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Gay marriage: a lawyer's response to the doctors' concerns

By Costa Avgoustinos - posted Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dear Doctors for the Family,

As you are well aware, doctors hold high esteem in our society and so when they form an alliance and partake in a debate their point of view is treated with reverence. As a lawyer, I do not hold society's high esteem (fair call, society). But I do have a knack for sniffing out flawed arguments. With that being the case, I would like to set my nose to your letter to the Senate on Marriage Equality, dated 28 March 2012.

Firstly, your assertion that 'children who grow up in a family with a mother and father do better in all parameters than children without' is misleading. You credit this finding to Professor Parkinson who, sick of his work being misused by anti-gay marriage advocates, has clarified that his report 'did not engage in any criticism about same-sex relationships of any kind.' If anything, his comparisons were between the wide variety of straight parenting combos – divorced parents, step-parents, bickering parents, long-distance parents, and so forth. It was not sexuality-specific. Why would you rely on this research, which does not set out to compare straight and gay parents, when there is a plethora of research, which does? Perhaps because you are aware that that research shows that there is no difference between the wellbeing of children whether raised by gays or straights. Indeed, there is research suggesting that children of lesbian couples fare better overall than those of straight couples (which I guess suggests the problem is simply men, amiright ladies?).


Secondly, you make an argument that legalising gay marriage will 'normalise' homosexuality and this has undesirable knock-on effects. One knock-on effect you purport is the negative health consequences for 'our children' because gay men have higher rates of HIV and syphilis than straight men and women. The point you are making here is unclear. Are you suggesting that the normalisation of homosexuality will lead to more children engaging in homosexuality? That is not how it works. I could point to studies to prove this point, but you could more simply survey yourself: assuming you are heterosexual, are you having heterosexual sex because it is normalised? Or because you have a sexual desire to do so? Conversely, is the thing stopping you from having gay sex the fact that it is not normalised? Or is it simply because you have no sexual desire to have gay sex? In short, it is your sexual inclinations that will determine who you have sex with, not how accepted that sexual practice is in society.

The problematic thing with your logic is the generalisation that all gays are living an STD-ridden, 'unhealthy' lifestyle. Gays all live different lifestyles. You can be gay and have a tonne of sex or none at all or anything in between. Why should all gay men be deprived the right/privilege of marriage because some in their ranks have STDs? As doctors do you think it is right that rights/privileges be stripped away because of a person's medical condition? And wait a second. Why have you completely left lesbians out of your analysis? They make up half of the gay population, the population you are critiquing! Perhaps it is because lesbians have low STD levels and it does not fit your narrative. If you wish to advocate that 'our children' should engage in low STD-risk sex, lesbian sex is as safe as it gets. Why are you not advocating for this? On a different bent, maybe if marriage was available (and thus, monogamy was promoted) there would be less spread of STDs in the gay (male) community and we would save more lives. Surely that is a goal worthier of an alliance of doctors.

Your final argument is that you fear your freedom of speech will be compromised due to the 'normalisation' of homosexuality in society. The gay community understand this fear well. Gays have been beaten and bloodied for decades when trying to express their point of view in such debates. And it speaks to the soundness of their arguments (and their bravery) that they have not only held their ground, but won some. This did not happen overnight. People have come around to supporting gay rights because of decades of analysis, scientific/social/historical/medical research and vigorous (and civil) debate. This is not a travesty of the democratic process. It is precisely the opposite. It shows the democratic process working properly.

Let's be clear, you still have just as much freedom to discuss these things as possible. You have not been saddled with anywhere near the dangers the gay community have faced in expressing their point of view. Both you and pro-gay rights forces have entered the marketplace of ideas and argued your case. You have lost ground, they have gained it. If you feel you have less ability to state your opinion without a barrage of informed people showing you facts and figures and research proving you wrong, that is not an abomination. That is the system at work.

Maybe you sense this loss of ground, and part of the reason you are seeking more time and space and freedom to continue keeping this debate alive is strategic. That is, the longer the debate rages on, the longer the status quo (where gay marriage is still illegal) can stay in place for that much longer. Maybe all of this is just you stalling for time?

If you want your opponents to respect your freedom of speech, do not use your freedom of speech to muddy the debate with distorted facts, untrue generalisations and the misuse of others' research. If these kinds of arguments are all you can bring into the marketplace of ideas, it gives your opponents little choice but to assume that Doctors for the Family is no more than bigotry dressed up in a lab coat.



Costa Avgoustinos

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About the Author

Costa Avgoustinos is a law academic at the University of Technology, Sydney. On the side, he blogs at Pop Culture and the Third World and tweets @popthirdworld.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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