Same-sex marriage: Yes, but spare the virtue-signalling

Same-sex marriage: Yes, but spare the virtue-signalling, by Chris Kenny.

Because of the legal rights that already exist, especially those around children and family law, the argument that this is about equality is hard to justify. In all practical senses, gay relationships are already accorded equality. At most it is about use of the word marriage — rather than civil unions — so that apart from obtaining the same status as marriage, gay couples can use the same terminology and lay claim to the same institution. (The sacramental aspects are irrelevant — they belong to the churches and will not change one way or the other according to this legal reform.)

So is this really about marriage per se? Is the passion, activism and antagonism really motivated by a desire to use the term and share the institution of marriage? Why then are we hearing so much about latent homophobia and discrimination against gays and lesbians?

It seems to be about more than marriage. Clearly the marriage reform has become a proxy cause for acceptance. As a society we are being asked to legalise gay marriage as an ever-so-slightly practical act but also as a hugely symbolic act to demonstrate the acceptance of gay and lesbian people by the mainstream.

To my mind, this is a very good reason to support the change. It is a powerful argument to share the traditional institution of marriage with same-sex couples. It surprises me that Yes advocates haven’t made the case in this broader term.

When my postal survey arrives, I know that despite the divisive debate whatever box I tick will make no practical difference to the way gay couples are treated when it comes to children, adoption and family law arrangements. It will make no difference to how many gay couples commit to long term relationships and how many do not. It will make no difference to the hard-won legal constraints that already exist against discrimination based on sexuality.

But my vote can make a difference as a statement of acceptance. It can help make a stand against the overt and subtle forms of discrimination that have been perpetrated against a significant cohort of humanity for millennia. In this way, the gay marriage postal survey and the reform it might deliver is practically insignificant but symbolically beneficial.