Same-sex marriage creates more commitment? Wait and see

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Australia. After the bill passed the House of Representatives last night – without any amendments to protect religious freedoms or parental rights – Governor-General Peter Cosgrove signed it today, giving “royal assent”.

The first same-sex weddings will take place on January 9.

The final vote in the House of Representatives was overwhelming, with only four MPs voting No and only nine abstaining. In both the House and the Gallery there were cheers and hugs, and a chorus of a song by the Seekers, “I am Australian”, which has become a hymn to diversity.

It was a joyous celebration of “marriage equality”, according to its supporters.

Here at MercatorNet, we have consistently opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage, in Australia and elsewhere. It wasn’t out of nostalgic traditionalism.

We believe that same-sex marriage deprives children of the love of their natural mother or father. We believe that a home with a mother and father is the best place to raise children.

We predict that the ideology of “marriage equality” will become part of mandated school curricula. We predict that the new law will strengthen the transgender movement and its potential for destroying the lives of vulnerable children. We predict that supporters will use the law to silence dissent. We predict that religious freedoms will be eroded. We predict that commercial surrogacy will be legalised, which is an egregious abuse of women’s rights.

Alas! A majority of the electorate did not buy these arguments in the plebiscite. Australia’s politicians were even more sceptical.

The only bright side to this result is that it seems that most Australians do back the notion of commitment. From now on marriage will be defined as “the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. So the law still supports lifelong fidelity of the partners in a publicly recognised union.  

Well, that’s something – because a current of thought that marriage needs to be destroyed exists in the LGBTQI+ community. As Russian-American writer Masha Gessen told an admiring crowd at the Sydney Writer’s Festival a few years ago,

Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we’re going to do with marriage when we get there, because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change, and again, I don’t think it should exist.

So clearly the teary-eyed MPs appeared to have repudiated this kind of nihilism.

In fact, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull emphatically declared that same-sex marriage would make marriage better:

"People who think that gay people making a commitment is a threat to marriage, fail to recognise that the real threat is lack of commitment. So more commitment, more marriage, is good."

One practical outcome after the new legislation is to hold the PM’s feet to the fire over this claim. If “marriage equality” is about increasing commitment, the government of the day should produce an annual Commitment Report.  

According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there is a crisis of commitment:

  • The crude marriage rate – the number of marriages per 1000 people – has fallen from 5.8 to 4.9 since 1996. By the PM’s reckoning, this should begin to climb again.
  • Co-habitation has been rising steadily. In 1975, the proportion of couples who lived together before marriage was 16 percent; in 2006 it was 76.1 percent; in 2016, it was 80.8 percent. “Try before you buy” is hardly an index of commitment. Under the new regime, this figure should begin to fall towards the earlier figures.
  • The median age of both men and women at the time of marriage has been steadily rising, suggesting that there is a fear of commitment. With the new legislation, shouldn’t it fall, as couples in their mid-20s rush to tie the knot? 
  • The proportion of adults living with a partner has been declining steadily, from 65 percent in 1986, to 61 percent in 2006, along with a fall in registered marriages, from 62 percent in 1986 to 52 percent in 2006. Will we see a rise in the proportion in registered marriages now that “marriage equality” is the law of the land?

Another angle on the redefinition of marriage is that it will increase the amount of love in Australia. But love is notoriously difficult to quantity. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” wrote the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She didn’t get very far. And neither will the LGBTQI+ lobby.

But commitment is more measurable than love. The ABS scrupulously collects data about how long marriages last and how popular marriage is. Within a few years, we will have hard figures. Then we will know whether same-sex marriage boosts commitment – or whether it accelerates the dismal trend towards throwaway relationships.

I’ll put my money on the latter.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.


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