By Rev Dr David Powys
ON the surface, introducing same sex marriage would have little effect in Australia. Some will be deeply offended, some will be highly excited, but after a rush, there could be relatively few weddings, and the ongoing economic benefits could be slight. The social consequences are difficult to predict.
In the space of mere decades, our society would have gone from decriminalising gay relationships, to tolerating, to accepting (I support all three), to endorsing them as normative. Taking the final step, if not taken well and fully conscious of all that is at stake, could leave many with a deep but inexplicable disquiet. That disquiet would arise from the process itself and its failure to take sufficient account of deep Australian values.
The campaign for reform centres on the ‘values’ of equality, improved mental health and economic benefit. Arguably a larger number of Australian values are threatened in the campaign. These values are democracy, free speech, tolerance, multiculturalism, child welfare and evidence.
Democracy requires that equal weight be given to the views of each citizen. Arguably the views that have prevailed in the ‘discussion’ so far have come from urban, inner-city, socially progressive, professional persons, with strong links to the public media. This is but one ‘voice’ in Australian life: few others are being heard. This does not look democratic.
Free speech has not been allowed full sway. Those who seek to express an alternative view are harassed or ridiculed, and their arguments are mischievously dismissed as ‘homophobic’, or as attributable to special interests (eg religion). When an alternative voice is allowed, the voice chosen is usually one that confirms the perception that the only opposition is from ‘rednecks’.
Tolerance, and more than tolerance is sought, but very little tolerance is shown for those who will not submit to the call to endorse gay and lesbian relationships as normative. The campaign is almost totalitarian: it will not entertain dissension.
Australia cherishes multiculturalism, but this value is not well-reflected within the debate. Where is the call for communities with Muslim, African, Asian, Arab, Eastern European and Indigenous backgrounds to contribute? What makes predominantly privileged, liberally minded, America-admiring, white community’s view intrinsically superior, and releases us from our commitment to multiculturalism?
We say child welfare is an Australian priority, and have apologised for when the State made decisions against juveniles’ best interests. Is there not a danger of repeating this error? Due to my father’s death when I was a toddler, I was raised, very well I believe, by my mother assisted by her own mother. I accepted this, but would have felt wronged if the State, out of ideological and not practical necessity, had knowingly denied me the experience of being fathered.
Australians strive to be enlightened, deciding on sound evidence – from genetics to sociology. The quasi-scientific narrative driving the campaign for ‘marriage equality’ is: A significant proportion (10 per cent is sometimes mentioned) of the population is fixedly homosexual from adolescence, if not childhood. The long-term emotional struggles they will face will be overcome if they are able to pursue the same life goals as others. This is an hypothesis, and is problematic in that it is not yet strongly supported by rigorous scientific data. Anecdotes and assertions abound, but this is only one type of evidence, and is not science. Poor science will not produce good social reform, as numerous examples in the twentieth century attest.
Rushing to embrace marriage equality may be leading to the abandonment of six key Australian values. We will do this to our peril, especially if the ‘values’ supporting that reform are not themselves persuasive. I now examine these.
‘Equality’, through a deft adjustment in ‘spin’, is now the core value in the case for reform. The problem is that we Australians do not enjoy equality in life, or in marriage, anyway. Able-bodied people cannot compete in the ParaOlympics, people who can’t add and subtract can’t become CPAs, and men are not welcome to enter women’s public toilets. There are people no-one can marry in Australia, including a person already married, near relative or juvenile, quite apart from a person of the same gender.
‘Improved mental health’, sounds great, but will reform deliver this? ‘Yes!’ assertion tells us. No-one knows what percentage of gay and lesbian people want marriage for themselves, but it is arguably a small minority, at least in the case of gay men. Will there really be benefit for those who do not desire marriage?
It is a sad day when ‘economic benefit’ has become an Australian value, but this is a major plank of the campaign. Much will depend on the level of ongoing demand after the first wave, but that wave may already have broken on New Zealand’s shores, and the continuing gains may prove slight.
If Australia rushes to marriage equality, we may violate many of our core values. There is too much at stake from Australia to quickly capitulate to a campaign dominated by the media, spin, polls, censure and attrition. Reform, if there is to be reform, should come on the basis of a referendum, in the lead-up to which Australia conducts a debate about the topic that fully honours its espoused values.