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When asking how, or to what extent something is done it is important initially to understand why it occurs in the first instance. Thus this paper shall address why and how heterosexual norms devalue homosexual identities, in what way language assists the devaluation and what other issues parallel the non heterosexual failure of recognition in society.

The reason that heterosexual norms can and do devalue homosexual relationships and the attempt of recognition is simple, heterosexual values as the norm dominate society. We “conform to the norm of the heterosexual nuclear family form” (Statham 2000:112). Because of this then, any alternative proposals as norms are rejected or met with great opposition. Consequently the heterosexual model is deemed the “only acceptable social form” (Statham 2000:148) of a family. There is a stigma of “compulsory heterosexuality” (Stacey 1996:133) which floats aloft this social form that segregates society and assists in the failure of recognition for this minority. In addition to this it is believed due to the religious foundations of society that “the ‘family ideology’ is ‘basically traditional’,” (Westoff and Potvin in Scanzoni 1975:26) this maintains the fact that traditional implies heterosexual.

Now that it is understood why heterosexual values pervade society’s range of diversity, it will now be examined how this is done. As society “does not justify the withholding of recognition to relationships which do not have the raising of children as their raison d’etre” (Nicholson 1997:24) the devaluation is done, not through homosexual relationships being on a lower plain of existence when it comes to the “myth of the nuclear family” (Lehr 1999:8). It is done through reckoning that there is only one “acceptable social form for the raising of children” (Statham 2000:148) and thus homosexual identity as a family institution despite them being classed as “homosexual de facto relationships” (Statham 2000:113) by a failure of recognition in society are non existent.

From a legal system “that refuses to recognize gay and lesbian families” (Kovacs 1995:513) stems multiple dilemmas for the homosexual community. Two key focuses of this paper is the recognition of same sex marriage and the accessibility of assisted reproductive services to lesbians who must otherwise “find a male sexual partner if she wishes to become pregnant” (Walker 2000:289). This paper consequentially asserts hence forth that these issues oblige the legal system to not only recognize homosexual identities as equals, but also protect these individuals as a minority at risk of social and legal malice.

Underlying the Same Sex marriage quandary is that “for the purposes of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), a marriage must be between a man and a woman” (Blight 2002:92). This paper asserts that same sex marriage access is not a “common goal” (Nicholson 1997:20) as a symbolic union, but more prevalently as a defensive institution “to end the social, legal and economic disadvantages which accompany having a same-sex partner” (Nicholson 1997:20). It is deeply believed by gay and lesbian rights lobbyists that “the central issue has been lost in family values rhetoric and misguided individualism” (Ryan 2004:12).

By family values we revert back to the second paragraph of this paper, that heterosexual values are “a belief already in family and bolstered by religion” (Moats 2004:189). Generally “homosexual and heterosexual couples are more alike than dissimilar in terms of factors which influenced relationship quality” (Hannah 1997:51). Thus only in accepting that there has been a “fear which has transmuted into hate” (Moats 2004:196) which allowed a great divergence in a natural process of tolerance can equality be sought.

From the denial of recognition in regard to same sex marriages the predicament of homosexual couples to access birth technologies is originated. For to have children “the law requires a child to have only one parent of each sex, and parents have all of the rights and obligations or parenthood, while non parents have none” (Kovacs 1995:515). Thus the Victorian Infertility Treatment Act 1995 disallows lesbians and single mothers assisted reproductive services on the basis that under section 8 paragraph 3 “it is required that a woman have a male partner in order to be eligible for a treatment procedure” (Walker 2000:288). It is claimed by “the Catholic Church… and by the federal government” (Walker 2000:290) that these restrictions, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are legitimized by section 3 paragraph 1, “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights 1998:1). However the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute wrote an inquiry into homosexual parenting that in regard to adoption it “strongly recommends allowing same sex couples the ability to adopt”(Croome 2003:3). Essentially to paraphrase, two parents are better than one. This reinforces that there are three primary false fears on children being bought up by homosexual parents and that these are all social panics. For “the incidence of homosexuality among children reared in a homosexual environment is no different from the incidence in the general population… there is virtually no incidence of sexual abuse of children in homosexual families… and children reared by homosexuals are not necessarily more psychologically troubled than children reared by heterosexuals” (Cramer in Ross 194:161). Thus all in all it would be better for a child to have two parents where the chance of homosexuality, child abuse and psychological trouble are equal whether the parents are homosexual or not rather than have only one parent. Thus in these two instances heterosexual norms pervade society to restrict homosexual identity recognition as a reputable family.

As all restrictions are found in legislation, language is the key medium of interpretation. In one circumstance the catholic church of all institutions declared that as men do no provide a ‘service’ for women in impregnating them, “the provision of fertility treatment is not properly described as a service” (Statham 2000:149). As well as this the term ‘married couple’ is in contention when applied to transsexual marriage. For it is certain that “marriage must be between a man and a woman,” (Blight 2002:92) however the concern centered on whether each participant in the union are members of opposing sex when the marriage occurs (Blight 2002:92).

Another incident where wording is in contention is in the United States of America. The argument in American State constituencies is that the wording in the 14th amendment disallows gay marriage bans because it “discriminates individuously” (Saltzman 2004:5). The interpretation of the language from the 14th amendment then is the basis for the gay rights movement’s legal action.

In addition to this it is certain that such words as ‘family’ and ‘love’ which are used liberally in contemporary society “can mean very different things when complicated (as it always is) by class, race, ethnicity and gender” (Flax in Weston 1996:525). This is demonstrated in studies examining” variable definitions of context that invoke racial or cultural identities” (Yanagisako in Weston 1996:525) when language is applied. Thus language and the wording of the spoken word is the key to interpretation and hence the centre of the discrimination.

The minority of the community, in understanding the previous points then are stifled for it is “difficult of course, to know exactly what people find threatening or unlawful about lesbian, gay, or queer existence” (Cuomo 1998:201). For “heterosexual family life in no way gains stature, security and respect by the denigration or refusal to acknowledge same-sex families” (Nicholson 1997:24). The ‘queer’ community asks then, ‘why do it if it doesn’t benefit your own institution?’ This open ended question is found in other minorities where failure of recognition has occurred and consequently an up hill battle for will deserved rights has transpired.

One example of a minority denied recognition of equality is the single parent. As there is only one parent, the onus of the breadwinner and the nurturer are obligatorily combined; unlike a two parent family where flexibility in roles are possible. As a single parent from 1974 to 1982 there was a 68% increase in single parent families (Cass and O’Loughlin 1984:24). This continued to degrade the minority where 98% of these single parent families were unemployed (Cass and O’Loughlin 1984:24). One may look further to see that 86% of these single parents families had a female at the head of the family (Cass and O’Loughlin 1984:11) and this is definitely a point that then supports that the notion that single parents (predominantly female single parents) in this era were denied equal access to the work force.

This parallels another situation where “Aboriginal contributions to the economy have gone unrecognized” (Bulbeck 1998:364). Aboriginals were exploited as “guides and native trackers” (Green in Bulbeck 1998:364) by the early settlers. Exploited on the basis that “even when the law required them to be” (Bulbeck 1998:264), Aboriginal workers were not paid. Even when formal means recognized this inequality in the Cattle Station Industry (Northern Territory) Award 1968 case “many pastoralists sacked their Aboriginal workers, unable to pay them proper wages” (Bulbeck 1998:364) and this precedent failed to prevent informal institutionalized inequality. Thus paradoxically law may not be able to amend law.

A last example of failure of recognition in regard to equality is in observation to domestic labour not being recognized as part of the labour emanating from the “economically active population” (International Labour Organization in Beneria 1999:289). As there is an “underestimation of women’s work in the labour force” one must ask why this devaluing occurs. This is because the adopted definition of the “, ‘economically active population’ referred to “all persons of either sex who furnish the supply of labour for the production of economic goods and services’,” (International Labour Organization in Beneria 1999:288). From here this definition was amended to point out that “whether or not this supply was furnished through the market was irrelevant” (Beneria 1999:289) for it was labour and nothing different.

This recognition in the ILO occurred in 1983; however it failed to permeate into some parts of society until. There was “indecency of many displaced home makers” (Ertman 1998:18) present during divorces that failed to recognize domestic labour by the homemaker as contributing to the union of the previous marriage. Thus when division of property and financial assets occurred, the spouse who contributed the most through commercial labour received the most benefits (Ertman 1998:20). To combat this Ertman proposes a “premarital security agreement” (Ertman 1998:19) which would legally recognize and protect the homemaker and their domestic contributions. The need for this type of agreement proves the current failure of recognition and need for equality in this matter.

These three examples link with the homosexual example that patriarchal, nuclear family, white, heterosexual values saturate our society and restrict the embodiment of opposing notions. Thus only in not just formal recognition in law but also social acceptance can these examples of inequality by remedied.


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Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, (1989) “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm, accessed 26th of September 2004.

Ross, J., (1994) “Challenging Boundaries” in Handel, G., Whitchurch, G., (eds.) The Psychosocial Interior of the Family, Aldine de Gruyter publishers: New York.

Ryan, B., (2004) “Victory for Homophobia,” Sydney Star Observer, 12th of August 2004, page 12: Sydney.

Saltzman, J., (2004) “ANALYSTS SEE CHALLENGES FOR AMENDMENT,” Boston Globe, February 11th, page B5: Boston.

Scanzoni, J., (1975) “Sex Roles, Life Styles and Childbearing,” The Free Press: London.

Stacey, J., (1996) “In the name of the family,” Beacon Press: Boston.

Statham, B., (2000) “(Re)producing Lesbian Infertility: Discrimination in Access to Assisted Reproductive Technology,” in Dossier of Readings 1908 AMC Gender, History and Culture, 2003, School of Arts Media and Culture, Griffith University, Brisbane.

Weston, K., (1996) “Building Gay Families,” in Handel, G., Whitchurch, G., (eds.) The Psychosocial Interior of the Family, Aldine de Gruyter publishers: New York.

Walker, K., (2000) “Equal access to assisted reproductive services,” in Dossier of Readings 1908 AMC Gender, History and Culture, 2003, School of Arts Media and Culture, Griffith University, Brisbane.

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