Look around the world and you’d be forgiven for thinking marriage equality, gay marriage, equal marriage (whatever you want to call it) is a progressive notion.
Calls for reform are often heard from the so-called Left: greens, students, academics and connoisseurs of cold drip coffee served in moody laneways. It’s easy to forget marriage is intrinsically conservative.
When British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the Tory faithful in 2011, he said this:
“Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
His speech, widely reported at the time, put marriage equality firmly in the conservative tent. Cameron went on to emphasise marriage wasn’t just a piece of paper, but something that “pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life [and] gives children stability”.
The most progressive thing anybody can do—be they gay, straight or otherwise—is to live away from the shackles and trappings of marriage. Marriage is, after all, an institution historically associated with property deals, military alliances, dowries, arranged unions, the general oppression of women and, more recently, soaring divorce rates. FTW.
(As a married man strongly in favour of reform, I’m not suggesting people give up on marriage equality. But, strictly speaking, that would be the most progressive thing to do.)
This perspective is hardly new.
“When I went to university [in the 1980’s] we weren’t talking about gay marriage,” former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in 2013, shortly after losing office. “As women, as feminists, we were critiquing marriage.”
Oh how the debate has flipped. Now progressives push for couples to declare their union under the banner of marriage, and conservatives demand couples live outside its bounds. The Conservatives have won! But they now don’t want the victory.
Which brings us to the politics of all this. New Zealand, Britain, Ireland and the US have all embraced gay marriage, and the sky hasn’t fallen in. Everybody (well almost everybody) accepts it’s inevitable in Australia too. Given this, the Right is cruising for a massive defeat.
With ever hysterical attack on gays and lesbians, their love, their sex lives and their ability to raise kids (arguments all purportedly mounted in defence of the institution of marriage) conservatives are digging a massive, wrong-side-of-history sized hole for themselves.
It simply doesn’t have to be this way. The Right should start framing marriage equality as the conservative victory it will be. It’s not too late to snatch a political victory from the jaws of defeat.
Along the way, and with the correct leadership, we might just build some consensus, heal some wounds and make a better Australia. Anything less would be a missed opportunity.
(Feature image: Reuters.)