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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Conservative Case for Marriage Equality

By the time this is being written, there are many articles entitled 'The Conservative Case for Marriage Equality', written by many people. The points are now well established and repeated again and again by now. I am not going over all of those points again. I am going to provide a fresh perspective on the matter: my own perspective, from my deep study in recent years into the topic.

I want to talk about marriage itself first. We all need to recognise one thing: marriage is in crisis. Marriage rates have been declining for many years, and the decline has not halted unfortunately. If the trend is not reversed, I am afraid that many of us will live to see a time when marriage will have become a minority concern. It's a tough reality, but it's one that we need to face. In response to this phenomenon, there have been efforts on marriage promotion. However, these have been very limited in their success. Still, we keep doing it because it's the only hope to keep marriage alive. Just why marriage promotion is not working very well needs to be studied, and programs will need to be improved upon. I suspect that opponents painting marriage as outdated, hierarchical and elitist, amongst other things, have had at least some effect. I don't believe in any of that rubbish personally, but I know people who do. In the long run we need strategies to defeat comprehensively the 'liberation' ideology that has torpedoed marriage.

However, right now, perhaps more urgently, there is one clear threat to marriage promotion: that much of the younger generation are starting to see marriage as an exclusionary, bigoted institution. And whilst that may not mean they will all refuse to get married, I suspect few of them would be too happy to get on board marriage promotion when it is promoting an institution excluding and hurting their gay and lesbian friends, and in many cases, family members. When marriage clearly excludes gay and lesbian couples, every word of marriage promotion will hurt their feelings - this is literally true, and something that cannot be said any milder. As a result, marriage promotion will rightly be seen as a hurtful exercise by many young people. Even I, a supporter of marriage, have had trouble explaining to my friends that whilst I support marriage I don't support the exclusionary aspect of the marriage laws out there. I simply have given up on talking about the matter most of the time.

Another concern with marriage right now is the sky high divorce rates. A society with divorce rates above 40% really is not sustainable in the long run, I believe. The proposed solution is to restart a conversation about what marriage is and what the commitment means. I totally agree that this would help a lot. As a society, we should discuss and hopefully come to a conclusion that marriage is not just about love or adult desires, but is about the formation of families and providing for them a stable structure. However, it wouldn't work when people are using the 'what marriage really is' argument to exclude gay and lesbian people - again the important message would be lost in accusations of bigotry. A better way would be to allow gay and lesbian couples to get married as a matter of equal compassion and inclusion, which actually lets us then deal with the matter of what marriage is, without all the noise. Including gay and lesbian couples, who are by definition infertile couples, would not really distract from the idea of marriage being for procreation and for the stability of families resulting from the procreation act, any more than allowing heterosexual childless or infertile couples to marry (as we currently do) would. In reality, being rigid rarely works. I believe it would make perfect sense to say that marriage was meant to help couples set up family by encouraging procreation and then providing a stable structure for the resulting family, but being an inclusive society, we also extend this institution to cover those couples who unfortunately cannot procreate but are living in similarly committed arrangements.

The gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage and a family life, even if they do not have children to raise, are actively seeking to join the age old tradition of marriage and commitment. They have actively rejected the 'liberation' movement, which has promised them a life of endless hedonism, lots of sexual freedom and no institutions to rule their lives by. Just like us, they have chosen to reject the postmodern promise of endless freedom and have chosen to embrace instead the tradition of commitment and family values. Not many people out there are aware of this, but for choosing to side with tradition they often face the ridicule, disdain and outright discouragement of more 'liberation' orientated gay and lesbian people. For choosing to adopt our values and join our lifestyle, they have been derided as asssimilationists, people who are ashamed of who they are and seek conservative society's approval at all costs. We, the people who embrace family values, are their natural home. To reject them here too would be far too cruel and indeed inconsistent with our compassionate family values. To reject them would also be to confirm that their critics are right, that being gay means you cannot embrace family values, that you must embrace 'liberationism'. I really don't think that is the right message to send.

The fact that gay and lesbian couples are actively rejecting 'liberation' and embracing the tradition of marriage is another thing we should take heart to, and may even be able to use as a starting point for a general return to family values in society. The fact that gay and lesbian couples, who live in a culture where just a decade or so ago 'liberation' was the norm, have come to reject it so decisively, can be a great conversation starter for a wider societal discussion on marriage and family values, and why they represent a superior lifestyle to 'liberation'. Again, it is an opportunity we can only take if we first embrace the idea of marriage equality first.

Finally, many people, especially in the younger generations, are supportive of marriage equality as an idea. However, they are nowhere as passionate and committed as me in seeing this reform get done. The difference is because I believe in the essential conservative values of commitment, the importance of marriage, and the importance of family values for the future of our humanity, beliefs that have become too rare in our generation. Marriage equality will not fix all the problems surrounding marriage and family in our society, but it is where we must all begin. Sending the wrong message on this matter means not just that gay couples suffer - it gives a huge boost to our opponents in our long running battle for hearts and minds. This is why marriage equality cannot wait - it is an urgent priority. Ten years down the track, we may have lost a very good opportunity to change things indeed.