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From NYC to Oz
by Anthony Levin
2011-07-31 12:03:21
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That’s how many couples became the State of New York’s first same-sex newlyweds last Sunday.

If you watched the footage of those lovers, gazing into each other’s eyes over vows, you might have forgotten that they were of the same sex.

As the debate over gay marriage intensifies in Australia, with the ALP set to debate the issue at their National Conference in December, it’s worth considering how far away we are from celebrating same-sex weddings on the Townhall steps.

Admittedly, there are a number of ways to enter this political debate.

Firstly, there’s the religious approach. This states that marriage is a sacred institution between men and women only – a union of souls in the eyes of God, which must be protected.

There’s the semantic approach. Same sex marriage is not marriage. That’s a misnomer. Marriage is the permanent union of a man and a woman. Forget God - History tells us that only men and women can marry. What same sex couples have – partnership, union – is something other than marriage. It’s not discrimination to exclude gay couples from the purview of ‘marriage’ - it’s simply a semantic distinction. (Lovers of Wittgenstein or Derrida might sum up this position with ‘A cat is a cat because it’s not a dog’.)

The semantic argument also hinges rhetorically on reiterating the ‘permanency’ of male-female unions. These are immemorial, while partnerships between gay couples are, by implication, impermanent. (The subtext: gay couples are more promiscuous.) As Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull repeated the word ‘permanent’ three times in the space of one minute during a radio interview (Jon Faine, ABC 774, 6/11/09).

Then there’s the natural law position: the marriage of two men or two women is against nature. There’s no mention of God, but he’s there, lurking behind the curtain like a High School Director mouthing all the actors’ lines. According to the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s website, “the committed relationship of a man and a woman is the ideal environment for children to be conceived, born and raised.” Following this logic, if marriage is a reproductive institution, and only men and women can produce children naturally, the State should only sanction heterosexuals to form family units. The pop equivalent of this argument is: ‘Doing it for the Kids’. In 2004, John Howard codified this position into the Commonwealth Marriage Act.

Lately, this penultimate argument has begun to encroach upon another entry-point - the legal debate. Together, the Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) and the Australian Christian Lobby are reframing ‘naturalism’ in terms of ‘children’s rights’.
A resolution passed by the LNP on July 17 (supported by the ACL) “affirms the fundamental right…of a child to have both a mother and a father, and notes that same-sex marriage makes it impossible for children to have both…” Further, the ACL’s Campaigns page contains a link entitled ‘Kid’s rights count’, which when clicked, redirects you to something that looks like it was whipped up at an Ogilvy lunch meeting with the brief ‘Make us look less Christian’. It opposes same-sex surrogacy, among other things.

But if you’re capable of running a Google search, you’ll know that nowhere in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is there mention of ‘the fundamental right to a mother and a father’. Article 18(4) simply requires State Parties to “have respect for the liberty of parents…to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

Self-determination is the essence of individual liberty.

A child’s fundamental right to a parent of each sex is a fallacy invented by Christian lobbyists to rebrand their beliefs into legal discourse.

And what about the right to marry?

International law supports it. Article 23 (ICCPR) is silent on sexuality but simply affirms “the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family”. The Hague Convention on the Recognition and Celebration of Marriages, to which Australia is a signatory, also deliberately avoids a definition of marriage, stating that 'marriage' should be understood in its 'broadest international sense'. With the jurisdictions of Canada, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands, Argentina, Massachusetts, Connecticut and now New York all legalising same-sex marriage, the ‘international sense’ is clear.

We cannot ignore the growing body of jurisprudence which reflects a shift in consciousness about what we see as ‘natural’. The concept of marriage is imbued with basic substantive rights and attributes integral to an individual’s liberty.

All this is to say nothing of the right to non-discrimination, or the unspoken echoes of miscegenation laws in South Africa and the United States that haunt us as long as we continue the apartheid of separate unions.

When it comes to newlyweds, the debate should start and end with equal love.

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