Legislate for Marriage Equality now.
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The marriage equality debate in Australia is becoming divisive and vocal, with recent legal changes in many western countries (over twenty jurisdictions) entitling the gay, lesbian and transgender population to equality under marriage Law.
One of the most frequent arguments against marriage equality is the “slippery-slope” gambit which posits that such changes will lead to polygamy, bestiality, incest and paedophilia. This, of course, is not an inevitable conclusion because there are prohibitions in marriage Laws which are based on practical reasons: Siblings may not marry because they may engage in coitus which may create children with severe intellectual and/or physical disabilities; people under a certain age because most cannot give informed consent; animals for at least the same reason; coercive marriages because one has not given consent; those already married because the appropriate Acts rely on monogamy. Moreover, countries that have legislated marriage equality as long as seventeen years ago have shown no evidence of this leading to other legislative changes to Marriage Acts.
I have yet to see convincing argument as to why same-gender couples should not be entitled to the protections, rights and responsibilities of the Marriage Act as that enjoyed by opposite-gender couples. Arguments such as "because it is written" or "because that's the way it is" are simply bereft of any evidential value. I submit, further, that nobody to date has shown compellingly what harm, if any, would be done to society by the inclusion of same-gender couples in marriage laws.
Some will say that my argument for marriage equality is selfish. To a degree, yes, of course it is selfish. That, surely, is the nature of wanting something. And yet, given that I am sixty and not in a relationship, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that this will have a direct impact on my life. So I want the change for the many hundreds of people who I believe are marginalised by being denied the legal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Even in selfishness, there can be altruism.
Marriage is a legal construct that is separate from any natural function. It exists in modern society purely for the purpose of protecting propriety rights over real and personal estate, although it also extends to certain personal rights in relation to providing and caring for a spouse.
It is also claimed by opponents of marriage equality that marriage has always been a certain thing and should not be changed. However, realistically, marriage has evolved over time from being originally about property and business ties. Throughout history - and even today in some societies - families arranged marriages for couples. Most couples through history didn't marry because they were in love but for economic liaisons. The people involved didn't then - and in modern arranged marriages, don't today - have much to say about the decision.
Oftentimes, a woman's consent wasn't even needed in the past. In sixteenth-century England, this was a cause of concern for the Catholic Church who were striving to be the ruling Church. There appeared to be so many marriages taking place without witness or ceremony in the 1500's that the Catholic Council of Trent decreed in 1563 that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses. This, then, became the first official involvement of Churches in what had previously been a predominantly Pagan matter.
Some argue that religious beliefs are a controlling influence on who can marry whom, with Churches setting rules about marrying divorced people or people of differing faiths. However, "Marriage" is certainly not a Christian word, having come from ancient English. The word "marriage" derives from Middle English "mariage", which first appears in 1250–1300 (Middle English: from Old French mariage, from marier 'marry') long before the Church was involved in the ceremonies. Some (but certainly not all) Church believers object to the use of the word “marriage” by non-traditional couples because they say it’s “their” word.
Marriage, as a word, is a sound or collection of letters intended to create an image. That image, depending on who uses the word, could be taken to show two people committed to each other for (hopefully) life or, in the case of carpentry, two pieces of wood solidly bonded together to form a part of something greater. Indeed, recently my mechanic married-up a transmission to the back of my Holden Statesman engine.
Giving LGBTI people the same rights but calling it something different means it would be different - defeating the objective of equality in the eyes of the Law and Society. Rather like saying, "We're having chocolate cake, and you can too - but yours is called porridge".
It is inaccurate to argue that the "family unit" was not around before organised religion. The earliest concepts of formalised marriage, related to property ownership, with offspring mainly providing cheap labour and furthering dynasties. This can be seen in arranged marriages – notably in royal families intermarrying - where a partner was chosen by others with a view to how such a marriage could benefit the families concerned.
Many people hold the view that regardless of how people enter into matrimony, marriage is a bond between two people that involves responsibility and legalities, as well as commitment and challenge. That concept of marriage hasn't changed through the ages.
Looking locally, Governments across different jurisdictions have administered marriage laws in Australia since European settlement. These laws were not immutable. In fact, at various points in time, governments have seen fit to legislate on citizens’ eligibility to marry. Those considered minors by today’s standards were permitted to marry, and restrictions were placed on Indigenous Australians’ right to marry whom they chose.
A person’s eligibility to marry could change from one state to another at different points in time. For example, the marriageable age in Australian states and territories was the same as the age of consent: 14 for men and 12 for women. However, in 1942, Tasmania raised the marriageable age for men to 18 and for women to 16; Western Australia followed suit in 1956 and South Australia in 1957.
The definition "marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life." was not added to the marriage act until 2004 when the bill sought to formalise the definition of marriage and to respond to the legalisation of same-sex marriages in some overseas countries. The Howard Government was reacting to marriage equality legislation in other countries and knew that, as the Marriage Act existed, it could not be used to prevent such legislation in Australia.
In addition, the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 included Section 88EA in what many believe was a spiteful and discriminatory move to prohibit the recognition in Australia of same-sex marriages performed in foreign countries.
So it can be seen that Law has fluidity about it. Some laws evolve to include and, oftentimes enhance, sectors of communities previously not entitled to protection by law. Others may be a knee-jerk reaction to events happening elsewhere and have the effect of being discriminatory and actually remove some rights and responsibilities from certain people.
Setting legal matters aside, history shows us that some societies accepted, indeed welcomed, same-gender couplings. Some Native American tribes referred to these people as "Two Spirit" people. Not all tribes had rigid gender roles, but, among those that did, some consider there to be at least four genders: masculine man, feminine man, masculine woman, feminine woman. The presence of male-bodied two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples" and, according to Will Roscoe, both male-bodied and female-bodied two-spirits have been documented "...in over 130 North American tribes, in every region of the continent."
Closer to home, some - but by no means all - Aboriginal clans accepted homosexual partnerships. Some groups believed certain people possessed both male and female spirits in one body. They were referred to as "Two-One" people - similar to the concept of "Two Spirit" people in North American Indigenous culture. Because of this, they were allowed to engage in relationships that were validated in their tribal culture.
It could be fairly said that most of the communities who then accepted same-gender partnerships had not yet been exposed to Christianity. The missions became a tool for altering long-held beliefs and so, on my submission, the historical argument must fall.
Some people argue both science and theology. I believe it's fair to say that the two aspects are mutually incompatible. One relies on metaphorical tales based on ancient texts. Those texts have been frequently interpreted, interpolated and translated by people from varying cultures, usually to achieve a desired political result. The other is based on careful observation, study and analysis. The theory of creation as espoused in the Bible flies in the face of scientific fact and, indeed, simple logic. Most of the stories included in the book cannot ever be scientifically verified and, often, were not even witnessed by other commentators but were based on the words of one person. For example, only Moses is said to have seen a burning bush and spoken to "God", without any corroborating witness testimony. In my submission, organised religion was based on a series of metaphors and simply pre-dates organised and democratic legal systems. It was, simply put, a mechanism for ancient rulers to control the masses.
Another contentious issue raised is that of raising children. While this is not absolutely entwined with marriage, it is worth viewing the issue, even as a separate thing.
I'm a homosexual man and I informally fostered a fourteen year old boy who was living in a "supported" residence. He was frequently bullied and was permitted little privacy. On the occasions when he "escaped" and turned up at my home, I would be contacted and ordered to return him or face Police action. The boy was told he was better off where he was rather than in a house with "some poof". Now, at thirty-five, he still calls me "Dad" and I am Grandpa to his children. He has turned into a man I readily call my son. While I didn't adopt him, he chose to change his family name to mine.
Of course, any fool knows that he would have been better off in a family with a loving mother and father. That is a natural thing that I never argue with. However, that simply wasn't available to him. I have done what little I could to fill that need. That upbringing is also not available to a lot of children. Some are brought up by wonderful and hard-working single parents while others, in various places around the world, are left to their own devices and oftentimes meet an awful fate.
Given that close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, I think the "sanctity" of marriage when connected to childbirth and child-raising is getting a little thin. Moreover, given the number of children born out of wedlock, I would say it's apparent that being unmarried is hardly a barrier to making pregnancies. Indeed, marriage has very little to do with procreation. Using procreation in a debate to deny gay people marriage rights is completely inappropriate. It could be seen as a submission that infertile couples should be denied the right of marriage, or those who firmly intend to not have children.
Gay people, like anybody else, are capable and willing parents, either through adoption or fostering and, with proper support, children of same-gender families can be helped through the bullying that comes with that, or with wearing glasses, or even being a little larger than the usual size. Indeed, in some states in Australia, LGBT people can already adopt: In Western Australia, same-gender parents have been able to adopt since 2002, NSW since 2010 (single people since 2000), ACT since 2004 (singles since 1993), Tasmania since 2013 while here in Victoria, (a little slower than others), it will be legal as of September of this year. Queensland says yes for single LGBT people since 2009 while South Australia and the Northern Territory say no.
From a legal standpoint, it is evident that relationships are not all constructed on just sexual gratification, but are built on companionship and devotion. Certain rights and responsibilities are enshrined in law to give those relationships legitimacy and to enhance their legal standing in the community.
I, like in many opposite-gender partnerships, spent years caring for a desperately ill partner, but I had to have an enduring Power of Attorney to do so - indeed, even to visit in hospital.
When he died, that document became null and void immediately, denying me the right to any decisions about the disposition of his remains or estate. Effectively, I was denied the closure needed for healthy grieving - which creates problems years later. Twenty-two years later, I am filled with feelings of unfinished business.
Many would argue that he should have had a Will. Certainly, he could have had one. However, his legal next-of-kin could easily have that nullified with a half-way competent Probate Lawyer. Moreover, a Will takes time to execute and is, therefore, useless in matters relating to the disposition of the deceased.
So this is very much more important than mere sexual gratification. This is a life not so very different from everybody else's, but without legal recognition.
While marriage equality may not directly offer anything of benefit to the broader community, people asking if it does, in itself, demonstrates a certain level of selfishness in them. Effectively, they are asking, "What's in it for me?"
In answer, there is probably nothing in it for you other than the knowledge that you are a part of an inclusive society that recognises some people are different and, hopefully, having pride in that. For some people, however, there is an enormous impact for them. The young people who suicide because they cannot see they will ever be accepted by society can be dissuaded from their course by a simple change of five words in the Marriage Act. A person who devotes his or her life to another can have that devotion recognised and validated in the eyes of the Law and community.
While I read most arguments with respect and interest, I believe they fall short of offering a valid reason why gay people should NOT be permitted the right of legal marriage recognition. Given that, I respectfully suggest that they do not addressed my question, which is "Why should gay people not have marriage equality?" to a level that might sway my beliefs.
We call on the Parliament of Australia to make the changes to the Marriage Act 1958 to replace the phrase "man and woman" with "partners"; to replace the words "husband and wife" with "spouse" and to replace the words "mother and father" with "parent or guardian".
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