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Is gay marriage's promise illusory?

By Mark Christensen - posted Thursday, 23 May 2013

It's fabulous to see politicians wanting to philosophize, to grapple "with deep questions of life, sexuality and faith". Kevin Rudd is also to be commended for documenting his intellectual travails. The only downside was his thoroughgoing lack of logic.

The shift by our former Prime Minister on same sex marriage was largely emotive, caused by recent contact with a gay, Christian political staffer who would one day "like to get married to another bloke", the growing tide of public opinion and a desire for his family's approval. Perhaps now, Thérèse will cease with her "there, there darling you'll get over it one day" looks from across the kitchen table.

Ask special interest groups like same sex marriage advocates what their cause is about, and most will resort to the principle of equality. Very few, however, take the time to define what this actually means.


Two elements present themselves.

First, there's the political conviction. Equality involves membership to a particular group. If I am on the same team, then we're all technically equal. Sounds simple enough, but it's not.

For a team to be a team, it must define itself as something less than the whole. Being a Queenslander is significant because it excludes those from other states, most especially New South Wales.

Marriage, like all other institutions, is necessarily discriminatory. Yes, it's possible to increase its limits by putting the same footy jerseys on everyone, but this will, by implication, result in it being less meaningful. While still falling short of true equality.

The other popular argument is a moral concern. Everyone being on the same team will, the theory goes, facilitate complete acceptance of homosexuals within the wider community. We're in like jerseys now, so let's just all ignore pointless sexual distinctions. People will come to be convinced there is nothing special about gays getting hitched, and will thus treat them like anyone else.

Again, this line of thinking overlooks very simple realities about human nature.


We're all familiar with situations, either in popular film or from direct experience, where outsiders are consciously given the chance to belong to the broader group. The sporting coach tosses the ball to the geek or a girl on the sideline, they triumph and we're all reminded of our common humanity. Far from being diminished, the institution becomes more momentous.

In these examples, however, the counter-discriminatory intervention amounts only to an opportunity, never a guarantee. The individual or minority group must still earn the respect of others by putting the team before their own self-interests. At some point, the marginalised renounce the need for a leg-up.

My reading of the opposition to gay marriage - along with a bunch of other progressive agendas - is that many believe minorities want it both ways.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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

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