I read over the weekend an article by a very “enlightened” Australian politician, Tony Abbott, a big “C” conservative and a big “L” Liberal. Not my favourite man. Apparently he’s just written a book, as part of his “grieving” process of being a member of a political party that lost the last election to an unworthy opponent, and not having the power he once had.
His book talks about the “coming out” of Conservatism, and how a return to “traditional family values” is an important thing. Given, he says, that gay people are likely to get the right to marry in the near future, perhaps adding extra options to heterosexual marriage will continue to make it all special.
He advocates reintroducing “fault based” divorce. This went out of fashion, and law in Australia around the same time I was born (1975). The fault based divorce laws provided only 14 grounds for divorce and placed the burden of proof back on the couples. It was widely seen as unfair and although conservatives and religious groups alike were horrified when it was abandoned to a faultless system in 1975, however society did not crumble and the world did not end.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 provided 14 grounds for the grant of a decree of dissolution of marriage (‘divorce’), including adultery, desertion, cruelty, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment and insanity. To succeed on one of these grounds, a spouse had to prove marital fault (sourced from here). This meant that individuals had to hire lawyers, private detectives, seek witness statements and prove one of the grounds. If the judge believed that the evidence was fabricated, then he (because they were mainly men at that time) could refuse to allow a divorce.
So, imagine being a victim of domestic violence trying to obtain a divorce at that time, or if the laws are reintroduced for people to voluntarily sign into, imagine trying to obtain one. If the judge doesn’t believe that you have been subject to “cruelty”, if you were unable to prove the violence because it was psychological versus physical, you may not be able to obtain a divorce. Is this a fair and reasonable thing?
The big problem with this style of conservative thinking, and “traditional family values” is that it places women in society at a lesser place than the men. Women are typically more likely to become victims of domestic violence than men (I am not denying that men are not victims of domestic violence), so if it harder for women to obtain a divorce from a violent marriage, then that’s hardly fair and surely not part of what people would think that “traditional family values” are.
Another big problem of course is the fact that conservative political parties and religions talk about “traditional family values” and don’t define the phrase… because we all magically know what it is. Of course, “traditional family values”, how silly of me. Do they mean, as I suspect they do, that children are raised (and you will have children, because without them you are not a family) by both mum and dad, living in some lovely house in suburbia, with their 1950s style decorated house, where mum cooks dinner for everyone every day, keeps the house clean and always listens to her husband complain about work at the end of the day? Probably…. but the 1950s were not the Golden Age that some current politicians and religious leaders believe them to be. There were things that really worked in the 1950s, and there were many things that didn’t.
If we turned back the clocks to 1950 we’d lose our lovely air-conditioned and heated homes, wonderfully diverse range of restaurants, and our lovely multicultural society. These are things I value, I enjoy being able to select a cuisine from just about anywhere in the world and be able to find it and share it with family and friends, I love getting to know people from all around the world and sharing thoughts and ideas with them. I enjoy being environmentally aware and trying to be active about things I care about. I don’t fit the 1950s mould and never would… and society today would not want to give up their freedoms that they have gained and created since then.
But if somehow conservative groups did turn back the clock, it’d go badly for women and other minority groups. Since the 1950s women gained better access to workplaces, anti-discrimination laws came into place, Australian Aboriginals were recognised as Australian citizens and were given the right to vote, the White Australia policy was repealed as draconian and stupid (perhaps my words), multiculturalism generally began to work, and despite some things like the Cronulla Riots, generally does work in Australia, and queer people began to live openly and without fear.
Despite all the gains that women and other minority groups have made over the last 50 years, there are those that still want to imagine that the 1950s exist. Just read this blog post as evidence that some people view “a good wife” as a doormat for her husband.
Lets not turn back the clock, lets actually look at preserving rights that we currently have and creating new ones if we actually need them. Lets recognise what rights minorities in our society need to feel safe and participate fully, instead of creating a slippery slope where they may lose rights because of some dream of a Golden Age that never existed in reality.