Homosexual marriage demands should be left on shelf

By Christopher Pearson, commenting from Australia -- where there is some agitation from the Green/Left for homosexual marriage to be legalized

THE most obvious thing about arguments for same-sex marriage is their shallowness.

IN last Saturday's Focus, Paul Kelly wrote a memorable piece, taking issue with Labor senator Mark Arbib's suggestion that it's time for the ALP to support gay marriage.

"Why is it time?" Kelly asked. "Because the Greens are stealing Labor's votes, that's why. So Labor should cynically abandon its support for the foundational social institution, a move that will trigger a deeply polarising debate and brand Labor indelibly as a libertarian personal rights party ready to ditch any institution or principle. In the process, Labor will alienate permanently an important section of its base."

Kelly's analysis was in marked contrast to that of The Age's political editor, Michelle Grattan. She told ABC Radio National's Breakfast show this week that Julia Gillard would have to change tack on the subject, preferably sooner rather than later.

Mind you, she was talking to the show's presenter, Fran Kelly, whose agenda on same-sex issues is well known, and to some extent may have been framing her remarks accordingly.

Grattan's argument is the same sort of vulgar inevitabilism that she, Paul Kelly and the press gallery at large displayed on the outcome of the republican referendum. But Kelly at least has more of a feel for the values of blue-collar workers in the outer suburbs. As he says, Arbib's push to change the law on marriage "testifies to how politicians can be fooled by opinion polls and miss the bigger picture".

The most obvious thing about the arguments in support of same-sex marriage is their shallowness. The best Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young could manage last week was to remind us breathlessly that we are living in the year 2010, as though that settled the matter. The Greens' line that all loving couples deserve to be treated equally is just as specious.

Few have argued more consistently over many years than I have done that same-sex partners should get a fair deal on superannuation and other entitlements of that kind. Labor's reforms in the last parliament mean that couples are treated pretty much equally except in the matter of marriage.

But the few remaining privileges reserved for matrimony are there for sound, practical reasons.

Men and women tend to have different needs and priorities when they enter a mature sexual relationship.

Most men are not naturally disposed to be monogamous, for example. One of the purposes of marriage is to bind them to their spouses and children for the long haul and to give the state's approval to those who enter such a contract and abide by its terms.

Another of the purposes of marriage is to affirm that parenthood is a big, and in most cases the primary, contribution a couple can make, both to their own fulfilment and the public good.

It follows that societies which want to sustain their population size, let alone increase their fertility level, should positively discriminate in favour of stable, heterosexual relationships and assert the preferability of adolescents making a normal transition to heterosexual adulthood.

It should be obvious to unprejudiced observers that, while there are plenty of well-adjusted gays who manage to lead satisfying and productive lives, rational people do not of their own volition choose to be homosexual.

It should be equally obvious that those who, through whatever mixture of nature and nurture, end up at whatever age identifying as homosexual, bisexual or whatever, need to be protected from any kind of persecution.

Among the reasons the Greens are so keen on same-sex marriage is that they want to reduce the population and drive down national fertility. Their refusal to discriminate positively in favour of heterosexuality and uphold the distinctive value of normal marriage shows their political project yet again for what it is: a dead end.

Speaking of dead ends, some American bishops have recently given a persuasive account of why same-sex marriage has come to look like a modest reform. They put it down to a culture where contraception and abortion are so widely practised that the crucial differences between a fertile couple, a couple childless by choice and a gay couple have been largely obscured and each partnership is seen as morally equivalent. They also lay some of the blame on a UN version of entitlement, in which marriage could be reduced to an unqualified abstract right.

The blue-collar social conservatives of the outer suburbs inhabit a less theoretical world. They are often unapologetically tribal in outlook and their best hopes are often invested in their children.

Most parents on low wages routinely make sacrifices on their kids' behalf in ways middle-class couples seldom do these days. There is also still something self-sacrificial among many of them on marriage: the notion that it's hard work much of the time but worth the effort.

There is another core constituency, sometimes overlapping, who have been critical to Labor's victories in the past two elections. I'm talking about not just the Christian vote but the votes of people who are adherents of all the main, organised religions.

Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all take the institution of marriage very seriously. As things stand, Labor can normally count on a fair share of those people's votes. However, the electoral implications of giving them a faith-based reason for voting for the Coalition are obvious.

Perhaps Arbib should look beyond the Galaxy polling commissioned by an advocacy group, Australian Marriage Equality. A sample of 1050 found, after a prompt-question on gay marriage being introduced overseas, that 62 per cent supported changing the law.

Another 33 per cent were opposed and 5 per cent were unsure.

The Greens in triumphalist mode have claimed more support for their cause than these figures warrant.

Far more substantial polling comes from Roy Morgan's Single Source face-to-face surveys, which reach more than 50,000 people each year. His data uses proxy questions: Do you think homosexual activity is immoral and are you in favour of gays getting adoption rights?

Attitudes vary widely, of course, between the regions and the inner and outer suburbs, which is why Galaxy's 62 per cent in favour should be treated with caution.

The strongly negative territory included most of regional Queensland, traditional Labor turf comprising three western Sydney seats (Blaxland, Chifley, McMahon), three more in Sydney's southwest (Barton, Banks, Watson), some parts of suburban Melbourne (Lalor, Hotham, Bruce) and the north Tasmanian seats of Bass and Lyons.

Running the risk of alienating so much of your traditional support base, at this stage in federal Labor's history, is daylight madness. At least Gillard seems to have grasped that fact.

SOURCE. (Note: Christopher Pearson is himself homosexual)

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