Same-sex marriage is a cause for conservatives, says Nick Greiner, the federal president of the Australian Liberal Party. In an op-ed in today’s Australian, he writes: “Marriage is an institution that celebrates stability and commitment, and in doing so aligns with the values of the Liberal Party.”
Greiner’s argument is not original. In 2011 the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, declared that gay marriage was about commitment:
“Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.”
The first to make this argument was Andrew Sullivan, the British editor of the American magazine The New Republic, in 1989. Sullivan contended not only that gay marriage would foster “social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence”, but that it would tame gays by making them less promiscuous. This is an argument which Greiner appears to have overlooked.
Greiner prides himself on his debating skills. One of the dodgier tricks of a debater is proof by association, something that Greiner uses to the hilt in his op-ed. He tells us that he learned his trade long ago at one of Sydney’s leading Catholic schools, St Ignatius College, Riverview — like, he reminds us, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher. And his stand on gay marriage is echoed by a prominent Catholic priest, Frank Brennan.
But burnishing his credentials as a good Catholic lad is legerdemain to distract us from the point Greiner needs to prove: the conservative credentials of gay marriage.
Is true love the distinctive feature of Australian conservatism? Are those malevolent liberals really fire-breathing enemies of family stability and personal commitment? Probably not. To the best of my knowledge, Labor leader Bill Shorten has never announced that he wants to raise the divorce rate and decrease the number of marriages. So all that is a red herring.
The core beliefs of modern conservativism are strong families, limited government, small business, and political freedom. Gay marriage is a radical social experiment which puts all of these at risk. How does it stack up against these criteria?
Strong families. Whether gay and lesbian couples will stay as committed couples remains to be seen. Some studies indicate that their divorce rates are higher than heterosexual couples. In any case, most of their marriages are “open”, allowing for liaisons with other sexual partners. This is not the kind of strong family which traditional conservatives have promoted.
Limited government. How can redefining an institution which has existed for thousands of years as one man and one woman united in a public bond to protect their children be sold as a step towards more limited government? If marriage can be redefined once, why not again to include polygamy and polyamory? Marriage is an institution which predates the existence of the apparatus of the nation-state. Legislative redefinition is government overreach.
Small business. Big business is a major supporter of the gay marriage campaign, not small business. The father of Australian conservativism, Robert Menzies, would gag at the spectacle of giant corporations redefining the Australian family through a kind of bureaucratic cultural totalitarianism. Has Nick Greiner read the “forgotten people” speech which Menzies gave in 1942?
I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.
What would Menzies have thought of the gay CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, who showed his contempt for his “nameless and unadvertised” opponents when he said, “If you’re unhappy with a company that’s involved with the campaign you won’t be able to bank and you won’t be able to fly anywhere.”
Political freedom. It is astonishing that Greiner has ignored the news filtering out from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Where gay marriage has become legal, Menzies’s forgotten people, “salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on” are being dragged into courts and forced to provide their services even if it violates their consciences. Add to this the likelihood that the children of the forgotten people will be taught in state schools (at least) that homosexuality and transgenderism are valid lifestyles. Is this political freedom?
Defining your terms is the first and most vital step in a debate. After reading Nick Greiner’s defence of gay marriage, we’re none the wiser about what gay-friendly conservatism is — except that it has nothing whatsoever to do with Robert Menzies. Perhaps it is just a meaningless label which can be used to justify anything at all.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.