Continuing along a recent vein, this week The Australian published yet another opinion piece on the popular conservative wedge issue, Gay Marriage. However, the author, Michael Sexton, took a different tack to his contemporaries. Sexton offered no opinion or attacks on either side of the debate. There were no calls to tradition, no labelling of one side as antithetical to either Australian or modern (aka secular) values, no bitter complaints of an attempt to legitimize (what is unfortunately considered) a fringe lifestyle and group, no dalliances into homophobia, and no calls to legislate based upon one set of closeted morals or another. Sexton in fact seems to bypass the ugly highs and lows of the debate altogether. Instead, he focuses his ire on marriage itself, which he see’s as lacking, and suggests that Gay couples should skip involving themselves in such a feckless institution and instead make their formal declarations of love without it. Sexton relies on a simple argument to back this up. He posits that marriage has become almost irrelevant in modern life, as it no long fulfils its traditional (or what he sees as it’s traditional) functions. Namely those of providing “legitimacy” to children, defining who was entitled to inherit, and other similar legal protections and rights. He claims that as these functions of marriage have been usurped by a series of laws and social progressions recognising de facto relationships and children born out of wedlock etcetera, marriage no longer provides any service to society other than to “legitimise” relationships. A rubber-stamp if you will. And since marriage provides no benefits other than rubber-stamping love, and Homosexuals can achieve this feat without it, there is no reason for them to crave this institution. Or so Sexton argues.
To begin I must say that I largely agree with Sexton’s assessment of marriage’s role in modern Australia. Progress in our collective value system, which has been in turn reflected by the legal system, has indeed made marriage largely redundant as an institution outside of the enormous social credence given it. But to claim that something is practically irrelevant, is not, and has never been, an effective argument against wanting something so heavily prized. Furthermore, if the whole point is legitimization, a civil union hardly cuts mustard. Bigger and grander are the order of the day when it comes to the consummation of love, as evidenced by the extraordinary extravagance lavished by people on their “special day”. Formal marriage has history, legitimacy and clout that Civil Unions cannot hope to replicate anywhere in the near future. Civil Unions are the relationship equivalent of America’s famous three-fifths clause, they are at least finally being recognised, but not as equals. Homosexual couples are also very likely to be surrounded by those who are married. Depending on their age and social standing, chances are that their family and friends either are, were or are actively looking to get married. Why should they settle for, or pursue, anything less than what the people closest to them take for granted? If marriage has been relegated to little more than providing legitimization, why should they accept anything less than full legitimization?
Due to the increasingly stringent paywall over at The Australian I am unfortunately unable to find a free version of Sexton’s article to replicate.