Don’t look now, but the town of Springfield is going to legalise same-sex marriage. In an episode of The Simpsons to air in the US early next year, Homer Simpson becomes an ordained minister over the internet, and sets about marrying couples with gay abandon. The 14-year-old cartoon series proves once again it is a reliable barometer of what’s on the popular culture’s mind.
One of the show’s long-standing characters will come out of the closet and declare his or her real sexuality. Could it be Ned Flanders? Selma? Maybe Barney Gumble? Creator Matt Groening is unlikely to pick the obvious, so we can rule out powerplant operator Montgomery Burns and his sycophantic assistant Waylon Smithers.
While we speculate on who The Simpsons‘ gay blades may be, Prime Minister John Howard, egged on by a vocal cast of right-wing Christian characters, has of course already rammed through parliament the Marriage Legislation Amendment Act 2004, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Instead of getting quite the election wedge issue Howard wanted, making mileage yet again from minorities, Labor acquiesced and supported the Bill. No Homers here.
Lawyers for the Equal Rights Network have decided that a mooted High Court challenge by gay and lesbian activists has no hope of succeeding, so that avenue has been abandoned. Gay advocate Rodney Croome says it is difficult to say whether there will be a backlash against Labor in the 9 October election for supporting Howard’s legislation, given many other election issues are at play.
So now, the NSW Law Reform Commission is left to salvage the pieces, setting up an inquiry into same-sex relationships under state law. This odd state of affairs comes courtesy of a commonwealth and state agreement last year to hand over all powers on de factos to the commonwealth -“ minus the gay and lesbian ones. Howard doesn’t want those. Straight de facto couples will get federal Family Court access, for instance; gay ones can sort things out for themselves.
The NSW Law Reform Commission wants to know if the Property Relationship Act 1975 (NSW) should be changed to better reflect gay and lesbian couples’ needs. It wants to know how homosexual couples feel about property splits, partner maintenance, domestic relationship agreements, child support, and whether there should be greater recognition of non-biological parents.
No doubt the same cast of crusaders that bussed from Sydney to Canberra for the National Marriage Forum last month will come out of the woodwork for this new inquiry. The National Marriage Coalition sees gay and lesbian relationships as an attack on traditional families. Their reasoning is more cartoonish than the pungent parody of The Simpsons.
Australian Family Association vice-president Bill Muehlenberg, for instance, argues on his website that gays and lesbians can in fact get married -“ just not to their own kind. Nature itself discriminates, he reminds us. Thus, a girl cannot marry her pet goldfish, no matter how much she might love it, or a father cannot marry his daughter, regardless of his affection for her.
Only Homer Simpson could match such silly non sequiturs in his lessons to children Bart, Lisa and Maggie. But while viewers vote for Homer by switching on TV, who votes for the AFA, a shopfront for the most conservative Catholic interests, to represent Australian families?
While the legislators have built their barricade against same-sex relationships, the Australian public is not nearly as unaccepting of gays and lesbians as the Christian lobby would have them portrayed. The Simpsons‘ gay marriage/coming out story was one of the most read stories on The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald websites when it broke some weeks ago. The public is gay-curious, thanks in no small part to the increasing presence of gay characters on television.
Gay marriage too has now entered the lexicon of pop culture. The Christian crusaders might have won their battle for enshrining marriage law but, thanks to the likes of Homer, they’ll have a tough time persuading the public that love between committed adults ever posed their families a mortal threat.
Steve Dow is a Sydney-based journalist.