d) Family, relationships and marriage
What I can't give
This address was given at the Greens Same-Sex Marriage Forum, Backspace Theatre, Sep 13th 2011
A lot has been written about same-sex marriage in recent times.
But occasionally a single statement cuts through everything else and shows us the core of this much-disputed issue.
One such statement was recently printed in a letter to the Mercury from a 21 year old gay man living in Hobart, Jason Tegg.
“It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t gay what it feels like knowing the law stops me from marrying. It’s not what I can’t have that makes me feel excluded. It is what I can’t give”.
Jason’s words are important because they remind us there is another dimension to the case for same-sex marriage that goes beyond the words we commonly hear – words like discrimination, equality and entitlements.
These words are important. It is fact that same-sex partners are not legally equal until we can marry and can too easily be denied equal spousal entitlements unless we are married.
But Jason focuses our attention on two even more fundamental words that are often missing from this debate, “love” and “commitment”.
When we marry we promise to love, cherish and care for our partner for the rest of our lives.
It is one of the most important decisions and most profound commitments we can ever make.
It is so important the government and society feel it warrants legal recognition through being called a marriage.
But because the Marriage Act doesn’t allow same-sex partners to marry, we are denied the opportunity to give ourselves to the one we love, and to have that recognised.
The message this sends out is that we are not capable of the level of love and commitment that is associated with marriage.
It re-inforces the stereotype that we are selfish and immature.
Marriage is also about re-inforcing family ties.
When you marry you not only form a new legal relationship with your partner, you become part of their family.
This is why we have terms like sister-in-law and father-in-law.
Marriage creates kinship.
But, by being precluded from officially vowing ourselves to each other, same-sex partners are also precluded in the eyes of many from fully becoming part of, and contributing to, each other’s extended family.
The people who often feel this exclusion most of all are the children being raised by same-sex couples.
Research shows that children can benefit from the stability, sense of security and the recognition that comes from having married parents.
There is also substantial research which proves beyond doubt that children raised by same-sex couples are just as happy and well adjusted as their peers.
For the sake of children we shouldn’t be prohibiting same-sex marriages, we should be encouraging them.
Yet, prohibit them we do, again re-inforcing the myth that same-sex couples are not capable of giving children what they need.
Just as excluding same-sex partners from marriage says we are incapable of a profound and complete connection with each other, with our families and with our children, so it says that those of us who are religious cannot make such a connection with God.
There are many gay, lesbian and bisexual Australians who feel marriage is a spiritual as well as a civil institution, and there are many religious ministers and faith communities that celebrate the love and commitment in same-sex relationships as a gift from God.
But the law does not recognise the same-sex marriages these celebrants perform in the same way as it recognises the heterosexual marriages performed by other religious celebrants.
Even God is precluded by the law from receiving what some same-sex partners seek to give Him.
In an ironic twist, Mammon also can’t receive what we have to offer.
Serious economic think-tanks in the US have researched the economic benefits of allowing same-sex marriages, benefits which range from the wedding spend of same-sex couples through to their greater financial self-reliance once married.
These economists calculate that over the next three years the New York economy will benefit by between $250 million to $1 billion dollars from the wedding spend of same-sex partners.
If we apply the same formula they use to Australia the figure is over $700 million for the private sector, and tens of millions for state governments in marriage license fees.
If Tasmania was the first state to allow same-sex marriages, and we received even just a fraction of that amount from same-sex couples having weddings and honeymoons here, a lot of our economic ills would be eased.
As Bruce Felmingham recently wrote,
“There are economic benefits that would flow by having Tasmania at the top of the queue on same-sex marriages. Look at the gains made by the California economy from being the first cab off the rank in recognising same-sex marriages as legitimate.”
It is possible for Tasmania to enact its own same-sex marriage laws.
The constitutional power to make marriage laws is shared by the Commonwealth and the states. Because the Commonwealth is pointedly not making laws about same-sex marriages the power to do so falls to the states.
I hope the Commonwealth Government can be persuaded to act soon. But if it can’t then the states must step into the breach starting with our own state.
It would be appropriate for Tasmania to be first because were the last state to decriminalise homosexuality. This means many of us are familiar with the great personal and social costs of prejudice. We recall how all the scaremongering against that reform – almost identical to the scare-mongering we hear today about marriage equality - proved to the groundless. And we see all around us the benefits of greater acceptance.
It would also be appropriate for Tasmania to be first because ours was the first state to have a civil union scheme, and the first state to recognise overseas same-sex marriages. These reforms showed that the sky doesn’t fall in when same-sex relationships are recognised. But they also highlight that civil unions are not a substitute for full equality and overseas marriages are not a substitute for marrying at home.
Just as decriminalising homosexuality and recognising same-sex unions have been of immense benefit for Tasmania, so marriage equality has the potential to benefit us locally and nationally.
At the moment the law may say I cannot officially give my heart and soul to another, but in the meantime I can at least do my best to bequeath to the future the blessing of equality.
My hope is you will join me.
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