Political pooftah-bashing

John Howard’s inimitable brand of ‘dog-whistle politics’ is in full swing over the issue of gay marriage and alleged plans to amend the Marriage Act to prevent it. An article by Liberal Senator Guy Barnett in today’s Australian is a prime example of the genre. Whether Barnett himself is a cynical dog-whistler or just an ignorant goose is another question (although the two categories may not be mutually exclusive). Here’s Barnett’s killer argument:

MARRIAGE, a bedrock institution worthy of protection, has endured for thousands of years across cultures and religions. It is a social institution that benefits family members and society. It provides a solidly built roof under which children are nurtured. It specifically benefits children and is designed to ensure their welfare is maximised. There should be no doubt about its definition.

Perhaps so. But why should the need for definitional certainty preclude the adoption of an inclusive definition allowing for gay marriage?

The need to maximise the welfare of children certainly doesn’t provide a rational basis for excluding gays from the legal union of marriage. In fact quite the reverse. Gay couples frequently have children, a fact Barnett’s argument conveniently ignores. It might occur through adoption in States permitting it (the Commonwealth having no clear constitutional power to override such state legislation). It might occur because a lesbian couple creates a family through judicious use of the old turkey-basting technique; or the more traditional method of selecting a less than utterly repugnant male “partner” and then thinking of God, Queen and country while making the penultimate sacrifice. More commonly, it happens because a member of a gay couple has custody of his/her child previously born in a failed heterosexual union. In any of those cases, surely the welfare of those children is maximised by allowing the custodial parents’ relationship exactly the same legal protections and stability available to everyone else. God knows, couples need all the legal and practical support they can get to help their marriages last, as this recently-failed practitioner knows only too well.

It’s that sort of logical non-sequitur, in a conservative politician whose prose otherwise suggests he’s not in fact a complete fool, that leads irresistably to the conclusion that Barnett isn’t an ignorant goose, but a cynical politician engaging in a particularly distasteful effort at wedge politics. He and Howard are attempting to divide the community over an issue that should unite us, in the hope of winning some soft Labor votes through appealing to the sort of Labor voter who instinctively agrees with Paul Keating’s glib (but no doubt sincere) line that marriages are meant for Adam and Eve not “Adam and Steve”.

That impression is confirmed by Barnett’s closing observation that marriage is “not a fashion to be updated.” But was the traditional right to own slaves in the US a “fashion” that shouldn’t have been updated? What about all the other basic civil rights that didn’t effectively begin to be recognised by the US Supreme Court until the early 1950s? Were they too just judicial fashions that ought to have been rejected? What about the constitutional right to political free speech first recognised by Australia’s High Court in 1992? Another worthless judicial fashion promoted by pooftah judges who don’t understand the unique sanctity of mum, dad, two kids and a white picket fence? I’d rather think these reforms happened because the political and legal culture in western liberal democracies has been evolving in the direction of freedom of choice, and tolerance and even celebration of diverse lifestyles. At least it was evolving in that direction until politicians like Howard and Bush gained power and started rolling back those freedoms. Maybe I won’t vote Informal after all. Then again, God knows whether Latham’s views are any different.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jock
2021 years ago

Another classic from the Hard Right – describe the virtues of personal liberty until the cows come home unless their moral code is ‘violated’ by the expression of sexual personal choice. I hope most level headed Australians see this for what it is, a play for votes at the expense of considered debate over issues of real importance.

Goetz von Berlichingen
Goetz von Berlichingen
2021 years ago

Marriage, supposedly, is
the union of a man and a woman
to the exclusion of others
freely entered into
for life.

Everything, except the “freely entered into” is dead letter.

The honest thing to do would be to abolish marriage as a legal concept, and treat people who share their lives EXACTLY the same as we treat two blood relatives who decide to live together.

In this day and age, I don’t really see why having a sexual relationship should entitle you to half your ex’s stuff.

Rex
Rex
2021 years ago

Why has there been no similar outrage against the intrusion of Take-Away-Meals on:

LUNCH, a bedrock institution worthy of protection, has endured for thousands of years across cultures and religions. It is a social institution that benefits family members and society. It specifically benefits children and is designed to ensure their welfare is maximised. There should be no doubt about its definition.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

It’s a dog whistle, all right, but will it work? These days, the general community is relaxed and comfortable about gays.

How do I know this?

Just look at reality television. Every reality TV show has a gay person or couple. One of them has gays at centre stage. The TV networks are in the business of appealing to the masses. If the masses hated pooftahs, you wouldn’t see a gay couple within a 50km radius of The Block. But they are there in bright, bright lights.

On this occasion, Little Johnny’s political radar may have let him down.

Another Bloody Libertarian
Another Bloody Libertarian
2021 years ago

Abolish state backed marriage. If people feel the legal need for it, or to back up a religious rite, do so through private contract like estate law and wills.

Good points by all.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Dave,

It’s not the “killer” wedge issue that asylum seekers became in the leadup to the last federal election. But that sort of issue is a rare heaven?-sent political opportunity. I suspect the gay marriage issue is simply one of a considerable number of smaller wedges the Coalition has devised to hive off socially conservative soft Labor voters while shoring up its own support base (especially One Nation types). I agree that the vast majority of Australians are now “relaxed and comfortable” about gayness, but there’s still a significant streak of homophobia, especially among older working class people. We can expect other wedges targetting different prejudices and different vulnerable voting cohorts.

Of course, I’m not denying that Labor uses “wedge” tactics either. I dislike the emergence of this American political practice wherever it emerges: fostering social division on sensitive issues, where unity and social harmony have been starting to develop, is a short-sighted and odious political tactic IMO. The trouble is, it appears to be very effective when practised by skilled apparatchiks like the Liberals’ Mark Textor. So political parties are going to keep using it, politics being an inherently amoral discipline. Nor can I conceive of any law that could effectively restrain the practice without unacceptably burdening free speech. The only answer I can see is to keep pointing out the tactic when it’s used in the hope that voters will eventually come to recognise and reject it.

Gary
2021 years ago

I’m with ABL “Abolish state backed marriage” if it is truly about discrimination.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

Where can Howard go with this? The ALP has effectively blocked him by indicating support for legislation specifically aimed at clarifying the conventionally understood construct of marriage. They’ve also indicated support for a greater level of legal entitlement around longterm relationships not currently covered by the marriage definition. Howard would have to move out into the dark fringes of religiosity-driven moral fervour – well past the comfort level of much of his own cabinet and caucus let alone the electorate – to wedge Labor off. It’s a recipe for Australian political irrelevance.

Broadly, Gay Australia doesn’t see marriage, per se, as a crunch issue. My sense is that people would tend to see a strengthening and harmonising of civil union entitlement as a greater priority at this point.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

I would tend to agree pretty much with Geoff on the usefullness of this as a wedge issue. Geoff does lead me to ask the rhetorical question that comes up when I read the other comments and on other issues:

Why do they refuse to acknowledge that Howard has beliefs?

I am not in agreement with Howard on this and God knows I know people who aren’t in agreement with him on anything. Yet this position that many people take, “any sane human being with a modicum of intelligence and decency would believe what I believe so therefore this Howard character must be some sick driven beast seeking power for its own sake” is just plain silly. For starters it gets in the way of them getting rid of the bastard.

He may know full well that Geoff’s call on this is totally correct. He may be making his point because he simply does not reckon a homosexual relationship can ever constitute a marriage. Judge him by all means.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

I find it interesting that M’Lud Ken aeemingly approves of the fact that one person in a lesbian realtionship should be unfaithful and have a child with of course the father having no rights with the said child.
Post modernism rules.

I don’t believe Howard is trying to wedge the ALP on this. As James has stated He does believe in some things and this is one of them.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Homer,

I was simply listing the ways in which gay couples might become parents, to make the point that affording them the same legal security as heterosexual marriage was equally conducive to those children’s welfare. My post didn’t state or imply approval or otherwise for any of the canvassed impregnation methods. However, since you’ve raised it, I wouldn’t regard it as “unfaithful” for one member of a lesbian couple, with the consent of her partner, to procure the stud services of an equally consenting male. No doubt you have a different definition of “faithful” flowing from your particular brand of christian belief. You’re entitled to hold those beliefs, just as I’m entitled to hold mine.

parallel
parallel
2021 years ago

I agree(!) with Homer on this one. Howard is doing this because he believes in it, irrespective of whether or not it is smart politics. If the ALP wants to wedge itself into a crack over it, it is entirely their own affair.

I think Howard is correct in the historical role and importance of marriage. What he does not say is that a large part of the reason for its historical success is the prestige and social status associated with the institution, which is almost entirely unrelated to any government or financial benefits that have been attached. I think there is good reason not to damage the institution for simple reasons of political correctness.

To the extent that the state and society has interest in same-sex or alternative arrangements – which it certainly does where children are involved, or inheritance, next-of-kin, etc – formally declared civil unions would seem to cover it.

parallel
parallel
2021 years ago

I agree(!) with Homer on this one. Howard is doing this because he believes in it, irrespective of whether or not it is smart politics. If the ALP wants to wedge itself into a crack over it, it is entirely their own affair.

I think Howard is correct in the historical role and importance of marriage. What he does not say is that a large part of the reason for its historical success is the prestige and social status associated with the institution, which is almost entirely unrelated to any government or financial benefits that have been attached. I think there is good reason not to damage the institution for simple reasons of political correctness.

To the extent that the state and society has interest in same-sex or alternative arrangements – which it certainly does where children are involved, or inheritance, next-of-kin, etc – formally declared civil unions would seem to cover it.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

I don’t dispute that this initiative has a basis in Howard’s beliefs – which he’s totally entitled to of course. But he of all people knows that successful governance in a liberal democracy rests ultimately on acceptance and accommodation of a variety of beliefs, as the fundamental bedrock of our system. Moral wedging is inextricably related to a judgment on how far one belief might be pushed – in political advantage terms – against others. The ALP position here is ultimately more politically advantageous than his own – and I suspect he’s well aware of that.

Leaving absurdly disingenuous utterances like – “this isn’t directed against gay people” -aside, I don’t think that Howard is homophobic per se. He knows gay people, he’s had gay people working with him, etc. I suspect he sees the inchoate “gay lobby” as intrinsically leftist in tone and he’s probably not wrong about that. I think that his approach here is not unlike that of a lot of other conservative, educated Australians: it’s not individual gay people that are the problem, it’s more the amorphous, ‘special interest’ incarnation of “gay” that represents a threat. He’s got to get over it at some point.

Homer – your continuing inability to ‘get’ the infinite possibility of the human condition is kind of charming…..:)

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

But he of all people knows that successful governance in a liberal democracy rests ultimately on acceptance and accommodation of a variety of beliefs, as the fundamental bedrock of our system.

Yes Geoff, of course, but I perceive that social conservatives are concerned that it is very easy to misuse this as an arguement towards what Howard might call “values neutrality”. This is where the economically dry political cosnervatives/social liberals and someone like Howard and Bush part company. The debate is being moved away from the economy and into the social, not for the purposes of wedging but because Howard is a dreamer, a balanced budget is not enough…

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

One man’s dream etc. The problem with “values neutralty” identification is that, too often, it actually represents a values negativity assessment in he who is doing the identifying. Howard, seemingly, can’t conceive (pun only partly intended) of committed, loving relationships, worthy of social/legal validation, in anything other than the traditional construct that characterised his own upbringing. The problem isn’t that gay people might marry, it’s more that Howard – I think quite genuinely – can’t get his head around why they should. Unlike Bush, I don’t think there’s any great religious thing happening. I suspect that Howard’s is a very conventional, “that’s what decent, conentional folk believe,” type of church affiliation thing. He’d certainly have no time for hands in the air holyrolling and “born-again” malarkey – quite unnecessary, etc.

As always there’s a number of different layers in his approach. There’s certainly a need to construct a response to the question of recognition for ‘unconventional marriages’ contracted elsewhere and the ALP have signed up to that aspect with an alacrity that might have surprised him. There’s an undoubted personal belief element too but he won’t get bipartisan support on that approach and it’s questionable whether he’d carry his own caucus without significant concession on civil union/partnerships. Then there’s the wedge which would ostensibly be about how far to the extremity he could run his opponents without risking the electoral middle ground. Not very, I’m picking.

I’m sure you’re right about the divide between Howard and the economic dry/social liberal electorate James, but he won’t be winning another term without a significant chunk of that vote

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

“I don’t think that Howard is homophobic per se. …I think that his approach here is not unlike that of a lot of other conservative, educated Australians: it’s not individual gay people that are the problem, it’s more the amorphous, ‘special interest’ incarnation of “gay” that represents a threat.”

Rather like white people who quite like some blacks on an individual basis, as long as they know their place and don’t get too uppity.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

Not a bad analogy.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

The problem isn’t that gay people might marry, it’s more that Howard – I think quite genuinely – can’t get his head around why they should.

Quite so Geoff, it is a social rationalist/social dry position in the sense that marriage laws (in this view) exist to establish the best forms inwhich little Australians, future little productive units/ taxpayers/ western imperialists, are created and nurtured. Gay relationships are not for condemnation or oppression they simply are not at this particular table. In this sense Dave’s analogy is flawed, the laws are not about stopping gays from getting uppity. They are not about gays at all.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

M’Lud Ken, then can I assume it wouldn’t be unfaithfull of my wife to have sex with another man if I had problems if we both agreed?

Can I also ask for your definition of adultery and why didn’t you tell Bill clinton of it when he needed it!

Gary
2021 years ago

That particular problem will be solved soon.

Unfertilized eggs yield fatherless mouse

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Homer,

The dictionary definition of “faithful” in Dictonary.com is:

– Adhering firmly and devotedly, as to a person, cause, or idea; loyal.
– Having or full of faith.
– Worthy of trust or belief; reliable.
– Consistent with truth or actuality.

I would not regard mechanical sex for purely procreative purposes, with the free and informed consent and approval of one’s partner, as running foul of any of those definitions.

Adultery is a different matter. It’s Dictionary.com definition is:

– Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse.

Clearly surrogacy sex is adulterous, irrespective of the free and informed consent of the partner/spouse, but it isn’t “unfaithful”. In any event, I haven’t heard anyone suggest that Hillary Clinton consented, freely or otherwise, to Bill having oral sex with Monica. Thus it was both adulterous and unfaithful, and has nothing to do with the current discussion.

mark
2021 years ago

Forgive me, James, but that sounds like the difference between “no non-whites allowed here” and “whites only allowed here”.

It’s one thing not to understand why gays would want to marry, and quite another to actively prevent them. Okay, so gays presumably don’t usually have kids the “normal way” (that is, through sex with a spouse). So what? If marriage is all about raising kids — well, gays can still raise kids. But it isn’t, in any case! What of childless heterosexual couples? Should there be some sort of law that states marriages must be anulled after five years (or whenever) if the union fails to, uhm, bear fruit?

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

I’ve been trying to split hairs Mark and done a poor job. You’ve helped, I am trying to define the difference between “whites only” and “no non-whites”.

Dave implies that the social conservatives agenda is to prevent certain minorities from getting “uppity”. I don’t think that is the case. The aim is to enshrine the ideal in law and to tolerate situations that fall short of this ideal.
Social conservative policy, which you and I may disagree with, is that actively preventing them is justified. I am merely trying to show the difference between homosexuals “knowing their place” re marriage and “knowing their place” as some kind of second class citizens in general. Both positions may well be objectionable too some but it is an important hair to split IMO.

Homer  Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

M’Lud Ken has shown true Pharsaic wisdom is showing how some married couples can indulge in adultery but remain faithfull.

I am wondering why you don’t agree with Bill clinton and believe oral sex isn’t sex either.

You a true child of Post Modernism

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Thank you Homer. Now where are my cigars? The sticky ones are quite hard to re-light, I find.

mark
2021 years ago

Thanks for clarifying, James. You’re right — the two positions re homosexual marriage are different, and I do find both objectionable :-)

Ken, I… uh… um. Hmmm. I think you’re supposed to light a different cigar (or even a cigarette) afterwards?

Rodney
2021 years ago

Oaks may fall when reeds stand the storm…

adam
adam
2021 years ago

i bash poofaths from luke w

david
david
2021 years ago

im a dick

trackback
2021 years ago

Another likely bloody story

Ban on same-sex marriages doesn’t target gays: PM Prime Minister John Howard today denied he was targeting gay people when he signalled a ban on same sex marriages, saying he was just stating what most people thought. So who is…

trackback
2021 years ago

Golden Gaytime

Ken Parish must hate John Howard. Actually, Ken saves me the trouble of pointing out Dear Leader’s latest nonsense about gay marriage. And as Ken says, if Mark Latham adopts the same policy, he deserves the same level of contempt….