Senate enquiry into marriage equality: Gina Wilson (OII Aus) and Chris Meney (Catholic ‘Life, Marriage & Family Centre’) testify

On 4 May 2012, the federal Senate received oral submissions on the issue of marriage equality in a session at the NSW State Parliament. The raw transcript is enlightening about local Catholic hierarchy attitudes towards intersex people.

Here, Senator Louise Pratt, Senator for Western Australia, asks a question of Chris Meney, of the Catholic ‘Life, Marriage & Family Centre‘ on page 41 of the transcript:

Senator PRATT: But what if someone is of indeterminate gender? I am unclear whether they should have the right, according to the way you would argue it, to be part of such a union.
Mr Meney: People suffering from Turner syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome and things of that ilk are typically infertile or regarded as being mentally handicapped in some way. Many things about marriage require people to have the capacity to consent to what marriage is all about, so a significant mental incapacity might be something that might mitigate against a person being able to consent to a contract of marriage. But that is true of any marriage.

There is so much to unpack in this:

  • Infertility is not a barrier to the formation of relationships, nor is it a barrier to legal marriage between a woman and a man.
  • There is some evidence of developmental delays and other issues amongst some people with some chromosomal intersex variations – but this is disputed (example) and is infinitely variable. We’re aware of XXY people (commonly described as having Klinefelter’s) who have masters degrees (such as OII Australia Vice President Chris Somers XXY), or doctorates.
  • Is Meney arguing that intersex people lack the capacity to enter into a legal contract? Is a specific mental capacity beyond that even a legal prerequisite for marriage? Why is ability even relevant to the recognition of loving relationships?
  • We’re aware of a number of XXY people who are married in Australia, despite the provisions of ‘In the marriage of C and D (falsely called C)‘ which means that their marriages would be in doubt should their partners choose to contest them. However, mental capacity was neither a question nor a factor in that case.

The webpage for the Life, Marriage & Family Centre quotes John Paul II:

“Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness.” – Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae – The Gospel of Life

We believe that Chris Meney’s opinions are insulting and damaging, and contrary to the values of the ‘Life, Marriage and Family Centre’ itself. We would welcome a formal retraction.

Gina Wilson’s testimony begins on page 53 of the Hansard transcript:

Ms Wilson: Briefly, intersex people are people that are born with anatomical differences of sex where we might be seen as both male and female at once—not quite male and not quite female—or, indeed, have no clearly defined sex characteristics at all. We are born with differences of sex from birth—congenital differences of sex. Our position on the bill before the Senate is that it is a marriage equality bill, not a same-sex marriage bill. Intersex people in Australia are legally confined not to marry by a decision known as C and D—falsely known as C—made by the Family Court in 1979. Although a subsequent case in the Family Court—Re Kevin, heard by Chisholm J, also in the Family Court, which was a matter around transsexual marriage—looked somewhat at C and D and disagreed with the findings, they were in no position to actually consider those findings. So the precedent remains that intersex people in Australia at law cannot marry. Even if those matters did not stand, only men and women—and I take it that, in the Marriage Act, that means males and females—are allowed to marry. I take it that it is the appellation on your birth certificate that entitles you to be married. That means I have to confine myself to a lie to be entitled to marriage. I have to agree that I am either a male or a female and continue on with the shame and secrecy that has plagued me all my life. I have to hide that I am intersex, hide my actual physical characteristics of birth. My argument would be for a marriage equality bill before the parliament to allow intersex people to marry simply by making it a union between two consenting adults. I guess that is the essence of my discussion.