Common arguments against gay marriage (and why they don't hold water)
Here are common arguments against marriage equality and why they don't hold water. By Troy Chiodo-Gurr.
While advocates for gay marriage are expected to explain themselves, those opposed are getting away with a series of trite and unqualified statements that seems to stump the national consciousness into submission. Where’s the follow-up question? Below are the top arguments trotted out by our leaders and appear in the comment section in newspapers around the country. Do their arguments really hold water?
“Gay marriage threatens my marriage”
Gay marriage, apparently, is holding a knife and demanding straight marriage’s wallet. Tony Abbott has even gone so far as to say he feels threatened by homosexuals themselves, like we’re a bunch of street toughs hanging out in pool halls causing trouble. But when they say gay marriage threatens their marriage, what they actually mean is that it devalues their marriage, or that the value of marriage is diluted.
Since gay marriage reared its head, conservatives have circled the wagons in an attempt to maintain the institution’s exclusivity. Marriage is the new Country Club, an opportunity to keep the undesirables out. They like the idea of the gay community pressing their noses against the windows, hoping for scraps. Magnanimously, the ‘haves’ hand over their leftovers, and are appalled when we rebuke their generosity. The gay community has a special word for these half-eaten and incomplete meals – we call them civil unions.
“They can have civil unions, but they can’t call it marriage”
The reluctant compromise, served up by people who don’t want to give it to people who don’t especially want it, either. Civil unions, or Marriage-Lite, are an end-around to the argument by offering poison oak and claiming it’s an olive branch. Civil unions are another way to discriminate, to publicly announce that gay love is less than heterosexual love, not deserving of the marriage title. Imagine asking interracial couples to call their marriage commitment something else. Holding the word “marriage” at arm’s length is an attempt to keep exclusive rights, like boys in forts bearing “no girls allowed” signs. It’s small and petty, like folding your arms at an immigrant after they’ve sworn their citizenship telling them they better not call themself Australian.
“It’s only a piece of paper”
A lot of things are only a piece of paper. Citizenship certificates, driver’s licences, employment contracts. Subpoenas. If, as these people argue, it’s just a piece of paper, why are they fighting so hard to keep it out of our hands?
And, of course, it’s not just a piece of paper. In 2007, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that 100 statutes and provisions under federal law discriminated against same-sex couples by using the term 'member of the opposite sex', including aged care, Medicare, adoption, survivor benefits and visas. We’re not just making noise here. These things matter.
“The public support isn’t there”
That’s not how equal rights work. You don’t ask for a show of hands. In 1967, when the US Supreme Court passed the law allowing interracial marriage, public support was less than 20% (Gallup). Even 26 years later, in 1993, support was still less than 50%. Fortunately, the Courts recognised that public sentiment has very little to do with inalienable human rights. Besides, why should the guy next door get a vote on my right to marry my partner? And why am I expected to ask for his permission?
But hey, if we’re going to play the numbers game, let’s play. In 2007, 57% of Australians were in favour of gay marriage. In 2009, it was up to 60%, in 2010 it was up to 62% (Galaxy), and in 2011, Roy Morgan put the number at 68%. But polls are for politicians, and marriage equality is for leaders.
“I’m gay, and I don’t need gay marriage”
Contrary to popular belief, gay marriage isn’t going to be compulsory, but hey, thanks for looking out for the other gays and lesbians who maybe do. Any other equal rights you don’t care so much about that we can revoke? If you think of anything else, make sure you let us know at the next town hall meeting (if you’re not too busy helping out the religious right at their next bake sale).
“I believe in traditional marriage”
Traditionally, wives were bought and sold. In this country, women could be married off at 12 years of age. Traditionally, divorce was illegal. Fortunately, we got wiser and amended our ‘traditional’ view. There are a lot of traditions we let go of, and holding onto this one is arbitrary at best, bigotry at worst.
“Marriage is for procreation”
This one’s just too easy, since no one is running around annulling the marriages of childless couples, nor is anyone mandating that married couples bear fruit, but in a left-of-field way, for those who are against gay marriage, this is their primary concern. They’re worried that if we can marry, we can have kids. I hate to break it to you, kiddo, but some of us already do.
“This only affects 1% of the population of Australia”
A lot of things only affect a minority. The Disability Discrimination Act. Bushfires. Unemployment Benefits. A society is judged by how it treats the least among them, not by solely doing a head count before deciding who to care about. While the true number of gay people in Australia will never be known (since there are no real mechanisms for finding out, nor will all gay people admit to being gay, especially given the climate of public and political sentiment), detractors will invariably throw out a made-up statistic or two as proof that our numbers are not enough to warrant the attention.
“Why do they even need it?”
Aside from the legal rights that marriage affords us (of which there are many), the quickest answer is to read the comments section in your average newspaper the next time a story about gay marriage appears. Read what some people have to say about us – about me, my partner, my friends, my family – and you’ll understand a little better why it matters. I live, love, work and pay taxes in a country that discriminates against me, that allows these ugly, hurtful and hateful things be said about me and my friends, not in the privacy of their own home (where my relationship is expected to stay), but in public by people who, quite simply, don’t like us. Will marriage equality end that? Will this step towards social equality be enough? Probably not.
But man, what a great place to start.