CHARLES WOO­LEY

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Upfront -

On the same-sex mar­riage sur­vey and what he thinks about mar­riage

S ome peo­ple ask the se­cret of long mar­riage. We take time to go to a restau­rant twice a week. A lit­tle can­dle­light, din­ner, soft mu­sic and danc­ing. She goes Tues­days. I go Fri­days. Sadly, that’s not my ma­te­rial. It comes from the late New York stand-up comic Henny Young­man. If I could come up with stuff like that I wouldn’t be writ­ing here.

I’ve been re­vis­it­ing the one-lin­ers of Young­man this week in the light of the hor­ri­bly earnest, bit­ter and humourless mar­riage equal­ity plebiscite. How could any­thing so in­el­e­gantly named not end up nasty and bor­ing? No satirist could ever have come up with a more lu­di­crous project and ti­tle. The word “plebiscite” kind of sums it up. They are ask­ing us “plebs” to say “I do” be­fore en­am­oured same-sex cou­ples are al­lowed to re­peat those words.

I don’t re­ally want to vote in this aw­ful thing be­cause who you marry has noth­ing to do with me. It’s en­tirely your busi­ness. Why should cou­ples of any gen­der ask my per­mis­sion to wed?

I hate po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness as much as the next jour­nal­ist (it has taken half the fun and all the lively dis­course out of life) so I might have been ex­pected to warm to Tony Ab­bott’s in­junc­tion that “if you are op­posed to po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, you should vote no”. Un­for­tu­nately, what­ever side Ab­bott takes, I feel com­pelled to take the op­po­site.

My other po­lit­i­cal touch­stone is the equally egre­gious Greens Se­na­tor Lee Rhiannon. They are both wreck­ers, brim­ful of bile and spleen and not much loved by their re­spec­tive col­leagues. Both rep­re­sent ide­olo­gies from the re­mote past at a time when most of us are now some­where in the rea­son­able cen­tre.

When­ever ide­olo­gies are in­volved in any so­cial de­bate, I fear it will end badly. Since Rhiannon takes the op­po­site side to Ab­bott, the only mid­dle ground for me is not to vote. And that’s in the un­likely event Aus­tralia Post is able to lo­cate my let­ter­box up in High Dud­geon.

De­spite what some peo­ple think, your colum­nist is a fairly af­fa­ble bloke of rea­son­able dis­po­si­tion, hap­pi­est when mildly amused.

I might ap­pear a great sup­porter of mar­riage, but I can hardly agree with Mal­colm Turn­bull that “mar­riage is the bedrock of our so­ci­ety”. Be­yond the har­bour­side man­sion, mar­riage might more likely be a rocky bed. More than a third of mar­riages end in di­vorce and half our kids live in long-term un­mar­ried re­la­tion­ships. Still, I have per­se­vered. I must be a big fan of mar­riage. How else to ex­plain I have done it three times?

When we ven­tured into my fi­nal at­tempt to get it right, up at the Sig­nal Sta­tion atop High Dud­geon, Donna told our as­sem­bled friends: “This is Char­lie’s third mar­riage and it is cer­tainly his last. This is my first mar­riage but not nec­es­sar­ily my last.”

We had a hi­lar­i­ous time. Like 70 per cent of the de­clin­ing num­bers who now bother to marry, we chose a cel­e­brant. Nei­ther Al­lah nor Je­ho­vah spoiled the party. What I hadn’t re­ally con­sid­ered un­til this present de­bate was that we had a third per­son that night in our mar­riage bed: the state.

Please ex­plain why a bunch of dis­or­gan­ised, op­por­tunis­tic mis­cre­ants in our frac­tious leg­is­la­tures in Can­berra should have any say in defin­ing the clos­est hu­man re­la­tion­ship most Aus­tralians will have. Th­ese peo­ple don’t even know what coun­try they are cit­i­zens of, let alone what they be­lieve about ed­u­ca­tion, health, coal and cli­mate change. Yet you are pre­pared to let them or­der who you may marry. It is be­yond me why same-sex cou­ples would want a bunch of self-serv­ing politi­cians to vouch­safe their re­la­tion­ship.

John Howard caused the prob­lem a few years ago when he bunged into the con­sti­tu­tion a clause re­defin­ing mar­riage as a union “be­tween a man and a woman”. He is a de­cent bloke, but he could never see far be­yond the white picket fence.

In­ci­den­tally, I think I do an amus­ing im­per­son­ation of our for­mer prime min­is­ter and so do my friends. But when the wed­ding laugh­ter sub­sided, Donna said, “No sex for you tonight, Char­lie”. Could Howard im­per­son­ations be grounds for di­vorce? I want this mar­riage to last but, to be fair, I can’t do Turn­bull be­cause there’s no one there to im­per­son­ate.

How will I vote in this un­bind­ing opin­ion poll on a sub­ject that rightly should be no busi­ness of mine? Yes, I ex­pect. But de­spite my abun­dant mar­riage ex­pe­ri­ence, don’t pre­sume I have the an­swer. How has a de­bate about love gen­er­ated so much ha­tred? A sense of hu­mour has never been so ur­gently re­quired.

Let’s keep it nice by in­vok­ing the spirit of Young­man, whose “take my wife, please” jokes be­lied a long mar­riage to his beloved Sadie. “I’ve been in love with the same woman for 49 years,” he said. “If my wife ever finds out, she’ll kill me.”

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