemed invalid where they conflict with federal legislation. While it is true that same-sex couples can legally live as de facto couples and also have a civil ceremony, it’s worth noting that under Australian law differences exist between the rights a de facto couple enjoy and those a married couple enjoy particularly in relation to family law matters such as property settlement and entitlement to maintenance. Shouldn’t every couple expect the same rights when it comes to these issues? Even though each of the States and Territories views same-sex unions differently – eg civil unions, civil partnerships, domestic partnerships – Federal law views them all as de facto unions – with the limitations on rights that carries with it, including next of kin.

For more on the rights married couples have that de factos don’t see the resources below.

4.   They’re just doing this so they can be married in a church.

Fact: Perhaps some same-sex couples would like to be married in a church, but this argument presumes that the only place couples can marry is in a church – or for that matter a marriage is only valid if it is performed in a church. We see people tie the knot on a beach, in the backyard, in a park – even in a registry office. Their choice of location doesn’t determine whether they are legally married or not. Likewise a change to the legislation will not prevent marriage officiates refusing to marry same-sex couples based on their own beliefs … just as they do now.

5.   This will affect my church and religious freedoms.

Fact: As mentioned above, changing the federal legislation will not prevent ministers, priests, or celebrants refusing to marry same-sex couples – ANY couples – if they choose not to. Churches have always been able to decide who they will and will not marry. This won’t change. Some religious leaders also support same-sex marriage so clearly don’t support the view religious freedoms will be affected. Despite this, marriage is the purview of the State – (see 3 and 4 above). Marriage Certificates in Australia bear the Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth of Australia – not a cross. There is no reference on it anywhere to religion.

6.   If same-sex couples are allowed to marry there’ll be an increase in domestic violence.

Of course this ignores the fact that same-sex couples can already marry civilly (see #3).

Fact:  According to White Ribbon Australia one woman on average is killed every week by a current or former partner. The majority of these are women in hetero relationships. This is not to say that same-sex couples do not experience violence – but there is no basis in fact to the argument that an increase in DV will result by making the change.

7.   If we allow gays to marry, what’s next? Pedophile marriages?

Again this ignores that same-sex partners have already had the right to marry civilly (see #3) with no deleterious effect on social and moral positions around other types of marriages. Surely no right thinking person could actually believe this but let’s check the facts.

Image: Pinterest

Fact: Up until 1942 it was legal in Tasmania for a man to marry a 12 year old girl, and a woman to marry a 14 year old boy. That year law was passed raising the legal age to 16 and 18 respectively, and other states followed. This would indicate that at least until 1942 what we today would define as a “pedophile marriage” actually was legal for hetero men and women.

8.   The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman.

Fact: Whilst this is true of the marriage ceremony, I have been unable to find a bible passage that specifically uses these gender identifying words when referring to specifically a man marrying a woman. Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4-5 (and others – see Bible Verses About Marriage in the Resources below) both talk about a man leaving his mother and father and being joined to his wife, but the actual gender is presumed.

Furthermore, the bible was originally written in Biblical (Classical) Hebrew (an archaic form of Hebrew) with some portions in Biblical Aramaic. It was translated first into Greek and later English with scholars often making their “best guess” at what words of the ancient language actually meant. Some words in the ancient languages actually had more than one meaning. Some versions of the bible include footnotes indicating the multiple meanings of certain words: “This phrase could mean this, but it could also mean that”. So our English versions may not necessarily be as the originals were written or intended, but simply an interpretation of the texts by individual translators. “Lost in translation” comes to mind…

Additionally, not every person uses the Christian Bible as their life guide. For that matter, not every person is Christian, or even religious.

We should also bear in mind this is the same book that allows women to be forcibly married to their rapists or abusers, that takes no issue with slavery, child brides, polygamy, and virgin rape, that only virgins can be married, and that anyone who divorces and then remarries has committed adultery.

In terms of marriage being “between a man and a woman” under the law, the Marriage Act (the legislation covering marriage in Australia since 1961) did not include a definition of marriage until 2004. Until that time it was based on the definition in the common law. In 2004 the Act was amended to specifically include in Section 5 – Interpretation that “marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

So the bible only ‘implies’ gender in a marriage, and the governing law didn’t define it specifically until 2004.

9.  Marriage is for the purpose of having children. Same-sex couples can’t have children.

Fact:  Leaving aside IVF, fostering and adoption, it is of course biologically correct that same-sex couples cannot have children with each other. But what about those hetero couples who choose not to have children, can’t have children, or who have lost children through miscarriage, SIDS or other misfortune? Should they not be allowed to stay married? What about second marriages or later-life marriages, where children aren’t possible or a consideration? This argument would surely also apply to these people too then.

Whilst a traditional Christian marriage ceremony includes words along the lines of “God bless this marriage with children”, 25 years ago our minister asked us whether we were intending to have children because if not, he could remove this part from the ceremony. Surely marriage is for the purpose of committing yourself to the person you love ‘forsaking all others’, sharing a life with a significant partner – and if children come along that’s a blessing, not a given.

10.  It’s not normal. They’re degenerates.

No “Fact:” preface on this one because frankly this is purely opinion and … define ‘normal’? Two people love each other: that’s normal. We have blurred the lines of ‘normal’ on so many other things. We now readily say that Downs Syndrome, ADHD, ADD, ODD, Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities are simply “variations on normal”.

This is a personal statement on someone’s sexual behaviours (or on the commenter’s personal beliefs around those behaviours) – not their sexuality.

While we’re on the subject of ‘degenerate’, how do we define straights accessing The Wall in Sydney? Or the number of straight men who find it perfectly normal and arousing for women to engage in lesbian acts in pornography? Clearly for these people it is less arousing to imagine those women in a loving, committed marriage.

11.   No one will be able to identify as male or female – and specifically mother and father. Children need both a mother and father.

Fact: How many surveys have you seen lately that ask “What gender do you identify as?” The question around gender has been fluid long before this debate and won’t change based on whether same-sex couples can marry.

All children – whether they live in a hetero family or same-sex one, for that matter a single-parent one – still have two parents: a mother and father. Same-sex couples still have parents – and therefore grandparents to these children. Male and female role models still exist for these kids via grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and other family.

12.  The Royal Children’s Hospital in Victoria have proof that removing gender from marriage and removal of gender from society more broadly are linked.

This comes from the Coalition for Marriage website where a graph on gender dysphoria was lifted from the RCH website and used to “prove” the link between the introduction of the Safe Schools program in Victoria and the increase in children presenting to the hospital with gender dysphoria.

Fact:  First of all, as has already been pointed out, this survey has NOTHING to do with the Safe Schools Program. A Yes vote will have no impact on education policy. The graph has also been taken out of context. On the CFM site they have used the graph in support of their position that gender fluidity as taught in programs like Safe Schools directly leads to an increase in gender dysphoria. Whilst the graph does indeed come from the RCH website, it is included on a page which covers the background, funding and program logic for the Gender Services department of the hospital. The CFM has therefore used data gathered to back requests for funding the continuation of a research program in support of their contention removing gender from marriage, and society, directly leads to gender dysphoria. The hospital makes no correlation between the introduction of Safe Schools in 2010 and the increase in presentations of adolescents to the hospital who are gender diverse or experience gender dysphoria. The program began in 2003, and notes “since 2009 there has been an ever increasing number of referrals for … assessment”. The CFM has made the link between the introduction of Safe Schools in 2010 and the increase in referrals. However there is absolutely no scientific proof this is the case. It could simply be that the fact gender and sexuality are now more openly discussed in school, adolescents feel safer discussing these issues, and seek support.

Image: discoversociety.org

13.  It’s just a piece of paper – it means nothing.

Fact:  While it IS just a piece of paper – it certainly does not mean nothing. If it did, no one would get married. That piece of paper actually provides, as mentioned before, legal protections for the partners of the relationship, not afforded currently to same-sex couples. These legal protections are around next of kin status, access to benefits in the event of the partner’s illness and/or death, property settlement and custody rights, and stronger protections regarding inheritance – all things taken for granted by hetero couples but not currently afforded to same-sex unions. (Note: The Family Law Act 2009 does recognise the property rights of each partner on a break up including same-sex de facto relationships.)

14.  It’s none of our business. Why should we vote? Let the politicians decide.

Fact: Correct. It is 100% none of our business whether same-sex couples want to marry. How dare we dictate what other people can do right? But it has been made our business through circumstances and years of political wrangling. Our politicians have already proved time and time again they can’t do it. Many member’s bills blocked at Senate level despite the fact all four leaders and deputies of the major parties support same-sex marriage, 62% of the House of Representatives support it, and 58% of the Senate. It’s gotten ridiculous. As such we should at least let our legislators know whether we agree or not. I personally feel uncomfortable making a decision for a percentage of the population whose actions do not affect me. But I’ve been asked to, and so I will – but it is also why we should ALL ensure we have all the information on the topic before ticking the box.

15.   Our whole society will be affected – “traditional marriage” is being challenged and eroded. It’ll be the end of our society.

Fact:  There is actually no such thing as “traditional marriage”. People have been getting married in one form or another for as long as there have been people, and certainly well before the Church was invented or legislators began legislating. Like many things in a society, definitions are fluid and change. What was acceptable 50, 100, 150 years ago we would not view as acceptable now. For example, in 1918 there were restrictions placed on inter-racial marriages. Until 1966 married women weren’t allowed to work in the Public Service for fear they would “steal” men’s jobs. Once upon a time women could be traded for better social standing, money or tools and weapons. Some cultures still endorse this practice. Not so very long ago baby boys were dressed in pink because pink was considered a strong colour.

This argument has also been proved inaccurate in the countries that already have legalised same-sex marriage. Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK, USA, and Uruguay all still function. The world still turns. The sun still rises and sets.

The same argument warning about the erosion of family values and “traditional marriage” was used when de facto relationships received legal recognition. However most commentators using this argument point to marriage as being important in societies because “In its ideal form, it brings a man and woman together in a lifelong exclusive union and provides an optimal setting for the raising of children.” (Andrew Hastie, Herald Sun). The key words in this statement are “In its ideal form”. Unfortunately the facts show us that marriages are anything but ideal. They are certainly no longer “lifelong” (about one-third of Australian marriages end in divorce – down from when the Family Law Act was first introduced in 1975), they aren’t always “exclusive unions”, and not all marriages result in children. Given this “ideal world” clearly doesn’t exist, should we be using it as a reason to prevent same-sex couples likewise enjoying “lifelong exclusive unions”?

The number of people who identify as gay is also fluid across age groups according to Roy Morgan Research. But we’re talking probably about 3% to 4% of the population. It’s fairly safe to say that this number of people is unlikely to bring down a society simply by being allowed to marry the person they love. It’s difficult to see how allowing same-sex couples to marry is going to somehow tear the fabric of society.

What is “traditional marriage”? Is it the union of a man and a woman? Is it a union recognised by a particular set of religious beliefs? What about indigenous marriages? Pagan hand fastings? IS there a definition of a “traditional marriage”? (As noted in #8 above, even our governing federal law didn’t have a solid definition for marriage, let alone ‘traditional marriage’, until 2004.) Or is a marriage “in the eye of the beholder”? For that matter is there a definition for ‘husband’ or for ‘wife’ – or is it a personal interpretation?  Take for example the 25th Emperor of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (Elagabalus) who reigned from 218 to 222. Marcus Aurelius had a charioteer Hierocles whom he considered his “husband” and of himself said:

[I am] delighted to be called the mistress, the wife, the Queen of Hierocles”

 

SUMMARY

The postal survey on Same-Sex Marriage in Australia is really a simple one that has unfortunately been made more complex by misinformation, fear mongering and outright lies. It is a human rights issue. Plain and simple. The proposed legislative change grants legal recognition and next of kin status to same-sex couples – something hetero couples have always enjoyed and thus taken for granted. In my opinion religion has no place in the debate since the end result is a change to legislation, not religious freedoms or doctrine. No society that has legalised same-sex marriage has seen a deterioration in its ethics, morals, well-being or functioning. The foundations of our society did not crumble when de facto unions were legally recognised – though the fear-mongers were vocal on that too.

The question therefore is a simple one: do you believe everyone in our society deserves the same basic fundamental human rights? Perhaps that should be the actual question on the survey…

For more on the postal survey visit the ABS website. Surveys should be returned preferably by 27 October, final deadline 7 November. Results will be available 15 November.

Please … JUST VOTE!

 

 

 

© Earth Goddess Wisdom – www.earthgoddesswisdom.com

 

Resources:

Fact checking the ‘No’ ad on same-sex marriage

Recognition of Same-Sex Unions in Australia

Same Sex: Same Entitlements – Human Rights Commission

White Ribbon Australia – Domestic Violence Statistics

ABC – Marriage in Australia – A Timeline

Bible Verses about Marriage

Religious Leaders put Dogma Aside To Support SSM

CM Lawyers – Australian Statistics on Divorce

Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Source Book of Basic Documents

Some Home Truths About Child Abuse

What Does the Bible Really Say About Same Sex Marriage

What legal benefits do married couples have that de factos don’t?

 

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