The Gay Marriage Debate: Says a lot about us.

This same sex marriage ballot has highlighted some of the deeper and more fundamental aspects of our society that will one day require attention if we should ever be serious about creating a more peaceful and equitable world.


The longstanding tradition where one group in society feels it is their right to comment on and determine what another group in society should or should not do is on display in full force. How on earth could it be that the marriage of any two people based on their free consent is the business of any other person? This is one of the fundamental questions of this debate. I don’t believe that any adult has a right to determine another’s life choices if they are not harming themselves or others. Surely this is a reliable criteria for when it is appropriate for the state and for other responsible adults to intervene. And yet ironically, we seem to find great difficulty in appropriately intervening to support others in these situations- we are far more likely to turn our backs and close our doors believing we have no right to intervene in other people’s private / domestic lives when great harm is occurring.


I understand the argument that these things create the moral fabric of our society. But again, how could an act based on love and free choice disrupt the moral fabric of our society? Surely it is acts of violence and abuse and misuse of power that have the greatest potential to take our society and therefore our lived experience, down a treacherous path that may well lead to suffering for us all (and in fact does lead to our collective suffering at the moment). No doubt that we all suffer when children are abused, when women and children are victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, when we create hatred in others by disregarding their human rights.


And yet it is the loving relationship between two consenting adults that seems to be giving us trouble. Those who are voting no in this ballot should be very careful – as we judge others we open ourselves up for their judgement. Are we sure that we want our neighbour telling us how to live our lives even if our actions do no harm to others? Because this is the path we are on, and have been on for a long, painful time.


So where do these judgements come from and why do we think we have a right to demand others lives as we live? The underlying dynamic here, and in many other parts of life, is intolerance of difference. We take shelter in sameness because it reinforces and legitimates who we are. In a simplistic way, if everyone is like me then I must be ok. People who are different to us create the possibility that we are not ok as we are. And because many people are constantly comparing themselves to others, we then judge ourselves and may feel inadequate as a result. It can be confronting to realise that the narrow definition we have of ourself could be different too, and that anything is possible. For those of us who do not feel comfortable and confident in who we are, this feeling can be terrifying. As a result we cling to our narrow judgements in the hope that we can exclude those who are not like us and find comfort in sameness.


This intolerance of difference is a core and fundamental aspect of our society and one that will need significant shifting if we are to create something more equitable and peaceful for ourselves and future generations. Surely the only questions we have a right to ask each other as adults are – are you happy? are you hurting yourself? are you hurting others? And if there is no hurt and only happiness then we have to step back and turn our attention to ourselves and ask ourselves why we might have such difficulty supporting, or at least letting go, of these issues that are none of our business and have no bearing on our lives.


When I told my parents I was in a same sex attracted relationship their initial reaction was quite negative. My siblings were wonderfully supportive of me and tried very hard to support my parents to shift their view. I will always remember one of my siblings sharing a conversation they had with my parents where they commented on how strange it was that my parents should think that the relationship they (my sibling) had with their partner was fine when in fact they were both unhappy and not treating each other respectfully in so many ways, and at times very badly, and yet my parents should think that my relationship with my partner which was loving and respectful was wrong and a source of disappointment. I was touched and grateful – I think the frankness of this comment helped them to adjust their thinking and to realise that all that mattered was my happiness and if this relationship made me happy what right did they have to be anything but happy for me.


The way that people vote in this ballot will say more about us as individuals and as a society than it will about gay marriage or those same sex attracted people who choose to marry.