Sinclair Davidson seems to think my main beef with gay marriage is that the people who campaign for it use unpleasant tactics. But this is merely an observation. And it’s the one I made on Q&A last Monday because I had just witnessed the doublespeak of Sam Dastyari, who said, in response to traditional marriage campaigner Katy Faust, that “people are entitled to have different views” (how generous of him) “but this American evangelical claptrap is the last thing we need in the debate”. For me, this summed up the illiberal liberalism of the gay-marriage campaign. “You’re entitled to your view; just don’t express it.”
Beyond this observation, however, my gay-marriage scepticism (an awful phrase, I know) is driven by a belief that gay marriage expands rather than diminishes the power of the state over our lives.
The first way it does this is through allowing the state to redefine the moral meaning of marriage. For much of the modern period, the state has brokered marriage, yes. But the moral idea and value of marriage is something that developed organically over centuries through the interplay of communities and traditions. That the gay-marriage campaign grants the state a new, unprecedented authority over how we define our personal relationships and family lives is clear from the relish with which the ruling elites of Canada, the UK and elsewhere have rewritten public documents to excise mentions of “mothers”, “fathers”, “husbands” and “wives” in favour of a more neutral language to suit their homogenisation of all relationships as “marriage”. Those who say “They’re only words, who cares?” clearly don’t know their Orwell: the policing of language is very often a policing of attitudes, a reengineering of societal values so that they better accord with the elite’s view.
The second way the gay-marriage campaign boosts the power of the state is in the realm of moral conscience and freedom of thought. New equality laws have been utilised to punish those who refuse to acknowledge gay marriage. Bakers who won’t make gay cakes have been taken to court. In the midst of the global celebrations that greeted Ireland’s “Yes” vote to gay marriage, few seem to have noticed that the Irish deputy PM said there would be no “conscience clause”, because it would be intolerable to “exclude some people or institutions from the operation of marriage equality”. Through gay marriage, the state — in the shape of the courts, the policing of “hate speech” and the restructuring of moral education in schools — is exercising greater control over what can be thought and said about human relationships.
So that’s my beef with gay marriage: it allows the state to increase its already considerable clout over both our personal/family lives and our consciences. The ugly tactics of the loudest gay-marriage proponents are no accident: they speak to this illiberal heart of gay marriage. There’s one question I’ve asked every liberal I’ve encountered in Australia, all of whom harangue me for my views on gay marriage: why are Western governments that are so allergic to freedom and autonomy passionately embracing gay marriage? They’ve all struggled to answer. I think it’s because gay marriage chimes brilliantly with these governments’ insatiable desire to diminish the sovereignty of the family and intervene more in our personal lives, and to police what we think.
People say Oz is different, because the law was rewritten in 2004 to say marriage is between a man and a woman. They say this means they’re campaigning for less government definition of what is an acceptable relationship. Look, I’m sure Australia is different in some ways. But from the chattering-class intolerance of dissent to your media’s suffocating conformism on this matter, your sameness to the rest of the West is what’s most striking. Sorry, Aussies, but on this you’re not as special as you think.
A final point: Sinclair, like others, says slavery and other bad things also existed for a long time and then disappeared, so what’s the big deal about marriage changing quickly too? To speak about the enslavement of vast swathes of humanity in the same breath as the inability of free, equal, often middle-class gays to get married is grotesquely to diminish that historic crime. What’s more, slavery took centuries to defeat, and its defeat came at the hands of huge numbers of ordinary people, black and white, fighting for freedom; gay marriage, by contrast, is an idea that has spread like mad in less than a decade and which is spearheaded exclusively by elites: lawyers, politicians, media people, think tanks. You can appeal to historical struggles for freedom all you like, but there’s no disguising the illiberalism, elitism and plain weirdness of the gay-marriage contagion.