A Labor senator who has a transgender partner says it's not right that the laws of Australia discriminate against same-sex marriage.
An emotional Senator Pratt told the upper house on Monday the law as it stood discriminated against her relationship and those of many others.
'I am one of those hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who knows that the laws of our nation hold our capacity for love and for commitment to be lesser because of the gender of our partner,' she said.
...'This debate has a personal impact for me.'
|Senator Louise Pratt|
That makes it sound as if Senator Pratt and her trans man partner, Aram Hosie, are itching to get married as an expression of their love but are being held back by the law.
In fact it appears as if Senator Pratt's partner is openly hostile to marriage, seeing it as an oppressive patriarchal institution that ought to be abolished.
Aram Hosie was born female but now identifies as a "trans man" - a transgender male. In a debate on same sex marriage in 2010, Hosie put the case against same sex marriage in these terms:
I am against gay marriage, I don't want it. I don't want straight marriage either, I don't want marriage full stop. I don't see why we should be hanging onto this antiquated relic that still reeks of misogyny and bigotry. Why would we want to buy into an institution that was established so that men could legally own women...it is an ownership ceremony and I'd really like you to be honest about why you want it...
Marriage is about recognising some relationships as legitimate and others as less so. On one side of that debate is the nuclear family...and on the other side is everyone doing everything else. Marriage is like this massive apparatus set up to coerce and cajole and fool us all into thinking that the nuclear family is the natural and preferred state of being. So I'm concerned that the only thing gay marriage would do is to create a bunch of queers who are a little more acceptable than all the other queers ... where does that leave all the other queers that aren't married, where does that leave the single queers, where does that leave queers that are engaged in sex work or are in poly relationships?...the sexual conduct of two consenting adults shouldn't be the basis of discrimination.
The last part of the argument is the most interesting. It shows that marriage will never be left alone by radical liberals. Marriage is inherently discriminatory in that it recognises one sort of relationship rather than others. Therefore, it is thought to fail the test in which there are to be no impediments to how we self-determine our relationships - as Hosie puts it the conduct "of two consenting adults shouldn't be the basis of discrimination" - even if it means putting on a par the choice to do sex work, to live in a poly relationship, to be single, or to live as a couple.
And in one sense Hosie is right. If all relationship types are of equal worth, then why would you have marriage? If it really doesn't matter what sexual arrangements I come up with, then it seems arbitrary to recognise one type of relationship as being deserving of marriage.
So marriage does discriminate. And the only way to justify that discrimination is if marriage really is, as Hosie puts it, a preferred state of being. Otherwise it really is just arbitrary, or perhaps just a power ploy by some people over others, an "ownership ceremony" as Hosie derisively labels it.
Which brings me back to the senate debate. Some of those who spoke against same sex marriage did so on the right grounds. For instance, George Brandis replied to the leader of the Greens in this way:
Opposition attorney-general spokesman George Brandis said the opposition would not support the bill.
He said the progressive left had since the 1960s mocked and derided marriage as a patriarchal institution.
'All of a sudden, within the last few years, this institution so derided by you has been rediscovered by you as the test of whether or not one cares about the issue of sexuality discrimination,' he said.
'Senator Hanson-Young, with all due respect, I have very, very, very great difficulty accepting your sincerity.'
He has a point, doesn't he? Senator Louise Pratt was willing to make an emotional plea for same sex marriage as a personal issue even though her trans man husband is vehemently opposed to the very existence of marriage. The issue of sincerity is a real one.
And another senator had this to say:
Chris Back said the [same sex] legislation was 'very adult-centric' when it came to the rights and needs of children.
'There is overwhelming research ... that a child's best interests are served when born into and brought up in a home which is provided by a husband and his wife in a long-term and loving relationship,' he told parliament.
'That is what we should aspire to.'
Unless you are willing to argue something along those lines then you won't be able to justify the existence of marriage as a necessarily discriminatory institution. In other words, it makes no sense to argue "we should retain marriage as a significant institution, but all relationship types are of equal worth". You have to be willing to argue that the marital relationship has some higher value, either in terms of what it represents, or in what it achieves.