We continue the discussion we began in our initial broadsheet in this series. We are concerned to trace the pervasive impact of the neo-liberal ideology as it now makes its impact upon the way in which we understand marriage and human identity.
Presumably, to those who have long advocated a redefinition of lawful marriage, the current definition is deemed discriminatory and exclusionary. Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs simply announces her view that marriage is a right and so gay and lesbian couples who wish to be married should be allowed to do so. Her ambiguous statement –
That’s why I think a plebiscite, where the Australian people get to have a vote on it, on an issue as fundamental as this, that goes to the very composition of our community, the way we feel about each other, how we treat each other, that’s the core of a plebiscite.
– is measured in a way we might expect from a trained barrister and solicitor. But as an attempt to put the plebiscite on a principled basis, she has now given the debate a new twist. If the “core” purpose of a plebiscite is simply to give citizens an opportunity to express how we “feel about each other, how we treat each other”, then are we to conclude that in her view a “Noe” vote would mean a lack of love and justice for those she claims have the right to marriage? As a lawyer she should know that the best way to win a case is to set forth the view of one’s opponent better than they can put it themselves and then expose the fallacy. But like Malcolm Turnbull, and most other advocates of “marriage equality”, they do not seem to be able to plumb to any depth and defend the current legislated definition of marriage before putting forward their sentimental attachment to how they “feel about”, how they want to “treat”, the subject of marriage. And this, as I have pointed out, simply brings with it their presupposition that marriage is a human right.
Same-sex couples are assumed to be excluded from society, because marriage, as it is now defined in the Marriage Act, denies those with same-sex identity the “human right” of marriage. Thus it follows, in this way of thinking, that any definition of marriage needs to be brought into line with the view that marriage is a fundamental human right. We have more to say on this viewpoint in the next broadsheet.
Time and again those seeking to legislatively redefine marriage have argued in these terms, appealing to that humanist anthropological view of human identity (self-sufficiency) we have noted previously, which is now widely accepted across the country. Advocates of “marriage equality” have not (yet) tended to expound the full consequences of this underlying view of their reform agenda; instead, in line with the entrenched pragmatic and populist approach of the major parties, they simply appeal to “public opinion”, persistently appealing to the results of public opinion surveys that tell us that 70% agree with same-sex marriage. We all know that the results of public opinion surveys are easily massaged beforehand by the ambiguities of simplistic questions put to respondents. But nevertheless the campaign has been relentless, its mass media support is ubiquitous, and it is ongoing. And popular support for “marriage equality” seems to be well entrenched and widespread, a public sentiment that is to be found on all sides.
It would seem, however, that the campaign has been so successful that most Australian citizens will have no idea how to go about defending the viewpoint that is currently enshrined the current Marriage Act. They will not even have any coherent idea of why the Marriage Act exists in the first place, let alone why they may have in their state hitherto of a lack of enlightenment supported it, except perhaps to have endorsed the view that marriage in this country is neither Muslim nor Mormon. And so, it is unlikely that however large or small a “Noe” vote in the plebiscite, it is unlikely that it will coincide with a deepened legal or political understanding of why marriage needs to be defined in a Marriage Act in the first place, let alone of why marriage as currently defined by the Marriage Act is in fact integral to the public interest.
Further, my guess is that a significant proportion of voters in the proposed plebiscite will simply signal “Aye” on their ballot papers in an attempt to get the issue off the political agenda once and for all. In this they will fail even though there will be concerted propaganda telling us that now we can “move on”; some may think that the incessant barrage of propaganda and the waving of rainbow flags will now cease. [The last time we heard about getting something off the legislative agenda so we get on with the rest of our lives was when John Howard tried to strong-arm parliament to get his Wik legislation through “before Christmas”. That was back in November 1997!]
But even if the vote is a resounding “Aye” there is certainly no prospect of the plebiscite result being the end of the political matter; far from it. The pragmatic and populist line of the major political parties is so entrenched in our political lives that we scarcely notice that it has perpetually sidelined genuine political debate about marriage and family as a sine qua non of ensuring party unity on both sides. In the case of our current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull has long insisted that the over-riding “principle” of Coalition contributions to (in the terms Ms Bishop uses) “fundamental issues …that go to the very composition of our community”, has not been to promote opened and principled public debate from his own party about what public justice demands. Not at all; it is all about gaining and retaining control of public debate; massaging the electorate that is treated with elite disdain, and all so that one can gain or regain Government control of parliamentary business. Party unity must prevail over all other considerations including the difficult normative question of how a political party will propose to develop policies that will inevitably have an impact upon the marriages, family-life and the management of households. Here is where the neo-liberal agenda breaks through in its dominance by radically privatising debate about these issues and thereby ignoring the public interest in them.
Now after Mr. Turnbull’s accession to the top job he may want us to believe that the Liberal-National coalition held themselves together by the brokered deal between the factions that would mean a “same-sex marriage plebiscite”. But now we have the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party assuring us that this is such a “fundamental issue”, basic to our life together; and what do we have – a Liberal Party that is simply incapable of developing a coherent policy on the matter. And would it also be too cynical to say that the main game here is not necessarily “marriage equality” at all but wedging the Labor Opposition on the issue of a plebiscite.
The result of the plebiscite will certainly not be the end of the matter despite what the new PM tries to suggest. In fact, his persistent political modus operandi guarantees that even though it is likely that a national “Aye” will result, what it is bringing into our political discourse is an even greater political complexity. In all his risk management to ensure party unity, Mr Turnbull is actually ensuring a deeper pragmatic hole for the entire country dug for us by two political combine harvesters that are more intent on winning elections (by refusing to have a clear marriage policy out of a fear of losing votes) than framing coherent policies so that the citizens of the country can engage in fruitful debate.
This may be a ridiculous state of affairs to be in; that is, to be asked to say “Aye” or “Noe” to a proposition that appears self-evidently to require an “Aye”. It will be very interesting to hear how the case for a “Noe” is argued. Still the bemused ordinary Australian citizen is not alone in this. Among the prominent legally trained wiseacres, the newly installed PM, is famous for his defence of same-sex marriage. But when he set forth his case did he actually argue as a good lawyer should? Not on your life. Judge for yourself.
Turnbull like his party’s deputy does not waste time arguing like a good prosecution lawyer, arguing the affirmative case for the current definition and then conclusively showing why that definition – in which his own marriage shares – is wrong. He simply assumes that the definition is out of date, given the assumption that civil rights law has now evolved to require that homosexuals have the right to marriage. It is not just a presumed right to a homosexual marriage; what we have here is the presumption that it is Parliament that creates the institution itself. And if we follow this all-too-subtle argument gender is thoroughly deconstructed while humanity is redefined as either heterosexual or homosexual or somewhere in between (with no mention of how the predatory pharmaceutical companies are offering their wares to assist “choice” for those seeking to make transitions). So then marriage is assumed to be a human right, a proven device to make oneself safe in a potentially hostile world; so marriage becomes an entitlement to be distributed by Government. Marriage has to be made available to all individuals who wish to avail themselves of it. And so the Marriage Act is evidently out of date! In a nutshell, it is out of date because “it has been decided” that marriage is a fundamental human right and the Marriage Act should treat marriage in those terms. Hence, the current definition – by definition – must be wrong and needs correction.
This presents as an argument but it is merely a well developed dogmatic assertion. From the standpoint of jurisprudence it borders on the ridiculous, but that does not stop these intelligent parliamentarians, men and women, and many other seemingly intelligent citizens besides, giving their assent to this change. But in fact what they are assenting to is the world-view of the neo-liberal way of life. Consider: if marriage is a fundamental human right, as their arguments suggest, then the best way for that to be legislated is to take the case to the United Nations (along with the support of the other 21 Governments of other member states that have already legislated in this way) and obtain a change to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights by adding marriage to the list. Then the Australian legislation can go ahead quite simply when our Federal Parliament ratifies the amended Declaration in its own legislation. In that way the path would be cleared.
But the fact is that there is a submerged assumption in the “marriage equality” argument. There is an implicit appeal to marriage as a human right, but there is a decided reticence to actually address this in an open and forthright manner, and have it debated. Why? Would it not give the appearance of “marriage equality” partaking of a stealthy global campaign to ensure that the consequential policies of a neo-liberal agenda of individual rights (inc. abortion rights; surrogacy rights; scientific research rights etc) is eventually adopted by all people world-wide? And how will Christian Aid and Development organisations respond in this context? Will they continue to develop assistance programmes that listen to and respect the peoples they are serving, or will they find themselves caught espousing and exporting from the liberal west the neo-colonial mentality of “marriage equality”?
Besides, it is surely an open question whether any “principled” approach to have an addition made to the list of human rights listed in the Universal Declaration would get a UN nod of approval.
Apart from such a line of argument as I have here developed it, I do not know how else this persistent movement can be effectively challenged at this point. It is indeed going to require political argument to correct the consequential mistakes that eventually will have to be made to overcome this erroneous view. Seen in global terms, it is certainly difficult to see how this movement is not part of a new Western initiative to colonise the entire globe with its libertarian celebrity endorsed sexual mores and values. But there is more to say which I hope to do in coming days in further posts.
But could such a line of opposition to this neo-colonial ethic emerge in the upcoming debate? Will there be any efforts that dare to challenge this neo-liberal movement for its undisclosed neo-colonial global pretensions? There should be.
Nurturing Justice has given itself a task of developing a political perspective on marriage, family and households and that means facing up to the “marriage equality” movement and reckoning with its ideology. Elaborating this critique in comprehensive policy terms in the years ahead is going to have to be an important facet of our efforts to develop a Christian political option for Australia and the South West Pacific.