GET OFF THE FENCE: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT?

The public marriage equality debate is now in full swing, and I can tell you the last few days have been equal parts depressing and illuminating. I’ve managed to get a real sense of many of the issues raised by those who are concerned or outright opposed to marriage equality. So, in the interests of education, I’ve collected some of the more common arguments I’ve seen, and offer some clarification based on my own personal perspective and research.

I realise that I am not going to sway those who are ardently opposed, but if you are unsure, considering not voting or just waiting for someone to talk some sense – I hope that maybe this will help you off the fence, and make your vote count.

Let’s begin.

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THE ARGUMENTS

  • Same sex marriage is a new idea and a left-wing social experiment
  • Marriage has always been between a man and a woman

THE FACTS

While hotly debated in academic circles, the earliest potential evidence of a same-sex marriage is 2400 BC – yes, almost 4500 years ago – in Ancient Egypt. Two men, royal court manicurists Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, were buried together in the same mastaba (tomb), in such a way that has led some Egyptology experts to suggest that perhaps they were husbands.

However, it is the first Roman Empire in which the evidence for the past existence of same-sex marriage is incontrovertible.

At least two Roman emperors were in same-sex unions, and in fact, thirteen out out the first fourteen Roman emperors are recorded as being either bisexual or exclusively gay. Nero (37AD-68AD) was the first Roman emperor to marry a man. His husband’s name was Pythagoras (not to be confused with the Greek mathematician) and was supposedly the male lookalike to one of Nero’s former wives.

Same-sex marriages existed in the Empire until Christianity became the official religion and Christian emperors outlawed it in 342AD. In addition to making homosexuality and same sex marriage illegal, in order to enforce the new law they ordered the execution of all married same-sex couples. It is arguably this moment that would pinpoint the start of the now centuries old campaign of vilification towards the queer community.

As another example, in Spain on 16 April 1061, Pedro Díaz and Muño Vandilaz were married, by a priest, in a chapel. The historic documents of this church wedding were found at the Monastery of San Salvador de Celanova.

THE VERDICT

Same sex marriage is not a new idea, and historically it has not always been between a man and a woman. Just because most marriages are between a man and a woman, doesn’t mean all marriages must be between a man and a woman.

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THE ARGUMENTS

  • Marriage is a heterosexual word
  • Gay people getting married changes the meaning of marriage
  • Why can’t the gays call it something else?

THE FACTS

Insisting that the word marriage is a heterosexual word is like insisting that sodomy is a word that can only be applied to gay men. A marriage is a marriage, and bum sex is bum sex – it really doesn’t matter who is doing it. I realise that’s quite a crass comparison, but I think it sums it up perfectly.

From both a linguistic and legal perspective, one can easily argue that expanding the legal who does not alter the meaning of the legal what. The word marriage is not being redefined in any sense by the inclusion of same-sex couples. All it means is that more people will be able to get married.

To illustrate my point, one of the common arguments is that gay people should be able to have some sort of legally recognised union – such as civil unions – but they shouldn’t be allowed to call it marriage.

Herein lies the double standard of that argument. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics website, 75% of all unions in 2015 were officiated by a civil celebrant. This is compared to only 40% in 1995. The most common union has changed significantly over the last twenty years or so, but while it is clear that most heterosexual couples who get married these days now participating in civil unions, the language has not changed and in wedding culture all unions are collectively referred to as marriages.

THE VERDICT

The word marriage is not being redefined, and the term, at the very least culturally, applies to all unions, regardless of whether the union is officiated by a minister or a civil celebrant.

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THE ARGUMENTS

  • Marriage is about procreation and children
  • Same-sex marriage changes the family unit

THE FACTS

Marriage by definition is a union of two people, entered into voluntarily, either for life or until the union is legally terminated. In fact, after searching the Marriage Act 1961, it appears that it mentions children in only two contexts:

  • The circumstances under which a minor may be married
  • The circumstances under which a child is determined to be ‘legitimate’

So, by writ of law, the Marriage Act has nothing to do with procreation, having children or starting a family.

In the context of religion, we are taught that marriage is the only moral way to facilitate the sex act and any sex outside of marriage is fornication, which is regarded as a religious sin. Outside of one’s personal religious observance, however, this view on sex and marriage does not have any wider social applications (as evidenced by the fact that it is socially and legally acceptable to have casual and premarital relations), and does not (and should not) influence the legal definition of marriage, which is the question on the table with this ‘survey’.

Culturally, marriage means different things to different people and people choose to get married for a plethora of reasons, and not all of them involve family. Some do it for love, others do it for money and convenience, or as Bruno Mars sang, they’re simply ‘looking for something dumb to do’, such as in the case of Britney’s 55-hour whirlwind marriage to Jason Alexander.

Not all straight unions result in offspring, not all straight people who have children are married, and not all same-sex couples are DINKs (Double Income, No Kids). In fact many same-sex couples have children already, either from previous heterosexual relationships, adoption or surrogacy. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, about 20% of lesbians and 5% of gay men in Australia are parents – or approximately one quarter of the gay and lesbian community.

There is a lot of argument about the optimum environment to raise children, and apparently ‘married, one mother and one father’ is the gold-star standard. However, effective parenting isn’t determined by gender or sexuality – but by the content of their character, love, and in a parent’s willingness to try and be the best parent they can be.

THE VERDICT

Families are already incredibly diverse in Australia, and that includes children with same-sex parents. However, despite opponents of marriage equality trying to twist the debate to being about families, the question on the table is simply whether or not same-sex couples ought to be permitted to share in the institution of marriage. Children, while bringing joy to many, are not a requirement of marriage.

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THE ARGUMENTS

  • Gay relationships are already protected
  • Gay people have enough rights without trying to ‘hijack’ marriage

THE FACTS

It is true that same-sex couples who are classified as de facto are subject to the same obligations and offered the same legal protections as heterosexual couples who are also in de facto relationships.

However, it gets trickier when you start to look at the differences between de facto relationships and marriages. As just one example, let’s look at next of kin status as one of the major differences, and I will use my own relationship to put it in easy context.

I have a congenital heart problem, which increases my risk of things such as heart disease, heart attack, and possible immune complications during even minor surgery. I live with my partner and because we live our daily lives together, he knows me better than anybody else.

He is intimately familiar with my condition, my daily routines, the medications I take and my wishes should I ever end up terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state. We’ve had the sorts of conversations you have with someone you intend to spend the rest of your life with, and that includes end of life discussions.

My partner is the prime candidate and literally the only person in this world who I want to be able to give consent and make informed medical decisions should I ever be in a situation where I am unable to speak for myself.

However, even with instructions in a will, my partner is not my legal next of kin. According to the law, my mother (or any other immediate family member) could potentially contest any or all instructions that I leave. Not only that, my partner could be barred from even visiting me in hospital as he is not legally ‘family’.

The same goes for if I pass away. Even with a will, our de facto relationship status does not guarantee the provisions I leave for my partner will be met. If contested, my partner would first have to go through the process of proving our relationship in court, and it comes down to a judge to decide if we were in a relationship or merely ‘co-habiting’. Depending on the decision, my partner may potentially be awarded less or even none of what I bequeath him.

Now, lucky for me both of those situations are purely hypothetical. My family thinks my partner is the bees knees and as far as they are concerned, he is part of the family. But not all couples (regardless of sexuality) are as blessed, and marriage is the best way to ensure that the person you love is always by your side, especially during your darkest hours.

THE VERDICT

De facto relationships are equal for both straight and gay couples, but de facto recognition can vary depending on circumstance and can be contested in a court of law. A marriage, on the other hand, is inviolable, and cannot easily be contested.

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THE ARGUMENTS

  • Same-sex marriage ruins the sanctity of marriage
  • Same-sex marriage is a mockery / parody of marriage
  • Gays are habitually non-monogamous and unsuited to marriage

THE FACTS

Two consenting adults who love each other and are willing and able to commit to their union in the most inviolable way possible is about as close to sanctity as you can get.

I will concede that gay men in particular are more honest and openly willing to discuss things such as open relationships, multiple partners and other fantasies that are often used to keep the spice in one’s sex life. However, claiming that these are purely homosexual exploits is erroneous, and what two people negotiate is acceptable within their relationship is nobody’s business but the parties concerned.

Another thing to consider is the analysis of the Ashley Madison data leak from a couple of years ago. Of the top 25 cities with memberships to the infamous infidelity website, four were Australian cities (in order Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth) with a total of 673,271 memberships between them.

Also, according to the Sexual Health Australia website, almost 70% of married couples have gone on record to admit they have engaged in an affair at some point in during their marriage.

Of things that make a true rather than perceived mockery of relationships and marriage, it is impossible to walk past popular reality TV shows such as The Bachelor, The Bachellorette and self-confessed ‘social experiment’, Married at First Sight. These shows, while train wreck entertainment at its finest, do little to hold up the apparent ‘sanctity’ of relationships and marriage.

THE VERDICT

Two people who love each other getting married, regardless of sexuality or gender, does not make a mockery of marriage. Two people willingly negotiating a set of parameters for activity outside of marriage also fails to constitute a mockery, if adhered to with honesty. On the other hand, cheating, or using love and marriage for cheap entertainment, in my opinion, does make a mockery of marriage.

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THE ARGUMENTS

  • Homosexuality freaking disgusts me
  • Thinking about gay sex makes me feel sick
  • I can’t stand the idea of gay relationships being viewed the same as straight relationships

This is the only argument that makes sense as to why somebody would be anti marriage equality. If you do come across anybody brazen enough to state this opinion, thank them for their honesty and disengage at the earliest convenient moment.

THE VERDICT

Some people just don’t like gay people, or think they are worthy of less than straight people, and guess what – that is okay. If this is you – I wish you all the happiness that harbouring hate in your heart will afford you.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of arguments against marriage equality. If there are arguments that you have seen that you might like to see addressed in future posts – feel free to drop me a comment.

One more thing to consider. If the postal vote does not yield a ‘yes’ result, or our government fails to subsequently legislate equality, we’re not packing up and going home with our tail between our legs. We will not be giving up the fight. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for equality to be denied, other than to deliberately continue to make our community feel ‘less’.

So, when the time comes, I hope you will stand with us, and together the majority will vote with a resounding yes.

In advance, I thank you.

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