A gay couple with a child obtained under Queensland surrogacy laws.  
Picture: Mark Cranitch/Courier Mail 

 

With a Royal Commission into institutional responses to sexual abuse of children in full-swing across Australia one would think that the rights of the child would be front and centre in the Australian-psyche. But the growing clamour for the legalisation of gay marriage in this country suggests otherwise.

I am in no way suggesting that the gay marriage campaign is linked to the horrific stories of sexual abuse that are being painfully brought to light, thanks to the heroic honesty of some of Australia’s brave victims. These adults are now reliving, in full-public view, the hellish childhood experiences they were forced to endure because no one stood up for them when they needed protection most.

But I am suggesting that we should take some lessons from the harrowing history that was allowed to unfold here on our shores and in our communities and apply them to the gay marriage debate.

Hope is never futile, and so we hope that nothing of what the Royal Commission is uncovering is ever allowed to be repeated, but reality must be faced. The fact that the abuse of children did happen illustrates that adults, even those in positions of trust and care, can and unfortunately do put their own desires ahead of the best interests and welfare of children.

If we as a country are going to enshrine anti-discrimination legislation to appease any minority group, we should first protect the interests of children – the voiceless minority – whose welfare should be the first priority when politicians are contemplating any policy decisions.

But legalising same-sex marriage does the opposite. It leads to adults claiming a right to form a family in whatever ways are possible – by adoption, by the use of reproductive technology and surrogate mothers if necessary. Adult desires come first, children’s rights and welfare a poor second.

It is arguable that what we are seeing, as politicians one-by-one change their position or finally voice their support for same- sex marriage, is adults once again turning a blind eye to children.

It has been scandalous to hear victims of child sexual abuse give evidence that other adults knew of their plight and yet did not lift a finger to aid them. In the case of the Marriage Amendment Bill 2015 it is not possible for any politician to claim that they do not know the drastic effects that a change to marriage law in Australia will have. The ramifications will be wide reaching. The change to the wording of the Marriage Act which is being down played as minor and more inclusive, is in fact major. The removal of the concept of male and female as distinctly different yet complementary and as being the basis for the founding of a family is revolutionary. Even if other jurisdictions are doing it, we will be unravelling history – apparently righting a “wrong” by which each of us exists today as its beneficiaries.

If nothing else deserves consideration we can look to the fall-out of the well-meant policies for Aboriginal children that resulted in Australia’s stolen generation, or the well-meaning actions that resulted in forced adoptions in Australia, to begin to see that ‘meaning well’ is not a good standard. Two Labor leaders have apologised for these injustices in retrospect: Kevin Rudd for the stolen generation and Julia Gillard for those who were victims of forced adoption in Australia. Given the history of Labor apologies, it is Ironic that Labor leader Bill Shorten seems to be eagerly setting the stage for another Australian ‘sorry speech’ in the future.

We have messed up before, but we seem intent on letting history repeat itself in letting children down, simply because they are the silent victims – the ones who cannot speak up until it is too late. Prevention is better than cure, but as a society we repeatedly failed to prevent injustice toward children, and when our failures come to light we have no cure to offer, only cold, hard cash to hand victims as compensation for the misfortunes that our mistakes wrought on their lives – misfortunes that could have been averted if anyone had cared to get down from their soapbox or pedestal and stoop for a moment to a child’s level and see eye to eye their cares, their hopes and their dreams.

We live here, this is our place and what happens here tells us something about who we are. As the Royal Commission slowly reveals a less than perfect portrait of the conduct of personnel in the not so ‘good old days’ of many institutions, it makes one wonder what future generations will think of us.

“Australians all, let us rejoice” — the first line of our national anthem echoes down the corridors of our short history, but will the children of the future be singing the same tune? Perhaps many will instead look back and curse us for making decisions that they did not choose, but were compelled to bear the consequences of as a result.

Right now it seems that countries around the world are lining up to be the next cool kids on the block, the next most progressive nation. In Australia we are witnessing the proverbial keeping up with the Joneses on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Marriage is a complementary union, something which same-sex “marriage” cannot be, and it exists for the sake of children – to unite the parents who generated them in the vocation of raising them. Although touted as “marriage equality”, if the day does come when same-sex marriage legislation is successful in Australia it will not actually make anything equal in real terms. Not even legislation can make two types of unions that are entirely different, in terms of the people involved, equal.

Common-sense would dictate that if it isn’t broken don’t fix it, so will same-sex marriage really fix anything? I don’t dispute that the concept of family, that idea that we all hold dear – that close-knit community that has stuck together for better or for worse, that has lived on generation after generation for richer or for poorer, that has cared for its own in sickness and in health, until death – has been fractured by a combination of changing social attitudes and legalisation. But does that mean that we simply leave it behind and move on? Are modern Australians really that defeatist? Have we so completely lost the ANZAC spirit of our forefathers that we have simply given in? Are we the dishonourable deserters?

Marriage exists in its ideal form (ideal because “no young and free” Australians grow up dreaming about divorce) as a legal (and for some religious) commitment to a way of life which protects and nurtures the next generation of society. On this point, let’s not forget that Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which stipulates, “Laws and actions affecting children should put their best interests first and benefit them in the best possible way.”

The best possible way is simply that which most accurately reflects who we are and where we come from. Each of us is deeply connected to a male and a female – parents who biologically give us the raw material by which we become living beings. There are few who could argue with the fact that both parents fulfil their roles best when they are able to be in close proximity to their child.  There are of course cases in which one or both parents have died or children are unable to live with their biological parents for other reasons. It does not follow that because these scenarios do happen that society should encourage or condone measures that will make it more common for children to be raised by guardians other than biologically parents.

Many may simply dismiss the consideration of children as have nothing to do with the issue of marriage equality, but since marriage implies children and in many cases same-sex couples want to begin families, it is a consideration that deserves to be addressed. The rights of children should never be sidelined by what adults want. 

Ghandi’s statement “that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,” should be remembered by politicians who have indicated their support for same-sex marriage. We should not lose sight of the fact that children are always the vulnerable ones, and they deserve to have their best interest considered, if we have actually learned anything from our nation’s past mistakes.

Helena Adeloju is a freelance journalist who lives in Melbourne.

Helena Adeloju lives in Australia. She is a Melbourne-based journalist who has also worked in newspaper and television newsrooms in Sydney and Hobart. She has had the opportunity to travel widely across...