You know what’s a really great way to win a debate? Discuss the issue that you’re focussing on through the narrow lens of one particular moment in the 20th century rather than with any broader perspective, and pretend that it is somehow impossible for any kind of change to occur. That seems to be the tactic chosen in The Punch today by the Australian Family Association’s spokesman Tim Cannon.

“..the only conceivable reason for binding two people in a lifelong union is because marriage anticipates procreation.”

Of course it is. No other reason for marriage to exist, is there Tim? Cannon’s attempt to argue against marriage equality by making it all about the kids doesn’t make sense within a historical context or a modern one. In addition to this, his rejection of the idea that marriage is about legitimising relationships in public stands on very shaky ground.

Marriage has, for a long time, been seen as a way of adding legitimacy to a relationship. While Cannon may argue that:

“.. the primary function of the institution of marriage is not to enhance visibility and respect for those who enter into it. “

we know that’s simply nonsense. If marriage wasn’t about enhancing visibility and respect why have we lived with taboos about unmarried couples, or children born out of wedlock for so long? While attitudes to this may have softened, to pretend that marriage had nothing to do with the social acceptance of a couple is laughable.

Just as laughable is the suggestion that marriage and procreation are inseparable. If we accept Cannon’s argument that marriage equality cannot be justified because there is no chance at procreation then I wonder why he hasn’t begun a campaign to strip marriage rights from people who are infertile or, even worse, simply have no interest in having children?

Cannon then turns his argument to raising kids as being the basis of marriage discrimination.

See, every child that has ever existed had both a mum and a dad. Marriage is how the state imposes upon the spouses an obligation to see their responsibility to their progeny through.

I must have missed the new legal requirement for every pregnant woman to marry the man who fathered her child, did it slip through while I was away? Similarly, have divorces been banned recently? While it might not fit Cannon’s preferred narrative, the reality is that Centrelink, the Taxation Office and Child Support Agency all have more to do with the state imposing obligations on parents than the register of Births, Deaths and Marriages do.

Marriage is not the institution it was hundreds of years ago, to be honest it’s not even the institution that it was fifty years ago. While marriage may have at different stages been about property, claiming a wife, politics and social legitimacy it has continually evolved to the point where today it is generally accepted as an act of devotion between people who love one another. No-one is trying to take away Tim Cannon’s right to value the chance at procreation as his first priority in marriage, all marriage equality proponents are asking is that he not take away their right to value love and devotion as their top priority.

Cannon tries to dismiss what he calls “momentum rhetoric” surrounding marriage equality, but I’d argue that what he’s hearing is simply another shift in the way we view marriage.

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