Today’s post is written by J-Le,  who blogs at The Twinkle in My Eye. She lives in Melbourne and has a two year old daughter with her partner.

Last weekend, masses of people around Australia protested about the Federal government’s inaction on marriage equality. This followed a Senate enquiry, initiated by Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens, into the topic. And here I am writing about it on this rainbow families blog… but is marriage even a rainbow families topic? My instinct is that same-sex marriage isn’t primarily about families – indeed the Marriage Act itself makes no mention of children – but if you’ve been following the debate you’ll know that opponents of same-sex marriage have made it into a debate about families. And as rainbow family advocates, we can’t ignore this, regardless of whether we want to be married ourselves.

At the Senate enquiry hearing, the opponents were all Christian, as were some of the advocates for same-sex marriage, interestingly enough. The opponents mostly insisted their position wasn’t religiously-based (which is just as well because we do pride ourselves on being a secular society). Their position on marriage can be summarised by these direct quotes:

· “Out of all human relationships the union of a man and a woman is fundamental to our continued existence. (Australian Family Association)

· Marriage is not simply a loving, committed relationship between two people but a unique kind of physical and emotional union which is open to the possibility of life. (Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney)

· “It is possible and does happen for two men or two women to have a loving relationship. The question is not whether they love each other; the question is what is best for the children. (Australian Christian Lobby)

Clearly opponents of marriage equality believe that marriage is about families and children, and not about love and commitment between two people. They brush aside the obvious drawbacks of their argument – we allow infertile, post-fertile and couples with no intention of putting their fertility to child-bearing use to marry – with an argument along the lines of “even if they don’t have children, it’s sort of like they can, even if they can’t.” (I kid you not – read the transcript here ). They insist that a child is best raised by a mother and father who are biologically related to them. Single parents are “heroes”, but same-sex parents in committed relationships are wrong, wrong, wrong. They are in denial about the fact that gay people have children – always have, and always will, and these days in increasing numbers – and that the communities and governments of most Australian States have accepted this. They think that by disallowing same-sex marriage that children won’t find themselves being parented by two people of the same sex. They are forcing the marriage debate to be about what’s best for children, and this may be their downfall.

If indeed they are interested in what’s best for children, then it seems inevitable that the Federal government will one day catch up with the State governments who are one-by-one realising that children raised in same-sex relationships do not experience harm and should be given equal protection and recognition in law, just as the State governments are progressively doing in the area of assisted reproduction.

One of the opponents of marriage equality suggested that “law reform supported by the Australian community has given them (ie us) equality with de facto heterosexual couples.” And of course he is right. Our relationships are now recognised by the Commonwealth as being de facto, giving us and our children equal treatment under most Commonwealth laws (with the exception of marriage, adoption and surrogacy). But there is a danger in us settling for this level of almost-equality, because being unable to marry continues to place us on a tier below heterosexual couples. And this translates into family and social differences, which can be subtle but significant. We call each other “partner”, which has become an impotent word, equivalent to girlfriend/boyfriend, with none of the unspoken implications of wife/husband. Our partners can remain invisible to family and society. If one of us dies, we’re not considered to be a widow. And when our daughter asks why we’re not married and we tell her we’re not allowed, I fear we will be faced with one of those pre-schooler whines of “but why?” and we would be obliged to say that the government thinks our relationship is not important enough. And I hardly think it is in the best interests of our child to have her believe that her family is less important in the eyes of our government.

I don’t think marriage is about children. I think it is about commitment and love and I think that any two adults who enter into such a commitment voluntarily should be supported and their love celebrated. We’re not trying – to quote a Catholic bishop at the Senate hearing –  to “steal marriage” (yes, he really said that). We’re trying to embrace it. And I think the more visible our rainbow families are in the debate – showing that you don’t need to be in a heterosexual marriage to perpetuate the species, and showing that kids don’t need two opposite-sex married parents, both biologically related to you, in order to be a good and happy personthe weaker the opposition arguments become.

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