What gay times we live in

Last updated 05:00 09/08/2012
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FAIRFAX NZ

Brye Waterman, 21, left, and Jess Dyer, 22, have put their civil union plans on hold in the hope that the Gay Marriage Bill will get passed.

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: I don't mind gay people marrying, but I marvel at how quickly our thinking has changed about it.

Fifty years in history is nothing, and 50 years ago marriage between a man and a woman was just what happened.

Women accepted that they'd bear children whether or not they wanted them, in a lottery with their fertility every time their husband, as my mother daintily put it, "hung his trousers over the end of the bed".

That was respectable, and respectable was good. Well, outward respectability, anyway. We were good at that.

Gay people were something else. Back then, police would be sent into public toilets to entice gay men to proposition them and then arrest them. Did they send only the good-looking ones, or did they draw lots? I have often wondered.

Whatever, it was a demeaning business for everyone involved, and surely the police had better things to do than act as sharks in a small pool of social outcasts. Just why gays were outcasts was never entirely clear to me, though I think people mistakenly assumed gay men were all paedophiles bent on leading young boys astray. I don't think people thought about gay women much at all.

Of course, boys and girls were really being led astray in the world of the apparently respectable, and past assumptions of respectability are especially ironic now that so many clergy, teachers and male "social workers" with easy access to children have been exposed. It's a shame police weren't prowling around boys' and girls' homes instead of men's public toilets- after all, any gay men cruising the dunnies were consenting to what they got up to. The kids in institutions had no such choice.

People didn't know what was really going on back then, because this was a country of conformists. Nobody questioned whether the world was really the way it seemed and brutality was routine. Fifty years ago, before modern psychiatric drugs were developed, disturbed people routinely endured shock treatment in mental hospitals, where they could be detained, sometimes on specious grounds, for years. The state could legally kill people - for treason - until 1989.

Newspaper letter writers regularly demanded public floggings to punish young hooligans.

And the famous Mazengarb report of 1954 agonised over naughty girls who it said enticed young men into having sex. The idea that teenagers had sex lives at all was proof of the downfall of civilisation as we knew it.

How certain we were. How sure we were that our moral and legal frameworks were just and proper. And after recent revelations, how uncertain we are about everything. We are left with overwhelming doubt and distrust.

Real radical change came with the pill and subsequent toying with women's fertility. When babies can be born to surrogate mothers and can be conceived through IVF treatment, when old women can become new mothers, and sexual contact with men is no longer necessary, assumptions about what is normal or proper or natural about the making of babies no longer apply. This inevitably impacts on marriage, which has always been based around property rights and the needs of the traditional family. What traditional family?

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And in the midst of this, while marriage itself is under threat, gay people want the apparently outdated, outmoded and irrelevant institution to apply to them, in the interests of equality and possibly respectability. What argument can you offer against that - unless you're religious, which hardly anyone is any more?

I balk, though, at the point when churches are expected to change to meet popular changes in thought. Churches are more than just venues for ceremonies, and marriage in the traditional sense is still a sacrament to the serious. It's odd, too, that people who don't profess any faith themselves should think they can dictate to the few who do. Religions are entitled to their traditions and beliefs, and forcing change through aggression never works.

Just why institutions tainted with hypocrisy remain such enticing targets for gay activists puzzles me still. Wouldn't it make more sense to create a new form of secular marriage, and be done with it?

Note: Comments have now been closed on this article.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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