Mea culpa: Professor George Williams, Dean of Law at UNSW, and KC’s legal affairs correspondent got it wrong. The High Court decided that our Federal Government could indeed pretend that having a dodgy postal survey on ‘marriage equality’ (the quotes are restored!) is an emergency. Hence it can proceed to waste $122m of taxpayer’s money.
Putting aside this sideshow, it seems that yes vs no is the only game in town. Nobody is challenging the idea of the institution of marriage as the new holy grail (so to speak!) for gay couples. In other words, having lived outside state-sanctioned domestic bliss for decades and fought for larger freedoms, why clamour for the same bourgeois recognition? I wonder if feminists aspire to this traditional symbol of historical subjugation.
Today Dr Caroline Norma presented (in Sydney Morning Herald) a compelling anti-marriage argument as an answer, which is below:
“The same-sex marriage campaign makes me wonder when my fellow Australian lesbians lost their political backbone? Where’s the sparky radicalism of the gay and lesbian community? When did chasing after marriage become our life’s work? Or for that matter any feminists’ work?
Our heterosexual sisters must be wondering why we’re so keen to dignify an institution – which for so many women has led to violence from their partners and drudgery for themselves. They surely notice the hypocrisy; lesbians becoming cheerleaders for an institution which has caused so many so much pain.
We get the “gold rings and honeymoon” appeal of marriage; but I feel embarrassed for our collective selves that the public now sees us as grovelling for the chance to wear white wedding dresses. How are women going to recognise lesbianism as an alternative to heterosexuality, if they don’t see us protesting against institutions that have been harmful to us: like marriage, prostitution and the nuclear family?
The “yes” campaign’s slogan “love is love” equates marriage with love when many married women experience it as anything but love. The slogan trivialises the heroic efforts of some who have had to escape the institution.
The “yes” campaign casts rainbows and throws glitter over an institution that many women and children struggle to survive. It romanticises a pre-modern social arrangement that secures most men a wife and all the perks that come with husbandhood: sexual servicing, household labour and public esteem disguising all manner of wrongdoing. It peddles pro-marriage propaganda that lesbians, of all people, should not support. We should remember why we became lesbians in the first place, and reflect on our own heroic efforts to evade the social role fixed for females worldwide. Marriage is a conservative institution developed in order to organise the servitude of women. For many women it remains so.
Women see state sponsorship of sexual relationships as a safeguard of their interests in children and property held in common with men. But this guarantee is a mirage. The frequent experience of mothers losing custody of children to sexually abusive former husbands, for example, now sees Rosie Batty and Hetty Johnston campaigning for a royal commission into family violence.
Israeli parliamentarian and women’s rights’ campaigner Merav Michaeli is in Australia advocating for the “cancellation” of marriage (including the same-sex kind) because of the lifetime of unpaid labour and unequal wages she feels the institution forces upon wives, which usually involved a contract between two men – a husband and a father – over the rights of a woman. Similarly, University of Cambridge philosopher Clare Chambers in her recently published ‘Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State’ advocates the abolition of marriage because, even if the “most egregious aspects of legal inequality in marriage no longer apply in liberal democratic states”, still “marriage remains an institution of inequality'” It’s a Victorian middle-class invention she says – usually not in favour of the wife.
In Australia, marriage equality campaigning rages, while on TV farmers and bachelors are being offered their pick of wives from parades of immaculately presented young women. The wedding industry booms here, and women abandoning their surnames upon marriage continues unabated. In this conservative climate, there is every temptation for lesbians to assimilate. But now, more than ever, we must vote no in the postal plebiscite to register our protest at marriage; it’s hurt us for too long”.
Final thought bubble: to continue a feminist perspective, I also wonder whether gay men are more motivated by traditional ‘male’ values to get married, than lesbians, who come from that historically subjugated half of the marriage dyad? Just saying!
* Thanks to Caroline Norma & SMH for permission to reproduce her article.