No more excuses — equal marriage now

August 5, 2011
Rally for equal marriage rights, Sydney, March 19, 2010. Photo: Rachel Evans.

Ten countries and nine jurisdictions in the world have recognised marriage equality since 2001. Many other parts of the world recognise civil unions, registration schemes or same-sex marriages performed outside of the respective country.

Australians are ready to follow suit. Seventy-five percent of Australians expect same-sex marriage to be legalised, said a 2011 Galaxy Poll.

The same research said 62% of Australians support marriage equality. That number is as high as 80% among younger people. The poll also said 78% of Australians believe there should be a conscience vote in parliament on the issue.

Over the past few years, thousands of people attended rallies across all major cities in support of marriage equality.

Mock marriages were held, as well as various media stunts, high school referendums, Wear It Purple days, Days Against Homophobia, Mardi Gras floats and wedding photography campaigns.

Politicians and members of all big political parties have come out in support of equal marriage. All state Labor party branches, except New South Wales, have passed motions in support of equal marriage.

Yet same-sex marriage is still not recognised in Australia.

One of the arguments against equal marriage rights is that it is morally wrong for religious reasons. In the books of Genesis, Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians, homosexuality is described as a sin and something that is the result of denying or disobeying God.

This opposition equal marriage falls down in a number of ways.

First, it is important to note that not everyone is religious. We live in a secular country, where the church and the state are supposed to be separate and people are free to follow any religion.

Atheists are able to marry, become celebrants and perform marriage ceremonies. Some religious institutions, like the Quakers, want to perform same-sex marriages and Australia’s laws prevent them from doing so.

Second, there are many rules in the bible that contemporary society does not adhere to. Leviticus also tells us that we should not shave facial hair or eat pork, and that children who curse their parents should be killed. These rules have been left behind and the fabric of our society has not crumbled.

Lastly, the bible was written in ancient times by people of that time. No one can operate separately from their own personal values, ethics and morals, or from those of wider society at the time.

This is also the case with the legal system, which is not autonomous from society. If most of society supports equal marriage, then this should be reflected in the law.

Another argument put forth against equal marriage is that the institution of marriage has not been changed for many years and should be left alone.

This is factually incorrect. In Australia, marriage is a civil and constitutional matter that is dealt with primarily by the Marriage Act of 1961.

The Marriage Act has in fact been amended very recently. In 2004, the Howard government amended it solely to exclude the possibility of the courts interpreting it in favour of equal marriage.

Tradition as an argument for limiting change and preventing equal marriage is an insufficient, simplistic and conservative stance.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that she doesn’t support marriage equality and that she thinks that, “there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future”.

This kind of logic could be applied to any given proposed reform, including Gillard’s own carbon tax.

Surely in this circumstance, what most people support right now is more important than what people supported in the past.

Some of the arguments against equal marriage rights, such as the argument to preserve tradition, are similar to arguments once used to prevent Aboriginal Australians and African Americans from marrying who they wanted to.

Years later, most people have recognised racist attitudes to marriage were wrong. Allowing equal marriage will help to curb homophobia within society in the future.

It is not only the conservative side of politics that opposes equal marriage.

On the left there are arguments that marriage is an archaic and patriarchal institution and that lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and intersex (LGTBI) people should not be or want to be a part of this institution.

Many people on the left share this view on marriage. However, it misses the point that without the right to choose whether or not to get married, the decision is made for queer people by the government.

Supporting equal marriage rights is not the same as advocating marriage as a superior kind of relationship.

For some couples, marriage can socially validate their love and relationship. This kind of social validation is instrumental in promoting tolerance and ending homophobia.

Married couples can provide an example for young queers. It can also be a path of hope for the young LGBTI people who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

Advocates of equal marriage have many reasons for supporting this right. For some, it is political or based on allowing those who love another person to marry and share their life with that person.

For others, allowing queer couples the right to marry comes down to a simple principle: if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one.

But let the people who want it have the right to do it.

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