CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Clear Thinking on Equal Rights and Discrimination

Nov 9, 2003

Australian comedian and television personality Julie McCrossin gave an address to the Sydney Institute in July of 1999. Entitled, “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride: Recognising Same Sex Relationships,” she spoke of how she and her lesbian partner were denied marriage rights in Australia.

She complained that she was being discriminated against, and made this impassioned statement: “Until we’re able to get married, gay and lesbian couples don’t have equality before the law.” Such an argument is common of course amongst gay rights activists.

However, these arguments are as fallacious as they are common. The truth is, no one has the kind of “equality before law” that the homosexual activists are clamoring for. In this case, for example, homosexuals are no more (and no less) being discriminated against than are all kinds of other people.

Yes it is true, a homosexual cannot now legally marry. But neither can a whole lot of other folk. A five-year old boy cannot marry. Three people cannot get married to each other. And even if an attractive young woman were to fall in love with me and want to marry me (a highly unlikely scenario I might add), she cannot, because I am already married.

Moreover, a girl cannot marry her pet goldfish, no matter how much she might love it. A father cannot marry his daughter, regardless of his affection for her. A football team cannot enact group marriage, no matter how close, committed and bonded they are. The list is endless.

However, under the law, almost all of us can marry, given certain conditions. If I should decide to reciprocate the affections of this young woman, I could divorce my current wife and marry her (also an unlikely scenario I must emphasise). The five-year-old could wait for around a dozen years, and then he will be free to marry. The threesome can decide to give one the boot, and then get married (provided they are an opposite sex pair).

And a homosexual too can marry. There is no law saying a homosexual cannot marry, if he decides to find a woman and settle down (or if a lesbian finds a man and seeks marriage). But it is nonsense for a person to eschew male-female relationships in favor of same-sex ones, and then complain of discrimination.

If I choose to lop off both my arms, and then demand that the Melbourne Tigers hire me as a basketballer, they have every reason to tell me to get lost.  Even if I retain my arms, my shortness and my inability to throw a ball may disqualify me as well.

Society is like that. It is full of distinctions, of differentiations. I may complain bitterly that I am not able to breastfeed, but that is life. Nature itself discriminates.

The word discriminate simply means to differentiate, to distinguish. When I chose my wife over millions of other women, I discriminated. When a professional basketball team chooses a two and a half meter athlete over me, it is discriminating. When societies pass laws saying 7 year-olds cannot get a driver’s license, they are discriminating. When a nation says a 4 year-old does not have the right to vote, it is discriminating.

We all discriminate all the time. There is good discrimination just as there is bad discrimination. Some discrimination is a matter of taste: whether you prefer lattes to cappuccinos, for example. And some discrimination is good, as I just mentioned.

It is as important for a society to discriminate as for an individual. All societies must discriminate against certain people they admit into their country. Many for example do not allow terrorists or convicted murderers to enter. Societies also decide which values, activities and lifestyles they wish to promote and which they wish to discourage.

Australian society has decided that it is good to discriminate against tobacco use. It says it is good  for society, and for individuals, to have less smokers around. It says that racism should be discouraged. And Australian society, like almost every other society in human history, has said that the institution of marriage is good and important for the community.

And as long as Australia believes that marriage is a vital social good, it will promote it and benefit individuals who enter into it. Thus through our tax laws, and in other ways, we show preference for married people. This is a kind of discrimination, true, but most people believe it is a good kind of discrimination.

Thus it does no good for the homosexual lobby to forever complain about discrimination and inequality when such is the very fabric of living in a democracy. (Genuine unjust discrimination – e.g., racial discrimination – of course is another matter.)

Nor will it do for homosexual activists to argue that they are the objects of all kinds of economic and social discrimination based on their sexuality. A homosexual activist made just this claim in a radio debate with me lately. He bewailed how as a taxpayer he was denied access to all kinds of government benefits because he was gay. He challenged me to name just one area where I was being discriminated against.

Unfortunately I was not given the right of reply. I could have produced a very long list. There are all kinds of benefits that I as a taxpayer also do not get. I do not receive the youth allowance. I do not get a single-parent benefit. I do not get a widow’s pension. I do not get maternal health benefits.

The point is, as a married male, there are all sorts of benefits that I am not qualified for. Yet I am a tax payer like everyone else. I am just as much a victim of discrimination in this regard as is any one else. Yet I do not hear of male taxpayers saying they will withhold part of their tax because they do not directly get the benefits of breast cancer screening or gynecological services.

And briefly, before ending, a word about tolerance. Intolerance is regarded as a great evil in postmodern culture. But it is not always of course. I am intolerant of people cursing my wife. I am intolerant of my children taking drugs. Societies are intolerant of pollution, racism, etc.

It is always good to be intolerant of what is wrong, of what is evil. And it is always bad to tolerate such things. Intolerance, in this sense, is a virtue.

In sum, life is full of discrimination, and much of it is rational and ethical. It is time that those concerned about defending the institutions of marriage and family overcome their fear of charges of discrimination, intolerance and inequality. Moral and intellectual clarity in these matters is the order of the day.

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