My response to the campaign against same-sex marriage

Love is love

As I said in the previous post, to me the YES case in the same-sex marriage postal vote is largely based on love, acceptance and justice, while the NO case is largely based on fear, exclusion and poor logic. Much of the NO campaign is attempting to shift the focus from whether two people of the same-sex should be allowed to marry, by attempting to make people afraid of the potential consequences of marriage equality.

I’ve seen four main arguments against same-sex marriage.

  1. Fears that same-sex marriage is bad for children
  2. Fears that same-sex marriage will restrict religious freedoms
  3. Fears that same-sex marriage will lead to programs like Safe Schools or other programs “promoting” homosexuality
  4. The desire to preserve traditional or religious notions of marriage.

Let’s have a look at each of them.

Fears that same-sex marriage is bad for children

There is little credible evidence that children of same-sex couples are worse off than children of heterosexual couples. In 2013, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (a very credible research and policy body with no vested interests) found that:

Overall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.

But regardless of this, the reality is that same-sex couples can already legally have children (by birth or adoption) and this is unlikely to change. If we want the best for children; which is better? That these families of same-sex couples have the same recognition as other families, or that their families be considered flawed and their parents denied the same recognition as other couples?

Some of my friends on Facebook have shared or liked a post that asks (amongst others) the following questions about same-sex marriage:

  1. Is It “Equality” if you force some kids to miss out on their Dad?
  2. Is It “Loving” to destroy the primal love between mother and baby?

Same-sex marriage is not going to change the ability of same-sex couples to have children. If people believe that children should have their mum and dad would they also advocate for the banning of divorce? Do they believe that a woman in a violent relationship should stay in the marriage for the sake of the children?  There are many situations where children do not live with their natural birth parents. Maybe that is not the ideal, but it is reality, and many, many children still thrive because of a loving, nurturing environment.

What is most important to children is that they are raised in a stable environment with love and support. The structure of the family is far less important. There is no doubt that the children of a loving, stable same-sex couple are better off than children of a heterosexual couple where there are high levels of conflict, instability and inconsistency.

My experience suggests that the public commitment of marriage can help with stability of a relationship, so I want children of same-sex couples to have the same support.

Fears that same-sex marriage will restrict religious freedoms

I accept there are legitimate concerns about religious freedom and that there are complicated dilemmas involved. At the moment ministers and priests do not have the religious freedom to marry same-sex couples, and same-sex couples do not have the religious freedom to be married before God and the State, but these are not the religious freedoms opponents of marriage equality are concerned about.

The right to marry is a more important freedom that having the freedom to say you don’t want to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. There are no serious calls for churches to be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. While I hope churches show the love and acceptance they often preach and will be happy to give their blessing to same-sex marriages, I do not believe they should be forced to.

I do think it is complicated and it is not a clear cut issue. How far should religious freedoms go? Should religious groups be above the law? Should we allow the killing of adulterers because of a narrow reading of the Bible or Koran? Should pacifists be able to refuse military service or to pay taxes towards the military because of their religious views? Should people be allowed to discriminate against Jews because of religious beliefs? Clearly there are limits to religious freedoms and there will be grey areas.

But religious freedom is a separate issue to marriage equality. We need to explore how we can protect both. Unfortunately, the current debate has been quite polarising and has not be conducive to compassionate dialogue where we can calmly discuss the issues involved. We do need to hear the concerns of people who are afraid of losing their religious freedom (event though I can’t get it out of my head that they want the freedom to discriminate against others and to deny them the same rights they enjoy).

It does annoy me that it was social and religious conservatives who resisted parliament getting on with approving same-sex marriage and argued for a plebiscite, but they are now calling for a NO vote because it isn’t clear how religious freedoms will be protected. Both questions should have been decided at the same time through parliamentary processes.

Fears that same-sex marriage will lead to programs like Safe Schools or other programs “promoting” homosexuality.

The Safe Schools debate is a red herring. I know there are people who have concerns about the Safe Schools program (a program promoting tolerance of GLBTI children in schools) but I can’t comment because I don’t know enough about it. I don’t trust some of the sensational reporting but can accept there were problems with it and that in some schools it was not introduced well.

But these programs were happening before same-sex marriage and such programs will continue regardless of the outcome of the postal vote. The questions raised by the Safe Schools program are “What is appropriate sex education?” and “How should we support LGBTI children?”

It isn’t: “Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?”

We don’t ban scripture in classrooms just because there are some scripture teachers and programs that have inappropriate material and are too extreme. We also would not ban religious marriage because it might make teaching scripture in schools more likely.

The desire to preserve traditional or religious notions of marriage

Marriage is not an unchanging institution. Laws change regarding who can or cannot marry. In some countries and states of USA, my marriage would be illegal. It is only relatively recently that divorced people were allowed to marry in some countries. Notions of what constitutes marriage evolve.

Even though I had a religious upbringing and was actively involved in the Church as a young adult, I am now an atheist and do not want to get into discussion about how Christians should view same-sex marriage. I will say my 91 year old father, who is a Uniting Church minister, voted YES because the vote is asking whether the State should recognise same-sex marriage, not whether the Church should recognise same-sex marriage. There can clearly be biblical arguments to support same-sex marriage and even some people who hold a “classical Christian view of marriage” are voting YES, but is isn’t my intention here to challenge people’s religious beliefs.

Even though I don’t agree, a belief that marriage should be between a man and woman is the most legitimate argument against same-sex marriage. So many of the other arguments are about shifting the debate from whether same-sex relationships should have the same legal recognition as heterosexual relationship. As a nation, our attitudes toward same-sex relationships are changing and it is inevitable that same-sex marriage will finally be legalised.

I hope that people who cannot support same-sex marriage because of their religious beliefs but recognise that this is not a postal vote about religion, will consider abstaining rather than forcing their beliefs on to other people.

Yes, people have the right to say NO, but it isn’t loving and it will only create a small delay. I hope we can quickly move on from this debate and focus on how we can best support loving relationships between couples and nurture strong families regardless of their form.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Why I am voting YES in the same-sex marriage postal vote
  2. In some countries (and USA states) our marriage is illegal
  3. An open letter to students about the postal survey on same-sex marriage
  4. Some good articles/links – same-sex parents
  5. The benefits of marriage – gays need not apply?
  6. Parenting for a better world

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Social change and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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