Marriage equality bill straight from the patriarchy

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It’s been a harrowing few weeks for the patriarchy. Having now been exposed, pants down, a number of big names in Hollywood appear to have been cast adrift by new-fangled feminist norms of respect for bodily autonomy, and non-exploitative deployment of personal wealth and power.

It’s so bad, that some ordinary men have taken to their global media platforms to suggest that they will never get sex again, presumably now that they can’t just take what is their right, and wailing that they hope that we women will share the power with the poor old blokes now that we have achieved global domination.

Alas. Were this but true.

The patriarchy in Australia is faring no better. Despite men’s superior earnings, better job prospects, and an implied licence (or so it seems) to sexually harass, there is a rear-guard action to protect the wellspring of patriarchal power – male headship within the traditional nuclear family. Ironically, this is occurring in the context of marriage equality which is after all, nothing more than a quest to entrench the conservative institution of marriage in Australian society.

Conservatives (sic), however, appear to have rejected the conservatism of extending the operation of the state-sanctioned sexual dyad. Instead they prefer a radical rejection of the social realities that might enhance their institution of marriage (it is indeed their institution: it is not mine). This is because in ignoring the binary construction of gender and all that this stands for, marriage equality threatens male headship. The central place of heterosexual men in the family – and in society – would be eroded through State recognition of alternative sexual and family units.

Not satisfied with having imposed the ridiculous voluntary postal marriage survey on the Australian public, this band of lycra-clad brothers (just friends) have now played their hand in the next stage of their campaign. Not content to make outrageous falsehoods against marriage equality campaigners concerning slippery slopes of one sort and another, the patriarchy has enlisted its foot soldier Senator James Paterson to prepare a draft bill that speaks to their collective fears about The Gays – and implicitly, their fears about uppity women.

And what a bill it is.

Replete with the discourse of freedom and tradition, the draft bill purports to permit marriage between two people (hetero or no), but it does a whole lot more to boot. In a nutshell, the draft bill:

  • defines a class of people and entities who hold a ‘relevant belief’ (more on that below) about marriage
  • permits those people to ‘manifest that belief … in any action or refusal to act’ [88JA(b)(ii)]
  • permits those people to refuse to solemnise non man/woman marriage
  • permits those people to refuse to transact with non man/woman marriage ceremonies or celebrations [88M(2)]
  • protects those people from anti-discrimination law [88KA(1)] (excluding sex discrimination [88KA(6)])
  • makes it unlawful for public authorities or their contractors to discriminate against those people [88K]

There is also a dog-whistle provision permitting parents holding a ‘relevant belief’ to take their kids out of school if the teachings do not reflect their belief [88R]. I can’t really see any substantive right afforded by this provision, as parents are already likely to be able to do this. It appears to be nothing more than point-scoring about the Safe Schools debate – the latest iteration of which has seen political candidates in the Queensland election proclaim that schools are teaching eight-year-old girls how to use strap on dildos. Please.

While the contents of this draft bill are way beyond the pale in terms of claims to ‘freedom’, what interests me here is the collection of beliefs that comprise the ‘relevant’ – and therefore protected – beliefs. These beliefs are not simply (if it is indeed simple) beliefs in the sacrament of marriage as a union of man and woman. I could deal with this. But they go much further, to include beliefs that [5AB (1) (b) (ii)-(v)]:

the family structure of a man and a woman united in marriage with their children is a fundamental building block of human society, and this family structure has significant advantages for the nurture and raising of children

sexual relations should only occur within a marriage, understood as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life;

gender difference and complementarity of men and women is an inherent and fundamental feature of human society and is reflected in the gender difference and complementarity of a man and a woman united in marriage

a fundamental feature of a marriage between a man and a woman is the modelling for children born from, or raised in, that marriage of the gender difference and complementarity of the man and the woman

This is the script of male headship and the foundation of the operation of heterosexual male privilege. At the moment, the draft bill only permits discrimination in the delivery of goods and services in the context of solemnisation or celebration of marriage. In that case, these tenets would not be relevant in protecting the ‘freedoms’ claimed by the aggrieved anti-marriage equality crusaders. They go too far to serve the purposes of this draft bill.

These beliefs are included in a ‘protective’ draft bill as an expression of entitlement of control by those who feel their power slipping away. They articulate the implicit (and sometimes explicit) bias against single mothers. They represent the failure to accommodate family structures that deviate from the traditional ‘norm’ that situates men at the head of the household. They embed notions of gender that implicitly constrain women to the role of homemaker and mother, and men to breadwinner – notions that uphold women’s structural disadvantage in the home and in society.

This is a manifesto of adherence to patriarchal norms, seeking expression in a Commonwealth statute under the guise of protecting freedom of thought and religion. Yet contrary to the beliefs of the beleaguered men it seeks to represent, the draft bill goes to show just how precarious are the freedoms of women and those who do not conform to the patriarchy’s normative gender constructs.

It must be rejected at all costs.

3 thoughts on “Marriage equality bill straight from the patriarchy

  1. Thanks for analysing this Bill in detail and mapping out its core content. I am struggling to see what kind of sleight of hand would allow this Bill to meaningfully bear the title “marriage equality Bill”. Straight from the patriarchy, indeed!


  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    A couple of months ago Cory Bernardi quipped in response to a question about the personal cost to him of his marriage equality robocall campaign, that “that’s like asking how much pocket money I give my wife”.

    And then it clicked…

    The real threat to Bernardi and his ilk, is that marriage equality and so-called “genderless marriage” will further erode these dinosaurs’ control over their own wife, and power imbalances between men and women within marriage generally.

    Lyle Shelton has been right to say that the effects of redefining marriage are widespread. They are also necessary.

    And here it is, in an analysis of the Paterson Bill, an attempt by the conservative right to enable the gays to wed while still acting to reinforce patriarchal power relations dressed up as religious freedoms.


  3. Thanks for demonstrating (yet again) how politics or power struggle is intimiately connected and perpetuated (institutionalised) by law. A welcome debunking of the positivist fairytale.


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