A leading no campaigner has struggled to articulate her concerns about the impact of same-sex marriage on children, repeatedly saying on Q&A that she had no problems with parenting by gay and lesbian couples.
Karina Okotel, a legal aid lawyer and federal vice-president of the Liberal party, told a questioner in the ABC talk show audience she readily accepted his point that “what matters is the love and support” families gave their children “not the form that comes in”.
But Okotel met with quizzical responses from host Tony Jones and co-panelist Magda Szubanski as she tried to draw a distinction between the outcomes of same-sex parenting and issues with children “not knowing their biological parents” if marriage equality is legalised.
Szubanski, the comedian and marriage equality supporter, eventually pressed Okotel on why the rights of children of same-sex couples would be different from those of heterosexual parents who also used “artificial reproductive technology”.
Okotel deflected by saying that was a separate debate for “another night altogether”.
Okotel’s audience questioner said he was raised in “two families” after his parents separated in his youth, one with “two mums” and another with a mother and father.
“Both my families are loving ones,” he said.
“From my position experiencing both types of families I can see that what matters is the love and support I receive from both of them, not the form that comes in. Why can’t you accept that?”
Okotel said that he had “misunderstood me perhaps” and that “I really applaud that your families are working well and you’re in a loving family”.
“So we’re not in disagreement there. Where we are, I suppose, in disagreement is the question of marriage, and that’s a different issue altogether.”
Jones interrupted to ask if Okotel was “perfectly happy for children to be brought up with same-sex parents”.
“I don’t see why not,” she said.
Szubanski prodded Okotel on concerns she had previously raised about the consequences for “vulnerable children” from same-sex marriage.
Okotel said this issue was “very different to parenting and being raised by same-sex parents, absolutely”.
“I don’t understand it,” Szubanski said.
Okotel said there were good and bad parents among both heterosexual and same-sex couples.
“But if we are introducing a new institution where same-sex people can get married, marriage is for founding a family, having a family,” she said.
“What that means is therefore there would be rights for same-sex people to have children and the only way to do that is through the use of assisted reproductive technology.
“That raises issues in terms of not knowing your biological parent.”
Okotel later said the idea that “gay people might harm children [as parents] has never entered into my consciousness”.
She then faltered momentarily as Jones probed for her precise objection to same sex marriage where it concerned children.
Okotel: “I don’t have any issue with gay people parenting.”
Jones: “Only if they’re married?”
Okotel: “No. I don’t think that homosexual people should be married because when you …”
Jones: “Is the problem with them bringing up children only when they’re married?”
Okotel: “I don’t understand.”
Jones: “Is it a problem of them bringing up children when they’re married?”
Okotel: “Sorry, I don’t understand your question.”
Jones: “There’s no problem with people getting married if they’re gay and bringing up children as far as you’re concerned?”
Okotel: “I suppose why I don’t understand your question is people bring up children all the time who are not married, whether they be straight or married.
“I don’t have an issue with people parenting in a relationship or unmarried relationship, straight or whatever, as long as they’re good parents.”
Szubanski returned to the issue, saying she was “a bit perplexed” by Okotel’s “concern about children not knowing their biological parents”.
She asked if this applied to “straight people or just gay people”.
Okotel said it applied “to everyone”.
“Article seven and eight of the UN convention of the rights of the child does say that children do have a right to know their biological parents and to be raised by them and to know their genetic identity,” she said.
Szubanski said all children “do have that right” regardless.
“Would you be pushing for legislation to stop both gay and straight people from [denying this], is that what you would be doing?” she said.
Okotel said this was not “what we’re debating” and that she had not “turned my mind to changing the legislation to do with artificial reproductive technology”.
“[That’s for] another night altogether.”