CURRENT POLITICS - EQUAL LOVE
love and same-sex ‘marriage’
campaigners for changes to the Marriage Act are rallying behind the
slogan of ‘equal love’, the media headline ‘gay marriage’. This
article poses objections to both notions from a socialist perspective.
Equality before bourgeois law is never equality and state-sanctioned
marriage is no path to liberation.
start from the recognition that equality before the law is no equality.
As Anatole France put it: ‘The poor have to labour in the face of the
majestic impartiality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the
poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal
bread.’ The following instances flesh out the implications of that
truth for political practice, turning attention back onto what social
equality involves at the ballot box, on the job, in education and for
the realm of parliamentary politics, social equality requires that a
Karajarri woman get 100 votes to Rinehart’s one. As bourgeois
liberals, Whitlam and Dunstan campaigned from the 1960s for ‘one
person one vote, one vote one value’. Those changes were steps up from
the property qualifications needed to vote. But equality at the ballot
box did little to even up the power that the owners of productive
property exercise over election results, indeed, throughout every aspect
of life. As a non-Australian for many years, Mass Murdoch still had more
political power than 99.99 percent of those of us who could vote here
but who had not traded our citizenship for TV licences in the US of A.
When I was silly enough to point this out in my column for the Weekend
Australian (10 October 1994), editor Paul Kelly gave me my marching
law for all’ is the slogan promoted by leaders of the CFMEU to abolish
the Australian Building and Construction Commission. However, if
construction workers came under un-Fair Work Australia, ‘one law for
all’ would result in all workers being repressed equally. For
starters, no Australian unionist has the right to strike, a violation of
International Labour Organisation Conventions. As leader of the remnant
Left, Senator Doug Cameron made same-sex marriage the divisive issue at
the 2011 ALP Conference, sounding progressive while squibbing the hard
battle for the right to strike.
who push ‘one law for all’ have learnt nothing from Workchoices
under which a non-unionised cleaner was treated as equal to a
corporation when negotiating wages and conditions despite the latter’s
deploying a team of Freehill lawyers. ‘One law for all’ might sound
noble but it is impossible within capitalism since the system is built
on there being one law for the bosses and another for the wage-slaves.
To establish ‘one law for all’ means abolishing capitalist relations
leader Mark Latham advocated a ladder of equal opportunity in education
rather than equality of outcomes. The latter requires much more than a
Gonski-Review style shift of funding towards students from the lower
social-economic status and away from the posh tax-funded non-government
schools. Socialist pediatrician and Australian of the Year, Perth-based
professor Fiona Stanley has demonstrated that the real brain-drain
happens before children get to school. Improving their chances depends
on starting interventions before they are conceived.
Hanson twisted the appeal of equality into a call to treat everyone the
same, as if indigenous disadvantage were not institutionalized, as class
bias is for most of their fellow Australians. The Left lost ground by
not pointing out that a façade of legal equality over unequal
structures blights many settler Australians, notably rural white
fight by every means for as much equality as is possible within the
system of bourgeois law. But let’s never surrender the socialist
critique of the inequalities inherent in capitalism. Socialists pursue
the policies in every area of life that are most likely to enhance
social equality across generations.
legal reforms are welcome since they often give a lead to opinion and
against prejudice. For example, once sodomy ceased to be a crime it
became harder to get support for its recriminalisation. Other
discriminations have been removed, starting with decriminalisation of
same-sex acts between consenting males, and onto parenting, property and
monetary arrangements, notably the right to share Superannuation
is another hurdle for socialists. Why support superannuation rather than
tax-funded pensions that guarantee a decent retirement for everyone?
Twenty years after so-called universal Super, four ill-effects are
obvious. First, the funds have fueled the flames of financial
speculation. Secondly, everyday contributors lost out in the consequent
collapse of the share market and they are not going to retrieve those
returns anytime this decade. Thirdly, the tax system has transferred
more wealth to the richest. Fourthly, Super is unfair to most women and
to the lowest paid, many of whom have next-to-nothing in their accounts.
So, instead of crowing over the ability to inherit Super as a win for
gender equality, socialists should be uncomfortable about endorsing one
more device for transferring wealth up the ladder. A socialist program
would restore death duties, end negative gearing, and impose punitive
tax rates on the super-rich while stripping billions from their schools
and health funds.
in housing, medical services, employment and education take their toll
of love, irrespective of sexual orientation. ‘The Prince Phillip
Blues’ is the concluding story in Gary Dunne’s If
blood should stain the lino (1983), that Fraser-era riff on Walter
Greenwood’s Love on the dole
(1933). For this discussion it is apt to reflect on the humourous way in
which Dunne presents a relationship between two young unemployed, one of
whom has had his dole suspended. They make ends meet by theft, busking
and turning tricks with ‘some bored husband’. When the one who is
still getting his cheques asks what is the matter, the other says:
‘It’s what comes from living off a relatively rich queen. It’ll
pass.’ But it doesn’t, and it won’t of its own accord. For it to
do so requires an economy-wide program for social equity.
goes on to compare the legal relations between labour and capital with
those of husband and wife:
then has a merry time showing why that claim was far from the case, and
insight of socialist feminists that marriage is legalised prostitution
has faded. That characterisaiton is no longer as true in countries like
Australia because of the victories that allowed women to sue for
divorce, to own property and to have custody of their children. More
recently, no-fault divorce and the criminalisation of rape in marriage
have gone some way further. The most influential change has been the
explosion of wives and mothers into paid employment. Women are less
financially dependent on men than they were even fifty years ago,
despite the multitude of disadvantages that women suffer in the
workplace, from lower lifetime earnings to harassment.
all means, rethink the grounds for rejecting marriage, yet, in doing so,
materialists should start from Engels on The
Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State and then
engage with Alexsandra Kollontai’s Marriage
use of ‘partner’ in place of husband, wife or even the
gender-neutral ‘spouse’ is a giveaway. A ‘partner’ is what you
have in business not in bed. When did you last hear someone introduced
as ‘the love of my life’ – or – quel
horreur – as ‘my favourite fuck’? The commercial nature of
‘partnership’ is being exposed in the property battle by divorcing
Melbourne art dealers.
legal discriminations about access to marriage are the social and
economic inequalities among GLBT. Socialists promote the redistribution
of productive property to ensure its equalisation through social
ownership. We are against its accumulation in the hands of families or
households, however constituted. Here, we distinguish between personal
possessions and productive property. It is okay to own your own condoms
but not the factory making them. Any GLBT who runs productive property
is exploitative because that business requires the expropriation of
US American novelist and self-described Calvinist Marilynne Robinson
finds the Fundamentalist campaigns against same-sex marriage
‘absolutely bizarre’, pointing out that the Bible makes a couple of
objections to male homosexual acts but hundreds condemning the
exploitation of the poor:
will take more than a Calvinist like Robinson to disentangle the
mind-set that conceives same-sex practices and Obama-care as Satanic
every endorsement of marriage weakens the separation of church and
state. Dennis Altman’s recognition of The
Americanisation of the Homosexual (1982) stressed the
commodification of sex as one more instance of a triumph of capitalist
ideology. That piece of cultural imperialism is now subverting
Australia’s more secular way of life in favour of marriage from a
polity besotted with religiosity.
the process, the culture wars have seduced socialists into accepting
marriage and away from its replacement by as many forms of relationship
as we are capable of conceiving. Anarchists have not surrendered and
cling to the notion of queer households.
should campaign for the abolition of marriage and for universal civil
unions for any couples or threesomes who care to register their
relationships. Slip down to the registry office during your lunch-hour
– if the time-poverty exacted by capital’s need to expand means that
you still get a break long enough.
objection to such root-and-branch reform is that we should no longer
call for the abolition of marriage because that demand is too extreme to
be achieved. On those grounds, perhaps we should abandon the struggle
for socialism – as indeed so many promoters of equal love and same-sex
marriage have in practice.
the 1950s, sexual liberationists fought to get the state out of our
bedrooms. Why are lapsed radicals anxious to let it back in? Part of the
explanation is that the grouplets are up to their usual game of
political tail-ism. They are following the largest demonstrations in the
hope of flogging their papers and recruiting.
Lasch drew criticism for pointing out that the removal of male power
does not, by itself, establish equality in a household. Without wider
changes, the state and market forces will drive further in to occupy the
space left by the absent patriarch. Look at the rates of incarceration
and obesity among Afro-Americans.
it is not at all clear that the relegation of lasting relationships to a
non-state sphere lacks support. Many GLBT-ers who want civic equality
mutter against the pro-marriage line but tag along because they are not
offered the alternative. Plenty of straights shake their heads in
puzzlement at why anyone is anxious to bear the costs, trappings and
entanglements of marriage.
we can give the last word to the hope that he voiced, utopian in the
best we can say for his attitude towards same-sex behaviours is that he
left the closet door ajar for those who will be brought up in different
such people appear, they will not care a rap about what we today think
they should do. They will establish their own practice and their own
public opinion, comfortable therewith, on the practice of each
individual – and that’s the end to it.
For us, that’s not ‘the end to it’ but is a call to reinvigorate the struggle for a political and economic order which installs social equality throughout every realm of our being. From those struggles, more of Engels’s new-fangled lovers and fuckers will appear.