Marriage: What if it’s about definition, not discrimination?

This is an excerpt from Journalist and Blogger, Ruth Limkin, as a response to the presentations in the Parliament on August 24th:


Some kind and compassionate people are stating that marriage is discriminatory, because persons who are in a same-sex relationship are excluded from it.

While I don’t doubt their sincerity, I wonder if they have simply misread the situation. Perhaps that which they claim is discrimination is simply about definition?

A musician is “a person, whether professional or not, skilled in music”. A baker is “one who bakes”. A school is “an institution where instruction is given, especially to persons under college age”. A marriage is “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

Applying the definition of musician excludes me, and some drummers, from claiming such a status. (Sorry drummers, I couldn’t resist).

Applying the definition of marriage excludes a lot of different people, and lots of different relationships, from claiming such a status.

Is this inherently unfair or hateful? Or is it simply a definition, which by virtue of infusing something with meaning, places a boundary around that which it applies to.

When we consider that many types of relationships cannot claim the status of being able to marry, it adds a complexity to claims of unfair discrimination against those in same-sex relationships.

Organisations like ‘Australian Marriage Equality’ continue to side-step the issue of whether they support ‘marriage equality’ for all Australians, including those who have more than two people in their relationship. They hide behind spurious claims that polygamy comes from another time and is generally about men controlling women, yet fail to recognise the Australians who have three or more in their relationship don’t exist only in history.

Polyamorous Australians marched in the mardi-gras this year. I’m sure they’d claim their voice is being suppressed in the current marriage debate. After all, marriage, by definition, excludes those in group relationships just as much as it does those in same-sex relationships.

Do those who want marriage to include same-sex relationships also want marriage to include group relationships? If not, advocating for the redefinition of marriage, while arbitrarily excluding some Australian relationships, places one in a precarious position of inconsistency at best, or hypocrisy at worst. It’s either dewy-eyed, disingenuous or deceitful.

If exclusion in and of itself is unfair discrimination, then the only way marriage won’t be discriminatory is to allow any number of people to enter a marriage. Is that what we really want? I suspect it’s not.

Every person matters. Every person has inherent value. Your worth is not determined by your marital status, so let’s not confuse discrimination with simple definition.

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3 Responses

  1. Annette

    Good article Ruth.
    One only has to look to the other 10 countries who have allowed same sex marriage to see that they are now asking for other relationships to be recognized.
    In the Netherlands in 2005 (only 4 years after same sex legislation) 2 bisexual women and a polygamist man had their relationship legally recognized via a civil union.
    In Sweden marriage between siblings are legal where there is only one biological parent.
    In 5 of the other countries where same sex marriage has been legalized, incest between consenting adults is legal(in Argentina- where the age of consent is 13years old- incest is legal as long as participants are over the age of consent)
    In Canada there is currently a case before the courts to legalize polygamy.
    People are very naive to suggest that the recognition of same sex marriage will not pave the way for further requests.
    Furthermore, the ‘Marriage equality’ motion brought forward by the Greens in November 2010 stated that the amendments were ‘to enshrine the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender to marry’.
    Well incest, polygamy, bisexuality,etc are all sexual orientations and transgenders believe in four genders- do the Greens really mean what they are saying?
    I would have thought the onus is on them to explain their position more clearly?
    The American Psychiatric Association recognize 30 sexual orientations-
    exactly which of these would the Greens suggest deserve ‘marriage equality’?

  2. This is just the kind of ill informed opinion piece that makes it so difficult for me to sympathise in any way with anti-same sex marriage campaigners. Polygamous relationships are entered into because of a persons love for, and desire to have, multiple partners. It’s a preference. A polygamous man is denied having several wives at once, but he is not denied having several wives, if he should so choose. It has nothing specifically to do with the persons sexual orientation, it is a personal choice. A gay man or woman on the other hand, has a sexual orientation that allows them only to feel emotional and sexual desire for people of the same gender. A gay man could no more have a complete and satisfied relationship with a woman than I could. Should they be denied the right to enter into legal monogamous unions, ones which allow them to have the same, financial, medical, and family benefits as other couples? Your link between polygamy and gay marriage is tenuous. Lets not forget, we call it gay marriage, but really, it’s just marriage isn’t it? like any other.

    And I really cannot understand the slogan ‘Think of the Child’ which is actually very offensive. There is no reason that a gay couple could not offer a child all of the love, kindness, generosity and support that a heterosexual couple could. In fact, in many cases, children of gay parents are adopted or fostered, which means that no small amount of planning and genuine desire goes into a gay couples choice to become parents.
    There is often some kind of weird puritan idea that gay couples will ‘corrupt’ children. Again, a child’s sexual orientation can not be decided by his or her parents. The children of gay couples do not “decide” to be gay anymore than the children of heterosexual couples “decide” to be gay. Numerous studies have shown that the children of gay parents are just as healthy and well adjusted as children raised in heterosexual households. Children raised by homosexual couples do not have a higher chance of becoming homosexual, or of having gender identity issues. The only way in which children of gay parents suffer is by having stigmas attached to them by people like you and groups like this one.

    Furthermore, the reason that a great majority of gay people do not belong to organised religion is because they are not welcomed there, or accepted. They are made to feel that everything about their lives is wrong and corrupt. I wouldn’t wonder if under the same circumstances you wouldn’t have a crisis of faith.

    This is most definitely about discrimination, just like every other civil rights movement in history. It’s much like saying, ‘race is not abut discrimination, its about definition, the definition of ‘Caucasian’ is a white person of European origin. The definition of ‘Negro’ is a member of a dark-skinned group of peoples originally native to Africa. Obviously we’re not the same, therefore, how can we be equal and have equal rights?

    There’s no way to parcel your prejudice to make it look pretty.

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