CHANGE WHAT MARRIAGE MEANS? NO, THANK YOU.
Written on the 14 September 2017 by Kevin Conolly
This week the postal survey of the Australian people on the issue of marriage is getting under way.
As the proposal is to change the definition of "marriage" within the Commonwealth Marriage Act, it seems reasonable to me that the starting point for discussion should be to work out what we mean by marriage. We might ask what marriage is for; what we as a community want from it; and why government should be involved in it.
When we have clarified the answers to those questions, it should become a lot clearer whether the proposed change is a good idea or not.
Marriage has been one of the best, maybe even the very best, social institution ever devised by humanity. It has been the means of uniting people for their journey through life and of providing the opportunity for each generation of people to be brought into the world, nurtured, supported and protected while growing up. Society has benefitted enormously from marriage.
So it's fair to ask whether changing it would be a good idea.
If changing it were to weaken its capacity to do those things listed above, then you'd have good reason to say "no thank you" to a proposal for change.
Social science data collected over many decades has shown that the family structure which leads to the best long-term outcomes for kids is the intact, biological family, typically what you have when children are raised by their married biological parents.
Pointing to this well-evidenced conclusion is not having a shot at people in other family structures, but a matter of honesty in acknowledging what is known. This is neither a trivial matter nor a secondary consideration in the debate about marriage.
Should marriage be seen as just a matter of romantic love between adults with that love recognised by government, with no need for children to come into it?
Or is marriage a relationship between adults that has a natural and essential connection with the possibility of family?
If reducing marriage to just being looked at as a romantic relationship between adults, as if it had no implications for children at all, is likely to lead to worse outcomes for future generations of Australian children, then I would argue that this is a compelling reason for NOT changing marriage in that way.
In my view, marriage is inherently a two-dimensional relationship; it unites two adults in a special way and it provides a uniquely positive environment for raising children. Both dimensions matter.
People in favour of change have relied heavily on the use of the word "equality". They argue that equality in this case means that same sex relationships should be treated in the same way as heterosexual relationships.
But I would point out that being treated as equal doesn't mean being treated the same.
We have separate men's and women's events in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games for good reason. Because men and women are physically different.
How "equal" would it be if Betty Cuthbert, Cathy Freeman, Dawn Fraser and the like had had to compete against the male athletes of their day? How many gold medals would they have won if they had had to do so? Is anyone proposing that we abolish the separate gender competitions for athletes today?
And when society provides special care for the elderly in aged care facilities or for the very young in child care centres we don't expect the two groups to be treated in the same way for them to be deemed equal. The facilities and arrangements reflect their different needs.
Nor would it be "equal" to do away with disabled parking spaces or access ramps and treat everybody the same when trying to access parking spots in shopping centres or getting in and out of buildings. Treating some people as equals actually can mean treating them differently.
In the case of marriage, it is biology that dictates (not the government, not the churches or anyone else) that only heterosexual couples can conceive children naturally. That's why marriage has always been seen as a uniquely man woman relationship.
People in same sex relationships can be, and are, treated equally in Australia in the 21st century, but those relationships are simply not the same as marriage.
In the first decade of this century dozens of laws at state and federal level in Australia were amended to ensure that there was no longer any discrimination against same sex couples in a wide range of fields, including inheritance, workers compensation, leave entitlements and many others. This marked out Australia as being distinct from other countries where the argument about the definition of marriage also involved arguments based on access to such entitlements.
In Australia there is already "equality". I don't believe that means we all have to be the same.
Because of the real benefits marriage can continue to deliver for Australian children for as long as it is understood as a relationship that includes an inherent link with children, I believe the community and nation will be better off if we vote "No".
Obviously it's OK for each person to form their own opinion on this.
And that means it is OK to vote "No" if that's your view.
Author: Kevin Conolly
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