NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Now to win the debate on marriage
, October 27, 2012
As sometimes happens in politics, first you win the vote, then you win the argument. The defeat of bills for same-sex marriage in both houses of federal parliament was decisive. But debate on the issue remains unresolved. Why is this so?
Many politicians voted against same-sex marriage, because they had far more to lose than to gain on the issue.
Polling by the Ambrose Centre in late 2011 found that more Australians were “strongly opposed” to same-sex marriage (18 per cent) than “strongly in favour” (14 per cent). This poll also showed that more than two-thirds of Australians believed same-sex marriage to be a low priority compared to issues such as job security, unemployment, the rising cost of living and transport.
Support for natural marriage was affirmed by Tony Abbott who insisted that the Liberals (and Nationals) stick to the Coalition’s policy supporting natural marriage, and by those brave Labor parliamentarians who voted to preserve marriage between one man and one woman, despite unrelenting hostility from fellow members and the array of single-interest groups that have captured the party.
The vote for natural marriage was in stark contrast to almost universal media support for so-called “marriage equality”, with only token debate offered in the name of media fairness.
After the vote, what remains unresolved is the debate over the meaning of marriage.
Polls show that a small to sizeable majority of Australians, when asked if they support marriage equality, answer “yes”.
Arguably, it is a meaningless question, because many Australians don’t know the true meaning of the word “marriage”.
This makes “marriage equality” a loaded question. If people don’t know the meaning and importance of natural marriage, then who can disagree with a question about “equality”?
Ask most high-school teenagers to explain the meaning of marriage and their answers are vaguely about two people loving each other, or even an honest reply, “I don’t know”. The vast majority have never heard the word “matrimony”.
This has left the X-Y-Z generation with little understanding of marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman, a life-long partnership, the safest place for raising children and for staying out of poverty, offering the probability of a longer life and greater happiness and fulfilment.
A significant proportion of young people have no experience, or else a negative experience, of marriage. They have been raised entirely, or in part, by single parents, or by de facto parents, or in blended family or step-families. Their parents are doing a heroic job raising their children, many of these families being in difficult circumstances.
No single statistical study adequately summarises the mosaic of circumstances under which children are born and being raised in Australia. But the following two figures, from an Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) paper, gives something of the picture:
• Almost 35 per cent of children are born out of wedlock, and raised at least initially by a single parent.
• 26.4 per cent of children are being raised by a single parent, in a blended family or a step-family.
(Source: Alan Hayes, Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu and Matthew Gray, Families Then and Now: 1980-2010, Melbourne: AIFS, 2010).
Hence, while most children have been born into a marriage, and are being raised by their natural, biological parents, many other children have a markedly different experience of family.
Most schools don’t discuss, define or promote marriage because it’s too sensitive an issue for those children who don’t have married parents or who have suffered as a result of the breakdown of their parents’ relationship.
The decline of religious belief has compounded the issue. For many couples, marriage is not regarded as having a spiritual or sacramental nature, given that 62 per cent of today’s marriages are civil ceremonies, not church weddings.
These factors have left most young people, even those being raised by married natural parents, without an appreciation of the meaning and importance of marriage.
In the near future, the Coalition will come under increased pressure to allow a so-called “conscience” vote on any future same-sex marriage bill. That push must be resisted.
The highest priority should be given to winning the argument, particularly among the younger generation, for natural marriage.
To that end, there is still a conservative base of families in Australia from which the next generation can be taught about the importance of natural marriage.
Most young people are still being raised by their natural parents in a marriage. According to the AIFS study referred to above, 73.6 per cent of children are being raised by their natural, biological parents.
About 92 per cent of two-parent families with children are married, intact couples. (Source: David de Vaus, Diversity and Change in Australian Families: Statistical Profiles, Melbourne: AIFS, 2004, p.34.)
Serious research is needed on how to reconnect the X-Y-Z generation with natural marriage and family, particularly given that young people still yearn to share their lives with a life-long partner and to have children and raise a family.