OPINION | Marriage equality no threat to our society

MORAL OUTRAGE: Speaking at Camden in 1895, local conservative politician Charles Bull objected to young women being able to vote. "A woman's proper sphere was in her own home," he insisted. Families were at risk!
MORAL OUTRAGE: Speaking at Camden in 1895, local conservative politician Charles Bull objected to young women being able to vote. "A woman's proper sphere was in her own home," he insisted. Families were at risk!

IT “aims a blow at the sanctity of marriage, as viewed from the Christian standpoint”, it will fundamentally change “traditional” society and it will “destroy family life”.

No, I’m not talking about same-sex marriage in 2017.

I’m talking about giving Australian women the vote in 1902. All the quotes I just cited come from old newspaper articles, by critics outraged at the prospect of women voting, accompanied by plenty of Biblical references.

As I read through them this week I couldn’t help imagining an outraged an Tony Abbott at Federation, dressed in his top hat and stiff collar, rallying opposition.

“I say to you, if you don’t like women having a say, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom, and freedom of speech, vote no. If you don’t like political correctness, vote no – because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”

OK, OK, that’s actually what Tony said last week, I just replaced “same-sex marriage” with “women having a say”, because before 1902 that was the big moral issue about to change traditional society, harm families/children, and disobey God.

It's the big moral issue that will change our traditional society, harm families/children, and disobey the word of God. Again.

One of the many quotes of the time came from a Bishop Doyle who told The Catholic Press that “Nature and Divine Providence” had created a sexual order that shouldn’t be tangled with. Families were at risk because children needed a father and a mother who each supplied different functions. Women should focus on “the kitchen…washing and ironing…instead of bothering their heads about [politics and voting].”

(No, I’m not making that up…“bothering their heads about” were the words the bishop actually used – a true candidate for the Mansplaining Hall of Fame. Or perhaps to be declared a saint by the next Abbott government?)

The general attitude was that if women got the vote, what was next on the slippery slope? Were they also expected to understand economics and medicine? Traditional values were crumbling.

Despite Christ not having devoted a word of his ministry to a woman’s ability to enter a polling booth, Australia had a host of clergymen and politicians able to read between the lines and deliver a verdict. Sound familiar?

This was hardly world first. The end of slavery in the USA in 1865 not only also altered the notions of “traditional" society, but “Christian” slave owners employed the Bible – specifically St Paul’s letters – to justify keeping slaves.

If any of you are thinking, ‘Oh, cut the crap, SSM is very different to freeing slaves or women getting the vote’, I suggest you read the arguments and outrage at the time against those things – virtually the same as used against marriage equality.

Nothing is new.

Supposed threats to society’s moral fibre have been present since Governor Macquarie gave ex-convicts senior positions. And Bible verses can be found to justify anything. One conservative bishop of the 1890s claimed that Christ was opposed to unions, because “it was God’s will to have poor people; who else would till the ground, or press the vine” without a hungry labouring underclass?

And, of course, the threats of women getting the vote, or Aboriginal people being regarded as human beings.

All these struggles for equality had three things in common: 1) They were opposed by conservatives with Bibles, 2) they were supposed to end civilisation, and 3) after they became a reality, everyone wondered what all the fuss was about.


Most of the western world has adopted same-sex marriage – from the UK, US and Canada to France, Scandinavia and New Zealand. It’s a long list. Even heavily-Catholic Ireland, Malta and Brazil are on board.

But not Australia, which remains in the same club as the Muslim world and nations such as Zimbabwe.

I ask you to keep this fact in mind when Tony Abbott argues that you voting “no” against SSM is about protecting “freedom of speech”. Yeah, right. Just Google the nations that Tony wants to keep Australia aligned with – start with Iran and Saudi Arabia or North Korea and Russia – and see how freedom of speech fairs in those countries that ban SSM.

The reality is that the freest of free speech countries in the world are the ones that have approved same-sex marriage. Because freedom actually means freedom.

Dunno about you, but the only argument against SSM that resonates with me is that children need to be protected. That every child deserves a mother and a father.

The problem is, some fathers beat and molest their children, and some mothers lock their kids in cars while playing pokies.

Perhaps our real aim, in an imperfect society, should be that every child deserves two parents who love and protect them. Love is the answer.

SSM is not about gay rights, it is about human rights. Australia belongs in a different world club.


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