[This is my response to Brendan O’Neill’s yarn “Same-sex marriage just another nanny state safety net” in the Weekend Australian.]

Brendan, you’ve got it all wrong: totally arse-about-face backwards.  I wonder if any analysis of Same Sex Marriage (SSM) could add less value to the debate.

Firstly, SSM is about equality. It’s about treating people the same with respect to the state-sanctioned institution of marriage and its follow-on state administration. SSM is about putting the fact and practise to non-discrimination, rather than the pretense or aspiration of non-discrimination.  It’s not asking for other people to lose their rights or asking for anything that isn’t already a right granted to other people.  

Secondly, it’s important to make sure we understand and focus on the real issue at hand. I’m pretty certain it’s not about “gay liberation” – I think we should rest our worries on that score.

Being happily heterosexual myself, I don’t have an authoritative view on the “gay liberation” conspiracy that you write about, but it does seem a bit far-fetched: this idea of a multi-generational proactive gay liberation elite campaigning to establish gay domination.  It doesn’t pass the ‘Pub Test’.  And in any cases such an objective is inimical to the many couples who I know and work with who just want to be treated like anyone else. 

So it’s not about “gay liberation”. What else isn’t it about. Oh: it’s not about the removing of criminalisation of non-heterosexual consensual sex.  Nor is it about the right for non-heterosexual couples to form an enduring bond.  These are old issues, settled long ago.  The argument for equality in principle for non-heterosexuals has come and gone. What we are left with in practice (at least with respect to enduring partnerships and broader family relationships such as children), is a mish-mash of “special-purpose” enablers, e.g. Civil Unions.

So if SSM is not about these things, then what is it about?

SSM is purely and simply about equality of access to the administration of marriage law, and all that comes from that equality.  Australian law (which is all that Federal Parliament can address) does not treat all couples equally.  Or does it? One of the strongest arguments against SSM (at least of those that aren’t childish, offensive or fattening) is that same-sex couples already have a form of permanent bond called “civil union”.

“So why do you need more than what you’ve already got?” is the question from many anti-SSM protagonists. It’s not a bad question, and there is a very simple answer: no-one is asking for more than anyone else has got; they are just asking for the same: equality before the law.

The reality is that the state (nanny or otherwise) has established myriad legal and administrative rules about the conduct of marriage, it’s cessation and everything in between. All those acts, regulations, and other political pronouncements anchor their application on the definition of “marriage” in the marriage act. This definition winds its tentacles through our whole legal existence. I wonder if there is any other definition (except perhaps “human being”) that is so pervasive.  Many rights and benefits are ascribed to those in an official marriage that are unavailable to those in a civil union.

We could, I suppose, embark upon the task of working through all these state legal instruments and painstakingly change them to include “civil union”. But what a stupid, pettifogging, and pointless idea.  Even if it were practical to do so, and there was not a huge opportunity cost to performing such a task, it would just create another set of problems down the track: specifically that we just introduced a million extra places where discrimination is codified into the practical toolset of government. We just made government bigger too.

Thirdly, let’s look at the argument for “religious protection” that is coming from certain quarters of the anti-SSM proponents, and supported it seems by certain sections of the government.

We have mandated religious freedom in this country; we have all the legal enablers that we need for religious freedom in this country.  We have a secular state where the separation of church and state is clearly established.  No-one is subject to restrictions on religious belief or practice of worship.  Unless of course, that those beliefs of practices puts you into conflict with some other principle of the law, and herein lies the problem for a section of the anti-SSM lobby.  They want to be protected from the reach of other legislation if and when they choose to take discriminatory actions based on their religious views of opposition to non-heterosexual couples, for instance, to be able to refuse a marriage related service (such as making a wedding cake) or to perform the marriage ceremony.  

This goes well beyond protection of religious freedom: this is state-sponsored religious defense.  They want the state to allow them to bring their religious beliefs into the administration of Australian law.  But how can we implement such defence without also opening the possibility of other forms of state-sponsored intervention.  The answer is we create more complex legal conditions that allow intervention in some areas, but prevent in others.  

Any decision to take up the cudgels of religious freedom into law will be increasing the Nanny-State response, which kind of undermines the premise for much of Brendan’s yarn.

Lastly, let’s look at all these “arguments” that you’ve raised as evidence that SSM proponents are all about the Nanny state.  To me these “arguments” are not put out to bolster the proposition for SSM; they are not the planks in the platform for SSM.  

These “arguments” aren’t just symptoms of the poor debate, they are at best responses by SSM proponents to are mounted in the face of the trenchant, emotional, and often fact-free opposition to this request (or now demand) for equality.  The SSM argument should just be about equality and nothing else, but how can comments such as the Australian Christian Lobby’s “stolen generation” (and worse) go free without a response.  These arguments are not the manifestation of a quest of equality, they are the by-products of a solid resolve to deny equality by fellow citizens.

These “arguments” are also often statements of fact

SSM is about letting Australians get on with their lives, on an equal footing with the law, to do that whichever they see fit to do, guided by the law or (even better) by the better angels of their natures.   Last time I looked that is what small-government liberalism (for which I think Brendan trying to argue in favour) is on about: fewer reasons to treat any one person (or a couple) differently to anyone else.

So Brendan, I don’t think you are on the right track.  You’ve got it all wrong.  SSM will reduce the nanny state, unless the “religious protection” protagonists get a bumch of exceptions written into the legislation.  The state doesn’t get worse with SSM, it gets better.

Bring on the vote, and vote Yes.