Usually I avoid the comments sections of such opinion pieces, not wanting to get facepalming bruises. This time, I thought it might be interesting to get at least an anecdotal whiff of public opinion. A surprising number of comments were against marriage equality. This served as a reminder that it can be easy to underestimate how many people don’t agree with what seems to you as the obviously right answer.
What was encouraging was the almost total lack of “classic” arguments against gay marriage. There was pretty much no “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”, “I find anal sex is icky”, “gays recruit children” and so on. I think this shows that even the bigots agree that such shit won’t fly — and will reframe their arguments.
Of course these “sophisticated” arguments aren’t much better; the veneer of respectability is pretty thin. If Intelligent Design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo, these are often a case of bigotry in a cheap tuxedo. However, they might be more damaging these days than the “classic” arguments. They don’t appear as obviously bigoted to many undecideds and hence will probably have more longevity — as it becomes more and more embarrassing to whip out your “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” in conversation. For this reason, it’s useful to take a look at some of these more closely.
Australia doesn’t want it
On the high-minded side, of course it shouldn’t matter. Basic human rights shouldn’t be subjected to the whim of popular opinion. If a white majority wanted to take away the vote from non-whites, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t matter. Getting back to realpolitik though, public opinion matter here as a matter of fact. Which makes this argument very shortsighted.
Regardless of any current quibbles with “politically correct poll skewing”, Australia will want marriage equality, and soon. Younger generations that are much likely to want it are replacing more conservative generations (see a US trendline here). To ignore such a clear trend, you’d have to be completely blinded by wishful thinking. This would therefore only be an argument to delay gay marriage by a short period. Taken at face value, it would mean someone will change their mind when support goes to (say) 60%. This is unlikely making the argument disingenuous.
This is a move by a special interest group/people with a personal stake in the outcome
Also when discussing the 1967 referendum, it would have been sooo special interest to ask the opinion of Indigenous Australians, right? It’s not like those who are denied rights have some special viewpoint on how this affects them. No, it’s the people who’ve thought about an issue in their spare time, and aren’t affected by it at all, who have the only meaningful point of view. Because, you see, they’re objective.
This is also reminiscent of recent statements by US Republicans that Obama won because too many people want ‘stuff’. It’s almost like it’s shameful to want something out of politics because that somehow “taints” your motivations. Of course this only applies to luxury items like healthcare or basic rights. If certain other people want economic policies that will benefit them to the tune of billions, or want to impose their religious beliefs on others, they’re not benefitting at all — that’s just for society’s good.
Marriage shouldn’t be controlled by the state anyway/we should all just have civil unions
Funny how people that say this aren’t actually forming their own movement to have all marriages turned into civil unions. Instead, they’re arguing against equality. Of course this wouldn’t fly in any other case. If someone said “I’m against the baby bonus so I think it’s perfectly fine for the government to deny it to Jews because then there’ll be less payouts of the baby bonus,” it would be obvious that this person’s gone wrong in a big way. The only way this argument would work is if you thought marriage was so incredibly bad that preventing any marriage was important enough to override concerns about discrimination. But even if you’re staunchly against the institution, that’s just bullshit.
Civil unions with equal legality are enough, the rest is a meaningless symbolic difference
I’d bet that very few people who think symbolic differences around discrimination are “trivial” have actually been discriminated against. In fact most forms of discrimination involve symbolic differences, and sometimes only those. The Montgomery bus boycott was certainly not about the physical or financial inconvenience of having to sit at the back of public buses.
The distinction between marriage and civil unions is also not as meaningless as this argument would have. A great example was mentioned in the legal ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8. From the ruling: “A letter [was] sent by the California Secretary of State to registered domestic partners in 2004 informing them of upcoming changes to the law and suggesting dissolution of their partnership to avoid any unwanted financial effects.” Now, the Secretary of State thought he was doing people a favour and it’s unlikely that he intended any discrimination. Still, can you imagine a government official suggesting couples get divorced for financial benefit? Even differences that seem “only” symbolic become differences in how citizens are treated.
This issue is wasting time/resources
Marriage equality would not be expensive to implement. The biggest resource that’s being used is the time on public debate. But the only reason the debate is being drawn out is because of bigoted and illogical arguments against gay marriage. So, some people are being obstructionist and then saying “we’re wasting time on this issue”. This is very similar to the argument that children should (somehow) be made not be gay because they will face a lot of discrimination in life. Who will be discriminating against those kids? Why, the people making that very argument (and possibly their children who have caught their parents’ bigotry) of course!
There are more important things to focus on
This another example of a gambit I’ve posted about recently: the shut up about everything all the time unless what you have to say is HITLER! The people making this claim are unlikely to practice it with any consistency, making the whole thing disingenuous. If you want to give this a proper test: take an issue that someone cares about, think of something that you could argue is more pressing (world health, world hunger and food security, global warming) and tell them they should shut up and yield their issue to the one you suggested. Then, observe the results — or better yet, run like hell.
Also, if you think reducing prejudice and discrimination is not directly related to issues like global health, world hunger and global warming, you need to read the news a bit more. Either way, the argument requires accepting the values of the person making the claim as having some special position. Again, it’s easy for someone not being discriminated against to consider gay marriage a secondary matter. Especially if they also see themselves as objective.
Marriage is a coercive/patriarchal/bourgeois institution and the LGBT community shouldn’t want it
Not being a member of the LGBT community, I can’t say what it should want. What I can say is that gay marriage is probably a lot more than an issue for cookie-cutter-suburban-white-cis-able-bodied-educated-middle-class-people. A good piece arguing that marriage equality is more radical than people think is Protect Traditional Marriage!. Reed thinks the claims that nothing will be different aren’t true and it’s actually the opponents of equality who have it right. Things may change a lot more, but that’s a good thing.
Gay marriage means that people will be born into a world where relationships of any gender combination are on legally-equal footing. By the time a generation passes, opponents of equality will be seen as little different from opponents of interracial marriage. This, combined with the social value of marriage, may mean that gender might be seen quite differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if gay marriage undermines all sorts of traditional gender boundaries we wouldn’t have predicted. And that’s a good thing.
The “sophisticated” arguments may not be better but they are important. The more people take these head-on, the sooner the day will come when we need not be embarrassed for Australia.