Given that a private member's bill to allow same sex 'marriage' looks inevitable in the life of this Parliament (however short that may be!), and moves to allow same sex adoptions at the State/Territory level, we really need to start getting our arguments ready and organising now.
Getting the arguments out
Where, for example, are the organisations supporting a child's right to know who their biological parents are, to grow up with a mother and father, and so forth? We do occasionally hear noises in the context of IVF and so forth, but there is much more that can be done.
And where are the organisations arguing not from the point of view of protecting marriage, but also from the perspective of keeping out the nanny state - not all relationships are regulated by the State and nor should they be! The rationale for State recognition of and regulation of marriage is not about making people feel good about themselves, but about protecting the interests of those who sacrifice their earning capacity in the interests of their partners, parents and children, and the protection of children.
The new morality
And on this subject, Russell Shaw has a useful article up on Inside Catholic, arguing that the push for legalization of same sex 'marriage' reflects not the collapse of morality, but the emergence of a new paradigm based around the idea of 'fairness'. He points out that:
"This new morality is a form of libertarianism (people have a right to do as they please) whose fundamental principle is a simplistic idea of fairness (if you can do it, so can I)... the conviction that fairness is the all-but-exclusive norm of morality, and fairness means giving everybody what he or she wants -- especially if it's something that somebody else already has.
A federal district judge in San Francisco has recently ruled that California's Proposition 8, defining legal marriage in that state as a relationship between a man and a woman, violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Proposition 8, adopted by California voters two years ago after the state supreme court had legalized same-sex marriage, clashes with "the state's interest in equality," said Judge Vaughn Walker. In other words, it isn't fair."
How do we counter the fairness argument?
Shaw points to the difficulties of making the argument in defence of marriage:
"Since the rules of engagement in a pluralistic secular democracy don't permit one to say simply that gay sex is a sin which the law shouldn't encourage, the best argument against legalizing same-sex marriage is the harm done to traditional marriage.
No-fault divorce provides a precedent here. Changing the meaning of marriage to accommodate libertarian morality -- which essentially is what happened in this case -- contributed to the weakening of traditional marriage visible in statistics of recent decades...no society can afford to be permissive about something as fundamental as marriage and family..".
Same sex marriage, he argues will give this a further push along. But will the weight of evidence on the effects of the decline in the rate of marriages and increase in divorce cut the ice in the fairness paradigm?
Not much evidence of it at the moment in Australia: indeed, the last round of amendments to child support arrangements in Australia (under the Howard Government) went in the opposite direction, aiming to reduce the financial responsibilities of men towards their children, take less account of the good of the children (in favour of presumption for shared custody), and make it easier for them to have second families.
Shaw provides the parable of a tennis game:
"Two men wearing tennis whites walk out on the court. Opening a folding table and chairs, they sit down and start to play chess. An attendant rushes up and says, "Sorry, gentlemen, this place is for tennis. You can't do that here." Looking up with a scowl, one of the men snaps, "This is how we play tennis. We have a right."
This is a parable of same-sex marriage and the controversy that accompanies it. On one side: Whatever else it is, it just isn't marriage. On the other: To us it's marriage, and we have a right."
The best counter to the fairness argument is surely to point out the unfair impacts of this move. But it will be a hard battle, requiring well-researched evidence and arguments, mobilisation of people with stories and much more.