Our oldest son and his girlfriend are engaged.
The word “soulmates” popped up in conversation occasionally. They are two very special people, the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
The word “marriage” would also occasionally be mentioned, as they have been living together for several years in a house they share with their mortgage and their pets. People on the outside looking in could be excused for thinking they were already married.
As parents we love and cherish them, their marital status not nearly as vital as their happiness, but we are extremely chuffed they have reached this milestone.
Human nature being what it is, milestones in our lives are marked with a ceremony. From ancient times birth, coming of age, marriage and death are all marked with a coming together of family and friends, to celebrate and console.
Of these ceremonies marriage has evolved in its meaning and application the most. Marriage between a man and a woman has been around for millennia, but the introduction of love into the equation is a recent addition.
Arranged marriages, strategic marriages between families, marriage between cousins and polygamy were hallmarks of marriage for centuries. All the while latitude was given to men to be promiscuous and unfaithful. The notion of the nuptials of two people joined in love and companionship is barely a few hundred years old at most.
Marriage equality between a man and a woman is a recent concept too. Marriage was the providence of the man to grant and control.
Gender based roles – he the bread winner, she the little woman at home popping out babies – only become outmoded with the rise of female liberation in the 1960s and 70s.
The role of religion in marriages has also become outmoded, with civil celebrants now performing 75 per cent of marriage ceremonies. Standing in church and having the bride promise to love, honour and obey is understandably no longer common. Equality between partners has replaced the church influenced male-centric imbalance.
With this shift to equality in heterosexual marriages and the decline of the influence of organised religion, the way has been opened for same-sex marriage to be accepted and legitimised.
It is not news that more than 70 per cent of Australians support same-sex marriage. And we know Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world, including religiously conservative countries such as Italy, Ireland and United States, on getting resolution on marriage equality through the Parliament.
In 2004, John Howard announced his plan to change the Marriage Act to “a union between a man and a woman”, and the legislation was in the Parliament the same day. He said he wanted to “make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation”.
Yet here we are, 13 years of delaying tactics later, with the Government ignoring both Howard’s notion of Parliamentary action and the tide of public opinion by holding a postal survey managed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This is flawed on legal, financial and common-sense levels, and is a sop to the hard-right members of the Party who believe the sanctity of “traditional marriage” under attack.
Ultra-conservatives use the “slippery slope” argument – legalising same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy, have negative impacts on children with same sex parents and the destruction of society as we know it. This is proven to be completely false.
The vast majority of studies into the outcomes for children find that children’s wellbeing is the result of the quality of parenting, not the parental number or gender. A 2013 study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies concluded that “same-sex parented children did as well emotionally, socially and educationally as the children of heterosexual couples”.
In fact “traditional marriage” historically included polygamy, close relation marriages and the subjugation of women. Various coalition members and the anti same-sex marriage group Australian Marriage Alliance believe that marriage should not change from the way it has existed for millennia. Are they honestly advocating for marriage from the past era of male and church control?
In 2010 then Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked, “Homosexuality? How do you feel about that?” he responded with, “I’d probably say I feel a bit threatened… as so would many people.”
What are Mr Abbott (and the less than 30 per cent) so threatened by? What goes on in people’s private lives? Children being raised in a loving and nurturing situation? The continuing drift from religious influence? The injection of up to half a billion dollars into the Australian economy from same-sex weddings?
The basic human need for love and companionship will never change, and does not discriminate for gender. Marriage has changed, but does discriminate for gender. Failing to legislate for equality is last century thinking perpetuating last millennium prejudices. The world has matured and now it is time for legislators to do the same.
Our son and future daughter-in-law will get to stand in front of their family and friends and affirm their love and commitment. And that commitment will be recognised in law, and benefits will stem from that. Same-sex couples have no less a level of love and commitment and no less a desire for ceremony. Similarly they should have no less an entitlement to the recognition of that in the laws that benefit heterosexual marriage.
* Greg Smart lives and works in Dubbo, and is keen observer of current affairs.
By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.