OK, ambitious politicians, here’s a quiz for you. If you get the answer wrong, you lose your job. Are the following remarks a smart move in the same-sex marriage debate?
''It is another chip in the fabric of our social mores. The time has come to ask, when will it end? If we are prepared to redefine marriage … what is the next step? The next step … is having three people that love each other should be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people. There are even some creepy people out there, who say that it's OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? Will that be one of the things that say, well, you know, these two creatures love each other, maybe they should be able to join in a union?''
The answer is No. Linking bestiality and same-sex marriage is not a smart move.
This brief speech was made in the Federal Senate by South Australian politican Cory Bernardi. A bill to legalise same-sex marriage was lost by a vote of 41 to 26, but Senator Bernardi also lost his job as a Parliamentary Secretary to the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. "They are views that I don't share. They are views that many people will find repugnant," Mr Abbott said.
Senator Bernardi has been gifted with a very thick skin, but not, it seems with a lot of common sense or even a sense of self-preservation. After drawing bestiality into the same-sex marriage debate in the Senate, he went on to repeat the claim on a talkback radio show. It was a gift not only to supporters of gay marriage, who announced that they were deeply offended, but to powerful enemies in his own party. He was forced to resign his cabinet position and to return to the back bench.
Now that we have settled the question of whether these remarks were politically prudent, perhaps we could ask whether they make sense.
The answer to that is clearly yes, they do. Insofar as any consistent rationale underlies arguments for same-sex marriage, it is that marriage is the public recognition of a loving sexual relationship and has nothing necessarily to do with the procreation of children.
That is the principle of it. Arbitrary limits will then be imposed, such as confining it to one unrelated human partner of either sex above the age of 18, depending upon what is socially acceptable. But with the passage of time, perceptions change. In the future some people will certainly ask: Why one? Why unrelated? Why human? Why over 18?
How far away is that future?
It’s impossible to say. But ten years ago, same-sex marriage was unimaginable in Australia. Now it is not only imaginable, it is supported by some of the most powerful politicians in the country. Perhaps the supporters of polygamy, incest and bestiality will never be numerous enough to have their day in Parliament, but if same-sex marriage is legalised, there is no logical reason why they shouldn’t have high hopes for their own cause.