The issue of gay marriage, or marriage equality in Australia has become a hot topic in recent months. Prominent politicians have made statements about their personal opinions, the community has been polled for their perspectives, bills have been put forth to the Senate to try and amend the Marriage Act, there have been protests and demonstrations and a lot of vitriolic discussion on the Internet about this controversial issue.
I’d like to lay out some of the main arguments that have been put forth by opponents of gay marriage, and explain why I believe every one of these arguments is flawed and without merit.
The Marriage Act
marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
One of the most common arguments against gay marriage is that the Marriage Act defines a marriage as between a man and a woman, therefore it should not be allowed. There is a kind of circular logic at work here; the Act says that marriage is only between a man and a woman, therefore we cannot change the Marriage Act to allow gay marriage. When asked directly why we can’t change the Marriage Act, nobody seems to have a straight answer.
The solution here is simple, if not exactly easy: Change the Marriage Act.
In recent years there have been attempts to alter the wording of the Marriage Act to include homosexual marriage. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in particular has pushed hard to get an amendment bill through the Senate which would change the Marriage Act wording to allow gay marriage. She has not yet been successful, but recent reforms in some Australian states allowing gay civil unions and parenting rights are certainly cause for optimism.
The other argument that comes up a lot in this debate is the “homosexuality is an abomination” argument. Admittedly, the Bible is very clear on this point:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.(Leviticus 18:22 KJV)
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.(Leviticus 20:13 KJV)
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:26-27 KJV)
The issue with using the Bible as a justification for the refusal of marriage rights for gay couples is clear. It means imposing the moral beliefs of the one group of people upon others who do not share the same beliefs. The question becomes what makes your sense of morality automatically superior to others ? Why should other people have to comply with your personal beliefs ? I’m sure gay people don’t feel that their sexuality is an abomination, so who are you to decide ?
There are a lot of things which the Bible says are sins, among them are eating shell-fish, tattoos, wearing mixed fibre clothing, women teachers, even trimming your beard. Yet these abominations are largely ignored by the Christian community, which focusses instead on condemning the consensual, loving relationship of two willing human beings.
Following closely behind the “homosexuality is an abomination” gambit is the “homosexuality is unnatural” argument. This is tied very closely to the Biblical perspective, that sexual intercourse should be used solely for the purposes of procreation. However occasionally gay marriage opponents will try to argue that homosexuality is bad for the species, as it is not in tune with the perpetuation of the species.
The answer to this one comes from nature itself. Many animal species engage in homosexual behaviour; the classic example being the Bonobo Chimpanzees from the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Bonobos are one of the closest living relatives to humans. These chimps often engage in homosexual behaviour, seemingly using it as friendly greeting ritual, a conflict resolution technique and conflict reconciliation method. The Bonobos are also one of the least aggressive, seemingly “happy” groups of chimps on the planet.
Naturally the opponents of gay marriage probably don’t appreciate being compared to chimps, however the argument stands. “Unnatural” is inaccurate, as homosexuality occurs in nature. The core of this whole argument stems from the Biblical notion that homosexuality is an abomination, which as discussed above, isn’t relevant.
The Slippery Slope
Another argument that gets put forth a lot is the “slippery slope”. The idea that allowing gay marriage would suddenly mean that anything goes; soon we’ll be allowing polygamy, and underage marriage, and animal marriage, and inanimate object marriage etc.
In terms of polygamy, I say why not? So long as all parties involved are consenting adults and are entering into the relationship willingly and without coercion then I have no problem with polygamous relationships. Each to their own. But that’s a discussion for another time.
In terms of the other stuff, it all comes down to consent. Consenting adults should be allowed to enter marriage if they wish, but children, animals and inanimate objects are not able to give consent, hence they will not be able to marry. This particular argument is an example of reductio ad absurdum; the attempt to disprove an argument by carrying its consequences to an absurd conclusion.
Up until 50 years ago in the United States, it was illegal for a white person to marry a non-white person in many states. I wonder when the anti-miscegenation laws were finally repealed in the 1960s whether people employed the “slippery slope” argument then as well.
The Sanctity of Marriage
This one is also usually a Biblical argument, however some non-religious people use this argument as well. The idea is that allowing gay people to marry somehow cheapens marriage for the rest of us. This one is simply absurd. Allowing two loving adults to prove their devotion to each other in a formal and legal way in no way threatens the “sanctity” of marriage, simply because they happen to be of the same gender.
Gay marriage opponents sometimes say “call it a ‘civil union’ but not ‘marriage’”. I’ve a better idea; Why not just call it “marriage” and get over it ? The idea that straight people should have a monopoly over the term “marriage” is conceited and short-sighted.
Children need a mother and a father
The idea that somehow children in a family with two same-gendered parents somehow lose out on parenting has no evidence whatsoever. Some studies have shown that gay couples have no more domestic abuse than straight couples, and children growing up with two gay parents are in no way adversely affected by the lack of a mother or father.
Saying that all children NEED both a mother and a father is almost like saying that all single parents NEED to get remarried, otherwise they are depriving their child of valuable parenting from the opposite gender. I’m sure a lot of single parents out there would take an exception to that statement, just as no doubt many gay couples take an exception to the idea that they are incapable of providing a loving and stable environment for their children.
I’ve yet to see one convincing reason why gay marriage should not be legal in this country. The right to marry should be universal and all-inclusive, and the fact that in 2011, in a democratic society, a large number of people are denied this right purely because of their sexual orientation is deeply disappointing.
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