IF HUMANS had the good sense of the salmon, life would be a less complicated affair. Hatch, roam, return, spawn and that’s it, goodbye. We would still have the struggle and the uncertainty, albeit with less reason to worry about bears, but there would be no problems with adjectives, which are the great curse and complication of the modern world’s obsession with codifying the individual’s rights.
Take marriage, for example, a nice, solid noun whose narrow meaning was for a very long time apparent to all. Then we see a push to accept in law the modifier “gay” at its fore, and, quite suddenly, it is on for young and old. We still have that old, reliable noun, but the debate currently stoking public passions isn’t really about the legitimacy of recognising unions in which both parties have muscular opinions about soft furnishings and neither questions the absolute right to mainstream respect for those who parade once a year through Taylor Square in sequins, feathers and little leather shorts with the bottoms cut out. The right to do that, and many other silly things, is sacrosanct, no different from the freedom to cultivate muttonchops, get a tat or, much as certain activists do not like to hear as much, to advocate what the various faiths’ sacred texts advance as their one-and-only models for righteous concupiscence.
All who believe in individual liberty can accept all of the above without question and they do, most often without complaint. If two individuals – or four or ten, for that matter – wish to bet their future happiness on a binding contract, so be it. But then, once the laws of man have been observed, there remains the obstacle presented not by Fred Nile’s opinions or so-called homophobia, that ugly twisting of the Greek root (don’t get excited, chaps), but by the unyielding rules of grammar.
Simply put, the “gay marriage” debate hangs on a demand that the state ordain a compound expression be heard as a single word. Our representatives can vote their consciences until the cows come home, but in the real world their deliberations will not make a scrap of difference.
Having a dinner party and plotting who will sit where and next to whom, perhaps with a view to a little romantic matchmaking? Well of course, when putting down the place cards, you will take into account the inclinations of your single guests and couples. The adjective does not go away and never will – which is, perhaps, the only objection to the grammatical abstractions soon to be debated in Canberra. If you specify “gay marriage” as an available option, will it not manifest an implicit prejudice if an obligatory “straight” is not grafted by force of law to the more conventional union?
Follow the logic and there is only one real solution: evict the state from the marriage racket altogether. Sure, have contracts rubber stamped by public servants, but only as the law now guides any agreement to sell and buy a house or car. Gay or straight, who we fancy and how we express it is none of the state’s business. Even simple salmon understand that concept. One day, if we are very lucky, we may be served by representatives boasting a comparable degree of intelligence.