Flat White

After marriage equality, then what?

23 August 2017

12:46 PM

23 August 2017

12:46 PM

Much to my wife’s unease, I sat down with my four-year-old son the other day and watched The Wizard of Oz, which, to her surprise and my defence is rated G. Even though it premiered all the way back in 1939 (almost eighty years ago!) it’s as popular, and to a child, still as scary today as it was back then. Historically, homosexual men, in particular, have resonated with the story of how Dorothy left the black and white world of Kansas to be dramatically transported in her house via tornado into a Technicolour dream world of singing munchkins, heartless tin men, cowardly lions, witless scarecrows. Judy Garland became such a gay icon that they even referred to her following as ‘Judyism’.

It recently occurred to me though that the movie actually acts like a modern-day parable, especially in relation to the issue of redefining marriage. That might seem like a bit of stretch but just hear me out. After realising that the great and powerful wizard that she had travelled so far to see is really just a circus charlatan from Omaha Dorothy is left with the existential realisation that there is really “no place like home,” even if it is only in black and white. She had thought that somewhere over the rainbow would solve all her problems, but when she actually gets there it doesn’t.

So how does all this relate to what is taking place today? Well, the majority of politicians and also those in the media have joined a chorus enthusiastically that it would rival any Hollywood musical. Their song is that by simply redefining marriage it will bring in an age of LGBTIQ happiness as well as national maturity. What if the outcome though is not as satisfying as they think or maybe even dream to be?

Take for instance the tragic issue of domestic violence (DV) within the LGBTIQ community. According to the Australian Government’s own website, over 40 per cent of homosexual men and almost 30 per cent of lesbians have experienced DV within a same-sex intimate partner relationship. What’s more, according to the LGBTIQ community itself, this is twice the rate for men and almost three times that for women, respectively, with a history of only opposite-sex cohabitation.” Officially the government declares that rates of DV are the same between the two groups but they also report, no less than fifteen(!) different reasons as to why within the LGBTIQ community, it is being under-reported.

Now since the nineteen-seventies the standard feminist explanation for DV is that it is caused by patriarchy. And so, essentially men are the perpetrators and women are the victims. Thus, the only way for women to be truly free from the threat of being dominated or abused is to remove the sole cause of the violence. i.e. their male partners. Out of this black and white world of male hierarchy and female oppression was supposed to come a Technicolor utopia of same-sex partnerships and communities where neither violence or abuse within intimate partner relationships would exist. Sadly though, history has proven otherwise.

Now not only has the feminist framework for DV been shown to be overly simplistic, but it’s also been demonstrated to be terribly naïve. For instance, according to academic research in this area, if men share the power with another man then the DV (within homosexual partnerships) is viewed as being not really violence but something like, ‘friendly rivalry.’ Alternatively, if lesbian women assume more essentialist, feminine roles then the very notion that they themselves could be perpetrators of DV is immediately dismissed.

The truth in understanding the nature of DV within the LGBTIQ community is that it involves complex notions of power, which are incredible more subtle than the ‘binary gender construct’ that heterosexual couples have traditionally identified themselves with.

What’s more, DV between same-sex couples is, more often than not, mutual, rather than being perpetrated by just one of the partners. Not only that but the outworking of the abuse may have nothing to do with physical violence at all – although tragically, in LGBTIQ relationships that does still also occur – but instead involves emotional, financial, and especially sexual control. Hence, as the Australian Government’s own website concludes: “…concepts such as ‘intimate terrorism’ and ‘coercive control’ are thought to be useful for defining intimate partner violence in LGBTIQ populations as these definitions emphasise that intimate partner violence is primarily defined by patterns of coercion, power and control…”

So, you see, a traditional feminist discourse might, or might not, work if you’re if you’re a heterosexual but it completely falls apart when you’re dealing with those who are in a same-sex relationship. Because let’s face it, if you’re a lesbian then there’s obviously no man around to blame, and if you’re gay then you can’t both be at fault, can you?! And yet, according to the LGBTIQ community itself, not only is this whole ‘heteronormative approach’ to the problem not helpful, but their rates of DV being under significantly reported.

The reason for this is because those in abusive same-sex relationships are, on the one hand, not reporting the violence being committed against them due to a fear of homophobia from either the police, government services or even the wider LGBTIQ community. On the other hand, though, especially under the feminist discourse of IPV people don’t have the framework for understanding what actually might constitute abuse.

All of which is to say, if in a couple of months’ time we get the chance to have a plebiscite and the celebrity mantra of “love wins” comes true, what then? Having come all this way and having finally defeated the institutional Wicked Witch of the West with her monkey minions, will they then be truly satisfied? Or will they still be longing for something more? Will they even be wanting to click their heels together and return to the black and white world of Ma and Pa?

As any heterosexual male or female will tell you, getting married won’t solve all your problems. In fact, it often reveals more. Life on the other side of the rainbow might not be as great as you think. The early feminist and homosexual movements understood this and that is why they were so hell-bent on destroying it. Wouldn’t it be ironic then if the LGBTIQ community, after getting what they’ve been so insistent upon, when they finally receive it only ended up longing for a world not of over the top Technicolor but of what we all had before? A straightforward and simple existence of traditional black and white.

This article was based on academic research of the secondary sources provided by the Australian Government. For those interested in pursuing the matter further please see the following article in particular: [Ball, Matthew., & Hayes Sharon. (2009). Same-sex intimate partner violence: Exploring the parameters. In B. Scherer (Ed.) Queering Paradigms (pp. 161-177). New York: Peter Lang.]

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield. 

Cartoon: Ben R Davis.

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