Lazy Luddite Log

3.8.09

Marriage Equality

I attended the Marriage Equality rally in Canberra on the weekend. It was small (numbering only a few hundred participants) and my nuclear disarmament days should have prepared me for a small crowd. But I expected more for this issue given that the majority of Australians polled now support same-sex marriage rights. I am thrilled that in other capitals the event was much bigger - five thousand for Melbourne a friend has told me. I suppose that our national capital is still just a small town.

The rally was worthwhile despite its size. The thing is that such events always serve many purposes. A big rally can garner public and government attention but even a small one can give a movement something at which its members bolster the commitment and morale of one another. This was definitely the case with our sunny Saturday afternoon in Civic. But one interesting thing I always notice is that a rally draws together many different and sometimes conflicting perspectives (my observation of peace marches has been that they attract "everything from anarchists to anglicans").

So I am far from convinced by the assertion of one speaker that capitalism is intrinsically homophobic. I suspect that the hospitality industry will welcome the profits arising from same-sex weddings with relish. Still it is the nature of such events that one accepts such statements with polite silence and farewells each speaker with some applause.

Mind you there sometimes are hecklers from within the crowd. So for instance the speaker for Amnesty International (AI) was jeered by someone because she specifically acknowledged the support of straight members of the crowd. This struck me as unusual but then I imagine a person may feel this way if (for instance) every significant straight person in their life had helped to make it a misery. This is why I think interacting with a larger and more diverse cross-section of society is an important thing for all of us. Familiarity breeds respect (contrary to the traditional saying).

I think the speaker from AI was the best in that she focused on both the positive and negative aspects of liberty. The freedom to marry whomever one will can very much enhance ones life. However freedom from abuse and intimidation is also vital and she shared two incidents with us.

One was a personal anecdote in which she and her (same-sex) partner had been sitting last Summer on a Melbourne beach holding hands - they were approached by some men who asked them if they would rather have men to be with and she felt threatened by this experience.

The other incident was that very recently a man kissed another man at Australian National University and was later followed in a menacing way back to his car by some strangers. The phrase "gay bashing" was never used at the rally but I am sure it was a shadow in our minds.

Now nobody in church or state may ever say it is okay to threaten and menace queers but by denying them the same rights as straights it gives just that tiny bit of legitimacy to those who think it is okay - if they deserve one form of deprivation then maybe they deserve other forms as well...

Rights are universal. They only work if everyone can exercise them. Furthermore extending a right to a hitherto excluded group still allows full enjoyment of that right by those who continue to possess it. The sense of this is something a growing majority are coming to understand.

Still there is opposition and it can come from interesting directions. The only argument I have had with anyone on this topic recently came from a somewhat radical friend who opposes the institution of marriage itself. Possibly - like many young adults - this friend has been put off by the short-comings of the marriages of parents. Or maybe the pressure of traditional culture on us to marry and reproduce has made the whole concept a bitter one.

My response to this was to say that it is for every adult (or set of consenting adults in this case) to decide for themselves what kind of life they wish to live rather than for this to be determined by any one perspective in society. The best decisions are the ones we make for ourselves.

There is government resistance to marriage equality and that is frustrating. My feeling however is that it is only a matter of time before Australia becomes part of a growing worldwide trend to let us decide for ourselves whom we marry. Continuing political activity (from attending marches to writing letters to papers or parliamentarians) will be a vital part of this process.

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  • I'm copying and pasting a comment of mine to this same post (or rather a related one hosted by another friend) from LiveJournal (complete with messy formatting text). See below...

    "Yes! Sebastian and Aloysius the bear."

    One thing I forget to say originally was that, as a layperson, Waugh cannot represent any Catholic other than himself. Still it is an interesting perspective for its day.

    "I feel inclined to question whether legal marriage is a 'right' for anyone."

    It may help for me to unpack my thinking on rights somewhat. For me rights correspond to needs. I need and therefore have a right to food and shelter. I need and therefore have a right to security from violence. There is also a practical side of this - how can I be assured my rights? Fortunately the needs I have named can be pretty effectively delivered by a combination of the modern state and civil society. I have other needs that are more difficult to ensure however.

    From childhood I have needed human company and affection and esteem and this persists into adulthood. However my society cannot ensure I will always have these. Put simply nobody can be _forced_ to be my friend. But I should be permitted every opportunity to seek these things and to show that I deserve them. Anything that gets in the way of that seeking is a problem. I think the right to marry whom one will (providing they feel the same way) is just one way in which a person may fulfill the needs listed above. Right now even the most committed relationship can never aspire to married status if its participants are of the same gender.

    "You as a couple are the basic unit of the family. You are the people the country relies on to produce more citizens".

    Does a family by definition need to produce children? There are many (heterosexual) marriages that are and will always be childless and voluntarily so. Are they still a family? And is that family the backbone of society? There will be many perspectives on that - mine is more that the fundamental unit of society (getting away from the backbone analogy) is the person (as long as they are a socially integrated person). I can still regard marriage as important however.

    Incidentally I cannot help but comment that a nation can get more citizens via immigration.

    "Or do you think it would be more appropriate to disestablish marriage".

    You may have seen in my own entry on this topic my reference to a friend who opposes same-sex marriage _because_ she opposes marriage. I reject such a position. For me it is far too intrusive and prescriptive. It smacks of somebody who knows what is best for the rest of us. As a supporter of a cosmopolitan society I accept that many in that society cherish marriage and would never deny them a right they already possess. Also I am an incrementalist and wary of the kind of perfectionism that wants to pull everything apart and start from scratch.

    There is a libertarian tendency in my position on personal issues as can be seen here (incidentally that 'parenting license' discussion started at MonUCS Pub).

    But back to the issue - you will be wondering what is left that makes marriage a distinctive thing in my personal perspective given that gender and reproduction are removed from my definition. Sure there is the legal aspect that addresses issues of inheritance and emergency but it is more than that. It is more than recognition by the state - it is recognition by ones society (which I think is a different thing even if it expresses itself in part via the state).

    It is a relationship that is embraced and defended by an entire community. And that community offers that because it perceives a level of commitment in a relationship that can persist indefinitely. This is a working definition - I too am musing...

    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 May, 2017  

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