Richard Griggs, the Tasmanian director of Civil Liberties Australia, has argued (for want of a better word) in favour of same-sex marriage in The Mercury. His assertions in favour of same-sex couples marrying could just as well apply to siblings or other closely-related people (even by adoption*) who might wish to marry each other but, under current, bigoted laws†, may not thus ‘express their love’. Accordingly, here is Richard Griggs’s article only slightly amended:
Talking Point: Same-family marriage simply gives each person equality in law[No one] recently argued in these pages that same-family marriage was not a civil rights issue.
Same-family marriage, [no one] said, did not equate with the historic civil rights movements which gave women the vote or dismantled whites only zones in public places.
These are examples of civil rights campaigns but a full explanation of what actually constitutes a civil right needs to go much deeper. When we do that, same-family marriage clearly becomes a civil rights issue.
Civil rights are about giving everyone the same opportunities to participate in civil society.
When we change legislation in recognition of civil rights we give more people full participatory rights in society. We open the door and let more people in.
You can tell it is a civil rights issue when an identifiable group in society is prevented from accessing a public institution for no reason other than their membership of that particular group.
Public institutions can be physical, like shopping centres or public transport, or they can be rights of passage or rights of citizenship, like voting.
Surely marriage must sit alongside voting as an important part of civil society and should actually outrank shopping and transport in terms of its importance.
Marriage is a central part of civil society and, therefore, to exclude some couples from marrying is a civil rights issue.
Marriage has been with us for centuries and parliaments have elevated the institution of marriage into law.
Marriage is entered into by many couples. Some marry for good reasons, some for poor. Some marriages last a lifetime and others less than a year. And of course some people are perfectly happy never marrying at all.
It is the freedom to choose to marry which is important. The freedom to have the same options as other couples [or, surely, triples or quadruples, etc.].
For some readers marriage is a religious institution of long standing that only in more recent history (the past few hundred years‡) became enshrined in law by parliament. There is historical debate in some quarters about which came first, marriage or organised religion.
Current marriage laws passed by our Commonwealth Parliament make clear that marriage is now owned by the people and Parliament, not any single religion.
The law allows non-religious couples to marry in a non-religious location with a non-religious marriage celebrant. It also allows for people of two different religions to marry.
There will be some religions which do not support same-family marriage and they should be free to choose to practice [sic] their religious beliefs. But those same religions shouldn’t assert ownership or control over marriage for the remainder of society.
They should be free to practice [sic] their beliefs but not free to mandate their beliefs on others.
Earlier this year my wife and I were married on a summer afternoon in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Gathering together our friends and family and making a public declaration of shared loved and commitment in front of them was a very proud and emotional moment. It was a beautiful day which I will never forget.
My wife and I were lucky to enter our marriage with the support of the law and the love of our family and friends. I feel deeply sad that same-family couples are denied the same opportunity to share such a wonderful life event.
One day the law will be changed in Australia to allow same-family couples the same freedom to choose as unrelated couples.
Why am I so sure? Civil rights movements grow in momentum over time until most in society no longer see the particular issue as a threat any more. We are very close to that point in Australia.
Once society thought it best if only men could vote and only white people could use public transport and enter the shops. One day we will also see the error in denying same-family couples the freedom of choice to marry, just like everyone else, and have their marriage recognised by society, just like everyone else.
* see §22B of the Australian Marriage Act 1961:
(2) Marriages of parties within a prohibited relationship are marriages:(a) between a person and an ancestor or descendant of the person; or(b) between a brother and a sister (whether of the whole blood or the half-blood).(3) Any relationship specified in subsection (2) includes a relationship traced through, or to, a person who is or was an adopted child, and, for that purpose, the relationship between an adopted child and the adoptive parent, or each of the adoptive parents, of the child shall be deemed to be or to have been the natural relationship of child and parent.
† for example, in Massachussetts, since at least 1784, no man may marry “his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, grandfather’s wife, grandson’s wife, wife’s mother, wife’s grandmother, wife’s daughter, wife’s granddaughter, brother’s daughter, father’s sister or mother’s sister”.
‡ yet see, say, the Code of Hammurabi which, oddly, only a mere 3,370 or so years ago, featured many civil, secular laws relating to marriage.