By Paula Gerber
As a long time supporter of marriage equality and the rights of LGBT people, I generally find my views are diametrically opposed to those of conservative commentator Andrew Bolt.
Imagine my surprise then to find Bolt citing my work to support his argument that the gay community must now adopt a conservative position on marriage. According to Bolt, gays must now start defending the traditional values that Bolt asserts are integral to marriage (‘The battle for same-sex marriage has been won. Now the winners must defend marriage as fiercely as we conservatives tried’, 28 May 2015).
Bolt uses my research, which cites the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, to support his position that gay relationships are inherently less stable than heterosexual relationships. He asserts that this study found lesbian couples with children separate at double the rate of married heterosexual couples with children.
Bolt’s argument is flawed on many grounds. To determine whether lesbian parents are more likely to ‘divorce’, we need to compare the number of lesbian parents who separate with the number of unmarried straight parents who separate. This is because numerous studies have documented the challenges that gay and lesbian parents face when raising children in a society that does not fully support their families. Homophobic discrimination and stigmatisation directed at them and/or their children can place a significant strain on their relationship.
Marriage does provide a stable environment for raising children, so if you want to demonstrate that gay relationships are inherently unstable and therefore not suitable for marriage and child rearing, as Bolt seems to want to do, then he needs to make sure he is comparing apples with apples – in this case, married gay couples with married straight couples and unmarried gay couples with unmarried straight couples.
Bolt has begrudgingly conceded defeat when it comes to same-sex couples being allowed to marry. But he wants to impose conditions on their entry into this revered institution. Namely, that gays must defend traditional values and disown Mardi Grad. Sorry Bolt, but you don’t get to do that.
The LGBT community is rich and diverse. Some will want to marry and raise children behind a white picket fence, while others will want to party all night. And some who party at Mardi Gras in their 20s will be the ones getting married and having children in their 30s.
The institution of marriage has been able to accommodate conservative marriages, as well as more colourful marriages like Geoffrey and Brynne Edelsten, and those on display in shows such as The Real Housewives of Melbourne.
Marriage is an institution that has changed dramatically since the days when a wife was considered the property of her husband and the law sanctioned rape in marriage. And it will continue to evolve, including allowing same-sex couples to enjoy the highs and lows of married life.
No Andrew, it is not the responsibility of the LGBT community to help you hang on to your 1950s ideal of marriage. Nor to buy into your slippery slope argument that once same-sex couples are allowed to marry, there will be no basis on which we can justify prohibiting polygamist marriages.
After marriage equality is achieved in Australia, the responsibility of the LGBT community will be to continue to fight for the other human rights they are denied in this country. In Victoria, same sex-couples are prohibited from adopting children, religious organisations can discriminate against a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and homophobic bullying continues to be rife in our schools. And what about fighting for the rights of LGBT persons in the 77 countries where homosexuality is still considered to be a crime, in some cases punishable by death?
History shows us that the LGBT community will fight for its rights. Diverse as it is, the gay movement can never be accused of shirking its responsibilities as a defender of human rights. Sadly for Andrew Bolt, the community is unlikely to find his antiquated views of marriage a right worth fighting for.