Here in Australia we are in the midst of a debate over the recognition of same sex marriage in our constitution. Technically the real debate hasn’t even started because our Liberal government is running a $120m non-binding plebiscite to give the illusion of doing something which doesn’t actually bind them to do anything (nicely explained in this video). Here is Wikipedia’s view on why non-binding referendums (or plebiscite’s) are stupid.
I like to think that blogs are a place to point out gaps in the public discourse. At the risk of alienating some friends and upsetting some people, I’m writing down my thoughts on the issue.
I have two personal disclosures to make before continuing this article. Firstly, as someone whose personal spiritual path is based on fairly strict adherence to some Taoist/Buddhist precepts, I come at this from a world view which disapproves of homosexuality. But let’s be clear, this belief system also disapproves of alcohol, smoking, drugs, masturbation, premarital sex, sushi(raw) and pornography. The other key factor is that my belief system involves no compulsion to judge others or attempt to sway others to my path and it also specifically excludes having involvement in politics (I still participate in the political system of the country as a citizen, but do not seek to exert influence on the governing of the country).
The second disclosure I have to make is that despite going to a homophobic Pentecostal Christian school where the terms ‘poof’ and ‘fag’ were staple insults, I have made what I think is a healthy conversion in my views and behaviour. At university I met an openly homosexual lecturer who turned out to be a reasonable human being and nothing like the stereotypes I had been brought up with. It was probably watching Go Fish and hanging out on the #lesbian chat channel on IRC (the mother of twitter and reddit) that helped me realise that most gay people were living with a state of mind which they could no more change than their skin colour or their singing voice, and that in every other way than their sexual preference they were just as useful members of society as heterosexuals. In many ways, because of their own experience of exclusion and abuse, they tended to be more compassionate and empathetic than others.
Over the past 20 years I went on to have staff working with me and for me who were openly gay and I witnessed first-hand the struggle that they endure and the climate of harassment that exists just below the surface of Australian society. Some of my favourite musicians, Indigo Girls; actors, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellar; writers, Oscar Wilde and politicians, Bob Brown, are openly gay. What sort of world would we have without their contributions?
Amongst the opposing sides of the discussion here in Australia in the mainstream media and on social media the calibre of the dialogue has been fairly woeful. Those who are supporting the ‘Yes’ vote argue based on human rights and equality, but unfortunately they are often arguing with a tone of condescension towards the views of others, which the ‘No’ vote supporters rise to in hysterics.
Amusingly, the Christian ‘No’ vote supporters are trying to reach for every possible reason other than ‘god hates gays’ to justify their position. They are doing their best to draw false and hurtful connections between child abuse and gay parents, slippery slope to marrying pot-plants and asserting that a ‘Yes’ vote will mean that their freedom of belief will be trampled. One Christian psychologist pointed on Facebook to the mental harm caused by the inability of gay people to marry as a possible justification for a ‘Yes’ vote, but was quickly shouted down by Bible waving zealots.
I wish the Christians would just be honest and say that ‘my religion demands that I hate homosexuality’ (Leviticus 20:13). I note that some careful apologetics are at play amongst the more liberal elements of most major religions in order to support the ‘Yes’ vote, but I think those views are quickly dismissed amongst the orthodox brands and the fundamentalists. This discussion within the Jewish faith makes for interesting reading.
So what can I add to the debate? Here is my assertion, “Marriage in Judaeo-Christian culture is just legal cover for men to trade in women for breeding, rape and domestic servitude”.
I can hear the response, “How dare you besmirch our beautiful service of flowing veils, flowers and heavenly music!”
Hear me out.
When I was young and impetuous, I spent many weeks arguing with my now wife (I’ll tell you why I hate this word in a moment) against getting married in a church, or getting married at all in the traditional sense. At the time I was reading about Wicca and the handfasting ceremony, which you might remember was slipped into the beginning of Braveheart. In this ceremony, man and woman came together as equal free agents to enter a contract of fidelity for one year, to see if they could make it work as a couple. There are vestiges of this tradition in mainstream society still with the phrase ‘tie the knot’. This type of ceremony is still used in modern day Sweden. This model made sense to me, much more than what I had seen of ‘traditional’ Christian marriage.
By the time I was 18 and had started looking back at my Christian indoctrination with some scepticism, I had also been reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. I started to see all the Christian scripture and Church tradition around Marriage in the context of a master and slave relationship. The word husband, by definition, has a connection to husbandry, the status of a wife as property of the husband runs throughout Judaeo-Christian history. I found this absurd; women are just as intelligent, physically capable and ambitious as men, why should they be treated as property?
As early as 1869, John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill wrote about this in The Subjection of Women. In many modern wedding ceremonies the bride wears a veil, which is explained in the story outlined in Genesis 29. In this story, the status of women as the property of their father to be sold/exchanged to a man is clear. There are so many other aspects of the historical and current marriage ceremony that point to the underlying misogyny of Judaeo-Christian views on the relationship between men and women.
It is harrowing reading, but I suggest that this very recent story (warning, rape and domestic abuse discussed) shows the result of generations of men and women raised in this tilted ideology.
So my question to the gay community, and to all Australians is this, “why would anyone want to perpetuate this hideous custom?” Why would gay people want to participate in this at all? The paradigm of the owned and the owner cannot possibly be appropriate in a relationship of equals (unless BSDM is your thing, but that is another issue entirely).
I’m not hoping to sway anyone’s vote here. I just wanted to point out an aspect of the discussion that I think hasn’t been raised at all. And I strongly suspect that the reason no one wants to talk about it is because deep in their subconscious, heterosexual couples know there is something screwy with their construct of marriage. If anyone delves too deeply into its connotations and underlying meanings, they might not like what they find. Why else would people be getting so wound up about what other adults choose to call their relationship?