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A bill to create same sex marriages in Australia was defeated by 98 votes to 42 in the House of Representatives last week. But the bill had nothing to do with parliament. The whole debate was a proxy war.

In parliament, as part of this proxy war, Rob Oakeshott, the famous (or infamous, depending on your political bent) New South Wales independent, declared that he was surprised that the government was in his bedroom.

This phrase is often used to imply that the government has no right to dictate what happens in our bedrooms and ought to stay out of sexual issues, and allow anybody to get married.

This insinuation is nonsense.

The same-sex marriage debate is not about the government controlling what two men, or two women, or a man and a woman, or more than two, do in the privacy of their own bedroom. Homosexuals can do whatever they like in their bedroom, gay marriage or no gay marriage.

Besides, if we really wanted to “get the government out of the bedroom” then the government would have to cease recognising any sort of relationship. There would be no official married status, no tax breaks, government initiatives or welfare allotments for married or de facto (straight or gay) people.

This means, if anything, less government recognition of homosexuals, not more.

So if it’s not about government policing sexuality, then what is it about?

The argument is about status. It is about homosexuals demanding that society believe that the homosexual relationship is identical to the heterosexual relationship.  And they believe that if the government calls it the same thing, it sends a message that it is the same thing, and then everyone will fall into line. Not only will they fall into line, but they will be almost legally required to fall in to line. If the government has called it marriage, how can you call it a non-marriage?

What government has joined let no man separate.

Essentially, gay marriage advocates have brought parliamentary legal power into society’s culture war over marriage. This is why the gay marriage bill was a proxy war.

Now, the discussion is a good discussion to have. There is a case to be made that homosexual relationships are equivalent to heterosexual ones. I disagree with this case, but that’s the point. We need to have the debate.

But we need to understand the debate is not about laws, or government, or parliament. It’s a bid for social status. Maybe they should have this status, maybe they shouldn’t. But call a spade a spade. It’s a movement wanting social recognition, not legal protection.

So, when you say you support gay marriage, what do you mean?

Do you mean that you believe that society, and its institutions, such as churches, insurance companies, schools and hotels should accept that the gay relationship is the same as the heterosexual relationship?

Or do you mean that the government should treat them alike?

Do you believe that if the government treats them alike, then society should too?

Lucid language is key to a clear debate. So what do you mean?