Timothy Cootes pens a reply to Kevin Donnelly’s article in support of the Abbott decision on same-sex marriage.


In our Government’s ongoing struggle against inevitability, Tony Abbott has disallowed a conscience vote on same sex marriage. Ministers must stick to the party line, or resign. Abbott has held out the possibility of a plebiscite or a referendum, so that in due course the people may decide.

It is already quite apparent, however, what those people are thinking: the numbers point to a healthy and wise majority favouring marriage equality. Abbott’s call, then, has been generally met with derision, exasperation and the reasonable suspicion that it is all a delaying tactic anyway.

In contrast, Kevin Donnelly (who is the Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University) duly offered his genuflection on ABC’s The Drum, where he tried to breathe life into arguments long in the stages of decay.

First, and this is refreshingly honest, I suppose, Donnelly argues in favour of discrimination. No prevarication there. He says that “There are many examples where society and the law allow discrimination to occur. Women-only gyms and clubs are allowed to exclude men and those under 18 are not allowed to view X-rated films and videos.” Why not discriminate against homosexuals, too?

So far, so fatuous. What else has he got?

Donnelly insists that in matters of tax, healthcare, superannuation and the like, gay couples already have the same rights as married heterosexual couples. Why must they demand marriage, too? The simple and decent answer is that marriage is an expression of love, and there is nothing inferior about the love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Donnelly will have none of this, and he maintains that there is no equality in love between homosexual and heterosexual couples:

“From a biological point of view, such is clearly not the case. Such is the physiology involved in procreation, and notwithstanding the availability of surrogacy and in vitro fertilisation, that it requires a man and a woman. The optimum environment in which to raise a child also involves a mother and a father.”

Mercifully, the first part is incoherent. For Donnelly, love can only find expression where there is the possibility of bearing children. The last sentence about raising those children has the distinction of being wrong and insulting.

Donnelly wants his readers to think that he and his co-religionists bear no stamp of homophobia or bigotry. He quotes approvingly, but briefly from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter, Don’t Mess With Marriage:

“Every man, woman and child has great dignity and worth which can never be taken away. This includes those who experience same-sex attraction. They must be treated with respect, sensitivity and love.”

The compassion on display here is effaced in the paragraph that follows, which Donnelly did not include:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for understanding for those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies for whom this may well be a real trial.”

So, homosexuals must be accorded sensitivity and love, not because they themselves love differently, but because they are sick. In 2015, Donnelly and the rest of us should ask ourselves: on the deepest questions of human sexuality, love or anything else, do we really need the advice of elderly bishops?

It is the mark of an argument’s anxiety when the author needs to constantly remind the reader just how great that argument really is. Donnelly repeatedly stresses that his case rests on “good reasons” and that it is “sound and carefully thought through.” In his conclusion, he suggests that the institution of marriage will endure. He is right, but only incidentally.

I invite readers to look at what’s left of the argument for traditional marriage, and at those who cling to it. You will hear that gay love is inferior. That gay marriage will hurt our trade with Asia, or we should look to Dolce and Gabbana. Whatever the excuse, the law remains unchanged and that is almost intolerably sad, but it’s clear that they are losing the war of ideas, the only war that really matters.

At some point, marriage equality will come to Australia, and society will not end. Marriage will endure, and Christians will continue to register an objection. Along with the celebration, goodwill and glitter, there will be, I predict, a mild but lingering sense of shame, only because the march to equality will have taken so long.

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