Or, as the writer Russell Hoban put it, there’s a moment under the moment. And John Donne: “No man is an island … Each is a piece of the continent.” Just so, same sex marriage isn’t simply about gay people having the right to marry, but clearly, resonantly also about something else that everyone is part of.
The previous Mulcher post — Is Julia Gillard homophobic? Or just whistling? — prompted some responses which have kept me thinking about same sex marriage. It has been a heated issue in the States since 2004 when Massachusetts first legalised it, and at the moment it’s flaming — thanks to Judge Walker’s overturning of California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.
Their op-ed pages and blogosphere have been having a tremendous discussion for a week — indeed, let’s recognise it as that supposedly much desired thing: a national debate. (The inset panel is from the homepage of the The New Republic, the venerable 96-y-o, liberal centre right journal.) It’s pitched from and at the top level but every American, consciously or not, belongs to some kind of pressure group now. Thus this remarkable graph below from a new CNN poll (it’s a Rorshach test too: what do you see?):
“Nearly half of all Americans think the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry … The gap widens dramatically when age is taken into account. Nearly six in ten Americans under the age of 50 say gay rights are protected under the Constitution. Only 38 percent of Americans over the age of 50 say the same thing.”
The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan’s blog is the indispensable aggregator and commentator on the matter, see various links on his weekly round-ups here and here. His quote of the day on August 4, of course, went to Judge Vaughn Walker:
“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”
So, from this Wednesday, August 18, when same sex marriages resume in California, the rest of the US will be enclosed on three sides by places that allow gay folk to marry: California, Canada and Mexico City (pop. 20 million).
The countries (and megapolis) with legalised same sex marriage will be: Canada, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, South Africa, Argentina and New Mexico and six states in the US: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, Vermont, Conneticut, California (New York, Rhode Island, Wash. DC and New Mexico recognise same-sex marriages from elsewhere.)
Same sex civil unions obtain in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland,Denmark, Finland, Israel and New Zealand. In the US, six states also have legal same sex civil unions.
Australia says Yes: the generation gap
Australia is not even close to being as morally/religiously polarised as the US, where doctors in abortion clinics are ferried in through constant protest picketing with sheets over their heads (eight doctors have been killed); where the Supreme Court is a battleground of ideology; where any would-be politician would be not laughed but hounded out of even considering office, should they admit to being an atheist.
Australia is pretty even-tempered, relatively speaking. In the Galaxy poll on attitudes to same sex marriage commissioned last year by Australian Marriage Equality, 60% of Australians supported the idea (compared to 49% of Americans; but matching the nearly 60% of Americans under 50). The demographic breakdown reveals the unsurprising generational divide:
Australians aged 16 to 24 agreed at 74%
Those aged 25 to 34 agreed at 71%
Aged 35-49 agreed at 68%
While those aged 50 and over agreed at only 45%
As well: Women agreed at 68%, while men agreed at 53%; Green voters at 92%, Labor voters at 64% and Coalition voters at an even 50%. White collars: 66%; blue collars 55%.
Read it how you like but this looks conclusively like the numbers for same sex marriage acceptance are very positive. (That’s if we take polls seriously, but if the professionals — pollies, advertising — do, then why shouldn’t we?) This pertains directly to Gillard’s remark in regard to her personal view against same sex marriage, “Look, that is my view, I think that’s where we’re at as a community now, and I think it’s appropriate that for these very sensitive issues that we’re reflecting community views.”
Which leads us to the celebrity rockjock Mr Sandilands, nationally noticed for his Australian Idol tenure, whose Kyle and Jackie O Show rules the FM roost in Sydney. (A brief primer for those who need it: His affect, his shtick, is to be brutally frank — where the sign says, Don’t Go There, he steps on the accelerator. His “value” to his audience is to be the one who says what people think but are too polite, or sensible, or timid to say. Helen Razer, on Crikey, gave this reading on his persona: “Sandilands’ MO has been, from the outset, a peculiar brand of stump-dumb conceit … His style is bland, lexically clumsy and utterly synthetic. He is faker than wrestling … Much has been made of Sandilands’ on-air sadism … [he] basically, built a career from calling women fat and blokes pouffey.”)
What Kyle and Jackie O did do recently was to extract from Julia Gillard the first of her anti-same sex marriage opinions (two pars above) and then subject Tony Abbott to a similar badgering on the subject. The first two minutes of the interview went like this:
Kyle: “Seem like a nice bloke, I can’t get my head around the bike suit and everything like that, that freaks me out a little bit (“Yeah,” murmurs Abbott). But you seem quite sporty and I’m anti-sport (“Sporty,” Jackie O chortles) and uh, I know you like, you’re big into Jesus, and that you don’t want the gays to get married. And that’s all I know. [Pause, interrupts Jackie O] Why don’t you let the gays get married, for God’s sake? Like I know everyone’s got their own opinion and it’s, you know, but why … like WHY?! … just let them get married, who cares?”
Abbott: “Well … well … this is a fair point Kyle but, um, I just, I guess I’m old-fashioned, in the sense that I think that marriage is about a man and a woman. Now that doesn’t mean …”
Kyle: “Yeah, but that’s, isn’t that your world, like what if there’s blokes who are in love with each other. They don’t bother me. Obviously you don’t come in contact with them, but does it really matter that much if people love each other. [Calmer] It [your view] is a bit old fashioned. And but like back in the day when the blacks and the whites weren’t allowed to drive on the same bus, to me it’s the same thing. They’re all people, let them get married, who cares.”
Abbott: “Well … well … Kyle I think it’s fair enough saying let’s encourage strong and lasting relationships and I’m all in favour of that, um, but I just think that if you’re going to call it a marriage as such — it’s about a man and a woman. But, but I’m all in favour of, uh, live and let live, so to speak, I mean, you’re absolutely right, there’s lots of great relationships that people have and let’s encourage them.”
Jackie O: “So you accept same-sex relationships, you just don’t support the marriage part of it.”
Abbott: “That’s putting it pretty well.”
Kyle v Abbott: irrationality v irrationality
You have to hear Kyle say it, his “WHY?!” at the 38 second mark, but I’ll attempt an analysis and critique (trust me, we’re hardwired and practising daily at emotional interpretations). What Kyle’s Why?! is about is his instinctual response to Abbott’s position. He understands intuitively that Abbott’s position is entirely irrational, and he counters it directly with the irrational cry of the unconscious — as a child does when a parent says No. The child’s Why is: Why won’t you let me?’; How come you have to right to stop me?; Why are you such a stupid adult?
Kyle’s Why is an avatar, a manifestation of the perennial response of a younger generation to older conventions: the rebel yell. (Sandilands turns 40 next year.) In this context, Kyle’s Why?! is totally rock’n’roll — his Why?! rocks.
A theory: What same sex marriage means
The theory. I expect that the second you read it you’ll think it’s bleeding obvious. Apart from the right of gay folk to legally marry each other, what is the meaning of same sex marriage?
The real meaning of same sex marriage is as a measure of how free we are.
When we are free, we are not concerned that what others think will affect us. When we are free, we may “live and let live,” as Tony Abbott says. To allow same sex marriage would be entirely in the spirit of Australia’s mythic ethos — anti-authoritarian egalitarianism. To allow same sex marriage is a measure of how free we are as a people, a measure of how actually larrikin our nature is. That’s my theory anyway — that at some unspeaking level, most Australians feel: stuff it, stuff all that, who needs all those old-fashioned hangups anyway. Let them get married, who cares?
And so, to Kyle’s anti-authoritarian egalitarianist rebel Why?!, I propose that on legalising same sex marriage, the correct call-and-response answer should be the paradoxical affirmation: Why not!