Friday, June 1, 2012

Joe Hockey and Penny Wong on Marriage Equality in Australia

This clip of a question about gay marriage at the end of a televised Australian political debate has been making the facebook rounds in the past few days.  Many responses commend Penny Wong’s dignified answer to Joe Hockey: “I know what my family is worth.”

And that is a great response.  But I think Hockey’s part is the most fascinating aspect of the exchange.

Kudos to the audience questioner, who cuts to the heart of the issue: “…on Friday you said you wouldn’t vote for marriage equality, because you really believe children deserve a mother and a father,” he addresses Hockey. “So I’m wondering if you could tell us, and Senator Wong, why you think you and Melissa make better parents than her and Sophie.”

The question leads Hockey straight into incoherence: “I don’t believe we’re better parents, necessarily, because we’re male and female,” he says before arguing that straight couples are necessarily better than gay parents.

Exact quote: “I think in this life, we’ve got to aspire to give our children what I believe to be the very best circumstances, and that’s to have a mother and a father.  I’m not saying that gay parents are any lesser parents, but I’m being asked to legislate in favor of something that I don’t believe to be the best outcome for a child.”

He contradicts himself literally sentence by sentence.  But what's interesting is that he needs to contradict himself: he knows that he and Melissa are no better at parenting than Penny and Sophie.

This is exactly the sort of cognitive dissonance that President Obama described overcoming as part of his recent change of mind regarding gay marriage.  He could no longer reconcile his abstractions about the "ideal" family with the reality of the gay families he knows.  And this is why the greatest indicator that a person will support gay marriage is having a gay family member or close friend.  Faced with the lived realities of actual human beings, empty abstractions fall away.

Of course, I have met people who have no problem proclaiming themselves better parents than any gay couple, simply by virtue of being half of a straight marriage.  And I know people who cheerfully write that gay families are "playing house," and who accuse gay parents of using their children to prove a political point.  But those are shameful views, and I think bringing them to light is all we need to do to combat them.    

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