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Same-Sex Marriage in Australia: Boarding the Train of Equality

The luxury of having an online information highway available at our fingertips means that Gen Y has the ability to cross-reference any asserted fact without having to take one’s word as gospel. Unlike our predecessors, our reasoning is not confined to words of our teachers, parents, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Our reasoning is borderless, and when we bear witness to advancements in international human rights, such as the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage in New York, our desire for local justice and equality is amplified.

It is simply unacceptable that within the 21st Century, Australian black letter law continues to instil homophobic ideals by denying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (‘LGBT’) Australians the right to legitimise their love for one another within the institution of marriage. According to s 5(1) of the Marriage Act 1961(Cth), marriage is defined as the ‘union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. Nevertheless, 12 pioneering countries have sparked a global revolution to stand up for equality over bigotry by legalising same-sex marriage, and as stated by the Hon. Michael Kirby in the 2010 TEDx Sydney lectures, Australia finally has the opportunity of ‘getting rid of the injustice and humiliation of the past’.

The Sanctity of Marriage:

Guarding the sanctity of marriage has long been the primary justification for discrimination by religious and conservative sects. However, as stated by New York Senator Diane Savino, we must ask, ‘what are we really protecting? If there is any threat to the sanctity of marriage, it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right to marryOne only needs to observe our burgeoning divorce rates, as well as reality television shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette to concede that heterosexual couples have been undermining this ‘sanctity’ for decades.

In any case, legalising same-sex marriage does not mean that religious institutions will be compelled to wed same-sex couples. Religious groups can continue to practice discrimination with respect to the sacrament of marriage, but cannot hypocritically request tolerance towards religious beliefs whilst preaching religious intolerance.

It is not the legislative function of parliament to determine the quality and validity of society’s loving relationships. If it were, parliament would certainly not issue most of the marriage licences it has already issued. Rather, as stressed by Justice Kirby, legislators must ‘stand up for the separation of the Church and the State’. Secular governance fundamentally ensures the protection of our right to believe in any religion, as well as the right to abstain from religion. ‘Secularism is a protection for spirituality, and only by secularism will we maintain the respect for every belief’. Thus, when the line of secular governance is blurred by the denial of same-sex marriage, this also paradoxically represents a parliamentary denial of one’s right to practice religion.

Civil Relationships:

Another argument often employed to deny marriage equality is the availability of civil relationship registers. Prime Minister Julia Gillard maintains that when such registers are combined with the 85 legislative amendments introduced to fields such as social welfare and superannuation, substantive rights and entitlements between LGBT couples are virtually aligned with married couples.

The problem is that no matter how magnanimous the government feels about such reforms, it fails to recognise the underlining symbolic difference of treating same-sex relationships as subordinate to that of marriage. The government must understand that marriage equality is not only about rights and entitlements, but also about equality of status. As stated by Justice Kirby, ‘we’re not talking about marriage with confetti, we’re talking about a register; like registering your dog! That’s what it is. It’s a second-class status of citizenship’.

It is the second-class treatment of LGBT relationships that legitimises societal homophobia, which in turn has a profound and insidious impact on the health of our LGBT population. For example, Suicide Prevention Australia found that LGBT teenagers are currently 14 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers.

LGBT Parenting:

Many religious and conservative groups naively proclaim that LGBT parenting is a danger to the psychological wellbeing of children. There is now a large cohort of children with LGBT parents who are old enough to paint an accurate portrait about the effects of LGBT parenting. Dr Goldberg, author of Lesbian and Gay Parents and their Children, concluded that children of LGBT parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. That is, children show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorder, are just as popular at school, and have just as many friends. They are not likely to suffer from supposed gender confusion, nor are they more likely to identify themselves as LGBT. The simple answer, says Dr Goldberg, is that ‘the children do just fine’.

In fact Dr Goldberg’s studies uncovered that heterosexual parents could learn parenting lessons from their LGBT counterparts after concluding that children of LGBT parents were more likely to look beyond societal stereotypes, accept differences, and move away from traditional gender roles and assumptions. For example, it was found that daughters of lesbian mothers were more likely to aspire for professions traditionally considered for males, such as doctors or lawyers. Whereas daughters of heterosexual couples were more likely to aspire for more feminine professions such as nursing and teaching.

The Positive Outlook:

Data collected by the 2010 Galaxy Poll indicates that the acceptance of same-sex marriage within Australian society is indeed inevitable. That is, marriage equality has unequivocally turned to the question of ‘when’, rather than the question of ‘if’. Statistics indicate that 62 per cent of all Australians, and a staggering 74 per cent of Labor voters support same-sex marriage. It is therefore unsurprising that opinion polls reveal Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s satisfaction rating at a record low amongst Labor voters.

What is more disappointing than the opinion polls is the sad indictment of the lesbian Labor Senator Penny Wong, who continues to sell out the LGBT community with her support of Labor’s political line of banning same-sex marriage. Senator Wong’s standing is even more repugnant when it is compared to that of a heterosexual Republican Senator Roy Macdonald, who was one of four Republican’s to join the majority in voting for same-sex marriage in New York. Senator Macdonald believed that he had a moral obligation to turn his back on the Republican Party, and in addressing his voters he stated:

‘You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black or white, good or bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that… [but] I don’t care what you think; I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican/Democratic politics…’

The Labor Party will be revisiting its policy on same-sex marriage at its National Conference in December 2011. It is our duty to make our voices heard and to make democracy prevail. We must join the rest of the world in doing away with homophobic ideals. The train for equality is boarding, and if the Australian government wants to recover the confidence of its voters, it must not delay. It is time to jump on board!

Dedicated to my dear friend Casey B. May love always prevail. 

Ali Besiroglu