December 07, 2004

Riddled with Pathologies

Mr Neil Falloon writes…

It is September. Act MP Stephen Franks, ex-commercial lawyer and Bill Gates impressionist, is pulling on his coat after a business lobby dinner. In the past week, he has been sitting on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee hearing oral submissions on the Civil Unions Bill.

According to underground conservative sources, Franks has been asking pro-Bill submitters how they justify legal recognition of homosexual relationships, but not bigamy or bestiality.

It’s an odd line of questioning, unless this is being treated as a policy focus group for the rural ACT voting base.

With John Banks declining, Franks is a key man for the right. I ask him whether he is feeling focused.

“I ask [about bestiality and bigamy] because, frankly, I get bored,” he says.

“Most of these people are saying the same things and, while it’s new and interesting to them, we have heard it all before. I ask the questions as an intellectual exercise…”

I picture Stephen Franks as a reactionary Sacha Baron-Cohen.

“…although none of them have come up with a good answer yet.”

Talking with Franks can be daunting. True, he lacks social grace, street smarts and any ability to recognise his own shortcomings – or put out a press release that lasts fewer than seven pages. But he is every bit as book-smart as people – fans and detractors alike – allege.

His mind is not like a steel trap. More like a Swiss Army knife that, once the can opener has proven ineffective, can offer a dizzying array of alternatives: a magnifying glass, a pocket knife and a bottle opener. Most of these contraptions will prove utterly useless, but all will look nice and shiny splayed open to gleam in the sunlight.

It’s about family, I tell him. Married heterosexual couples save more and demand fewer of the state’s resources. Family and commitment, I say, should be encouraged. Homosexuals, I tell him, have no greater right to my tax dollars than indolent, unloved heterosexuals who save less and leech the public health system with their fetid lack of self regard. Franks is unrepentant.

“Well, I love my dog, but that doesn’t mean I should be allowed to marry it.”

But, of course, even dogs have legal rights in the relationship with their owners, through the Animal Welfare Act.

“Yes, but I could have my dog put down any time I wanted.”

So perhaps the relationship between a dog and its owner is not analogous to that between two people.

No matter; Franks’ mind is today like a Catherine Wheel, spinning phosphorescent sparks into the darkness.

I ask about the incentives for harm reduction, in promoting commitment. Gabriel Rotello pointed out in Sexual Ecology that even a change to serial monogamy, with no reduction in the total number of partners in the gay community, would cut down the spread of STDs enormously.

Franks will have none of it.

“We’re talking about a community that’s so riddled with pathologies… harm reduction can’t be the aim of the Bill.”

He’s got to get a drink, he says.

So do I.

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