d) Family, relationships and marriage
A noble idea: why choice is crucial to the relationships debate
This edited version of a speech given at the Activating Human Rights Conference in Byron Bay on July 4th 2008, was published in the Sydney Star Observer on 23.7.08.
There are fewer things nobler than the idea that same-sex relationships should be equal to their heterosexual equivalents in law and in the estimation of society.
It speaks of an end to centuries of persecution, discrimination and stigma.
It says the quality of a relationships between two partners and their children is more important then gender.
It promises a victory of love over prejudice.
But right now in Australia this noble cause is under threat.
One threat is the so–called Christian Lobby and it’s determination to delay, confuse and quash any proposals for equity.
But just as much of an impediment to change is something within the LGBT community that stops us speaking with one voice on this issue, and which threatens to turn a great ideal into a noisy bunfight.
This splintering force is what I call relationship chauvinism: the belief that one form of recognising same-sex and other significant personal relationships is better than another.
There’s the marriage skeptics who deride matrimony as old-fashioned and too religious, call for its to be “abolished”, and promote de facto or civil unions instead.
Against them are those who look down their noses at de facto partnerships and civil union schemes, condemning them as second-rate compared to marriage.
There are those who condemn relationship registries as “bland” or “fit for dogs”, and want civil union schemes with legislated ceremonies, and those who condemn such ceremonies as “marriage-lite”.
Finally, there are same-sex partners who believe their legal status is somehow “demeaned” and “degraded” by the recognition of interdependent or companionate relationships, forgetting that these are exactly the terms which are have been used against same-sex couples for so long.
This chauvinism is reinforced by governments that want to spruik their own particular reform model, or attract attention away from the deficiencies of their reform programs.
For example, our gay-marriage-unfriendly Federal Government promotes the recognition of de facto couples as “equality”, when, in the absence of same-sex marriage, it is not. It endorses registries as a kind of substitute for same-sex marriage when, in fact, they were designed for couples who can’t or don’t wish to marry.
This traps some LGBT people into criticising de facto reform and registries, when what they should be criticising is the Government’s expediency.
The media is also to blame. Instead of taking different schemes for relationship recognition on their merits, it judges each as more or less like same-sex marriage and focuses only on those which come close to that “standard”.
But the worst offenders of all are LGBT people.
The discussion within our community is too often about which type of recognition is preferable.
Pride week debates pit marriage against civil unions.
LGBT community surveys ask respondents to tick one box on the marriage / civil union / de facto list.
Rarely if ever are we given the option of saying we support all these options.
Rarely does “either/or” become “and”.
The solution is to rebuild the relationships debate on a more solid foundation.
At the moment it’s hoping around on one leg called “equality”.
If it is to stride confidently forward it must have a second leg called “choice”.
Same-sex couples should not be excluded from marriage but neither should they be forced to access legal entitlements and social respect by swearing lifelong commitment.
Couples should be allowed to have a ceremony if they desire, but should not be forced to make vows if they don’t need to.
Couples should be allowed to registering a relationship, but they shouldn’t have to if they are opposed to inviting the government into their relationship.
Couples in sexual relationships should not be wrongly seen as “companions”, but neither should true companions miss out on legal recognition and protection.
If a legal system which respects these distinctions seems utopian then take a look at countries like the Netherlands or Canada where it already exists.
In these countries there is a three-tiered system of de facto protection, civil unions and marriage that was built from the ground up in the same way that is currently occurring in Australia.
So next time you hear someone say being considered a de facto couple is second rate, or that registries are for dogs, or that marriage should be abolished, remember, for some people these forms of recognition are exactly what they want.
What’s more, for all of us they are cornerstones in a greater legal edifice: a system of laws that does not fit our love into pre-ordained boxes, but which respects the choices we make about who and how we love.
Now, that is a truly noble goal.
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I just want what the rest of society gets...nothing new....thats what equality is all about, being offered the same and equal choices not new ones.
Rings symbolize unity, love, faithfulness, devotion, and much more. Behind every couples Tiffanys are stories of how they got engaged, wedding memories and unique ideas. -BWW