This article was published in The Age newspaper on 12 August 2008 because of a bill coming before the Victorian state parliament in which members may be able to have a conscience vote on the matter. The result was a flurry of letters, the first being from a religious homophobe the next day. The next two days produced some more letters, some supportive of Jacqueline Tomlins and some taking her and the first letter-writer to task by disagreeing with both of them on certain issues.
To date, Friday 15 August 2008, we know of two letters supporting Tomlins and decrying ongoing homophobia which have NOT been published by the newspaper. WHY ARE WE NOT SURPRISED?
IN COMING weeks, state MPs will be asked to examine their consciences in relation to a bill that has enormous implications for me and my family, and for many other families like mine. I have three children: a son who is five, confident and easygoing and who has just started school and loving it; a daughter, three, fun and feisty and desperate to keep up with her brother, and a baby, just one year old, smiling, happy and adorable.
I did not give birth to them, but I am their mother in every way imaginable and every day I feel blessed to have them in my life. I would die for them in the blink of an eye.
My family — my partner and our kids — is really not that different from any other family; our lives, our days look very much like anyone else's.
And yet we are treated very differently by the law. As the "non-biological" mother of my children, I have no legal relationship to them, nor they to me. They are not afforded the same legal protections as other children. If this bill — which will allow the female partner of the child's mother to be recognised as a parent of a child conceived using assisted reproductive technology — is passed, all that will change.
People believe all sorts of things about same-sex families: that we are undermining the concept of family, that we disadvantage our children by not providing parents of both sexes, that our children will be, at best, troubled and lacking a strong sense of identity, at worst, dysfunctional and delinquent. I know that none of these things are true, and I hope — for the sake of my kids — that enough of our politicians know it, too.
The changes under discussion were prompted by recommendations from the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which undertook extensive research and wide public consultation over four years. A summary of 20 years of empirical research included in the final report indicated that children raised by same-sex parented families do as well by all significant indicators as children raised by heterosexual parents.
As most people understand these days, it is the quality of parenting that matters, not the gender or sexuality of the parent.
Much is often made of the negative consequences for children of families without fathers — difficulties at school, self-esteem problems, potential criminality — but these arise from situations in which there has been family breakdown, often conflict and sometimes violence; there was a father who is now absent. This has no bearing on my functional, intact, two-parent family. The outcomes for my children will depend on nothing more than how well my partner, Sarah, and I provide for and parent them. Indeed, the report found that the only way children raised by same-sex parents were disadvantaged is by discriminatory attitudes and practices.
My children — and many others I know with same-sex parents — are being raised in a broad community of good friends and extended family; they have granddads, uncles and cousins and many other great men in their lives. And, in case you are wondering, they are as likely to be heterosexual as their friends with opposite sex parents.
The most interesting thing about all this for me — and this may come as a surprise — is that in five years of living as an out and open same-sex family, I have never directly or personally experienced any disrespect or ill-regard towards my family. The religious right and family values organisations are at great pains to tell us that "ordinary Australians" disapprove of my family, but do you know what? They don't.
The ordinary Australians we bump into on any given day — the day-care workers, the sports coaches, the supermarket staff, the teachers, neighbours and shopkeepers — do not have a problem with us as a same-sex family. They do not see dysfunction and disadvantage. They see three lively, happy, healthy children and two devoted parents. They see an ordinary family.
When I wait in my son's schoolyard at 3.30, the talk is of Auskick and lunch boxes, of play dates and parties. The other parents see what we have in common; how we differ is really no more than a curiosity. Corin has two Mums. Yup, he has. When they actually meet a same-sex family, most people feel the same and it's hard then to believe those things they've read in the newspaper or seen on television.
My hope is that when our MPs delve into their consciences next week, they remember that this vote is about children, plain and simple — actually, my children — and giving them the same legal protections other kids already have. If they support this bill, I will be able to get new birth certificates for all my kids. They will say: Corin Michael Nichols-Tomlins, Scout Eleanor Nichols-Tomlins, and Cully Eva Nichols-Tomlins have two parents. Doesn't actually sound like much does it? But trust me, it's everything.
I'M SORRY Jacqueline Tomlins (Comment & Debate, 12/8), but no matter how well you look after your lesbian lover's children, and how much you love them and they you, they are no more your children than the children of the wealthy are the children of their nannies, or those brought up in orphanages are the children of the nuns.
I am sure that, in these days of so-called equal opportunity, you will coerce the Government into falsifying birth records, but this will not alter the fact that it is impossible for a child to have two mothers and no father.
When a child grows up and wants to find out who he or she really is, will he or she consider it fair that his birth certificate carries not his or her father's name but the name of his or her mother's lesbian lover?
When a mother chooses to lie to her children, is it fair to demand that the rest of us support her lies? I'm sorry if this sounds like a personal attack, but you did argue from personal circumstances.Albert Riley, Mornington
At 81 I have read loads of rubbish in my time, but the homophobic letter from Albert Riley (13/08/08) plumbs the depths.
Riley attacks a lesbian mother because she is not the biological mother of her partner's children, stating that she "chooses to lie to her children".
Does he employ the same argument for hetero people who adopt children? Does he employ the same argument for people who partner with other people who have children, and adopt those children as their own?
These are only two instances of family variations which don't make liars out of the people concerned who are NOT the biological parents of those children.
But I suppose it is all right provided the people involved are heterosexual.
Homophobia is never very far below the surface and our politicians ensure it remains on the agenda as far as same-sex relationships are concerned.
The struggle will continue until we all have equal rights, not separate rights as in apartheid South Africa where it was "separate but equal"! Of course it never was!Mannie De Saxe, Lesbian and Gay Solidarity, Melbourne
IF YOU use Albert Riley's logic (Letters, 13/8), then those who adopt children are not really parents because they did not give birth to them. Goodness knows what he thinks about parents who have used donor sperm or eggs to create a child! I am guessing those children are not theirs either. They must be on extended babysitting duties.
Mr Riley, it takes more than biology to be a parent. Parenting is about loving, nurturing and supporting a child for life. It is about developing a relationship with them that extends beyond day-to-day care. Nannies come and go, children leave orphanages, parents stay. Give Jacqueline Tomlins credit for being a wonderful and committed mother and leave the criticism to those who mistreat, abuse and leave their children.Rachael Neale, Ferntree Gully
JACQUELINE Tomlins (Comment & Debate) and Albert Riley (Letters, 13/8) are both wrong. Ms Tomlins' children have three parents, and any altered birth certificate should reflect this truth. Mr Riley assumes that altering birth certificates is a new world order, when in fact it has been done for centuries. Adopted children have four parents, and neither biological parent is on the birth certificate. Children born of donor insemination have three parents, sometimes four. ALL these parents should be listed on a birth certificate, because it is a fact of the child's life, and they have a right to know. It would be nice to think that these laws are passed in the best interests of the children, but they never are. Most donor parents (81%) lie to their children about their origins, as do some adoptive parents. Children in these situations must jump through hoops to find out even the most basic truths about themselves. These laws are always made in the best interests of the lobby group that screams the loudest; the rights of the children never come into it. If they did, Ms Tomlins would accept that her children have a right to a birth certificate that also contains the name of their father.Vanessa Lowe, Balaclava
I'M SORRY, Albert Riley, (Letters, 13/8) but while you are entitled to your opinion, I must call you on a point of fact. Neither I nor my partner have ever lied to our children about the origins of their birth. They know the absolute truth and have access to any and all information about their conception. Every other same-sex family I know is the same.Jacqueline Tomlins, Kew
I'M NOT sure where Vanessa Lowe (Letters, 14/8) obtained her statistic that 81% of parents "lie" to their children about being conceived through donor sperm or eggs but any reasonable person can see that such "lying" could only exist in heterosexual families. I can guarantee you that no same-sex parents will try to tell their children that they are both biological parents!
And as for children of donors having three or four parents listed on their birth certificate, she needs to realise that sperm or egg donors are by law not parents. This is to protect both the recipient families and the donors themselves.
There are legal consequences to being recognised by law as a parent, including financial responsibilities towards a child. I doubt any sperm or egg donor would agree to be listed as a parent when their sole motivation is to help others have children.
Parents are the people who love, nurture, and care for a child — the people who fight and strive for the ultimate welfare of their child, day in and day out. They are the people who will stand up and defend their child against the bigotry and ill-informed opinions of others.Stephanie Teh, Bentleigh
RACHAEL Neale (Letters, 14/8) is missing the essential point that adoption is a decision in the best interests of the child by the wider community through the courts. It is unthinkable that a child could be given away, and the same should apply to genetic material.
Now that DNA can be identified we need to replace religious and social mores with legislation that makes each person responsible for their genetic material unless the courts agree to its "adoption". And the community is entitled to presume on a child's behalf that it would prefer a mother and a father to nurture it.
It may be in the best interests of particular children such as those of Jacqueline Tomlins (Comment & Debate, 12/8) to continue in the care of a homosexual couple when that has been established de facto, but that does not negate the rights of the children, which should be enshrined in legislation, and which Tomlins has apparently ignored by publishing their names.Barry E. Duff, Melbourne
This article, by Guy Rundle, was published in the Sunday Age.
Marriage ambassadors are encouraging tourism to a state under siege.
THE appointment of former governor-general Major General Michael Jeffery and his wife General Lady Marlena as the first marriage ambassadors by the Australian Family Association is an exciting new development in the history of one of the late B.A.Santamaria's most durable front organisations. Marriage is a state under siege, we are told by conservative figures such as Cardinal George Pell, a childless man addressed as ''father'' who wears a red dress, a scenario seen as normal only in the Catholic Church and a number of bars in Collingwood.
To launch the ambassadorships, the AFA introduced a series of married and engaged couples - to, and I quote from their literature, ''show that a happy marriage is possible'', a measure of their staggering ambition - at a special breakfast, consisting, in the traditional manner, of burnt toast, coffee without any milk again, and conducted in silence.
During their tenure, General General Major Governor Michael and ex-Dame Governor Majorette Marlena will be eager to explain to Australians the delights of their country and encourage tourism to the State of Matrimony, as it is officially known. Though getting there can be a long haul, they joke, it's nothing compared to when you arrive!
For the growing number of marriage ambassadors, the point to make is clear: socially speaking, marriage as an institution is very stable, and who wants to live in a stable, are you with me? No, hang on. If only people knew of the delights within the State of Matrimony, the ambassadors argue, they would visit it, and once there, most would never leave! Ha ha, just like Snowtown. Once in the State of Matrimony, you can sample its distinctive cuisine, treats such as Humble Pie, Bitter Bread, and Your Cake, My Shit and engage in its traditional pastimes, such as monogamy, a hobby distinctive for being the only known game with no winners.
Marriage may seem fuddy-duddy and square, say the ambassadors, but in reality it offers not only companionship when you eventually buy a dog, but also 40 years worth of sexual intimacy and fulfilment, all conveniently concentrated into the first 10.
However, there are some people who shouldn't try to enter the State of Matrimony, the ambassadors say. Entering the State of Matrimony is a bit like entering the state of Iran - not only is it very conservative, but your chances of seeing another woman's boobs ever again without losing a limb just went down to zero.
Gay people shouldn't get married, say the ambassadors. This would threaten heterosexual marriage, because gay people would be better at it. They're more compatible because, let's face it, taking up each other's dumb hobbies can't compete with matching junk in those stakes. Plus, gay men have a 200 per cent advantage in housework, making it impossible for wives to compete unless they got a useful labour-saving device called a ''wife''.
And while we're on the subject, if straight women ever realised how eager lesbians are to do DIY around the house, society would consist of men married to their hand and one enormous Northcote.
Even if Black and Decker were the first names of the Indigo Girls, that brand would not get the same uptake in that sector as it now enjoys. Fellas, if you know what's good for you, you'll nail up that spice rack this weekend, the marriage ambassadors say, not meaning to sound dirty but somehow so doing.
For this reason, say the AFA, marriage has to be restricted to one man and one woman. Even though gay people trying to get into the State of Matrimony are practically being trampled by the dull and so-2003 shoes of straight people trying to get out, marriage can't simply be because you want it. Hence the AFA's insistence on defending marriage as a social tool to strengthen the state, rather than a blessing in its own right. If people stopped doing things because of fear of what would happen if they didn't, then let's face it, the whole conservative movement would fall apart tomorrow.
But obviously they have to do something. Should Matrimony become a failed state, the most likely result is that it will become a base for the export of the worst sort of nihilistic terror, or to use current security industry jargon, dinner parties.
Letters in The Age newspaper:
STEVE Fielding's remarks that gay marriage is akin to incest (The Age, 27/11) indicate that he is a "great Christian" in a long line of "great Christians". I grew up in South Africa, where other "great Christians" determined that it was an abomination in the sight of God for a black man to marry a white woman, or vice versa. They argued that if God had intended such "miscegenation" he would have made us all coffee coloured. They quoted passages from the Bible about the ''hewers of wood and the drawers of water'' to prove that black people were ordained by God to be servants, not husbands or wives to white people.
They presented other arguments about how red ants and black ants maintain separate nests, supposed further indication that black people and white people (there were no red people) should not marry.
Unfortunately for Fielding, his brethren on the lunatic fringe of Christianity no longer run South Africa. He could, however, relocate to ''Oranje'', where the inbred hate-mongers, bigots, racists and homophobes have made their last stand. There he will be celebrated for his "great Christian beliefs".
And I thought the central doctrine of Christ's teaching was one of love. That must be why I'm not a "great Christian". Something for which I am eternally grateful.Andy Schmulow, Melbourne
IT IS time to stop hiding behind damaging analogies to support institutionalised discrimination against same-sex couples. Power over legal marriage belongs to the Commonwealth. However, the question of same-sex marriage raises a human rights issue that affects residents of all states and territories who live in committed same-sex relationships.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission believes that formal relationship recognition should be available to same-sex couples on an equal basis with opposite-sex couples.
A civil union scheme alone would not provide full equality. In the absence of a right to civil marriage, such a scheme would continue to reinforce the different value placed on relationships between opposite-sex and same-sex couples.
The principle of equality therefore requires that any formal relationship recognition under federal law to opposite-sex couples should also be available to same-sex couples. This includes civil marriage.
Such a change in the law would not oblige any religious institution to solemnise marriages between same-sex partners. As is the case now, a religious institution would be authorised, but not required, to solemnise a marriage between two eligible people.Dr Helen Szoke, commissioner, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Melbourne
The following article appeared in the Sunday Age on 28 March 2010. The article reflects the fact that the Australian parliament is many light years away from reality as it continues its homophobic attitudes to same-sex couples and families. Similar situations exist in the parliament's handling of same-sex ageing couples, families and relationships in general.
The struggle continues!!!
I HAD been expecting it – it would have been naive of me not to – but when it happened, it sent me reeling.
I was reading a bedtime story to Corin, my seven-year-old son, when he came out with it, no warning, no context, just a bald statement: ”When I say I have two mums at school, some kids tease me.”
It came like a blow to the stomach and it took my breath away. Corin, and his two younger sisters, were conceived using an anonymous, identity-release donor through IVF, a path we took because it provided clear legal certainty in relation to parentage: we are the parents, the donor is not. But it also ensured that, when the time came, we would be able to provide information to our kids about their genetic background, something we knew from the experience of adopted children was important.
As it turned out, we met our donor, David, fairly early on when Corin was still a baby; a remarkable meeting that was warm and generous and positive. David is happy to provide information – medical or otherwise – that we might need over time, and is comfortable with the kids knowing who he is. But he is clear, too: he is not their father, he is their donor.
But none of this, of course, changes Corin having two mums and, in that, he is different from many of his peers.
”Hey, that’s not good, sweetheart,” I say. ”That happen today?”
Today and a couple of other times, it turns out. He is specific: ”Not my friends, not kids who know me. Other kids,” and he mentions one by name and grade.
I am relieved by that at least. My partner, Sarah, and I have always believed that the best way to overcome prejudice is to be out, open and honest. We try to make it easy for people to ask questions and are always happy when they do. We don’t take offence.
When Corin started school, we had playground discussions about same-sex families, and were commonly asked by other parents how they might explain Corin’s situation to their children.
All families are different, we say, lots have a mum and dad, some just live with their mum or their dad, and others with dad and his new girlfriend and her children and so on. Kids take things at face value: Corin has two mums and no dad. People are happy with this, we find, and always relieved that they don’t have to talk about homosexuality or sex. It will get more complicated as they get older, of course, but for now this works.
What has helped us, too – and what we hope helps the kids – is being involved in our community as much as possible. And so Sarah is chairwoman of the management committee of our day care centre, we attend every school barbecue, camp-out, concert and campaign meeting, and we always end up inviting ridiculous numbers of people to the kids’ birthday parties.
We would probably do all this anyway, but it is a quietly calculated strategy, too. The hope is, of course, that it makes it just a little bit harder for people to dislike us and, more importantly, harder for others’ kids to tease mine.
Someone once said that you change the world one person at a time.
”So what do you think would be a good way to handle that, sweetheart,” I say, ”if it happens again?”
It’s a good conversation. We rule out fighting – it’s not his inclination and we agree it’s a rubbish way of sorting out a problem anyway – and we talk about better ways of fighting, of sticking up for yourself: using words, laughing, walking away.
As an out and very public same-sex family, we have had an easy time of it in many ways. The people in our community whom we encounter every day – childcare workers, shopkeepers, parents and teachers – have always been more than accepting. We live in a nice, leafy, inner suburb with a highly educated demographic and that helps. We chose it for a reason and we know it is not like that everywhere.
What we have in common with other families with young children binds us so much more than our same-sex status separates us. We fit in. We are one of a crowd. We are ordinary. But every now and again – such as when Corin tells me he is being teased – I am reminded that we are different and that while we may have found a safe, quiet corner to raise our family, there is a big, bad world out there waiting for my kids. And that worries me.
A few days after this incident I relate the story to some parents and one of them asks if I reported it to the school. It’s a fair question and I think they are surprised when I say no.
There may come a time when I need to, but that’s not now. I don’t want to blow this out of proportion, and there is a danger that I may make it more difficult for Corin. And, sadly, he needs to develop the skills and confidence to defend himself at times – the times when I’m not there in the playground to do it for him. And as things turned out, it was the right decision. In the midst of all this I take a trip overseas. My closest friend, Ian, and his partner, Nick, are getting married, a civil partnership in South London where they live. I have known Ian forever and I am honoured to be his ”best lesbian”.
Britain came on board with legal recognition of same-sex relationships in 2005, soon after Canada legalised gay marriage. Now, some form of legal recognition exists in close to 20 countries in Europe, and in such diverse nations as South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and a number of American states.
Sarah and I got married in Canada in 2003 on a trip home to visit her parents. It’s seven years now and it’s a strange thing, I can tell you, to be married in some places and not in others. Now you’re married, now you’re not. When we go back to Canada to visit my in-laws, the gay marriage thing is all a bit old hat; the same when we see friends in Britain. But here at home, of course, things are different. All of a sudden this ring on my finger doesn’t mean anything any more and I am ticking the ‘’single” box on official forms.
As I hover outside the registry office at Ian and Nick’s civil partnership, I am struck by how normal it all feels: a legal ceremony bringing together two people who love each other – two people who just happen to be the same sex – and it seems crazy to me that this still threatens people so much.
Inside, the celebrant conducts the service with professionalism and humour and, as at all the best weddings, we laugh and we cry. But what strikes me most as I listen – ”This place in which you are now met has been duly sanctioned according to law … Nick and Ian have chosen to pledge themselves to each other by committing to a legally binding contract … ” – what really hits home, is that this is a legal process, that the parliament of this country, elected by its people, changed the laws to make this happen, and that blows me away.
And for the first time I see the whole issue of gay marriage with a blinding clarity. The overriding feeling in the room is respect, for Ian and Nick, and for their relationship. Our being in this room says that their relationship is as good, bad or indifferent as yours. And it says that they are as good, bad or indifferent people as you. They are the same. I am the same. I am no less than you because I am gay.
When Sarah and I returned from Canada after getting married, we were unsure of our legal status here and decided to test it in the Family Court. It was this process that led the Howard government to change the law to specifically exclude us. That change sent a clear – opposite – message. It said: Your relationship is not the same as mine You are not the same as me. You are less than me because you are gay.
It is time for this to change.
Back home I am sitting in the playground at pick-up time waiting for the bell and thinking about Corin. I know that he is as sure of himself and his family as any other kid in his class. He understands he has two mums and that that’s different. He understands that donor Dave gave us sperm and that you need eggs and sperm to make a baby. He knows lots of his friends have a mum and dad, and lots have two mums. He’s cool with all that. What he doesn’t know yet – and what I would give anything to shield him from knowing – is that some people think his family is not just different, but worse. Less. Bad.
As the bell goes and the kids spill out on to the oval, I see the grade 6 girl I have noticed a few times reading her book on the bench. There is something about her – the way she sets herself apart from her peers, her dress, her manner – that sends me spinning back to the playgrounds of my youth. She is me, and my heart goes out to her. I don’t want her to feel awkward, or alone, or afraid. I want so much for it to be different for her, for it to be easier. And then there are the boys; there’s always one or two – how hard it will be for them – even today, even in the city. Every gay man I’ve ever known says he knew he was different well before he reached high school, and even by conservative estimates one kid from each of these classes may turn out to be gay.
I cannot pretend that life for me is hard because I am gay. It isn’t and it hasn’t been for a long time. And the recent legal changes at state and federal levels have removed most discriminatory laws and practices. But for the children in Corin’s playground it is a different story. Young, gay people are still extremely vulnerable and if they are going to be OK – and if the children of gay parents are going to be OK – things need to be different.
What you say about same-sex marriage, what you say about gay people, filters down to your children and gets played out in the schoolyard. My schoolyard with my son in it, or another schoolyard with another kid in it, a kid who knows he’s different. Maybe your kid, even. Corin finally emerges from his classroom and bounds up to me with a boy I’ve not seen before. ”Can my friend Stephen have a go on my scooter?”
Hmm. Would that be the ”Stephen” in the teasing story, I wonder?
Later, when I ask him, he says: ”Oh, it’s OK now, Mum. He didn’t know me, but he does now. He gets it. It’s fine.” And as he disappears across the playground, I can’t help but smile. I am relieved, proud; we cleared the first hurdle.
And when, a few weeks later, he comes out with his next announcement I am not quite so taken aback. ” Rebecca in my class says two girls can’t get married.”
I take a deep breath. ”No, sweetheart, not here in Australia.” That’s true.
I think about our wedding, about Ian and Nick’s civil partnership. I think that a society that treats all its members the same in law sends a message that it respects all its members equally.
I think if my marriage to Sarah was legally acknowledged, it would send a message that our family is as valid as anyone else’s. I think that laws are changing in many countries around the world and that there is no reason why those laws can’t change here. And by the time I work out how to explain all this to Corin, he has – fortunately – disappeared into the garden and is bouncing on the trampoline.
In the end, all I can really do is try to make his immediate environment as safe as possible, equip him with the skills to defend himself if need be and, maybe, chip away at the attitudes that make him vulnerable in the first place. I know that – as much as I would like to – I can’t be in the schoolyard to fight his battles for him, but like I said: there’s more than one way to fight a battle.
I do, I do: Now you’re married, now you’re notAUSTRALIA: Same-sex marriages are currently not permitted under Australian federal law. The federal government has legislated to remove discrimination against same-sex couples in tax, health, welfare, aged care and superannuation entitlements. Victoria, Tasmania and ACT allow same-sex couples to register their relationships.
The following audio is a recording of the interview of Mannie De Saxe by Addam Stobbs in his programme "Allegro non Troppo" on Joy Radio in Melbourne. Tragically it was one of the last interviews Addam did because he died suddenly on 16 June 2010, one month after this interview.
The only thing that is too much to bear is this article in the Sunday Age by Ted Lapkin, extreme reactionary right-wing zionist living in Australia and NOT in Israel. What exactly does Lapkin know about the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, HIV communities? His "opinion" piece suggests he doesn't know much, nor has he any acquaintanceship with people he is attacking in his homophobic diatribe. Here is his article, followed by letter-writers who expose his rantings for the ignorance and homophobia they illustrate.
GREENS MP Adam Bandt bit off a bit more than he could chew with his parliamentary motion calling on fellow MPs to canvas public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage. The measure passed through the House of Representatives last November with a one-vote majority and the numbers are now in.
And while you have to give Bandt full thespian credit for putting a brave face on disappointment, the results are lopsidedly in his disfavour. Only a handful out of the 30 MPs who reported back to Parliament were prepared to state that a majority of their constituents supported gay marriage.
In fact, the tide is running strongly against the idea of amending the Commonwealth Marriage Act even in Labor-held electorates. In the suburban Melbourne seat of Deakin, the ALP's Mike Symon indicated that more than 93 per cent of the 1015 people he surveyed were opposed to same-sex nuptials. These electorate surveys were hardly scientific, and published opinion polls are more evenly divided, but even when religious faith is excised from the equation, there are valid reasons to take a jaundiced view of the push for gay marriage. All Australians are entitled to the same rights and privileges as citizens of our democracy. Each and every one of us - gay or straight, black or white, believer or non-believer - is entitled to identical protections of law in our individual persons and property.
But despite the impassioned arguments of Adam Bandt and others, the debate over same-sex marriage does not pertain to individual rights. It instead revolves around the demand that collective privileges be conferred upon a group whose self-definition relates to what its members do in the bedroom.
Gay rights activists hasten to assure us that any redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions will end right there. We're promised there'll be no flow-on effects and that the door to further changes won't be left ajar.
But I've been around politics long enough to know that once the goal posts begin to shift, the precedent for further change has already been established. You can rest assured there'll be other aggrieved groups waiting in the wings, eager to push the envelope further.
Case in point: American polygamist Kody Brown. He is a fundamentalist Mormon from the state of Utah whose family unit includes four wives and 16 children. And he's so proud of his lifestyle that his clan was featured on a TV show entitled Sister Wives. But Brown is more than a television reality star. He's also the plaintiff in a lawsuit intended to strike down America's bigamy statutes. The lynchpin of his legal pleading is premised upon the 2003 US Supreme Court Lawrence v Texas ruling that overturned America's sodomy laws.
And truth be told, there's something to be said for the logic of Brown's argument. If restriction of marriage to male-female couples is the indefensible fruit of prejudice, isn't it equally bigoted to impose arbitrary limits on the number of spouses one can take? So if Adam Bandt is pushing for same-sex marriage to be legitimised by law, shouldn't he be cheerleading for polygamy as well?
And then the next cab off the rank will surely be consensual sex between adult brothers and sisters, adult fathers and daughters or adult mothers and sons. After all, we're told individual choice is Holy Writ in such matters. And if people over the age of 18 years freely want to indulge in incestuous pursuits, who are we to tell them they can't do whomever they want to do?
So we should bear in mind that those guarantees about the buck stopping at same-sex marriage will, in reality, guarantee nothing. The floodgates will inevitably open to a further slide down the slippery slope of social disintegration.
Advocates of same-sex marriage also like to liken their situation to that of interracial couples living in the pre-civil rights-era American South. But sexual activity is volitional. As a heterosexual man committed to monogamy, I restrain my natural libidinous impulses. And I have friends who ignore their sexual attraction to persons of the same gender for the sake of their commitment to celibacy.
By contrast, I can't simply decide one day to abandon my Ashkenazi Jewish ethnic origins. I'm stuck with them. And it's this crucial distinction between who you are and what you do that nullifies the gay rights pseudo-equation between sexual preference and race/ethnicity. The ''sexuality-equals-race'' argument falls short on other grounds, as well. People of different racial and ethnic categories have been falling in love since time immemorial. In the Hebrew Bible we read how Moses took an ''Isha Kushit'' - a black woman - as his wife. Inter-group romance is the historical norm while those obnoxious Jim Crow anti-miscegenation laws were an ephemeral aberration from it.
Yet it's notable that the annals of humanity are devoid of any similar precedent that would legitimate same-sex nuptials. Across continents and centuries, the institution of marriage has invariably involved the male-female family model.
And that's because of the kids. The universality of the traditional father-mother family unit stems from the superior child-rearing environment it provides. And the promotion of children's best interests makes it entirely appropriate for the state to preference heterosexual marriage in law and practice.
Of course, it's true that traditional marriages don't always succeed, and that there are far too many single-parent households. And I'll concede that many gay families provide loving environments to the child of whichever partner was involved in the gestational process. But exceptions don't invalidate the state's legitimate interest in retaining limitations on marriage that exclude a family model where the father-mother unit is impossible by definition. Nothing in any of my arguments would preclude the ability of same-sex couples to come together, live together and love together as they have been doing for time immemorial. But the institution of marriage should remain as it's always been - the union of a single man and single woman who come together for the primary purpose of rearing the healthiest children possible.Ted Lapkin was a ministerial adviser to the federal Coalition, and was communications director to a senior member of the Republican leadership in the US Congress.
Letters in The Age newspaper:
ANTI-GAY marriage protesters like Ted Lapkin (''Too much to bear'', The Sunday Age, 28/8) use the hateful and insulting strategy of equating gay relationships to polygamy and incest to make their argument, hiding their disgust towards homosexuals behind these much less prevalent and obviously more destructive practices. It would be preferable if they had the courage to own up to their prejudices rather than using this obnoxious comparison.Sam Lloyd, East Geelong
Some of the arguments against same-sex marriage make as much sense as those put forward by climate-change deniers.Bryan Fraser, St Kilda
Letters in The Sunday Age newspaper:
IN A trifecta of poor reasoning, Ted Lapkin manages to invoke three hopeless arguments against same-sex marriage (''Too much to bear'', 28/8). First comes the claim that it will open the floodgates to polygamous and incestuous marriages since the same reasoning that justifies same-sex marriages justifies these unions. False: the state has good independent reasons to prohibit these unions. These include inheritance law and health.
Second comes the claim that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not analogous to racism because race is not under voluntary control, while acting on one's sexual desires is. This argument slides from the voluntariness of individual actions to the voluntariness of orientation - the fallacy of equivocation.
Third, Lapkin identifies a basis that would justify the state's action in prohibiting same-sex marriages: the wellbeing of children. Unfortunately, Lapkin provides no evidence for the superiority of traditional parenting arrangements in this regard. And this is understandable because study after study has shown that traditional marriage enjoys no such advantage when it comes to raising children.ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DIRK BALTZLY, Monash University
TED Lapkin's main objection to gay marriage is that any change to the Marriage Act would ''open the floodgates to a further slide down the slippery slope of social disintegration''. The facts are not with him. The Marriage Act has been changed already to allow a degree of sharia law into Australia. Changes to the Family Law Act in 2008 meant that polygamous religious marriages entered into in Australia are also recognised as de facto marriages. That means a second wife can be validly married under Islamic law and become a de facto wife under Australian law with the entitlements of other de factos. This change began in 2008 and excited little opposition, apart from that of Bronwyn Bishop.MALCOLM RONAN, North Balwyn
WHY every time anyone opposes gay marriage, the logical step is to leap straight into sex with one's family members (incest), several other people (polygamy) or some kind of exotic animal (bestiality)? Has anyone who opposes this argument ever considered the fact that gay people who are entering into a relationship only commit to one person, who is neither animal, nor family member, nor polygamous, nor any range of foodstuff. Stop making ridiculous arguments.LAURI SACKER, Elsternwick
THE thing that always seems to be missing in the same sex-marriage debate is the reason for marriage itself. Marriage exists for one reason and one reason only: the consolidation of assets. Yes, you can marry for love and you can marry for children but the primary reason that marriage came into existence is because someone who was not too well off wanted their daughter or son to marry someone who was much better off, thereby becoming better off themselves.
Let's face it; no one needs to be married to raise a child or to be in love. But the laws for married couples offer much better financial protection than do the laws for de facto couples. Same-sex couples would be much better off financially if they were allowed to marry. Is that the real reason for all the opposition?DAVID JEFFERY, East Geelong
LAPKIN may be able to abandon his ethnic origins and its cultural trappings far easier than anyone can change their sexuality. As a survivor of suicidal ideation fighting my sexuality over my teens, it's a thoughtless insult that he would think being gay is merely a choice of activity. We fall in love and we want to share that wonderment just like everyone else. Same-sex marriage will be another great step climbing up that slippery slope from where people thought it their God-given obligation to stone homosexuals and adulterers to death outside their village.
ERIC GLARE, Elwood
IF WE say no to gay marriage on the basis of Ted Lapkin's argument, then surely we must also deny marriage to people, such as myself, who are unable to have children for whatever reason. For, according to Lapkin, the institution of marriage is primarily for producing and rearing children.ANN WILSON, Castlemaine
The following two Youtube items were recorded by Barry McKay at the Australian Gay and Lesbian Marriage Equality Rally on 3 December 2011 outside the ALP conference at Darling Harbour Coference Centre in Sydney:
Australian Gay and Lesbian Marriage Equality Rally: interviews with Kerryn Phelps and Rodney Croome - a bit about the politics behind the ALP decision
Australian Gay and Lesbian Rally for Marriage Equality (3 December 2011) - 35 minutes long, documents the speakers at Hyde park & Darling Harbour as well as the colourful march through the CBD
Mannie and Kendall Present: LESBIAN AND GAY SOLIDARITY ACTIVISMS
RED JOS: HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISM
Mannie's blogs may be accessed by clicking on to the following links:
MannieBlog (from 1 August 2003 to 31 December 2005)
Activist Kicks Backs - Blognow archive re-housed - 2005-2009
RED JOS BLOGSPOT (from January 2009 onwards)
This page updated 25 APRIL 2012 and again on 17 NOVEMBER 2016