Gay marriage, fatherhood and riots?


Dr Jennifer Power


Does gay marriage cause riots? There has been a bizarre spate of articles in the media articles of late that suggests it might.

In her column, Miranda Devine recently proposed that social acceptance of gay marriage was part of the reason we have so many fatherless families these days. Fatherlessness it seems is the reason Londoners were rioting. 

Following this trend, The Australian celebrated Father’s Day with two pieces that each took a stab at gay marriage. Angela Shannahan argued that support for gay marriage exploits the perilous state of modern families where too many fathers go AWOL leaving their neglected children to become delinquent (she also throws in a reference to the London riots).

Jeremy Sammut makes a similar link between gay marriage and fatherlessness, arguing that gay rights have been given priority over fathers’ rights, further evidence of the institutionalised bias against fathers within the family court system and society at large.

These authors rely on some spurious leap of logics – somewhere in the ballpark of Danna Vale’s claim that Australia will become a Muslim nation if we legalise the RU486 pill (remember that little fuss?). They want to position gay marriage as an indicator of all that is wrong with the world; the fraying of Australia’s moral fabric. Divorce is a social norm, people increasingly choose not to marry and children are being raised by single mothers and lesbians. It is this, they tell us, that leads to widescale social unrest. Fatherlessness. Delinquency. Riots.

But there is something backward about this logic. It’s like blaming David for Goliath’s bad breath. 

Something stinks but you aren’t really sure what. Gay marriage becomes an easy target because, as they imply, it IS a symbol of a changing world.

Increasing acceptance of gay marriage is a sign that the world of 2011 is trying to accommodate greater complexity and shifting values when it comes to families.

But of course the causes of family breakdown, of fatherless families – not to mention the level of discontent that leads to event such as the London riots – are multiple and complex.  Changing values are part of this mix, but so are harsher economic circumstances, globalisation and entrenched social inequality. 

Proponents of gay marriage are certainly not anti-father. Apart from anything else there are a lot of gay men in Australia who are fathers themselves. These men have become fathers through previous heterosexual relationships, as ‘donor dads’ who had kids with lesbian couples or single women, or through surrogacy arrangements. These dads take their fatherhood role seriously and do well by their children. 

Moreover, support for lesbian and gay rights or gay marriage does not naturally equate with an anti-family stance. In fact it is a pro-family argument.  Supporters of gay marriage argue that the world needs to respect and acknowledge consensual, safe and loving relationships – which should be the basis of all families, whatever their form. Even if some more conservative folk don’t feel comfortable with gay families, it is nonsensical to suggest that gay and lesbian couples inherently create the sort of families that spark a riot.

Families do not come in neat boxes. They never have. Recognition of this is in the interests of every father, mother and child.

Jennifer Power is a research fellow at the Bouverie Centre, La Trobe University