The debate over same-sex marriages is causing bitter division across California as protests rage against the passage of Proposition 8 — the ballot on constitutionally restricting the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman.
While protesters have suggested boycotting Utah to punish that state for the Mormon church’s support of the ballot measure, and the Governator talks about a Supreme Court intervention, it’s time for every civil society to sit down and think about this whole gay marriage thing.
In April this year, the Rudd Government announced legislative amendments to remove discrimination against same-sex couples in areas such as superannuation, tax and Medicare. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission welcomed the move — although it was not until the finer details came out that it turned out that the announcement needed to be taken with a pragmatic grain of salt. The right of same-sex couples to marry was excluded from the amendments.
Patience and goodwill on this issue is running out. The Federal Attorney General announced that "the elimination of same-sex discrimination continues" back in September, but as at 19 November, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws — General Law Reform) Bill 2008 is still sitting in that corner of limbo where things sit after the Senate Committee has reported but nothing further has been done.
And then there was Rudd and McClelland bullying the ACT by telling them they are not allowed to legislate for civil union ceremonies. In fact, Rudd actually "warned the ACT Government [he]would use Commonwealth powers to scuttle any laws to introduce civil partnerships in Canberra on the grounds it would too closely mimic marriage".
That report kicked the wind out of me.
Apparently the ACT is allowed to have a "relationship register", which means the unions are legally recognised, but it seems that letting same-sex couples gather in front their families and friends to commit themselves to each other is the gateway drug to ruining the moral fibre of society, and ergo anything closely resembling such a thing is an outrage that must be outlawed.
The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG, High Court judge and poster-boy for idealist law students everywhere (see Facebook group The Justice Michael Kirby Appreciation Society), explained the status quo with his characteristic wit at the inaugural John Marsden Lecture in October:
"The relationships of same-sex couples can only be registered — rather like a dog or busker’s licence. I hope that fellow citizens of good will who think upon this will not be surprised if many homosexual people in long-term loving relationships say politely to this differentiation: ‘Thank you; but no thank you’."
Why all this opposition to same-sex marriage, though? According to submissions received by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during its enquiry into same-sex entitlements, "In law, marriage and the family are entitled to special recognition and protection", and "Marriage should not be devalued by treating it as just another ‘couple relationship’ [or]same sex relationships." .
Can’t argue with that, can you?
Actually, American lefty-scum pundit Keith Olbermann does just that, and does it rather well, in his response to Prop 8 last week:
"I keep hearing this term ‘redefining’ marriage. If this country hadn’t redefined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people … The parents of the President-elect of the United States couldn’t have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it’s worse than that. If this country had not redefined marriage, some black people still couldn’t marry black people. … Marriages among slaves were not legally recognised.
"You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognised if the people are … gay."
"And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing — centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children … All because we said a man couldn’t marry another man, or a woman couldn’t marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage. How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the sanctity of marriage rather than render the term meaningless?"
Apparently this "protection of sanctity" argument only works one way. Heterosexual couples can tarnish and destroy whatever "sanctity" their unions may have, but even the worst heterosexual marriage is not at risk of being annulled. Meanwhile homosexual marriages in which couples aren’t adulterous and don’t drunkenly beat each other into a pulp (for example) are not allowed to be recognised.
Marriage is not the intellectual property of any church or group. It’s the identification of a bond between two people that is hopefully based on love, and no marriage is the same as another. So why are people so vehement in their demands for picking one definition over another?
There’s only one common denominator when it comes to identifying a marriage, or what a marriage should look like — and that one thing is love.
Plain and simple. Love. You love someone. You want to share one life. You get married. Happily ever after. Or something.
Which leads me back to Olbermann’s original question to people who support the sentiment of Proposition 8:
"Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don’t want to deny you yours. They don’t want to take anything away from you. They want what you want — a chance to be a little less alone in the world."
I, like Olbermann, would like to point out that I am not gay. I just believe in equality, that’s all. And, in the spirit of those Californians who’ve put black tape over their wedding bands to protest Prop 8, I recently informed my boyfriend of four years that we will not be getting married until every other couple who wants to do so can do so as well. Too drastic? I’ve waited this long for him to propose anyway, so it’s no big loss. It also means we can’t get divorced like so many heteros.
Same-sex couples know about divorce rates too, yet many still want to get married. Perhaps their courage and enthusiasm will provide exactly the kind of renewal this worn old institution needs.
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