The same-sex marriage debate is current in Australia. So far it has been conducted in emotive terms – “apartheid”, “second-class citizen”, “denial of humanity” - which has not always been helpful or beneficial.
As the Australian Government introduces legislation that places a definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, it is worthwhile to pause and examine the arguments for and against same-sex marriage in Australia. Arguments against homosexual marriage have largely focussed on the biblical statements on marriage and the foundation role that the heterosexual family has played in the history of Western society. In my personal opinion these arguments are correct and resonate with substance and meaning.
Marriage, in this instance, is between one man and one woman for life, to the exclusion of all others. Marriage, therefore, is the basis of the stable family unit that is the best means to care for and raise children. Arguments in support of homosexual marriage largely focus on issues of human and democratic rights. Supporters of gay marriage argue that the acceptance of the right of gay marriage concerns intrinsic human rights. In this sense, it is a means of recognising, symbolically, the entrance of homosexual couples into the Australian story of mateship.
Yet, within a secular and multicultural society, what is one to make of these arguments? While on a personal level, I accept and support the view that the bible and society define marriage as between one man and one woman; secular Australia must take as its starting point the democratic system of government that we currently enjoy.
A democratic society rests on two principles: that citizens exercise choice in political and personal processes, and that the choice of the majority rules (while respecting the view of the minority). Bearing this in mind, the Australian Government of the day is the embodiment of the majority choice.
Choice is about deciding how to live. Choice involves accepting compromise - making a decision that might negate other options and avenues. For example, when I choose to play rugby I cannot run onto a netball court, tackle the players and score a try.
A homosexual lifestyle is a valid choice within a secular society. However, it is a decision that is made and exercised with an understanding that other lifestyle choices might be negated or denied. Furthermore, choice within a democracy explicitly accepts rule by the majority (with respect for the choices and views of the minority). Within Australia, the homosexual community represents roughly 1.5 percent of the population. Within that community, it seems unlikely that a majority support same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage, therefore, represents a minority view - which must be respected - but can never dominate the majority view that heterosexual marriage is the norm for Australian society.
A democratic society recognises the fundamental validity of the choice of a homosexual lifestyle. Indeed, on 27 May 2004, the Prime Minister announced legislative changes “allowing same sex couples to nominate their partner as their beneficiary of their superannuation benefits”. Homosexual choice must be respected within a secular and multicultural Australia.
However, democratic rights and choices also fundamentally recognise that the dominant view within Australian society is that of heterosexual marriage – one man and one woman. In that sense, the definition of marriage proposed – that marriage is the “union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life” – is merely the expression of the democratic majority. It is a view upheld and supported by the Australian Government. Similarly, the logical corollary is that children are best served when raised by both a father and a mother. It would be inconsistent to separate these two issues in any legislative protection of marriage.
While minority views must be respected and accepted, they must not dominate if the true definition of democracy is to be upheld.
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