What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
What’s love but a second-hand emotion?
... What’s love but a sweet old-fashioned notion? – Tina Turner 1993
In the aftermath of the Australian High Court ruling last week that same-sex marriage (SSM) law enacted by the ACT was invalid, all the usual arguments for and against SSM were trotted out by the opposing camps, and as usual were given plenty of airing by the media. Not that anything new was said as far as I could tell, but it gave us all the opportunity to reflect on the issue and our own positions on it. In the course of these musings, two things struck me.
There is always a lot of talk about ‘love’ from advocates of SSM. The general line of argument seems to be as follows: if that man and that woman can marry because they love one another, so should that man and that man who love one another, or that woman and that woman who love one another, be able to marry. A simple case of mutatis mutandis. But is it?
There isn’t actually any legal requirement that a couple love one another for the two to be granted a marriage licence. The authorities have to be satisfied that there is no coercion involved, but that is not the same thing as fulfilling any mandatory obligation that the couple are ‘in love’. People marry for all sorts of reasons. In modern Western society, it’s usually love, but it wasn’t so long ago on the historical timescale that love had absolutely nothing to do with it for many couples, particularly for members of the upper classes, for whom duty with regard to family status and inter-family political and economic alliances trumped any fickle whims such as romantic love. In some non-Western societies, the arranged marriage is far from extinct; “love will grow” is an optimistic sentiment one often hears being expressed in that context, but love is a bonus – an ‘optional extra’ – rather than an essential, let alone a prerequisite. The pro-SSM argument about love and marriage falls flat on its face: a man and a woman don’t have to love one another to get married, so to argue that two blokes or two gals who ‘love’ one another should be able to get married as a matter of analogical reasoning doesn’t have any factual or logical foundation.
Another thing that struck me when reading comments made by people affected by the ruling was the use of the word ‘husband’. I had come across this before (and less frequently, ‘wife’) in the same-sex context, but it dawned upon me only very recently how paradoxical this usage is given that the labels ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ have been on the Politically Incorrect list for at least two decades during which time us ‘hetero’ types have been told we must refer to our spouses as ‘partners’. Not that it ever changed my personal use of the term ‘wife’ when referring to my spouse, but it does seem odd that I get filthy looks for that from some quarters when the same people would be delighted at a woman referring to another woman by exactly the same epithet. I just don’t get it. Or maybe I’m looking for some integrity where there is none to be found?
Some conservative groups have been referring to the High Court ruling as a ‘victory’, but I would counsel them to be cautious. The Court did not come out against SSM as such; it merely affirmed the constitutional position that the ACT couldn’t buck federal law. It also said that the federal parliament has to legislate on SSM for the status thereof in Australia to change. So the battleground will go back to the federal parliament, which rejected SSM in 2004. Hopefully, the federal law-makers who are opposed to SSM will dig in.
Dr Barend Vlaardingerbroek lives in Lebanon and is a regular contributor to ‘Breaking Views’ on geopolitical and social issues. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.