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The perils of redefining marriage

  • 24 November 2010

Last Thursday, the Australian Parliament's 'new paradigm' swung into action with the House of Representatives passing a motion calling 'on all parliamentarians, consistent with their duties as representatives, to gauge their constituents' views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same sex couples including marriage'.

If this keeps up, we will have the High Court publishing a judgment calling on all judges to hear argument from counsel for the parties in taxation matters. Even under the old paradigm, it was the job of parliamentarians in a democracy like ours to gauge their constituents' views on matters likely to be debated in parliament, particularly contested moral issues.

Should my local member seek to gauge my views on same sex marriage during the summer recess, I would assure him that paradigms, norms, and symbolism do matter. The distinction between same sex marriage and legal recognition of same sex unions is not just a matter of symbolism. They create different realities regarding children's human rights. Because of that, I support the latter, not the former.

'Marriage' means different things to different people. For me, the paradigm of marriage is an exclusive, indissoluble covenant between a man and a woman entering a partnership for life, ordered to their good and open to the procreation and education of their children.

Not every marriage matches all the features of this paradigm. Some couples are infertile or too old to have children. But such marriages do not overtly breach it, so the paradigm still makes sense. In contrast, same-sex marriage overtly breaches the paradigm that marriage is an institution for the good of the children of the couple. 

Australian civil law on marriage varies from my paradigm. Under Australian law, marriage is not indissoluble. Either party can terminate a civil marriage on one year's separation. There is no requirement that the parties be open to the bearing and nurturing of each other's children. There are many married couples who choose not to have children. 

There are many couples in Australia who choose not to marry. There are many children born out of wedlock. There is an increasing number of children being raised by same sex couples. If same-sex marriage is legalised, because marriage carries the right to found a family, it may not be too long before a significant number of these children share the genetic inheritance of two same sex parents.

For the moment, every child has one biological father and one biological