April 27 2014
Dear Dr Jensen,
I wish to convey a concern of mine that affects the residents of Tangney.
First, allow me to reflect on some themes from your first speech to Parliament, nearly a decade ago, in November 2004.
You spoke of your past, growing up in a harsh Apartheid South Africa, and how it influenced your perspectives:
Having spent my youth in an authoritarian nation, I have long cherished the notion of the rights of the individual, freedom of choice and expression, and the right of people to succeed in their business, unencumbered by government red tape and restrictions.
I hear the utter despair in your voice as you relate the neglect that erodes the happiness and welfare of so many children of failed marriages. You point the finger at those parents whose relationships, married or otherwise, crumble:
There are many issues that, on a family by family basis, completely overshadow policies relating to global geopolitics. One of these issues relates to family breakdown. The particularly high rate of breakdown in marriages today means that one out of two marriages will end in divorce. This is painful enough for the adult parties concerned but it is worse for the children of these adults. Where the break-up is acrimonious, things are far worse. Far too frequently the children are used as weapons. Custodial parents all too often blatantly ignore access provisions to punish the non-custodial parent, ignoring the pain that this causes the children. We must not allow these acrimonious break-ups to cause any more pain than is absolutely necessary for children and non-custodial parents.
As a fellow science graduate from RMIT, I am rewarded to see your displeasure at those who challenge our long-standing institutions yet fail to substantiate their claims with hard, reproducible evidence:
Being an analytical person, I tend to take a dim view of sacred cows that are not backed up by verifiable facts.
I note your appreciation for those who put their faith in your ability to represent them fairly and further, your strong desire to increase their well-being:
This leads me to conclude that during this term of the Howard government we should be focusing on positive solutions to the many challenges which we face. I wish to sincerely thank the people of Tangney for voting for me and thereby bestowing this significant honour upon me. I do not take this honour lightly and I assure the people of Tangney that I will do my utmost to see to their best interests.
I trust that the sincerity of your message to Parliament, to the people of Tangney and to all Australians that day in 2004 has not only persisted, but has increased year on year.
With this background on the table I wish to address my concern about a number of claims I’ve seen in the media, attributed to you, that bother me deeply. Essentially they are about marriage, but also about families.
In 2011 you authorised a letter from your office indicating your opposition to supporting marriage equality on the basis of “overwhelming” opposition from voters in Tangney.
Whilst there may be some opposition to marriage equality in your electorate, I challenge you to substantiate the degree that “overwhelming” actually reflects any form of majority.
The basis of my challenge is the hard evidence that in 2010 News Ltd conducted a poll of voters in Tangney on “same-sex marriage” and found that 41% were in favour, 39% were against and 20% didn’t care.
What this means is that 61% are not opposed to “same-sex marriage”. Conversely it also means that 59% are not in favour of it. Whichever way you look at the numbers, there is no simple way to interpret the 39% against as being an “overwhelming” opposition, when on the day of the poll it was closer to a minority view.
Anecdotally I understand, via your then staffer Anna Ogilvie, that you had not actually polled the voters in Tangney on this matter and so you have no actual scientific evidence for the level of support or otherwise for marriage equality in your electorate.
In this letter from your office you state of the amended legal definition of marriage that it “simply recognises marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of society, which is the basis for forming families and which is underpinned by tradition.”
To me that sounds very much like a person talking about a sacred cow. You refer to marriage as a “bedrock institution”. As of 2007, using figures from the ABS, about one-third of Australian children were born outside traditional marriage and at that time around one-third of marriages ended in divorce. To a lay person who does not have your substantial expertise as a PhD materials scientist this “bedrock” looks more to me like “quicksand” if not “clay”.
It would be helpful to understand exactly which verifiable facts helped you form this assertion about marriage.
Last year the media reported you as having said gay marriage was a “social experiment” and would lead to the “dismantling of society as we know it.”
You proudly claim you have “the highest scientific qualifications of all MPs and Senators”. Indeed, a notable fact. I therefore ask of you, Dr Jensen, to explain in detail this “social experiment” to me, and supply those verifiable facts you demand that lead you to claim so forcefully that “gay marriage” will be just so calamitous.
I return to your concern about those crumbling marriages that harm so many children. At present if a person is to get married in Australia, the only option they have is to marry a person of a sex that is a biological binary (male/female) opposite. Intersex people are not even able to marry a person not of their choice.
Now, you’ll appreciate that in many cultures marriage is valued very highly, which means that for a multitude of reasons, including the happiness of their parents and any subsequent inheritance, people will get married, more so if they plan or are expected to have children. Can you see where I’m going here?
Because a same-sex option or a non-biological binary option is unavailable, people who need to get married for the aforementioned factors will marry irrespective of whether it is what they would do if they had other options open to them. Let’s call this “for reasons of convenience”.
So to your concern that you wish to reduce the harm to children who find themselves at the fractious end of a marriage (or other type of expected relationship), allow me to suggest that if the parents are married for convenience due to a lack of alternative and socially acceptable marriage coupling options, perhaps offering the parents a gender-neutral Marriage Act might go a long way to mitigating this harm that deeply troubles you. It’s a no brainer.
A standard line against marriage equality is that non-heterosexual marriages don’t produce children, or that those that do don’t offer their children double biological parentage and all associated happinesses, etc (“all things being equal”). Increasingly there is evidence that not only do the children, biological or otherwise, of these same-sex parents not suffer because of the gender of their parents (although they may suffer due to intolerance from others due to it…) but that sometimes these children actually do better. I know this because I have read the research (and met the children). I talk of credible, respected research. Unlike that heavily discredited Regnerus “study” that others who share your views rely on.
In May last year you addressed Parliament on the topic of marriage equality. You were not kind to the topic to say the least. You spoke of outcomes and even of “all things being equal”. In an ideal world, where all things are equal, perhaps we will have perfect outcomes. But as a scientist and a person reasonably well versed on human conflict, you will know that we don’t live in a perfect world where all things are equal. In fact, we live in a world that is far from it.
I ask of you, Dr Jensen, how you can ask the people of Tangney to take you seriously, when you repeatedly say one thing on one hand, and something opposite on the other hand.
Things like wanting to reduce the harm to children in broken marriages, but wish to deny those who need to marry the right to marry the person of their genuine choice; or as a scientist asking for verifiable facts, yet peddling tired bigotry solely designed to fear-monger.
You are a scientist who stakes your professional reputation on your academic credentials. Yet you lower yourself to the level of the ignorant and uneducated when you make those ill-informed assertions about same-sex marriages, same-sex parents, children of same-sex parents and anything that challenges this “sacred cow” “bedrock institution” you romanticise about as if it were a reality.
I implore you Dr Jensen to undertake a rigorous unbiased scientific poll of your electorate on the topic of marriage equality, and publish these results transparently. Do this in the name of science and of “freedom of choice”. Do this for the welfare of the families and children of Tangney. Do this for your children. Do this for yourself, your career and even for your reputation.
Lastly, I ask you do it for me, so I can marry my husband Gregory, here in Australia. We married in New Zealand in January because he asked me last September to marry him and he was impatient, mostly because he loves me so much. All that, plus my parents want to celebrate our marriage (again), this time on home turf.
I should add that Gregory has two adult children, both financially and residentially dependent on him (and emotionally dependent on him and their mother). I should also add that his children were victims of a marriage breakdown that was a result of a marriage that occurred due in part to family and cultural expectations, and a lack of options.
Gregory and I are not going to be starting a family, so please bear this in mind when you consider telling me that the children of our marriage will suffer because of the gender of their parents.