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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Marriage - a rite for all

Marriage is an expression of love and commitment, not gender

Australia's same-sex marriage plebiscite is dead after Labor voted to block it. There'll be no funeral for it, but instead a celebration of its demise. Oh and we'll save $160 million in the process.

The plebiscite was originally promised by the feckless former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a disingenuous means of procrastination and shifting the decision making to someone else. The plebiscite  wasn't binding, so numerous conservative MPs stated that they wouldn't vote for marriage equality regardless of the outcome. These MPs clearly hadn't gotten the memo that they were elected to represent their constituency not their personal beliefs. The plebiscite therefore was a massive waste of time and money.

Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded to the blocking of the plebiscite by stating that marriage equality will not happen in the current term of parliament and in typical Liberal Party fashion, is blaming this on Labor because they voted against the plebiscite. It appears that Turnbull also didn't get the memo that parliament can vote on an amendment to the Marriage Act at any time. If Turnbull actually had the guts to stand up to the religious extremists in his party, he would allow a free vote on marriage equality which would likely see it accepted.

The idea of a plebiscite was ludicrous when there is only around 33,700 same-sex couples in Australia, representing approximately 1% of all couples in Australia(1). So for something that has no bearing on 99% of couples in Australia, why should the public even be asked about their view on this. It doesn't affect them.

Opponents of same sex marriage have argued all sorts of things as to why it shouldn't be legalised, including that marriage is a union in the eyes of God or that same sex marriages can't produce off-spring.

Churches conduct weddings, not marriages. Marriage isn't a rite of the church, is not exclusive to the church, nor is it made legal by the church. It's the State that makes a marriage legal. If marriage was the sole domain of the church, then atheists or people of other faiths wouldn't be able to marry.

Similarly, marriage isn't just about procreation, otherwise there'd be no point in people who are infertile getting married.

Marriage is about love and love isn't determined by gender. Both genders feel love and therefore there are those of the same gender who love each other. Why shouldn't they be allowed to express that love through solemnly swearing their commitment to each other and registering it formally with the State.

Marriage is about commitment. The sort of life-long commitment that people who are bat-shit crazy in love with each other like to make. The sort of life-long commitment that people like to make when they are beyond the bat-shit crazy in love stage and have realised that love is more than warm gooey feelings and hot sweaty romps in the hay; that love is a desire to be with someone forever, to care for them, enjoy them, protect them, not hurt them, grow with them, share life and everything that comes with that - good or bad. Commitment is clearly very important to people from all walks of life, hence the reason that every culture formalises marriage as an act of commitment.

We often hear that traditional marriage is a union between a man and woman. Well ... whose tradition? The Christian church? Even the bible talks of multiple variations of marriage, including polygamy, forced marriage, rape, and incest. (For more on this refer to the Ranting Panda article 'Church of the Poisoned Mind' published 14 February 2016).

The bible talks against divorce, yet the church and many Christians accept divorce. Ironically, a number of Christians who oppose marriage equality as being unbiblical ignore the fact that their own divorces haven't met the bible's criteria for divorce. And then there is remarriage which according to the bible, is tantamount to infidelity.

Marriage isn't about gender. This may be a newsflash for some, but homosexuality and all its iterations have been around for millennia. Funnily enough, the early church sanctioned marriage between same sex couples and performed marriage rites for them(2). In fact, both the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches sanctified dozens of same sex marriages in a ritual known as Adelphopoiesis, or 'brother-making'(3). This ritual would unite two people of the same gender, usually men, in a partnership akin to marriage. Some have argued that this isn't what brother-making was about, but historian John Boswell in his book, 'Same-sex marriage in pre-modern Europe', produced meticulous research and evidence that the unions were indeed of a sexual nature. Perhaps one of the most famous such same sex unions was of 3rd century Saints Sergius and Bacchus. A 10th century Greek text (prepared by Symeon the Metaphraste) provided a comprehensive list and description of saints and described Sergius as being the 'sweet companion and lover' of Bacchus(4).

Same sex couple, Saints Sergius and Bacchus
The attack on marriage equality and the concept of 'traditional' marriage is a relatively recent phenomena. Adelphopoiesis was practiced by the Catholic Church until the 14th century. The Eastern Orthodox churches practiced this until at least the 18th century. It was only in the 20th century that marriage equality became an issue for the church.

Unfortunately, the campaign against marriage equality tends to resort to dog-whistling by using outrageous claims and conflating irrelevant ideas. It is largely based on fear that the world as we know it will end, that heterosexual marriages are at risk, that it will destroy the family unit, that it will enable paedophilia, that it will be a slippery slope to allowing people to marry their pets.

If an opposite sex couple's marriage is threatened by a same sex marriage, then that couple has bigger issues than worrying about someone else's marriage.

Contrary to popular opinion, same sex marriage doesn't deny children the right to a family. There are around 6,300 children living in same sex couple families. The key word is family. They have parents. The most important thing to children is being loved and respected. The biggest threats to children are abusive environments or divorce in which they're taken from one or both parents. Some will argue that children should be raised with a mother and father. Firstly, I'd refer back to the issue of divorce which often denies children access to their biological parents. Secondly, children in same sex couple families are no worse off than children in opposite sex families(5).

Any claim that homosexuals also tend to be paedophiles is not borne out in reality. Numerous studies have been done into this and there has been 'no empirical evidence found that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to molest children'(6).

As for people marrying their pets? I challenge Senator Cory Bernardi or any others who postulate this outrageous claim to produce any evidence of this being legalised in any country. If you pardon the pun, it is dog-whistling at its worst and surely only the most gullible would believe this.

Arguments against same-sex marriage often stem from homophobia. The Christian Right may argue that it is not homophobic to oppose homosexuality because of bible scripture. However, when they start using fear-mongering in order to make their point, then they are being homophobic. They are clearly scared of legalising same-sex marriage based on the arguments they use against it.

There are dozens of countries which have legalised marriage equality, including New Zealand, Holland, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Interestingly, even though these countries have allowed same sex marriage for years, nothing has really changed apart from gay couples being allowed to marry. The sun still rises in the east and it sets in the west.

It's ironic that those opposed to marriage equality tend to describe themselves as pro-marriage or pro-family, yet they spend their time trying to prevent loving couples from marrying.

For all the doomsayers out there claiming that marriage equality would be a marital Armageddon, how can this possibly be so when there are only around 1% of the population who are in same sex relationships. Those relationships will continue to exist whether they are allowed to marry or not, so there will be no impact on society than already exists. The only change is that those who chose to, can have those relationships formally acknowledged by the State.

The government identified that homophobia is a major problem and is responsible for assaults, self-harm and suicide, particularly among young people. To counter this, the Safe Schools program was implemented. Disappointingly, a number of conservative Christians complained about this and elements of it were scrapped with the government stating they would not fund it beyond 2017(7). The hectoring behaviour of these so-called Christians demonstrates why the Safe Schools program is so necessary. Perhaps instead of gutting the program, the government could have looked at extending it into churches to reduce the incidence of bullying and discrimination in those institutions.

A study published by the National LGBTI Health Alliance found that 'discrimination and exclusion are the key causal factors of LGBTI mental ill-health and suicidality'(8). The continuing exclusion of marriage equality is a factor in the ongoing discrimination and bullying against LGBTIQ people. Acceptance and legalisation of same sex marriage will go a long way to assisting LGBTIQ people in being accepted and hopefully help reduce bullying and other forms of discrimination against them. If people are so concerned about the impact of same-sex marriage on families and children, then surely they should be taking all reasonable steps to reduce bullying, discrimination and hate-crimes against LGBTIQ people instead of opposing Safe Schools and marraige equality.

A recent Essential Poll revealed that 53% of Australian Christians are in favour of same sex marriage, 62% among members of other religions and 67% among those with no religion(9). A Fairfax Ipsos poll found that 70% of people support marriage equality(10), and a recent Essential Poll found that 62% now support marriage equality(11).

Rather than being driven by a few extreme ideologues, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could show some strength and allow a free vote in parliament on the issue. If parliamentarians are truly representing the electorate, they would legalise marriage equality in this term of parliament.

The world will not end, the sky will not fall down and families will not be destroyed.

Instead, more people will be able to express their love for each other through marriage.

There will no longer be a requirement to differentiate between opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage. It will simply be known as:



1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, '4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, July 2013 - Same Sex Couples', Accessed 18 October 2016.

2. James Neill, 'The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies', McFarland (3 October 2011 - digital edition).

3. John Boswell, 'Same sex unions in pre-modern Europe'. Fontana, New Ed Edition (1996).

4. Dennis O'Neill, 'Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for for Distinctive Peoples', iUniverse (3 February 2010).

5. La Trobe University, Jennifer Power, 'Kids of same-sex parents not worse off', 9 March 2016, Accessed 18 October 2016.

6. University of California Davis, Psychology, Professor Herek, 'Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation', Accessed 19 October 2016.

7. The Guardian, Lenore Taylor, 'Turnbull government unveils dramatic changes to Safe Schools Program', 18 March 2016, Accessed 19 October 2016.

8. Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney,

9. Australian Marriage Equality,'A majority of Christians support marriage equality' Accessed 19 October 2016.

10. Australian Financial Review, Fleur Anderson, 'Election 2016: Majority of voters would say yes in gay marriage plebiscite', 1 July 2016, Accessed 19 October 2016.

11. The Guardian, Gareth Hutchens, 'Support for marriage equality has grown since election, Essential Poll shows', 23 August 2016, Accessed 19 October 2016.

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