QUEENSLAND: by Tim CannonNews Weekly
Labor's dying wish: to bury marriage once and for all
, December 10, 2011
As an ailing Labor government gradually succumbs to that most crippling of political diseases — the will of the people — in the lead up to next year’s Queensland election, progressives in the party have gasped a dying wish: to bequeath to the state a civil partnerships regime.
Supporters of the Civil Partnerships Bill insist it has nothing to do with marriage. Not true. In the long tradition of anti-discrimination initiatives aimed at making relationship recognition more “inclusive”, the bill takes a sledgehammer to the political underpinnings of marriage, further broadening the class of non-marriage relationships to be treated as marriage.
For anti-discrimination aficionados, this is great. For society, it’s more complicated. To understand why, we need to recall why marriage is of value in the first place.
Under Australian law, “marriage” refers to a specific and unique kind of relationship — one in which the spouses make a public, legally binding commitment of lifelong, exclusive fidelity. Normally the state would not be party to such a private commitment — it really is an extraordinary intrusion into personal affairs. But in the case of the heterosexual union, there lies an exceptional, twofold public interest.
First, the heterosexual union is uniquely significant to society, being the relationship by which our species reproduces itself.
Second, it is fundamental to children’s rights that governments do what little they reasonably can to avert any unnecessary interference with the child’s fundamental right to be raised by his or her own biological mum and dad.
In conformity with these principles, the state has traditionally sought to fortify, by legal means, the one kind of relationship which accommodates both human reproduction and children’s rights: the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life.
As a legal institution which specifically encourages and fortifies lifelong, heterosexual unions, marriage has the observable (though admittedly not universal) effect of giving children a stable home-life with their own biological mum and dad. Thus, through marriage, the state stands to prevent a great deal of social dysfunction and associated cost to the community.
The fact that the lifelong, exclusive heterosexual union is of particular significance and value to the state does not mean that other relationships are not significant. It simply means they are not significant in the same way. Unfortunately, an ideological attachment to “non-discrimination” has spawned a misguided view that all relationships must be treated as if they are the same.
Hence the move some decades ago to recognise “de facto” relationships as being legally equivalent to marriage. Naturally, this development amounted to a devaluation, at least in the eyes of the state, of the marital characteristic of lifelong fidelity between spouses. If relationships which are not characterised by a commitment of lifelong, exclusive fidelity are treated as being equivalent to relationships which are, then clearly marital commitment may be regarded as an insignificant, optional extra.
It is noteworthy that when “de facto marriage” recognition was first introduced, couples at least had to demonstrate that their relationship was marriage-like; that, despite the absence of public vows, the circumstances of the relationship objectively indicated that it was in fact characterised by permanence and fidelity (i.e., de facto marriage).
Predictably, the criteria for establishing “de facto” status have been steadily eroded. Living together for a year or so and jointly contributing to property will usually suffice. As far as the law is concerned, comparably transient relationships are on par with marriage.
Queensland Labor’s Civil Partnerships Bill takes things even further, completely dispensing with any relationship criteria in conferring what is effectively “marital status”. With the exception of pairings between blood-relations, any two people who seek to have a “partnership” recognised, regardless of their long-term intentions or the nature of the relationship, are treated in law as being as good as married. All you have to do is fill out a form.
Under the bill, the state’s original purpose of deliberately providing special support to a uniquely significant and valuable kind of relationship is fully and finally supplanted by the fiction that all couple-relationships are equally significant.
And yet the fact remains that only the lifelong union of a man and a woman gives children a stable home-life with their own biological mum and dad. No other relationship can do this — a stubborn biological fact that jars with the feel-good political correctness of our times. Many of our legislative representatives are terrified to admit it, fantasising instead that human biology can be legislated away at the stroke of a vice-regal pen.
If only such thinking could be explained away as the product of deathbed delirium. Queensland Labor may be dying, but lucid legislators on all sides would do well to ponder — and avert — the damage that the Civil Partnerships Bill stands to inflict upon the institution of marriage in Australia.
Tim Cannon is a spokesman for the Australian Family Association.