The Senate just voted against an amendment recognising same-sex marriages performed overseas, in countries far more enlightened than ours.
The vote was 28-44. Overwhelming.
And one of the most mean-spirited votes I’ve seen. If ever there was a vote that showcased spite and prejudice, this was one.
The prejudice was easy to see. All the usual arguments – marriage is between a man and a woman, ’twas ever thus, talk fast and loud and make sure no one realises we only defined it as such in 1984 – with a hefty dollop of pseudo-Christian jingoism. Yes, pseudo-Christian. When more and more Christians are supporting marriage equality, when queer clergy are ordained, when church spokespersons acknowledge they cannot dictate to those not of their faith, appeals to the idea that Australia is a quasi-theocracy are revealed for what they really are – convenient rubbish.
We’re a secular country. We always have been. We even have Constitutional provisions to prevent us from becoming ruled by any given religion. That’s a good, and necessary thing – and it doesn’t only protect those who hold no religious belief. It protects everyone.
But this is an old argument. Any time someone dares to suggest that marriage equality in any form is desirable, the religious argument is trotted out, looking increasingly tattered. In today’s debate, the most objectionable comments came from West Australian Liberal Senator Dr Chris Back.
He asserted that the only reason – the only reason – this debate was occurring, was in order to prevent the Opposition from thoroughly debating ‘important’ legislation. Important. Talk about a slap in the face.
Just what was this important legislation? Well, he mentioned the education reforms – and those are important, sure. The claim that debating recognition of same-sex marriages made overseas would significantly harm debate on education, however, simply does not follow. For Senator Back, though, it was undeniable.
As if attempting to reduce the issue to a mere annoyance wasn’t enough, Back apparently decided that mockery would be a fine way to argue, and invited the Chamber to join him. He painted a picture of two (presumably) lesbians in their wedding dresses crying as their Parisian marriage was ignored by Australian law – as though that was something funny.
He also made the utterly ridiculous argument that we wouldn’t deny women the vote just because Saudi Arabia does, or do away with speeding laws because European autobahns don’t have speed limits.
And then he had the audacity to accuse supporters of the amendment of engaging in propaganda – scare tactics, emotive argument, ad hominem argument, and mindless repetition.
Uh, Senator Back? You just described your own side’s tactics. Oh, except you forgot the lies. Lies about the Marriage Act, lies about the effect of same-sex marriage on children, lies about virtually everything in this debate – including the increasing number of Australians who support marriage equality.
Perhaps the result of the final vote shouldn’t have come as a surprise. With Labor allowing a conscience vote, and the Opposition firmly against, the only way it could have succeeded was if a significant number of Liberals crossed the floor.
I would, however, like to congratulate Senator Sue Boyce, who defied her party both on this amendment, and on an amendment to end discrimination against LGBTI people (especially couples) in aged-care facilities.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that the result of this vote was, as I wrote earlier, entirely mean-spirited.
Think about it. If the amendment had passed, who would have been hurt?
Heterosexual couples? Hardly. They wouldn’t even have to compete for a date with a marriage celebrant.
Children? How? If they’re the kids of a same-sex union, then their parents are just as married as the next kid at school.
Society? Please. More committed, legally recognised marriages with all the obligations and protections of those solemnised in Australia actually stabilise social groups.
Oh, wait. I know how recognising a same-sex marriage made overseas might be harmful.
Our kids might ask awkward questions.
‘Mum, if Johnny’s Dads got married in New Zealand, how come they’re not married here?’
‘Say, Dad, did you know Angie’s Mums are married, but only in some countries? How weird is that?’
‘Mum, you know how you and Dad and Aunty Jess and Aunty Jan got married on holiday? Why are you allowed to be married here, but not them?’
That’s what this comes down to – a fear that, if we do recognise the marriages made overseas between same-sex couples, that even more people will start to question the utterly arbitrary laws that discriminate against marriage equality in general. Currently well over 60% of Australians support equality, and that number is only rising.
This is a shameful day for Australia. Extending our recognition of marriages made overseas would be such a simple thing. It would hurt no one; in fact, it would only increase both happiness and social stability. It would show us to be a nation that is both compassionate and fair-minded, able to extend our congratulations to even more of our citizens for choosing to formalise their loving commitment to each other.
Instead, our elected representatives showed themselves – yet again – to be narrow-minded, prejudiced, manipulative and hard-hearted.
Australia falls further and further behind the rest of the world every day when it comes to social justice. Today was one more example.
What happened in the Senate today probably won’t even make the evening news broadcasts, which in itself is disgraceful. And the majority of those who voted to deny same-sex couples even this most basic of recognition probably won’t have any trouble sleeping tonight.
They should. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. And they should be made aware of just how badly their blithe politicking affects the very people they claim to represent.