People have a right to live and love as they choose, but that does not mean they have the right to change the definition of marriage. There's no convincing argument for change.
Hear me out.
The standard argument for changing marriage revolves around the desire for formal recognition of same-sex love and the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples - "equal love".
Those defending marriage are often left struggling with unwieldy and detailed arguments for the status quo in the face of such simplistic slogans.
But turn it around and ask people who support redefining marriage to justify their position and it is a different story.
If it is discrimination to limit marriage to a union between a woman and a man, what is the proposed solution? The solution offered by the ACT government is to allow marriage between two men or two women. That way there is no discrimination and all love will be recognised as equal, right?
Well, no. Because any time you put boundaries on marriage, you discriminate against those people you are excluding. The proposed laws would discriminate, for instance, against group marriages of three or more people, but those people too claim their love is just as good as anyone else's. So why won't they be eligible?
Of course, we discriminate all the time, and there is a difference between reasonable and unreasonable discrimination. But there's no logical way to decide what discrimination is reasonable and what discrimination is unreasonable unless you look carefully at why we have government-recognised marriage in the first place. Unless there is a clear idea of the purpose of marriage, there cannot be any coherent discussion of the question.
So if you will read on a little further, I will set out some of the reasons marriage has been defined as it is for thousands of years. A little detail is necessary because marriage is one of those assumed institutions that have sat in the background of our consciousness for so long, it is often hard to see it clearly.
Marriage is comprehensive, permanent, monogamous, exclusive and linked to family life.
Comprehensive and monogamous because it involves the spouses sharing their lives and possessions and a union of their minds and bodies. Traditionally the law has recognised a marriage only when it is consummated as this is the spouses expressing their love as only a woman and man can to a common biological end. But consummation has never required that children are born. Marriages are still valid without children.
Permanent and exclusive because that enables the spouses to share their love without reserve, but it also recognises that where children result they need that commitment for the best interests of the children. Children need both their natural mother and father.
Marriage breakdown is a hugely significant problem in our community - not because children need any two adults to parent them, but because they need their biological mum and dad in a loving relationship to do best.
Marriage is also linked to family life because sexual union tends towards the birth of children and the arrival of children can enrich and strengthen marriages. In turn, parents contribute enormously to sustaining the community by raising their children well.
So there are clear policy reasons why governments favour marriage between a man and a woman because it is a good the community wants to promote.
Some relationships can share some of the characteristics of marriage between a woman and a man, but no other relationship shares all of them. Same-sex relationships can be deep and loving relationships but they do not have all the characteristics necessary for marriage.
Churches also have real concerns about whether their members would be able to continue to practise their religion without interference from government. Activist Ivette Madrid from the group Equal Love Canberra said on ABC Radio 666 in July that she would not be happy with churches being exempt from same-sex marriage laws and exemptions could be challenged if laws were passed.
This might mean churches and their schools could not teach or model male-female marriage without being prosecuted. The Anglican Church in Britain is already being sued for not allowing same-sex marriages.
Protecting religious freedom in church buildings is one thing but once people leave church grounds, would their right to conscientiously object to any involvement with same-sex marriage be protected?
So ultimately people can live and love as they choose, but they should not change such a fundamental public good as marriage.
Bev Cains, Vice-President, Australian Family Association, ACT.