Friday, July 30, 2004

Straights Get Marriage on the Cheap

Instead of getting all upset because John HowHard won’t let us same-sex couples get married, let’s turn down the emotion and get practical.

What threat?

What is all the fuss about, people? How exactly would me and my husband getting wed impact your relationship? I simply cannot see that gay marriage as a ‘threat’ to anything or any one. If there is a ‘threat’ to marriage – and no-one can deny it’s in decline –it’s because heterosexual couples get it on the cheap, and value it accordingly.

In the past, when people lived mostly in small communities, getting married wasn’t easy. The local vicar would quiz the couple to make sure their religion and morals were up to scratch. Parents and relatives would check family backgrounds for a genetic disposition to physical or metal illness, and financially stability. The local biddies would know of previous liaisons and proclivities. The work habits, skills and abilities would be known and evaluated. There might even be a trial marriage to make sure the couple were fertile, followed by a quick dash to the altar as soon as the bride ‘showed’.

Make marriage licences hard to get

In other words, a marriage licence had to be earned by passing a series of tests, like a driving licence: it was a certificate proving you were fit to marry, as a driving licence says you are fit to drive.

Then along came the romanticism, and the personal ‘feelings’ of the couple now became the sole unsteady foundation on which marriage has since tried to stand ever since. As long as the couple loved each other, that was enough. Add to that the end of the close-knit local community and the rise of the nuclear family and big-city living, and getting married became ridiculously cheap and easy.

Too casual – too easy. We get what we pay for, and because (heterosexual) people can get married (and un-married) relatively easily, they don’t value it. Marriage licences are now meaningless, certifying nothing except the ability to pay the fee.

To revitalise marriage, we must re-institute the old system of thoroughly testing and scrutinizing couples – any couples, gay or straight - before giving them a licence to couple up and breed. Time to make it really difficult to get married. Make it part of the education system in schools, colleges and TAFEs: you don’t have the points, you don’t get the licence. Rack up too many demerit points for beating your wife or neglecting your children, and your licence is suspended or withdrawn.

Why have marriage at all?

It can’t be denied that coupling up, in whatever combination, is a benefit to society. It’s good for the physical and mental health of the parties involved, reduces stress, provides economic support, etc. etc. – in short, saves everyone a lot of time, effort and money. Shares the work around.

Among other things, it’s a business arrangement between the couple and society. Society spends less on physical and mental health, orphanages, daycare, old folks homes, utilities, infrastructure, income support, welfare, and a hundred and one other things. . . . and in return couples get a kick-back. Couples pay less tax than singles, even less if they’re raising kids or looking after seniors, because they do more ‘free’ work.

It’s the equality, stupid

It’s got nothing (much) to do with sex. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, the payoff for society’s the same. So the payoff for the people involved should be the same.

Personal feelings shouldn’t really come into it. Feelings do not really count in this debate. What counts is fairness, justice and equality. God doesn’t come into this either. Citizens have all kinds of Gods, or no Gods at all. Gods don’t vote and have no place in the political system. His / her / their / it’s views are in fact specifically excluded from the system. Even if we had any way to ascertain them. Which we don’t.

So leave your feelings out of it. Leave your religion out of it. It’s political. It’s economic. It’s practical. If one selfish little bunch want that word marriage for themselves, then fine. Keep it. I don’t much care. It’s only a word. But if I take on the job of partnering with another human being, I want the same deal as any other partnered human being.

Gay people have been agitating for marriage because it gives us equality. It’s the equality that counts, not the marriage. Perhaps now the time has come for a wholesale rethink of relationship patterns, structures and laws, and their social and economic underpinnings. After all, marriage as it stands doesn’t actually seem to be work very well for traditional couples: perhaps it’s time to devise new forms that allow us to take care of each other and our children. Or else to restore the institution of marriage to it’s original strength and rigour.

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