The Australian Christian Lobby, as expected, is campaigning hard against the legalisation of same-sex marriage. On Q & A this week, Lyle Shelton, ACL Managing Director, argued that recognising same-sex marriage would result in another stolen generation.
It’s strong language, so what should we make of it?
First, I think it gives us pause to reflect. The advent of surrogacy represents a dramatic historical shift in the practises of childbirth and it would be surprising if alongside the joy of people who otherwise couldn’t have children having them, there weren’t some negative repercussions. Moreover, the desire for children can be so strong that it can blind us to considering the negative consequences of surrogacy. Lyle’s comparison with the stolen generation reminds us that it is possible for a culture to be confident it is doing the right thing only to later discover it was terribly wrong.
Second, the comparison with the Stolen Generation fails almost to the point of being offensive. The stolen generations were part of an effort to produce cultural genocide. Children who were members of families, with brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, and communities in which they sensed they belonged, were chased down and forcibly removed against the will of their parents, their communities and themselves. Surrogacy is nothing like this. The birth of a child is planned between the surrogate and the parents-to-be, one of the parents-to-be is frequently a biological parent, the child is part of their family from the outset, and in many instances children remain in contact with the surrogate.
Third, the notion that marriage and parenting are linked is simply out of touch with the reality of life today. We live in a society where large numbers of children are born outside marriage and are raised in households where parents are not married. Some might like to think that marriage and parenting should be linked, and it may have been the case in the past, but that is not the world in which we live. If there are grounds for questioning the value of surrogacy let us have that debate but linking it to marriage is a bogus argument.
Finally, all this is part of a wider debate about whether the issue of same-sex marriage should be debated. I find Lyle Shalton’s and the ACL’s arguments against same-sex marriage piss-weak, and I do think that some people will feel aggrieved by what they have to say. It is simply impossible for the ACL to go around arguing that children are better off with male and female biological parents without people drawing the conclusion that they are saying that children raised in single parent homes, adoptive households or same-sex headed households are not worse off. People will find that offensive. But living in a modern liberal democracy doesn’t give you the right to not be offended. One of the foundational values of liberal democracy is freedom of speech. Indeed, it is one of the most important protections we have against the tyranny of the majority and the suppression of dissident thinking. While I found little to agree with in Lyle’s comments on Q &A, he made them in a calm, open and generous manner. Did his comments cause hurt? Were they offensive to some? Yes they were. Should they be suppressed? No they should not. I just wish he’d stop making them.