In defence of gay marriages, and ending bad straight ones
The twin debates currently underway over marriage in Australia have at their core an arrogant and probably homophobic presumption that a miserable heterosexual marriage trumps a spectacularly happy fruity one.
Those who advocate the sanctity of marriage are unwittingly undermining the institution by arguing, on the one hand, that it should be harder for desperately unhappy couples to end their marriage, while also denying the wishes of couples who would be at their happiest if they were allowed to get married.
As a married person of some years, the whole issue leaves me cold, as marriage is the best example of an intensely private arrangement which is subjected to a raft of presumptuous external rules.
I’ve never really enjoyed wedding ceremonies and have always regarded them as a ritualised public display which couples must endure to satisfy imposed expectations, not just of society but also of family - the very relatives who often give couples the first ding-dong argument of their relationship over something as trifling as seating arrangements, or the fact that a dear friend has to be cut from the reception to make way for Great Aunty Ethel.
The idea that your marriage is the happiest day of your life is also absurd, unless your idea of happiness involves organising something as taxing as the Normandy Landing and as expensive as the Sydney Olympics. And surely the intensity of the day you both realise that you are in love trumps the theatrics of a wedding, the poor flood-sweating groom standing there in some musty tuxedo as his soon-to-be wife arrives, eventually, in a silk-and-chiffon Sposabella rip-off held together with hundreds of hairpins.
All this aside the defenders of marriage - many of whom are religious purists - are steeling themselves for two battles.
The first involves the review of the Family Law Act which will examine, among other things, whether it has become too easy for couples to give up on their marriage.
It’s an issue well worth examining, especially, of course, where children are involved.
And they often are - of the roughly 48,000 marriages which end in divorce every year (on the latest, 2007 figures) about half involve dependent children.
The harrowing nature of divorce, the gradual breakdown of relations in the home, the usually bitter subsequent legal fight, future fights over custody, maintenance, time-sharing of the kids with new partners…it’s a hellish thing to countenance when kids are involved, and an argument can be made that anything which forces parents to have another go at saying their relationship for the sake of the kids is a welcome thing.
But there’s a couple of warnings that should be sounded.
There’s a risk that the most passionate advocates of “holy” matrimony will use this review to stop childless couples from chucking their marriage in because, quite simply, they just think they’ve married the wrong person.
That should be their right in a modern society. It’s ridiculous that, because of some biblical-based view, childless grown-ups should be compelled to maintain a dysfunctional (or even slightly uncomfortable or unhappy) relationship because the law reflects a prehistoric view that divorce is some kind of offence before God.
If you haven’t got kids, walking away from marriage for whatever reason is almost a victimless crime, and should be entirely your own business.
The other danger with the review of the Act is that the marriage purists might end up advocating such arduous obstacles for divorce by parents that we end up with an undesirable, even a dangerous situation whereby dependent children are trapped in a toxic, hate-filled environment, from which divorce would let them escape.
No amount of counselling will save many marriages, with or without kids. And it would be a rotten outcome if the review resulted in a blind adherence to the goodness of marriage, even if the marriage in question is doing continuing damage to children.
Then there’s the gays, as Daffid would put it.
Phil Coorey reported in the SMH today on a new push by the so-called Rainbow Labor grouping within the ALP to have gay marriage - rather than civil unions, regarded by many gay couples as the second-best option - listed for debate at this month’s ALP national conference.
Again, I’d divide this issue into the without-kids and with-kids category.
Labor’s current policy platform states that the party opposes any schemes which “mimic marriage or undermine existing laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman”.
This is the polite working of Paul Keating’s memorable line at Federal Cabinet that “two poofs and a cocker spaniel” does not a family make.
Why the hell not? If kids aren’t part of the equation, unless you’re so selfish that you want to maintain a hands-off-it’s-all-ours approach to an antique institution, it just seems prejudicial to deny gay couples the happiness and legitimacy they would derive from getting properly hitched.
It also belies a degree of insecurity that the sanctity of the institution would somehow be undermined by opening it up to gays and lesbians, as if you’re own buttoned-down marriage would be weakened by learning that those two friendly guys around the corner with the Rav-4 and the perfectly-sculpted Japanese garden had snuck off to the registry.
The kids issue is more complex, in so far as it involves much more controversial issues over donor parents, surrogacy, IVF - all the stuff that sends many people into a meltdown.
There have been a couple of cases where gay relationships involving children have soured spectacularly, the most dramatic being the Canberra lesbian couple who ended up suing their doctor when their IVF treatment resulted in twins instead of the one child they actually wanted.
I’m not sure if this shocking case actually said anything about their gayness - rather their self-interest in having an almost materialistic regard for a child as being some kind of fashion accessory, a phenomenon which has nothing to do with sexuality.
But for all the complexities and worst-case scenarios, any blanket denial on gay couples ever having children - be it through custody from an earlier, straight relationship which produced children or through some clandestine arrangement as a gay couple which resulted in kids - has at its core a fundamental hypocrisy.
And that is that there’s undoubtedly plenty of gay people out there who are more together, more balanced and more loving than a lot of neglectful or dysfunctional heterosexual parents, and that an arbitrary law based on outdated notions can only serve to entrench unhappiness, on both the gay and straight sides of the marital divide.
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