Mark Latham’s Marriage Equality Rant Accidentally Raises An Important Issue

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Today, in a column for the Daily Tele, former Labor leader Mark Latham bravely admitted that he really does not understand the very straightforward concept of marriage equality.

“My advice to people would be: if you don’t understand the proposal, don’t vote for it,” he wrote. “I won’t be.” He then went on to demonstrate his lack of understanding in great detail, by identifying precisely 247 genders “the postal vote process has made no mention of”, before taking a wild detour to link the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Safe Schools program.

If only because the intellectual calisthenics required to make that leap need to be seen to be believed, here’s a quote from the piece:

“Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Marxists tried to create political anxiety and rebellion through the economic system. Now they are trying to manipulate the identity and feelings of school students, to convince them nothing is fixed in this world, such as biological science.”

As one commenter boldly ventured: “I don’t recall in my reading of the Manifesto or Capital where Marx passed a comment on SSM”. Me neither, John, but here we are.

Normally, we’d leave Latham to spout his nonsense in the time-space vacuum behind the Daily Tele paywall, but as the adage goes, admitting you don’t understand is the first step to actually learning something. And in this case, there really is something to learn, namely the actual meaning of terms like “intersex”, which Latham throws around dismissively while admitting in the same breath that he’s “got no idea what they are talking about”.

In doing so, he’s remarkably blithe about the harm he’s doing to to the intersex community. If he’d done his research, Mark would have realised that almost every rhetorical question he throws out has a pretty reasonable answer, with absolutely nothing to do with a clandestine neo-Marxist infiltration of schools. Who knew?

A Journey To The Centre Of The Dearth

Reading Latham’s piece, you can pinpoint the exact moment of his brainwave.

According to Latham, you’d “logically expect” legislation enabling marriage equality to redefine marriage as “a union between: a) A man and a woman; or b) Two gay men; or c) Two lesbian women.”

And yet, he notes that politicians have proposed the alternative terminology of “a union between two people”. The possibility of a preference for conciseness or a genuine need for inclusivity seem to escape Latham in his haste to pump out this extremely genius take. No — something Marxist must be afoot.

Unfortunately for Latham’s take, there’s a good reason people have suggested gender neutral terminology for marriage equality legislation: namely, inclusion of intersex and non-binary trans people, both of which are very real groups. But while Latham’s made his outright disdain for individuals who identify as non-binary very clear, he’s made his total misunderstanding of what it means to be intersex even clearer.

What You Need To Know About Being Intersex

OII Australia, an advocacy organisation for intersex people, could have cleared this up very easily, had he bothered to google. They very clearly explain what it means to be intersex, namely that: “intersex people are born with physical or biological sex characteristics (such as sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, hormonal patterns and/or chromosomal patterns) that are more diverse than stereotypical definitions for male or female bodies”. Up to 1.7% of the population is intersex — not a lot, to be sure, but about as many as those born with red hair.

As Latham could have read at length in the words of actual intersex advocates, an incredibly pressing issue for the intersex community is the prevalence of non-consensual surgical and hormonal interventions that seek to make intersex bodies conform to “male and female norms”. This has often led to the forced sterilisation of young intersex children in an effort to make their bodies appear more conventionally “female” or “male” — categories that are, biologically, not as clear-cut as Latham would like us to believe.

In the Darlington Statement, a coalition of intersex advocacy organisations make very clear that these practices of non-consensual medical intervention are profoundly harmful to intersex people. The statement explicitly identifies the prevalence of sex and gender binaries in law and broader society as contributing to the pressures that drive these harmful practices.

Again, in their own words, “the larger goal is not to seek new classifications but to end legal classification systems and the hierarchies that lie behind them”. While of course, many intersex people do identify as a binary gender, many don’t. Regardless, attempts to enforce binaries in law have the potential to do harm to all intersex people.

The intersex community is so often subsumed into the LGBTQIA+ acronym as if every letter is affected alike, but if pundits like Latham took a moment to consider the specific needs of all these communities rather than just listing unfamiliar terms in a panic, they might actually encounter some different and very reasonable perspectives.

The intersex community is just one of the groups benefited by more neutral language in marriage equality. Non-binary trans people are another. When Latham asks “why is the postal vote question asking about same-sex (the LGB component) but not the other 247 types of marriage being promoted by the left?”, he’s implying that groups he’s unfamiliar with are somehow less human, less comprehensible as human, simply because he couldn’t be bothered to define some terms.

What Latham could have told us is that the “biological science” he believes is being undermined by raging Marxists actually reflects the broader spectrum of sex and gender he’s so quick to belittle. He could also have learnt that terms like “two-spirit”, which he happily assumes is totally bogus, have actual meaning — in this case for gender diverse people in certain Native American cultures. But instead, he’s content to publish his uninformed thoughts almost as quickly as he can come up with them.

In short, let’s close by answering his piece’s final, triumphant question: “if the public hasn’t approved marriage beyond heterosexual and homosexual couples, how can the Parliament proceed with a broad, “two people” definition?”

Maybe by recognising them as people.