Sunday, April 02, 2006

Same Sex Marriage v. Civil Unions

Well, there’s one more piece of wishful thinking down the gurgler.

The chorus has been chanting for a while now. “We made a mistake asking for marriage, we should have just asked for civil unions. That worked in the UK, it will work here. They don’t mind so long as we don’t say the M-word.”

Well that line of argument has now been put to the test and it looks as if it was a mistake.

The ACT put up exactly that – civil unions with functional equivalence to marriage. Result: Howard and Ruddock pull on their boots and braces and wade in with fists flying.

Our need is simple: equality. To be treated in all areas of life exactly the same way as anyone else, regardless of sexuality. Our opponents think we are something less than full human beings with full human rights, and treat us accordingly.

It’s all about fairness and equality, and that means, among other things, our relationships being treated exactly the same as anyone elses.

By saying, “We’ll settle for civil unions, and you can keep marriage as it is,” we’d be offering a compromise before negotiations have even begun, fatally weakening our position.

A compromise is something you offer at the end of a negotiating process. You don’t go crawling in at the beginning saying, “Don’t worry, sir, we’re not asking for much.” The other side will naturally assume that’s a negotiating position and offer even less. You don’t reveal your negotiating position – if that’s what it is – in advance.

The case is very simple: equality, equality, equality, and whenever they offer something less, say no, as politely and patiently as you can manage. Explain what equality might look like, offer alternative ways to arrive at equality, refuse anything that doesn’t offer equality, unless perhaps it has a built-in timeframe to equality. The negotiation is about HOW the government plans to legislate equality, not whether we should have it at all. That’s clearly non-negotiable.

As long as the gold standard of relationship recognition is federal marriage and it’s attendant rights and responsibilities, equality means we must have the same.

But if they want to set up a new standard, such as gender/sexuality neutral civil unions, while passing marriages off to the religions, that could be one way to go.

In a supposedly secular country, that would seem to be the logical answer. To those who would drag their religion into parliament I can do no better than quote this riposte to a US Senator who was overly fond of appealing to the bible to justify his actions.

"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." Amen.

In other words, for as long as they try to restrict marriage to only SOME citizens, we want it too. If on the other hand they agree to develop a more logical, sensible legal framework of relationship recognition, more closely aligned to reality and open to all, then the religions can keep marriage, and if gay Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Jedi want one of those marriages, well, that’s between themselves and their priests.

There may well be other solutions that could be developed during negotiations. In that sense, and in that sense only, marriage is irrelevant. So long as the outcome is equality, the route taken does not matter.