Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Love and Marriage

Time to stop procrastinating (even though I'm so very good at that) and get down my random rantings on - yup, the biggie - gay marriage. Adam and Steve. Homos in the marital home. And so on.

From the outset, I should explain that I was raised by two ex-Catholics in a humanist (ok, ok, agnostic, aethiestic, godless heathen boudoir of filthy Satanic germs, whatever) home. This goes a long way to explain my 99% conviction that there is no God (although I'm quite open-minded to reincarnation, a far more romantic concept for me than Christianity) and my many objections to the Catholic church. And yes, I could probably know the enemy better before I choose to reject it, but it's not as though I haven't heard first-hand accounts of family members being subjected to unspeakable pain and abuse, pounded into them as defenseless children by deranged psychopaths posing as educators. You don't need to have a Masters in Bible Studies to recognise an institution founded upon hypocrisy, guilt, denial of responsibility and utterly unrealistic expectations of sexuality.

Following on from this, I've never been a big advocate of marriage. In some ways I think it's a somewhat quaint notion, and the nearly 50% divorce rate would seem to indicate its increasing irrelevance to many good breeder folk, not just homos.

So why was I so enraged when the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 first appeared? Why did the vile spat at us by the RRR and its political puppets in defence of this Bill get my blood boiling? Why did the broad apathy of my own queer community about this Bill shit me to tears? I guess the reality was that this Bill was a slap in a face, and even though I could see it coming, it still stung. As with lots of legislation, it was reading the subtext of supporters of the Bill that opened my eyes to how much fear, how many misconceptions and basically how much hatred is still felt by some towards dykes, homos and all things queer. I can effectively contradict several major arguments put forward against gay marriage. Lemme give it a shot.

MYTH: Marriage is a fixed, unalterable and historically-exclusive institution of one man and one woman, that has existed in this form only for thousands of years.

FACT: Dr Carmen Lawrence, one of the few ALP members brave enough not only to speak against the Bill but indirectly condemn her own party for officially supporting it, eloquently and systematically deconstructed all these lies by referring to polygamy in Christianity, 14th century blessing of same-sex unions by the Roman Catholic Church, allowing interracial marriages and the traditional role of marriage to oppress women and define them as "property". She highlighted the reality that "between cultures and over time the meaning and form of marriage have changed dramatically", and therefore there is no logical reason why it cannot change - evolve - in the futre.

MYTH: Marriage between one man and one woman is essential for the survival of the species.

FACT: But somehow, medically infertile or childless by choice heterosexual married couples didn't have their marriages invalidated by this Bill. This seems to be the argument that resonates strongest with homos themselves who oppose gay marriage - sad closet-cases like Christopher Pearson, for example. I've read seemingly self-respecting gay men write about how, "by definition" of our apparently hedonistic, selfish lifestyle, we do not have the right to wish to be married - and we certainly have no right to want to raise kids! Admittely, I don't have any gay male friends raising children within their relationships but I do know lesbians in their relationships who are. I have seen how powerful the maternal instinct can be - twice as powerful, in fact - and I know that when a child is born with two mums or two dads, that child will be unequivocally loved and wanted as queer parents need to work twice as hard to prove themselves half as capable parents.

MYTH: Gays don't want to be married. They see marriage as an outdated, patriarchal institution and are only now pretending they've wanted to get married all along.

FACT: This is not without some truth. The NSW Gay and Lesbian Lobby (for example) has never lobbied for gay marriage and in Australia it's certainly never had the groundswell of support behind it as it has in the US. It also appeared to me that some far-left groups and individuals jumped on board to argue for gay marriage because suddenly it was the fashionable minority cause du jour, even though the same groups and individuals would otherwise have opposed marriage as a sexist, mysogynistic capitalist venture.

What seems to be forgotten here is that this is an issue of choice. If gay men don't believe that marriage validates their relationship, fine - don't get married. If lesbians believe their relationship is so completely unlike breeder relationships that subscribing to one of their rites is pointless, fine - don't get married. If there is a general perception that queer relationships are by definition different to straight relationships, with a whole different set of rules to play by, fine - don't get married. It should be one queer person's right to make that choice, just as it should be another's to want to have the big ceremony, get the piece of paper and carry their new husband across the threshold. As feminism has been driven by a desire to provide choices and opportunities for women, so too should queer activism. The argument that this is about equality or that we "want to be just like them" is far too myopic. Queers getting married would re-define marriage; marriage does not need to re-define their relationship. And as we've seen, historically, the re-definition of marriage in certain circumstances has not brought about the 4 Horsemen or rains of fire.

MYTH: This Bill is not about discrimination against same-sex couples; it's about protecting marriage.
ADDITIONAL MYTH: That's why the Libs introduced superannuation rights for same-sex couples at the same time they banned gay marriage.

FACT: Then what the fuck is this Bill about?! Why does marriage need to be defended against people who wish to partake in it and actually increase its subscription base? This was the first Bill in Australian history that clearly and explicitly identified queer people for specific discrimination. There is no way getting around the reality that far-right Liberal backbenchers were nervous about "judicial activists" allowing same-sex marriages solemnised outside of Australia (eg Canada) to be recognised in Australia, and they put the pressue on the frontlines to ensure this could never happen. The Bill was mean-spirited and oppressive, not to mention cruel to the Australians who had got married overseas in the genuine hope that eventually their marriage would be recognised in their home country.
ADDITIONAL FACT: Superannuation rights were only afforded to same-sex couples because the relevant law was re-written to include "interdependents", which by definition included same-sex couples. Unfortunately, however, it also included a woman looking after her sick sister. I don't mean to denigrate the latter of these relationships, however it is obvious that same-sex couples are still having the nature of their relationship denied; they are not spouses - God fobid they might be fucking each other! - but rather dependents who still have to prove the extent and relevance of their relationship in a way that straight married or de facto couples do not.

It's like having two people doing the same job in adjoining cubicles. Whereas one is allowed to do his/her work without interruption, the other has the boss coming up to him/her each day and saying: "So, why shouldn't I fire you today? Justify your presence here until I am satisfied." Not good.

The only thing that made me angrier than the Libs introducing this Bill - and let's face it, we wouldn't expect any less of them - was the ALP jumping on board to support it, even when their leader at the time said he did not see why queer couples shouldn't be allowed to get married, and several ALP lower house members - Tanya Plibersek, Anthony Albanese, Lindsay Tanner, Martin Ferguson and Michael Danby to name but five - have many queer voters in their electorates whose interests they are supposed to represent. They, however, were not even allowed the luxury of a conscience vote on this divisive Bill (Howard could not, after all, succeed in his usual wedge politics here). To make matters worse, the RRR's National Marriage Forum - an assortment of some of the most rabidly hateful, homophobic freaks in this country - put enough pressure on the ALP to make shadow AG Nicola Roxon perform the most appalling backflip (that caught off-guard even her own party) about waiting for the original Bill to be subject to a Senate inquiry before voting on it. Any pretence that she might be a friend to the queer community was thrown out the window when it became clear she was going to side with the RRR over us when push came to shove.

Anyway, to wind up: The Bill went through and all this became academic. Queer activists like Rodney Croome still genuinely believe gay marriage will exist in Australia within our lifetime - it's a force sweeping across the world that we can resist only for so long - but for now it's clear no formal recognition of same-sex relationships will be introduced under a Howard government, and the best we have to look forward to under a Beazley government is civil unions (although be warned here: the RRR know that civil unions are "marriages by the back door" and are bracing themselves for battle there too; anybody who believes they'll accept one in place of the other is dreaming).

Do I want to get married? I don't know. Right now, no, got a few other things to tick off the shopping list first. What I do want is the choice to be married. And this isn't some petulant, "everybody else has it so why can't I?" position to take. If I were allowed to many another man, and I chose to do so, I would not make that decision lightly the way some breeders do (Britney Spears married and divorced in 48 hours, anyone?) and I would work very hard to ensure my marriage was one for life. I am lucky to have two models of long-term successful relationships to which to aspire; one is the 35 year-and-counting marriage of my parents, the other is the 20 year-and-counting union of my favourite uncle and his male partner. What I see in both is parity, not difference. Relationships work because of hard work, commitment, trust and respect, and nobody has a monopoly on these things, no matter what the law might imply.

I also look good in a tuxedo, four-storey cakes are camp, and I wouldn't mind getting carried across a threshold...


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