Till death do us part or until it runs its course, whichever comes first

Sometimes politically-correct woke language hits you in the face. Chestfeeding, birthing people, BIPOC. While plenty of people will use this language to signal they’re on the Good Team, most people know these are mostly nonsense and don’t get too worried about it.

But sometimes you see a change in language that is a sign of something deeper, a shift that indicates people really do see an issue differently now. This isn’t always a negative. Chairperson instead of Chairman or Flight Attendant instead of Air Hostess – fine, no worries. You might think it’s a bit novel that Perth Airport now uses the Indigenous place name alongside the English name for destinations (ie. Canberra/Ngunnawal) but it’s not really that much of a concern.

Then sometimes something stops you in your tracks.

Last week I was reading an email invitation from a cinema to a special screening of the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie The Fabelmans. The summary of the plot read as follows:

The Fabelmans centres around 16-year-old aspiring filmmaker Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle playing a fictional version of Spielberg’s younger self) as he falls in love with the power of cinema and simultaneously witnesses his parents’ marriage running its course. His mother Mitzi (four-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams) is a pianist, unpredictable and emotional, a stark contrast to his scientific father Burt (Paul Dano) who is calm and logical.

Did you catch it? It’s subtle.

It’s just after the bit about the “power of cinema”. For an extra clue you might like to know that Spielberg’s parents got divorced.

Got it?

“Witnesses his parents’ marriage running its course.”

What a fascinating euphemism.

You would usually expect that sentence to read “witnesses his parent’s marriage breaking down” or “his parents’ failing marriage”. And when you read those versions you don’t really think twice about them. They’re not offensive.

But what if they are?

See, when you have a generation of broken homes, single parent households, and unmarried parents the idea of marriage as a serious lifelong commitment that is a good in itself and something you should stick to no matter what – for richer or poorer – becomes less compelling. And then when that generation starts to form families of its own without having been brought up in married two-parent households, the ideal of marriage as an institution breaks down even further and marriage rates drop.

The collapse of marriage in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) societies isn’t news. What’s notable about the idea of “marriage running its course” as a phrase is that it’s value-less. Or rather, the value it is highlighting is non-judgementalism about why a relationship might end as opposed to highlighting a failure to uphold the moral obligations marriage is meant to impose on people.

To say that a marriage “ran its course” is to say Mistakes Were Made.

The fact is; if you don’t consciously uphold the fundamental value of marriage as a commitment that, absent abuse, you do not compromise on, you lose the value.

It’s a neat coincidence that this popped up in the same week as the five-year anniversary of the announcement of the result of the Australian plebiscite on same-sex marriage in 2017, paving the way for passage of same-sex marriage legislation a few weeks later.

While the legalisation of same-sex marriage is popularly framed as being about “equality” and “rights”, in reality it’s reflective of a society that has lost a sense of what marriage is for and why it’s important enough to need state sanction.

‘Unfinished business’

It’s remarkable to read this marriage campaign retrospective in The Age which in its headline states that there is “unfinished business” on the matter even though the apparent goal was achieved. Leader of the pro-same-sex marriage campaign, Anna Brown, makes a throw-away aside about how “no one has married the Harbour Bridge” but then later on very clearly states that coming for religious schools is next on the progressive activist agenda.

Of course this, and not nonsense about the Harbour Bridge, is precisely what the opponents of same-sex marriage said would happen.

The insistence was always that there was no threat to religious freedom or conscience, it was only about marriage. No, strictly speaking, the sky hasn’t fallen in. But if you hold on to religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender best not to be a sports CEO, probably don’t be a parent who expects a say if your child wants to transition his or her gender, reconsider teaching those values if you’re a religious school, don’t even think about foster caring, and Wear. The. Jersey.

In The Age, former Attorney General George Brandis strains to decouple these issues by saying the gender debate would have happened anyway. Maybe. But the activists clearly see this all as part of the same battle. And when society’s fundamental institution can be stripped of all its content -- marriages aren’t for life, they just “run their course” -- what else can possibly stand against the onward March of the Woke?

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