Plebiscite on Relationships

Andrew P. Street in his Sydney Morning Herald article this morning compared the proposal to have a plebiscite on gay marriage to the issues that surrounded “legalising divorce”. Whilst I agree with his basic premise, I do not know if he fully realises the public anger from many at the changes that took place in 1975.

I worked within our legal system both before and after Lionel Murphy managed to get through parliament the then new Matrimonial Causes Act which allowed people the freedom of leaving a marriage without the issue of fault arising. There was a great deal of angst at the time, perhaps more than there is now, about this “undermining the fabric of society”. The artificial concept of “constructive desertion” (when people who had been badly treated in a marriage, which they then left,  had to bare their soul and disclose their victimisation prior to any consideration of the right to equal sharing of mutual assets) was no longer needed. People could be free to choose to leave what was, to them, an unsatisfactory marriage.

It has been hypothesised that the violent attacks on the Family Court that followed this Act were a result of those unfairly benefitting from the previous status quo, feeling marginalised.

Fortunately property issues need not be considered in this latest proposal in the forthcoming plebiscite as all defacto relationships are now recognised by law in property adjustments.

This new, proposed act would be one of official recognition of a status that already exists. And how can that adversely effect those who already have legal status? It can only be because those who say they are against it because it would effect their own marriage will no longer be able to consider they have a “superior” edge. And this is a very small change to what we have done for only 200 years, that is only legally recognising one traditional British form of relationship.  We would be only recognising one other type, also monogamous before the law.

Arrangements which we should also have been recognising for these two centuries are within groups of our own indigenous people. It is illustrated by the role of whom we might call “aunties” in a family. This is very important. The concept of an isolated nuclear family was foreign to aboriginal people and in many cases has been imposed by our laws.

I was privileged to attend a world conference in 2001 on the rights of children. It is disappointing how late Australia is at looking at how sometimes the non legal recognition of “statuses” of parents can adversely effect children’s lives. In 2001 this was an issue already being discussed by European countries. Probably the speakers from Belgium proposed some of the most interesting changes to law to cope with conundrums that I had not, until that stage, properly considered.

Belgium judges described in 2001 that, whilst they did not want polygamy to be a form of marriage practised in Belgium, it should be recognised when it has occurred overseas in countries where it is legal, so that their immigration laws and laws surrounding refuges did not have the effect of separating mothers and children. That was very forward thinking – the rights of children should supersede conventional practices in legal recognition of the way people decided to construct their own families.

As a teenager, living in Cooma during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, I met many interesting people from a wide range of backgrounds and countries and, as a silent “fly on the wall”, sometimes heard some interesting adult viewpoints. One of my mother’s close friends was a University educated Mormon woman who was the wife of a very Senior Consultant loaned to the scheme by the USA Bureau of Reclamation. She made it clear that as a citizen of the USA, where polygamy was not permitted, she and her husband always obeyed the law of country. However she put forward a very strong defence of polygamy. She said negativity towards it is always rife in patriarchal countries as it actually limits the role of men. Polygamy is an asset to educated women as, in a family structure such as polygamy, there are more people to help in the child rearing role, particularly the person with younger children and it gives women more opportunity for careers and other such activities. She hypothesised it was good for children in that they also became used to a wider family group and thus exposure to more ideas.  Of course another result might be there are less men needed overall!

Over the years there have been many, many unconventional unions in the sight of the law, that I have seen work beautifully for adults and children. One such was a woman whose husband became a quadriplegic and suffered brain damage in an accident. She wanted to look after him and wanted her baby son to know his father. Later she met another man who shared her compassion. They had children and all lived together, he helped as a carer too and her official “husband” began to learn to talk again as the children did. It was an example for the whole community. But from time to time legal issues came to the fore as an inconvenience and distraction in a good working relationship.

I have known, as undoubtedly most people have known, some wonderful families where children have two dads or two mums. It is particularly heartening when they also have a relationship with their other biological parent as well. Three adults who love one is no burden for a child to carry. But they should not have to explain their situations each time. Their two Mums or two Dads should be able to marry, or not to marry, according to their choices, just as can the man and woman parents of their friends.

I worked for some years with children and the only time I heard any complaints about same sex parents was from teenagers was when parents flaunted their sexuality in a public way. But this was in no way limited to the children who had same sex parents!

Over history, over nations, over religions there have been multiple ways of organising families.

Personally, as a non theist, I think that the secular law in each country should not be influenced in any way by religious views other than to provide freedom for individual worship and freedom for individual’s choices in areas which do not impinge on others.

As far as relationships go, the law should be there to protect an individual’s rights in a dispute and children’s rights to receive care from their families. So it stands to reason, if the above two laws are in place, it should also be recognised by law that consenting adults’ choices of their family structure should be able to be cloaked in the authenticity of equal recognition by a societal ceremony before the law, if that is what they wish to have.

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Wearing My Heart in My Sleeves

 

I spent yesterday throwing away my life, or at least that is how it felt in the morning.

By afternoon, after a bracing midday exercise class, I started to marvel that I had had enough time in my life to have known much of what was in the many, many articles, workshops and notes from my working and learning lives that I was busily throwing away. All my undergraduate notes and my notes from work as a solicitor had been tossed in moving clean ups prior to the eighties, but in the last thirty years I seem to have thrown out very little. I was very pleasantly surprised, as I scanned documents prior to binning, how much of each I actually remembered!

And most of it was still quite interesting. I tried to severely limit my rereading. I do not have a shredder but I pretended to myself that each article had to be scanned so any possible identifying names and information could be hand shredded with great vigour. That added less physical work to the job than did the scrubbing of shelves as each was finally exposed.

Why now? These have sat in my “shed” in neat folders on bookshelves for almost ten years, since I retired from work. And the theses and lecture notes had had been there for even longer. I am sure all the psychological tests for children were well and truly out of date! Perhaps, I mused, it was because I had just heard of the death of an old friend. We had “flatted” together after University College and I had been a bridesmaid at her wedding 52 years ago. But surely not, very sad as that was, this was something I had planned to do for some time. Was it because I had seen my daughter in law struggling both emotionally and physically with the history her late father had left behind when he died last month? I have a lot of memorabilia that will cause my children more angst than just tossing out reams of printed articles about child psychology and legal issues!

I know not why. But now I do know “what”.

A huge part of what I threw out was years of research about violence within families. Many learned people have been discussing this for eons. I reread articles relating exactly to what we are still discussing now as if for the first time. I saw again some of the workshops with which I was involved since the 90s, trying to help victims, trying to work with perpetrators, knowing what damage was being done to children. Every time this serious problem is in the public eye there seems to be a reinvention of the wheel, a demand for simple legal solutions rather than getting on with the building of working tools for what we already know about for the development of human beings.

Similarly articles about the possible future problems with IVF and with anonymous donors. We were talking about this, based on our knowledge of adoption issues, more than thirty years ago! What a non surprise it has emerged.

And other of the old issues in these folders are again in the news as if never discussed before.

Now, almost finished, I have filled two recycle bins and added much to the ordinary garbage. But I still have quite a lot I cannot yet throw. My two Masters theses I have retained. A few wonderful articles, such as a great send up of research called “The Etiology of Childhood”. I was going to allow myself to keep only enough to fill just one plastic box that my descendants can toss. Perhaps it may turn into two.

But what I find that I cannot throw are those wonderful – probably fast fading in terms of our future needs for paper copies of anything – plastic sleeves for folders. I have saved all of them that remain in condition fit to continue.

My working life was spent in a number of different forms of conflict resolution – now merely represented by many intact now empty and some torn now empty plastic sleeves and much knowledge of sadness. Do these  sleeves say nothing of that life’s remains except they are empty memories? Or do they beckon me to move into the future and refill them? With “the cloud” available I do not think they will be needed any more than their contents were.

Perhaps they represent the emptiness of declining years? Not loneliness, not lack of ways to provide some assistance, but emptiness of united purposes, the feeling one can get, in middle age particularly, that perhaps each person can make a difference. (But I finally know this is actually illusory as proved by my illustrations of our attempts to solve, or at least stem, family violence and other problems for children.)

Most of all, perhaps, they represent the human condition? The torn ones show the frailty of our human condition. The intact ones are resilient but yet still empty. Their difference was probably, in the main, caused by the load the frail ones carried.  They, however, do not judge one another.  When, oh when, will we just learn to follow a simple truth that does not need to be researched – be nicer to one another?  Then no one will need to be used and damaged or even empty, like these sleeves, the frail now gone for eternity.

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Atheism

I do not want to “do a Scott Morrison” here. I am a privileged, educated person and I can take care of myself so far as what people say about me and my beliefs are concerned. However some assumptions do not please me.

I have been an atheist for about sixty four years. I have many, quite religious, good friends and close family members. We rarely discuss the subject out of consideration for others’ views. In fact, I only realised it was legitimate to go public at all with these then non-mainstream views when I was at university.

However, as a one time researcher, I find it difficult to cope with the reality that, as non theists, we are constantly being asked, by those who wish to believe something different, to prove the null hypothesis which we accept. It shows a real lack of understanding.

My Twitter account, for some time, has been punctuated with religious argument, views and support from people I do not know. Many make the assumptions we know nothing of the nature or details of religions. I usually quickly scroll past them. What would be the point of responding, I ask myself. However, a few months ago I tweeted an answer to one of the constant religious fillers of my stream who had pushed the view that lack of proper knowledge of Christianity made people such as me non believers. I replied, “@ XXXX I don’t need a class on fairies when I say I do not believe they aren’t at the bottom of my garden, either.”

She replied with resentment that I was “parodying” religion. Some cannot even accept that a non believer will axiomatically think of religion as tantamount to a fairy tale, albeit a well meaning one with a large number of positive messages and admirable suggestions as to how to live a good life. (Most fairy tales have some positive message too! But perhaps that is unnecessarily parodying again.) I ignored her tweet and moved on, resolving never to reply again.

But this morning I find she has again retweeted this tweet of mine with yet another answer from herself.

I repeat here, in a direct and non “parodying” way the basic concept. It  is not up to me or to others with no religious beliefs to have to defend a null hypothesis.

Recently the following question was also posed to me by a very nice, close acquaintance of mine who lives a devout Christian life, “Atheists like you are really setting yourselves up as small Gods in your own right aren’t you?”

I had to think twice before answering as I value my interactions with her. I finally said, “If you mean by that, that I have to take complete responsibility for all of my actions and decisions then you are probably right.” But it is a shame that I had to grudgingly assume the persona of a “god” to make my own decisions.

And spell correct just gave me a capital letter for “god”. That really shows what people like me are up against!

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World Tragedies

On Bastille Day 2016, I took two of my grandsons some croissants for breakfast as a celebration (and because they love croissants with melted cheese). This was in Australia many hours before day break on 14th July in Nice.

I was explaining to the almost ten year old about the history of France and the storming of the Bastille. He was quite perplexed that the forced release of prisoners from a gaol would represent the freedom of a country. As usual with this young man the discussion turned philosophical. Foucault himself would have been proud! We discussed punishment in general and the aims of incarceration; protection of society, deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation and perhaps even retribution? I explained the history of gaols and the sometimes accidental role it has played in punishment. We discussed alternatives, historic and current.

He was interesting in his ideas on the death penalty for murder. He took on board the concept that perhaps society should not be asked to bear the responsibility of killing a person as tooth for tooth retribution for their action of killing. His suggestion was that this may be an inappropriate reaction in the case of one death but not in cases of multiple deaths.

Then there was news of the tragedy in Nice.

I could not help being relieved that the perpetrator of this tragedy had been killed, mainly, I thought, because that prevented more deaths. Then when the father of the perpetrator spoke out about his son’s mental illness I was even more relieved in the sense that the perpetrator will never have to face the enormity of what he did in that period of insanity if such insanity was the cause.

It is very possible that law enforcement agencies would rather have him alive in their quest to know what actually happened, why and how to prevent it happening again.

But the tragedy inevitably leads back to the original storming of the Bastille.

How do we keep each society safe whilst still accepting that each single one of us in any time in any society will not always have the same views as to how that society should be constructed? We cannot just take the word of a king or a ruler and that 1789 storming was symbolic of this. Democracy is a lauded idea and the best we have so far, but perhaps we should look hard at views of a democratic majority which does not accept its duty to both respect and look after the minorities in their population.

And how can we improve the lot of the mentally ill? We have become so absorbed with viewing mental illness through the 21st Century lens of “depression” that we have, in many ways, failed the fortunately much less common group of mentally ill people subject to psychotic episodes. This failure is much more evident since the closure of the old “asylums”, leaving the hard working mental health professionals with fewer options and the idea of hospitalisation as a last resort. How well does the justice system deal with mental illness?

We have a long way left to go in society, even in democratic societies. And a lot more important issues to deal with than economic “add ons” like superannuation and negative gearing and other distractions to real life.

We need to get to the greater causes of these many tragic events all around us, such as the one in Nice yesterday.

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An Open Letter To Pauline Hanson

 

It is many, many years since I spent some of my formative years in what you have described as the once delightful suburb of Hurstville, which you allege has now been spoilt by an influx of Asian people.

I agree with you in that I do not remember any Asian or any other overseas or indigenous children in our neighbourhood. But we still had plenty to fight about in those old days of the Hurstville forties that I remember! There was the constant war of the Catholic children against the Protestant children. This was only matched by the ceaseless war of the Protestant children against the Catholic children. As an embryonic non believer I kept my head down and perhaps saved face occasionally with both groups by pinging a couple of the weapons of choice, crab apples, at a passing cicada, hoping I might miss the poor thing.

Even children can be influenced to fear differences and to be aggressive towards that which they do not understand.

My epiphany fortunately came when we moved to Cooma on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. There the next door neighbours on one side came from Norway, the neighbours on the other side were Australian Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been interned during the war for their beliefs. The woman that became a very dear friend of my mother was a Mormon from the USA and one of my my best friends came from Germany. There were a huge number of languages spoken that we marvelled at hearing. Seventy eight percent of children at our school spoke English as a second language. Some of the people from other countries were brought in as experts in their field and were here on loan to help. Others were refugees from many countries having been displaced by World War II. And those of us local Australians were diverse. Some were country children living out of town, some were children of the towns people who ran the commerce for the town and others of us were children of those employed by the Snowy Mountains Authority. Working together, we became a wonderful community, united in our diversity, working towards an end of which even we children were proud. I often wished my family were multilingual like that of many of my friends.

Later my obstetrician and gynaecologist was a wonderful Jewish woman from Hungary. She had worked in several countries before she settled here to raise her children. I learnt more from her about life and death than just how to have babies and rear them.

Now I am privileged to have two little granddaughters whose other grandmother is a wonderful, gentle, Muslim woman, born in East Africa, of ethnically Indian descent. (She has never been to India.) She and I, among other things, play Words with Friends on line. I have never beaten her but am learning a little from her every game as I watch her clever mind at work. The fact that she can speak seven languages might help her!

I would hate to go back to the crab apple throwing of  Hurstville in the forties because of religious or other differences.

And I don’t even want to throw crab apples at dinky-di Australian cicadas just because they are on a slightly different trajectory of flight to the one I am on.

Let’s live together and learn from one another.

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Rite or Wong

I am neither gay nor religious so I feel that I can be a fair referee on the issue of who would be most damaged by a full scale battle by means of a plebiscite on gay marriage.

Clearly the gay community is overtly more vulnerable because such plebiscite is directly about their lifestyle. Penny Wong is right that, based on the past, much of the criticism will be very hurtful and some will be uninformed.

The very religious will not be criticised because of lifestyle. They can continue with their own lives. They must have a forum in which to express their views but as their views are to defend a belief structure, which many of us politely believe is false, they must not get precious about their views being any more special than those of anyone else. They must be prepared to hear robust criticism. It is to be hoped this is polite.

But even if it is not, those, like Scott Morrison, who belong to mainstream religions have tax payer assisted edifices and systems built into their lifestyle to assist them to cope if there is criticism of their belief system. The respect and freedoms these institutions may have been given over the years have perhaps given him a false idea about criticism.

For an atheist such as myself, I have to acknowledge that I am responsible for my own behaviour and the way in which I treat others. If I transgress I have to blame myself. I do not demand special privileges. Because I am an atheist, non gay without a public role, it will be very hard for me to have my opinions heard. In fact I rather expect that the usual would happen – “what would an old, widowed, atheist woman know about the matter anyway. Just typical!” That’s OK.

In 1964 when I was married it was only possible to get married in a secular manner, with witnesses only, in a registry office. It was not possible to have a ceremony outside a church. Ten years later Registry Offices had become more accepting of ceremonies and then there were Celebrants. Now non church weddings are frequent.

As family members were religious my then fiancé and I went to meet a mainstream church minister to request a wedding, with some trepidation. As an atheist I do not, and did not then, believe in telling lies so was ready for anything to occur, including a refusal to perform the ceremony. The minister who saw us and who married us, only talked to us about practical details such as the amount we would have to pay to various performers including himself and the choir boys. It was a financial transaction only. How much more completely secular could one get, and this was fifty two years ago! I still appreciate this churchman. Churches were then accepting their co-existence with secular tradition.

Much of what the major religions here, Christianity, Islam and Judaism have as their doctrine and injunctions to the believers, I agree with and appreciate. Kindness, tolerance, goodwill are all qualities I appreciate in humanity. So is love for ones’ neighbours, whether man and woman, man and man or woman and woman.

So as referee I say practise this love. Don’t send a plebiscite upstairs to a third referee. Go on with the game of life and be nice to each other.

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Siri’s Dog

Does Siri own a big black dog?

Yesterday I met a lovely black dog. His coat was shiny. He had a pristine white chest and his big limpid, brown eyes looked pleadingly at me.

He was delighted to see me drive into the parking lot in my car. Siri had directed me to the Wallarah Gallery near Toukley on the Central Coast. It was in a beautiful position looking out over the wide blue Budgewoi Lake on one side and the equally wide blue Tuggerah Lake on the other side. It looked very inviting but why had Siri directed me there when I was expected at another place? She is normally so reliable. But surely I had not made a mistake, how could I ever make an error? I certainly had not asked her for directions to this Gallery as I did not know it existed!

Oh well, I thought, I will leave this parking area and try to find my destination without her help.

But the lovely dog had other ideas. He did not want me to go. As I turned to leave he stood obstinately in front of the car with his eyes fixed upon me. I backed up to try to go around him but he moved his ground and looked directly at me again, his soft brown eyes fixed upon my yet unlighted head lights. I am sure he had a pleading look on his face.

Siri, by this stage was frantically telling me I had reached my destination. Was this a plot?

I finally lowered my window to talk to the dog and he co-operated in my endeavour by standing on his hind legs against the driver’s door with his front paws on the door and his head in the window. He was keen to have a conversation. I told him to go home, but he clearly wanted to continue this pleasant conversation. Eventually I gave him a little push aside and tried to drive out of the car park but he quickly resumed a position right in front of the moving car. Of course I stopped.

His tail wagged enthusiastically in a “mission accomplished” manner and we resumed the stand off.

Was he in league with Siri in some devilish plan to force me to enter the Gallery?

By this time I knew I would be late for my appointment elsewhere. I started to panic. The dog wagged his tail again in a very friendly fashion and made a little whining noise.

What could I do?

I edged forward again but could not run the risk of injuring him. He did not move.

In annoyance I turned Siri off. She was being no help at all.

Eventually I thought that I had no option but to get out of the car and try to reason with the dog. As I started to get out he became very enthusiastic. He wagged his tail harder. He rushed to the door.

As I stepped out he stopped in his tracks. Disappointment clouded his beautiful brown eyes. His tail went down between his legs. He was the very picture of a shattered dog. He walked away.

I drove off. I found my own way to my destination.

Who did he think I was? Did he think I was Siri because her voice was emanating from my car? What was her plan in sending me to that destination in the first place? Does she drive a black Ford like mine? Was it indeed a cunning plot or just a confusing mistake?

I hope the dog enjoyed the gallery. I hope the busy Siri slipped home to feed him in between her duties directing people. In fact I really hope she did not send me there to feed the dog because she knew she would not get there in time for his dinner. But he looked well fed and well looked after.

I like to think she lives by the Wallarah Gallery, with the lovely dog and they look out over the lakes together. She can relax by the lakes as they have no roads for her to monitor. Sometimes, in summer, they might even have a little swim in one of the lakes. And if he is bored she can send an unwary passer by to talk to him.

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