In just a few weeks we will all have a chance to vote in the postal survey on whether marriage should be redefined in Australian law.
It’s a debate that touches many people at a deeply personal level, but for the myriad reasons that others have explained more eloquently than I could (some examples are here, here, here and here) I will be voting no.
To my mind, one of the most striking things about marriage is that it is a situation where the state – representing the community at large – actively intervenes in a private relationship and imposes significant responsibilities on the people in it.
That is, it invites them – if they consent – to publicly pledge that they will be faithful to one another, to the exclusion of all others, for life.
This kind of intrusion by the state in a very private matter of the heart needs serious justification. Without good reasons for getting involved (and imposing such onerous burdens), the default position should be for the state to stay out of our private relationships. I’m not sure why so-called libertarians don’t make more of this obvious point.
But in the heterosexual union there is a clear and unique reason for the state to get involved – the simple fact that when a man and woman have a sexual relationship, babies are the natural, inevitable consequence. This fact alone gives the state a rare justification for getting involved by encouraging lifelong permanence, fidelity and unity in that kind of relationship.
It keeps the family together, and that’s a good thing. It’s an intelligent social safeguard that is unnecessary and unwarranted for relationships that, by their nature, cannot lead to the creation of children.
Nothing is stopping people in other relationships from declaring their love and making the same kinds of promises – publicly or privately – but the state doesn’t have the same justification for getting involved.
To fail to see this is to be in denial about the facts of life.
Put simply: marriage as it stands makes sense; redefining it doesn’t.
It is also important not to be naive about the ways redefining marriage will inevitably curtail freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of religion.
I spoke about this more than a year ago in the NSW Parliament (you can read the speech here), commenting on the plight of Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania, who had been dragged before the Anti-Discrimination Commission for outlining the Catholic Church’s view of marriage in a publication for Catholic schools.
As I said in the speech, the view Bishop Porteous outlined was – and remains – in complete conformity with definition of marriage in Australian law today, yet he was dragged before the commission anyway. Let’s not be naive – if that’s how people who disagree with same-sex marriage are treated now, it is only going to get worse if marriage is redefined.
There’s one other question worth asking: why is it that the very same left wing activists who, for decades, decried marriage as the ultimate institution of patriarchal oppression now suddenly think it’s a great idea, and claim that redefining it won’t change a thing other than to allow same-sex couples to marry?
The answer, of course, is that there is a core of activists who know it will change the whole game – and that is the whole point.