Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why Gay Marriage is Made an Issue

In a country as socially progressive as Australia, I find it bewildering that the prospect of extending martial rights to the homosexual population - a simple legislative move that robs no one of their own rights and has little to no economic implications - should even be the most minor of issues. In amongst debate on industrial relations, climate change, domestic violence and the influence of billionaires, there should not be a Bob Katter stirring up such wowserish hatred against a group simply asking for the same rights he has. But watching Q&A last week we can see that opposition to gay marriage does not just stem from bigots like Katter, but also from passive opposition from a considerable mass of the Australian population.

Everyone on this Q&A panel seemed disgusted over the advertisement put out by Katter's Australian Party which attacked Queensland LNP leader Campbell Newman for his support of gay marriage. Malcolm Turnbull seemed just as outraged as anyone else, saying "I am not troubled, I would not be troubled, if gay couples were able to have their relationships, their unions, termed marriage. But we in the Liberal Party will make a collective decision on this".

In other words, Turnbull supports gay marriage but is willing to tow the party line and vote against it. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party leadership lost Turnbull to the mad monk Tony Abbott and has grounded itself in the 1950s, again putting homosexuals on its hit-list. But it is this very passive attitude from someone like Turnbull which allows the bigots to call the shots and continue to deny homosexuals basic rights.

Turnbull also stated that opponents of gay marriage are not necessarily bigots or homophobic. I will surely grant him this point, as I know people with gay friends who still oppose marriage equality. But the point he misses is that the continued denial of marriage equality helps maintain homophobia as the bigots are not consistently challenged. In fact, many of the passive opponents will use the same arguments as the bigots, citing matters such as "definition" and "tradition". So long as these arguments are swallowed and not actively challenged, the bigots will have their way and maintain the level of homophobia that we have.

Gay marriage is made an issue because of its malicious opposition, not it's support. But it's continued absence in Australia is in part maintained by a passive population that is simply uncomfortable with change. Even though citizens like Turnbull "would not be troubled" with gay marriage, they will not put their foot down on the issue and fight passionately for it. There are some issues the fence-sitters should consider.

The first was raised by a questioner in the above video: suicide. The continued denial of rights to homosexuals makes them feel like second-class citizens; they feel unwanted, outcast and sometimes sub-human. It is no wonder their suicide rates are much higher. In fact, a 2009 study found that suicides and psychiatric disorders increased in states that denied gay marriage.

Marriage is also an institution that can bring stability and happiness to relationships. This seems to be recognised most by conservatives, yet they cite promiscuity in the gay community as a reason to deny them the institution. As Douglas Murray (a gay conservative) notes, marriage would be a great tool against an aspect of gay culture that so many conservatives are uncomfortable with:

Those who fear or dislike perceived aspects of gay life should particularly welcome gay acceptance into the marital fold. An aspect of male ‘gay life’ some heterosexuals claim to have a problem with is the perceived promiscuity. Whether this is in reality any more distinctive than among straight people, gay marriage offers a remedy, giving gays, like straights, a public and private path towards commitment. At a time when many heterosexuals are spurning the idea of marriage, here is a section of society positively lobbying for the right to respect and continue the institution. Perhaps gay marriage will encourage more straight people back on to the marital path?

Finally, the fence-sitters should recognise that arguments from "definition" and "tradition" are completely bogus. The "traditional definition" of marriage almost always takes a religious tone, and what a surprise that those who tout this argument are always religious fundamentalists. The "traditional definition" of marriage has not only been defined as between a man and a woman, but also as being for life. Ireland's constitution defined marriage as between a man and a woman for life as recently as 1995 when the country voted for change in a referendum. Would the fence-sitters argue for Ireland returning to the prohibition of divorce simply for matters of tradition? I doubt it.

I often hear Christian moderates say that while they have nothing against homosexuals and do not even necessarily see their lifestyles as sinful, they still oppose marriage equality for matters concerning tradition and respect for religious institutions. But tradition once dictated that homosexuals should be put to death, and religious institutions helped create that tradition. It is time to put these silly arguments aside, and religious moderates and fence-sitters should recognise that while gay marriage may not be something that everyone is entirely comfortable with, it is not worth opposing simply because they see any amount of change as undesirable.

And that really is the issue here: change. Humans are inherently resistant to change, and this helps explain why passive opponents of gay marriage, while not being prejudiced themselves, cannot actively support a move that would relieve so much harm from the gay community. It is time to recognise that the petty arguments from tradition just do not stack up against devastating issues such as gay suicide. It is time for the fence-sitters to join active supporters of marriage equality and shut the bigots up once and for all.