It's now inevitable.
After the success of the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage, momentum behind reform in Australia has become unstoppable. This week Prime Minister Tony Abbott effectively removed himself as a roadblock to equality, acknowledging that change was imminent and stating he wanted it to be ‘owned by the Parliament’ instead of any single party. Labor MP Graham Perrett and Liberal MP Warren Entsch will now introduce new legislation that seems likely to pass in August.
Even some of Australia’s most ardent conservatives are finally lining up behind the reform. While the Australian Christian Lobby seems determined to fight until the bitter end, conservatives commentators Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt have both conceded defeat and come out in support of same-sex marriage.
Yet, as equality for lesbians and gays looks closer than ever, the real fight over marriage is only just about to begin.
Andrew Bolt’s conversion to a same-sex marriage supporter this week came with a very important caveat. As gays and lesbians enter into the marriage fold, Bolt called on them to to do everything they can to ‘defend the institution as we conservatives tried.’
What does Bolt mean? Have a look and you can see he is talking about some of the most conservative elements of marriage.
Bolt’s first argument is that gays and lesbians need to do everything they can to ensure marriage continues to “protect children.” Ironic from a man whose movement has actively argued that same-sex couple are disastrous for children.
But what does that actually mean? In reality it means upholding the economic traditions of marriage, which have historically oppressed women. Despite a modern focus on love, marriage is an economic institution. Women are taught from very early on they require a man to survive — even if in contemporary times this is framed through softer language such as ‘security’ and ‘protecting your children’s future’.
Marriage is seen as a contract — women trade access to the resources and protection they require for the promise of fidelity. Hence the continued economic oppression of women in our society — from regular questions about whether they can handle having a career and the family at the same time to their lower wages (in turn forcing them to rely on support of their male husbands).
Bolt’s demand that gays and lesbians “protect children” are built on this premise. It is part of conservative reactions to feminists who have tried to release women from this economic grip. It is why Bolt almost laments previous changes to legalise divorce — a policy that was essential for women in bad marriages to be able to declare their economic and sexual independence.
But it’s not just about children. Bolt’s other demand is that gays and lesbians give up our “promiscuous lifestyle”. Conservatives want us all to accept monogamous marriage as the only acceptable form of relationship, abandoning our ideas of sexual freedom in the meantime. This is not new — Bolt has often railed against polyamorous relationships — a rejection of perfectly valid way to form unions (one that I practice) based on a narrow view of how sex and relationships should work. It is now, apparently, up to gays and lesbians to accept this position as well.
This is what the new fight over marriage will be about. We are once again about to see a great battle over sex, marriage and economics. A battle about sexual freedom, economic subjugation and the dominance of marriage as a relationship norm.
The difference between this and the same-sex marriage debate though is that far more people are going to be involved. The very traditions Bolt want to defend are not only being broken by gay and lesbian communities, but by the straight community as well. Just look at infidelity and divorces rates — a rejection of many of the traditions Bolt wants us to hold on to so dearly. While monogamous marriage still works for many, our society is increasingly questioning whether it should remain as the only option.
The question is where will the newlywed gays and lesbians stand?
For years now the more promiscuous in the queer community have been told that gays and lesbians need to access marriage so we can ‘queer it up’. The best way to break down these traditions, we've been told, is from the inside. But is that really true?
Many marriage equality campaigns have reinforced these conservative traditions. We’ve seen inspirational campaign videos eschewing the linear monogamous tale of marriage, arguments that same-sex marriages are important for the well being of children and activists who have actively rejected the possibility of legal rights for polyamorous relationships in the future.
This is where Bolt is clever in embracing gays and lesbians. The real marriage fight was never about homosexuality, but instead over the lifestyles conservatives find abhorrent. The same-sex marriage debate seems to have potentially converted many gays and lesbians into this position.
Marriage equality is now inevitable. But the fight has only really just begun.
Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.