The ACT Government’s Civil Partnerships Bill, which lets two persons of either sex form a legal relationship, has again been vetoed by the federal government. According to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock the government’s
first objection was that “it involves a formal ceremony”.
“What it’s doing is equating (gay partnerships) with marriage,” he said yesterday….
He said marriage was a “cultural institution” that provided a basis on which children might be conceived and brought up and provided with proper support.
We are so used to the idea of heterosexual marriage and parenting that the idea of gay marriage and parenting is counter-intuitive. But if you think the issue through from any secular set of assumptions, including conservative concerns with the family, the logic leads inexorably to supporting gay marriage.
As children are already growing up in gay households – with 4% of gay men and 16% of lesbians according to the Private Lives survey – prohibiting gay marriage (or civil partnerships) is not providing ‘proper support’ to those kids, it is lessening the chance that they will receive proper support from two adults by making it easier for one partner to walk out on his or her parenting responsibilities.
Objecting to a ceremony – which the legislation doesn’t require anyway, just one witness – is similarly counter-productive. The guests at a ceremony are there to help the couple celebrate the happy day, but also as witnesses to the commitment they are making and an added source of social pressure to keep to their vows.
Though the conservative case for gay marriage is strongest when children are involved, politically there is no denying that children are the most contentious part of this issue. A Roy Morgan Poll released today found that though only 33% of Australians think homosexuality is ‘immoral’, 57% oppose homosexual couples being able to adopt children. Surveys last year indicated that opposition to the ACT civil union legislation was under 40%. There is a sizeable group of people who support gay partnerships but do not support gay adoption. This is a common pattern overseas; for example the Eurobarometer found that on average around Europe 44% support gay marriage, but 32% support gay adoption.
This question could do with some fine-tuning. Most adoptions of Australian children are ‘known’ child adoptions, usually a step-parent. As with gay marriage, in these cases gay adoption would have the effect of tightening the obligations the non-biological parent already has to care for the child – the ‘proper support’ Mr Ruddock rightly thinks necessary.
Adoptions by people with no former connection to the child are, I think, a different case. Here it is not just a case of making the best of a situation that exists (or would probably exist) anyway. It is creating a situation where there are alternatives that may be better. While equality-based arguments for gay rights would still support gay adoption of kids who are previously unknown to the couple, I think the conservative case for gay law reform stops at this point. There are reasonable prudential arguments that while this kind of gay adoption could work fine, growing up in a gay household would add another layer of complexity to the already trouble-prone condition of being adopted. As there is no shortage of heterosexual couples willing to adopt, they are the safer option.