“Same Love” (or, “Christians, Marriage, and the Uncomfortable Tangling of Church and State”)

Social media has been ablaze of late with sometimes calm, often manic arguments for and against same-sex marriage. The usually (more-or-less) gentle stream of such ‘discussions’ (I use the term loosely) has risen to a fast-flowing torrent in light of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing challenges against the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and California’s Proposition 8. You may have noticed those cute little pink on red ‘equals’ signs popping up all over the place in social media profile pictures.

Now, I am a Christian. Admission of this fact puts me in an interesting position because it seems, at least from the arguments I have witnessed, that my options are therefore quite limited.

I think it’s fair to say that Christians, in general, have not been very receptive to calls for same-sex marriage to be recognised. Though a few prominent Christian leaders (and apparently a significant percentage of us regular church attendees) have, to use a loaded phrase, come out in support of same-sex marriage, it remains the case that Christians have been among the most vocal opponents of any changes to marriage law (both here in Australia and in the U.S.). Sometimes this has been done gently, even gracefully; many times the opposition has been fierce and, dare I say it, quite ugly. In a few cases, there has been something approaching an obsession with ‘homosexuality’1 as, apparently, the most significant problem in the world today which threatens the very fabric of society(!).

In light of this, probably the most comfortable position for me to take (at least if I were to only surround myself with so-called ‘conservative’ Christians) would be to oppose moves to change the existing legislation which defines marriage as a legally recognised union between one man and one woman.

Alternatively, I could situate myself inside the so-called ‘progressive’ Christian camp  and, like some of those prominent Christian leaders I introduced above (as well as the ‘regular’ church attendees I facetiously mentioned there too), simply agree with the calls to include same-sex partners in current definitions of marriage.

In fact, I don’t support either of these options.

For the record, I think that the Church, in general, has treated members of the LGBTQI community disgracefully, and I strongly believe that there is a desperate need both for deep repentance on this issue and for proactive work in displaying the love and grace that we should be embodying as followers of Jesus. Taking it a step further, I also, personally, maintain that there is a legitimate discussion for Christians to have around the biblical ‘position’ on committed, monogamous, loving same-sex relationships (that is, I am not necessarily convinced that a ‘plain reading’ of the biblical texts—whatever that means—is the end of the story, and that any further discussion is beyond the parameters of ‘orthodoxy’). Such complex hermeneutical discussions are, however, for another time.

I would, in light of this, like to state quite clearly that my desire is for my same-sex attracted brothers and sisters receive the same treatment from our Government as those of us who happen to be opposite-sex attracted.2

However—and it is a big however—I don’t believe the best way of doing this is simply by redefining the current definition of marriage to include same-sex partners.

Don’t get me wrong: I think, at this point, the game is pretty much over, and it is somewhat inevitable that the legislation will be changed in this way (both in Australia and the U.S.). It’s only a matter of time, as far as I can see, and the Church would do well to recognise this point and to comprehend the fact that, once again, it will be viewed as being on the ‘wrong side of history’. You know it’s over when there is a ‘theme song’ as good as this:

But simply expanding the current marriage definition to include same-sex couples doesn’t overcome the fundamental problem with the existing setup.

What I would actually like to see, taking my cue from many others who have argued along similar lines, is a complete overhaul in the way all unions are legally recognised.

We are currently in this weird situation where churches (and other recognised religious institutions) solemnise weddings on behalf of the State, and it’s something that I just can’t get my head around. For me, the whole concept is hopelessly, utterly flawed.

The reason for this is that Australia is a secular nation. While there will be many who would protest against this declaration, I think it’s fairly clear that Australia is not—and really never has been—a ‘Christian’ nation (whatever that actually means…). While the argument is a little harder to make in the context of the U.S. (even though the ‘Founding Fathers’ were, for the most part, quite clearly broadly deist in outlook rather than specifically ‘Christian’), I still think it’s clear that the essential separation of Church and State in the U.S. fits the definition of ‘secular’ that I will offer presently.

To my mind, this is actually a (really) good thing.

Church and State don’t really mix well! All you have to do is read a little bit of history to discover this fact.

At the same time, however, both Australia and the U.S. are not (and never really have been) secularist nations. And nor should they be.

I don’t know if my distinction is a legitimate one, but as far as I can see it’s an extremely important distinction to make.

For me, ‘secular’ simply means that our government is not controlled by one particular religious group. We are tolerant of (or perhaps, more positively, we are able to embrace) a range of beliefs—or no belief at all—and we are able to freely elect representatives to stand on our behalf in the legislative bodies. Essentially, the definition of ‘secular’ is about defining negatives: the State is not overtly or specifically religious. ‘Secularist’, on the other hand, concerns the active opposition to or rejection of religious belief. This mindset pushes ‘religious’ worldviews to the periphery, and promotes the nonsensical idea that religion is purely a private matter that really shouldn’t make it into public (religion-free) spaces. This sort of idea is currently seen in much of the militant ‘new atheism’ some of whose advocates, somewhat ironically, can best be described as fundamentalist missionaries in their zeal.

Australia, I think, is thus a secular nation (and I would make the same argument for the U.S.). What this means, at least to me, is that matters of legal recognition should therefore be taken care of by representatives of the State.

As such, I would suggest that all “marriage” in Australia should essentially be the job of the State, and the State alone. Couples wishing to have legal recognition for their union should be required to attend a meeting with a designated representative of the State to formally recognise the legally binding union, from which all rights and responsibilities of a legally recognised union are put in place (‘next of kin’ decision-making, taxation, etc.).

What this would mean is that the secular State could therefore recognise with these ‘civil unions’ whatever types of partnerships they wished to recognise (including same-sex unions)—based on the support (or otherwise) of the voting public.

If, after obtaining this legal recognition of their relationship, a couple wished to have a religious element included (as would be their right in a nation that accommodates a range of belief systems), they could attend whatever church, mosque, synagogue, temple, garden, beach, or living room they liked to have religious blessings of whatever kind offered over their union. This means that hetero couples who wanted their union recognised “before God” could do just that. It also means that same-sex couples who wished to have their union blessed in the sight of whatever god they worshipped could do the same, by finding a religious organisation willing to do so. (My assumption here, of course, is that same-sex couples would only really want to be part of a religious organisation that welcomed them, so conservative religious groups could still refuse to add blessings to such unions—and they should be free to do so—if they so desired, and deal with the subsequent issues pertaining to how they are perceived by society accordingly. I’m pretty sure this works for such religious groups and for those who want to debate them, so everyone’s happy!)

To my mind, this is exactly the sort of thing that the Church and other religious organisations should be doing. We have no place acting on behalf of the State in these matters, and the sooner we recognise this fact the better. So many of our problems in this debate stem from the fact that we have allowed this blurring of the lines between Church and State. Conservative Christians (and others) are now in the terribly uncomfortable position of trying to defend a theological position which is (sort of, though certainly not perfectly) bound up in current legislation, while at the same time trying to protect against the State ‘over-reaching’ into the affairs of the Church in regards to changing the legislation and, perhaps, forcing religious organisations to recognise (or even be required to perform ceremonies for) same-sex unions. Our task, however, is to offer the blessing of recognition ‘in the sight of God’ rather than legal recognition ‘in the sight of the Government’.

Of course, at this point some are going to accuse me of contradicting myself. Above, I made the point that any suggestion that religious belief is purely a private matter is simply ridiculous. Humans approach the whole of their lives from whatever basic philosophical outlook they have adopted, unless they are a hopeless mess of contradiction. This basic worldview informs the way we think and the things that we do. I am a Christian in my private devotion as much as in my public statements and actions, and vice versa. I cannot ever be a Christian only in the privacy of my own home and something else entirely when I interact with others; it just doesn’t work that way.

But I need to recognise the fact that, as an Australian citizen, my voice is one of many. I count it a blessing to be able to vote for my political representatives, but I must realise that my vote goes in with many others in the choosing of these representatives. I also am able to make time to meet with my elected representatives and speak to them about issues that concern me, but I must understand that, for the most part, they are going to act in the interests of the majority of their constituents and not just on my recommendations alone. I can, and will, use my vote towards those who represent best, in my mind, the values that I hold to, but I also recognise that none of the political parties represent the fullness of my belief system.

So, I use my vote, but I must also try to live out my faith in a way that causes others to recognise the God I follow. Basically, the idea is that non-Christians should look at the way we Christians live and say, “I’ll have what s/he’s having!” I’m not arguing for faith to be privatised, but rather that we should recognise that we can’t legislate Christianity. We must embody it. In our secular nation, we are free to do just this.

In regards to marriage, I guess this should mean that, once we have our relationships blessed ‘in the sight of God’, those relationships should be so packed full of love and care and faithfulness and respect and mutual submission, and so free from all forms of domination of the other and control and lack of respect, that others should look at these relationships and take notice. This is our witness. Trying to rely on legislation to define what true ‘marriage’ looks like is a hopeless waste of time and, ultimately, it completely devalues the theological concept behind it.

Personally, I can’t see any justification for defending ‘marriage’ as it currently stands. We should voluntarily (and with a posture of grace and humility) renounce in full any part that we have in the current process, and ask simply for the freedom to ‘value add’ to any State-recognised civil union as we see fit.

At the very least, it would allow for our (secular) Government to quite easily legislate for full equality for same-sex couples under the law (which has, it seems, majority support in the voting community), and this is long overdue.

Whether the LGBTQI community can find that same equality in the Church is for another time.

____________________

(1) Personally, I don’t believe that the simple categories of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ do justice to the reality of the spectrum of human sexual identity, but I recognise the currency that these words have at this point in time.

(2) It is necessary to note here that, thanks to the Rudd Labor Government, since November 2008 nearly all inequality for same-sex couples has been removed from Australian law. The same-sex law reform package means that same-sex couples in this country have the same essential legal recognition as opposite-sex de facto couples, in regards to taxation, superannuation, social security and family assistance, immigration and citizenship, child support and family benefits, and a range of other important areas. This was a very important step forward, and it should not be overlooked in these discussions.

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Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

35 thoughts on ““Same Love” (or, “Christians, Marriage, and the Uncomfortable Tangling of Church and State”)”

  1. I think our marriage act does reflect that its a state institution and not a religious one. Not every religious has the right to marry a person, even though they may be ordained as a minister. The minister for the most part, has to apply for a licence from the state to be able to officiate at a wedding. This is the same for secular celebrants and I’m not sure what is the requirements for court clerks / judges etc – though I suspect they have the ability to do so, as a representative of the law of the land. (I’m not 100% on this)

    Therefore I don’t see the need for a second rite of passage which would need more acts of parliament to enact, and would make the whole issue of marriage / union a distraction. I also think its important for any who officiates a wedding be allowed to have a conscious vote as to whether they can / will officiate or not. And this right is currently given to all celebrants, but, I’m not sure about the court clerk / judge.

    I like what you said about Australia (and the U.S ) being a secular nation and indeed, we do have the mandate to care for all within our society.

    1. Hi Craig,

      In regards to your point that the marriage act reflects that it’s a State institution and not a religious one, I guess I’d say a) that I’m talking here more about the way the ‘religious’ bit is intertwined in with the legal part (with ministers of religion often performing the ceremonies on behalf of the State), and b) that both major political parties in Australia seem very hesitant to change the legislation (despite overwhelming public support), and this has a lot to do with not wanting to upset the conservative religious groups.

      Also, I’m not talking at all about a second ‘rite of passage’ that would require legislation. I’m simply talking about religious organisations having the freedom to be able to add whatever ceremonies they like to the legally recognised one performed by a representative of the State. This does not require legislation. It would not be legally binding or legally recognised.

  2. Unfortunately our marriage act has a huge tie in with the House of Lords decision in the 1720’s (there about’s) where they stated a marriage had to be performed by a minister. This same act is carried over into our own laws where the Anglican church has the right to preside under the act of parliament. To change the act requires a huge movement, as this act affects many other levels of law throughout the nation.. hence, its been often amended to allow celebrants and the state to preside at weddings.

    I think much of the church needs to realise that the act of marrying someone is a state privilege and not a right. There is no record of the early church marrying anyone, nor for that matter, an Old Testament priest doing the same.

    Within my own framework of belief, I have often stated and said that the church has no right to set laws for society, and its mandate is to teach its people how to live Christ like within society. (which you kinda said also) Personally, I think many would find the two celebrations tedious, though it would certainly throw a spanner into the works as to the popular churches theology of what does it mean for God to join 2 together… and for that reason alone, I’d be tempted to go along with your suggestion.

    1. Craig, I still don’t see why there would nee to be ‘two celebrations’. For people who only wanted the ‘legal recognition’ bit, they could have a civil celebrant perform a service in whatever way they wanted. Alternatively, people could simply pop down to the local courthouse-or-wherever (possibly with the traditional two witnesses) and sign the documents as a formality, and then have the ‘celebration’ part however they liked, whether this be in a church, a mosque, a temple, or a garden. I really don’t think signing a few formal documents needs to be construed (necessarily) as the focus of the event.

  3. I think you have articulated well what a lot of people are thinking. I like your suggestions and agree. Very balanced and well thought. I like the idea of a complete overhaul. And hope that any current law is not changed that becomes messy but I think it is what will happen.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I too think that it will probably just be an addition to the current legislation, but I think that, even if (when) this happens, the Church could still take the step of voluntarily giving up any authority to perform ceremonies on behalf of the State. Personally, I’d like to see this done in a thoughtful, graceful way (rather than making it a divisive, angry political statement), but I still think it’s possible. If done correctly, I think it could be a very well-received move by the community.

  4. Hi CRAIG, The current legislation may appear to reflect secular society but what allows the Marriage Act to be legitimate in Australian law is s 51(xxi) of the Commonwealth Constitution which simply says the Commonwealth has power to legislate with respect to ‘marriage’. Should the Commonwealth amend the Marriage Act to change the definition of ‘marriage’ therein, the argument which could be brought before the High Court is that it’s unconstitutional because the original framers would only have intended the union of man and women when including s 51(xxi) in the Constitution. Such legislative amendment may be deemed valid, however, if the bench take a more progressive approach to Constitutional interpretation, considering that the Constitution is unlike other legal documents in that it is meant to ‘endure’ (given the difficult processes required for Constitutional amendment) and therefore ‘move with the times’ so to speak. So, it’s hard to say which way the High Court would land if any new Marriage legislation in enacted.

    In any case, JOSH, I broadly agree with what you’ve outlined in your article. In an interesting twist, I read a recent post by a lady in the US who is a lesbian and who is single. She suggested that what is really needed is a much broader look at human rights generally: http://m.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-inc/201303/what-if-gay-straight-marriage-is-bad-most-americans

    Anyway, needless to say I’m overjoyed that you’re blogging about these sorts of issues 🙂

    1. Thanks for the input Jos!

      The post that you linked to was excellent, and I encourage everyone who’s reading these comments to take the time to read it.

      It’s a bit of a sideline note to the discussion that’s raised the post you linked to (or perhaps a continuation of a tangent), but I must admit to finding some of the rhetoric about the importance of these discussions a little bit over the top. I do think this is an important issue (and I want to add my voice in support of equality under the law for same-sex couples now, rather than waiting until it’s all said and done and saying ‘I was in support of that the whole time’), but I think it has taken on a level of importance in public discourse that is probably not balanced.

      To my mind, it’s a fairly simple move forward, and we should get on with it.

      I don’t mean for a minute to play down the importance of this equality (and it breaks my heart that so many people, especially young people, in the LGBTQI community experience hatred and ungrace to the point that they would consider taking their own life) but, personally, I would love it if discussion of poverty in our world was raised to this same position of prominence.

      1. HA HA! From my typo above i.e. ‘man and women’, it might seem like I’m suggesting the framers of our Constitution intended to allow the Commonwealth to legislate on polygamy, which, of course, they did not 🙂

  5. This is a thoughtful and articulate argument and one which the church cannot ignore. While biblical marriage may have been perfect before the Fall- once people chose to go against God, everything changed. In Old Testament times marriage was a change of ownership from father to husband, women were just another possession to add to livestock, slaves etc, and not viewed as equal partners. This attitude stayed in place fir thousands of years, with marriage certified by the State (if at all), and viewed as a legal union. I am not an historian, but we need to be really careful about imposing Christian ideals (which are wonderful, desirable and valuable) onto matters of law. At the end of the day marriage is a legal agreement, and if you are a Christian God is part of that, just as He is part of everything else in your life. We do not bring the church into any other legal contracts eg buying a house, but we still pray Gods blessing over it when we move in. Marriage should be no different.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Fiona!

      The historical study of ‘marriage’ is certainly a very interesting one, and at the very least it highlights the point that the institution of marriage has been tied quite closely to the culture of the day.

      I really like your point about how God is (at least meant to be) part of everything we do, but how we don’t have to impose this on anyone else.

      Thanks again for the input.

  6. Thanks Josh for your thoughts. Civil union was essentially the proposed way forward by Kevin Rudd a few years ago. It is also the approach the Canadian government has adopted and seems to have the majority support of Christians in Canada. For a democratic society, it does seem the most sensible proposal thus far.

    1. Thanks for the input Jacqui!

      I just can’t understand why this model hasn’t gained the traction that it probably should. It seems to me that the way things are moving forward will only result in continued hostility, and continued political jostling. The way I see it, this option contains within it the possibility of resolving pretty much all the essential conflict.

      I can’t remember the details, though, but was the ALP’s original ‘civil unions’ thing something that still ran alongside ‘traditional’ marriage, rather than being the standard for all couples?

  7. Curious.. Wasn’t Abram married to Sarai before God involved himself with them?

    If true, wouldn’t this mean that the concept/practice of marriage pre-existed the bible?

  8. Speaking of polygamy…
    I know it’s a taboo position but following the path of amending legislations. How long before polygamy is legal? Is this something that equal rights campaigners will fight for? The same arguments for gay marriage can be used to support polygamy and if we remove emotion and ( shoot me now) different types of relationships that are less than desirable (for most). Perhaps this post will get me into trouble like the liberal senator but it is indeed a logical step very easy to take. I in no way would ever associate a homosexual or heterosexual person with these behaviours unless they specifically associate themselves with it! Not that I think it will matter now I have said this.

    1. Andrew, I don’t see a problem with raising these points per say, but I guess I also don’t see the direct connection. I know that it is often claimed that ‘the same arguments for gay marriage can be used to support polygamy’, but I’m not convinced it’s actually true, especially in regards to what I’m suggesting.

      Traditionally, polygamous arrangements have not left the many in the relationship (usually women) with equal power dynamics as the one (usually a man). This is just not the same thing is an exclusive relationship between two equal partners.

      In the model that I have outlined above, especially when it is taken into consideration that such unions would usually be seeking legal recognition for the purposes of tax, super, social security, and family assistance (and, on a broader level, legal recognition of the stability of the ‘family’ group), the differences become even more apparent.

      I do realise that the issue of ‘polyamory’ is being raised more and more lately, but I’m not sure I really understand the issues clearly enough to give an informed opinion on it.

      When it comes to either relationships between adults and children or human relationships with animals (categories that I assume you’re alluding to above without directly mentioning them), I just can’t see any similarities. In regards to adults having relationships with minors, there is a significant power disparity that our law (and most moral systems that I’m aware of) clearly recognises, and the legislation would thus have enormous implications in a whole range of areas. In regards to beastiality, Australian law (and, again, most moral systems I’m aware of) treats humans and animals quite differently indeed (as far as I understand it), and changing the ‘marriage’ laws to include such relationships would be a massive step that would effect countless other aspects of Australian law. I will, however, leave it to my friends with expertise in the legal field to give more information on these points, because it quickly gets out of my area of knowledge and I want to admit my limits in these regards. Suffice it to say that I just don’t think it’s an ‘easy’ move from recognising same-sex relationships to recognising relationships between adults and children or beastiality, especially considering that there is just not any real public sentiment to even raise these issues to start with.

      1. At this point you’re right, the public sentiment is toward or positively geared for adult/child person/animal relationships. And certainly not in a legal context. But not long ago, inter-racial, or homosexual relationships were extremely negatively viewed. We also recognise the horrid standards that were “acceptable” back then such as forced adoptions and other racial segregation and vilification. I guess I’m alluding to morality being fluid and changeable. Already we have people like Peter Singer alluding to socially, at least morally, acceptable beastiality if “there is no harm to the animal”; how anyone gauges such a thing is beyond me. But the point I wish to stress, and not connecting homosexual unions to the fall of society or the opening of a morality flood gate… Is that manipulating laws creates precedents, good or bad. I really do think an overhaul is needed to protect future generations. But even then, it’s my personal standards I’m upholding. These could be garish in 100 years.

        1. I guess the point is that these things *do* change over time, and thus the argument that marriage ‘has always been this way’ is pretty much redundant.

          That being said, I don’t think the *only* issue here is public sentiment. There is the issue of power dynamics which I’m just not sure will be done away with any time soon. The issue with inter-racial marriage was never that one party was in a position of power over the other, but that one party was, for all intents and purposes, deemed ‘better’ than the other.

          The relationship between adults and children, or humans and animals, is not about the inherent worth of the beings, it’s that they can simply never stand on a level playing field in regards to the capacity for making informed decisions. This is a big deal.

    2. Andrew, I find it interesting that the early church didn’t ban polygamy, which was an acceptable practice in society.. whereas the Apostle Paul did write, I don’t allow any man with more than one wife to be in leadership within the church. Within this framework, we do see a lot more freedom from the early church about its acceptance of relationships within society./

      1. Craig, I think you might be making something out of little available evidence here; a kind of argument from silence.

        Do you think that polygamy was a major social factor at the time Paul was writing, and in the locations he was writing to? To me, the point was more that married men were taking on concubines or seeing prostitutes. It seems to me that this was the context for his ‘household code’ where men are commanded to ‘love’ their wives in the context of mutual submission.

        I don’t want to stymie the point, but I just think that there might be a little bit of confusion here in regards to how the point is being made.

        I say this because I’m fairly sure that Paul would have most probably been an advocate for ‘marriage’ as being between one man and one woman. He was certainly influenced by his own social situation (as we all are), and I think we need to recognise that.

        1. Josh, While I agree polygamy wasn’t a huge social factor of the time; it was still an ongoing social and cultural factor of the time and it would have been a known and even acceptable practice within those cultures. Certainly within the Jewish framework of existence, Jesus was asked about what happens when a man dies, and his brother marries his wife, and he dies etc… This shows that within the Jewish framework of existence, it was still an established practice for a married man to take his brothers wife as his own, if he died. Granted there were many and varied social justice reasons for this; ones which are not directly applicable for us today,

  9. Josh,
    This leads me to ask 2 questions (which may have been touched on in the long string of comments/replies I briefly scanned through — just point them out then):

    1) Why has Australia not gone down the ‘civil partnership’ path (cf. UK)? (is that what Jacqui alluded to in reference to Rudd’s civil union?)
    Note on that one: it looks like a promising ‘semantic’ avenue to re-define ‘marriage’, but not necessarily less complex in practice, e.g. the CoE will have to address the issue of blessing union between homosexual partners (who are supposed to live in celibacy according to CoE’s ruling on homosexual relations in the church), without (being) allowed to ask whether they have intercourse (breach of privacy). But then priests will be troubled in their conscience for blessing ‘practicing homosexuals’.
    Not to say that adding a new intermediary category (like the PACS in France) is a bit redundant (unless you subsume it all under ‘civil partnerships’): why do you want all the fiscal/legal advantages of marriage without any of its responsibilities?
    I am utterly confused by the new English and French norms… Our society might have become more democratic (succumbing to the tyranny of the majority opinion), but I am not convinced it makes it more cohesive and easy to navigate.
    The problem, as I see it, with the LBGT lobby (in France esp.) is that it is not driven by practical considerations so much (95% of people who contracted ‘civil unions’ — PACS model — are heterosexual, when the gov. had initially claimed it was for homosexual couples) but by a number of ideological reasons, not least, the dispatch of the ‘mariage bourgeois’, the legitimization of gender-theory, and the redefinition of what is moral/immoral (i.e., greater secularization of society).
    None of this is about equal rights, let’s stop the political-correctness BS, it is about re-defining the norms of society, doing away with the oppressive Christian values that have shaped western modern society, and giving some social legitimization of homosexuality.
    As a Christian, I can live with that (‘love of the world is enmity with God’), but I’d much rather that every one were honest about it and stop pretending that they are having a civilized and rational intellectual debate about the furtherance of democratic society.

    2) What about children?
    The issue does not seem to be touched on in the whole discussion,
    I would like to believe LBGT lobbies for equal rights and equal rights only. But that is quite disingenuous. The question is as much about procreation/adoption, which raises a number of bio-ethical issues regarding surrogate motherhood inter alia.
    Watch how the debate evolves in France in the coming months, bec. the gov. will have to do a number of legal contortions on that one; e.g., medically assisted procreation is only allowed in instances of sterility due to a medical condition, so to allow lesbians to have access to it, the gov. will either have to say that all lesbians are sterile or that ‘lesbianism’ is a disease. And when it will have fixed the law to allow lesbians to have children, gay couples, on the basis of equality, will lobby the gov. for access to the same rights, which will open the way for something totally illegal in France (bec. of ethical issues with the ‘commercialization’ of foetus and female bodies), i.e. surrogate mothers.
    Now, I cannot wait to see how the French (mostly lefty) feminists will rationalize that one and pretend to maintain their intellectual integrity!

    Personally, I think that the debate is a forgone conclusion. But that should not prevent the Church from raising her concerns (with love and empathy, if we still have any left for homosexuals and the rest), while upholding a strong Christian ethos and Christian ideal of a sound and just society.
    If LGBT are as tolerant and democratic as they claim to be, they should accept that others might disagree with them, no?

  10. Thanks for the questions, J.!

    You’ve got a whole lot going on in those ‘two’ questions, but I’ll try my best to reply to the major points : )

    1) I really don’t understand why Australia hasn’t gone down the ‘civil union (for all)’ path, as it certainly (at least to my mind) makes the best sense in a secular democracy.

    As far as I can tell, there still seems to be a bit of a clinging to the idea of ‘traditional marriage’ (even if that ideal doesn’t translate into reality all that often). Alternatively (or, perhaps, additionally), it might just be that no-one has really come forward with it as a viable option and pushed it enough to gain the necessary traction.

    In regards to Aussies clinging to a notion of ‘traditional’ marriage, it seems to me that the Australian public, in general, are a fairly slow-moving lot. For some reason we don’t usually vote for change in things like Referendums, and we’ve had a pretty bad history of ‘progress’ when it comes to racism and sexism until very recently (relatively speaking). In regards to no-one having really pushed it, I can’t remember if Kevin Rudd and the ALP were pushing for ‘civil unions for everyone’, or whether it was just going to be the thing that same-sex couples or those not wanting ‘traditional’ marriage had (which had all the same legal standing but the point of difference was still held in the nomenclature). I kind of remember it being the latter, and I think that’s why it ultimately didn’t stick around for long. Having said that, I’d have to go back and have a look at it in more detail to be sure.

    I would really like to see one of our major parties pick this up in their party platform and run with it to see what might come of it…but I’m not holding my breath.

    You raise the issue of whether or not this ‘semantic’ redefinition would actually change anything in practical terms. I believe that it would, because the only debate would become an internal one for religious organisations to work through for themselves (whether or not to offer a ‘value add’ service of a kind of ‘covenant ceremony’ or a blessing of the union ‘in the eyes of God/gods/whatever’), rather than being something that it played out in the legislature. Any couple recognised by the State as being in one of these unions (the definitions of which would be voted on through our representative democratic process) would enjoy the exact same legal standing as any other couple. Some religious organisations would offer such blessings ‘in the sight of God’, while others wouldn’t. They should be allowed this freedom, and anyone who didn’t want to be part of such a voluntary organisation would have the freedom not to join them, or take it up through ecclesial structures.

    This is, from what I understand, the problem with the ‘PACS’ model in France (which I admittedly don’t know all that much about). What it seems to do is to still hold an essential difference between what this means and what ‘marriage’ means. It’s never going to work. I think it’s pretty stupid, to be honest, because there are still differences in the rights and responsibilities that these unions enshrine.

    You shift the game at this point and get right into the intent of the LGTBQI community, or ‘lobby’ (at least in France), and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I would agree that it’s better to speak plainly and not hide behind nice words, but I think this equally applies to Christians who are trying to defend a theological point using current legislation and ‘history’ to do so. Honesty is great, especially when everyone is upfront about these things.

    In a secular (representative) democracy, everyone is allowed input. This is great, and I would take this ‘tyranny of the majority’ over the ‘tyranny of the few’ any day of the week. It’s not perfect, but it does ok.

    People who are opposed to ‘religion’ are allowed to have their say, and I, as a Christian, can vote out of my philosophy of life too. I can’t see a better option for this. Can you?

    2) In regards to ‘the children’, my basic position is that I would like to see children grow up in stable, loving homes. Ideally, I would like to see children have good role models in their lives from both genders, but these figures don’t necessarily have to be biological parents.

    The reality is that same-sex couples are already raising children. Apparently, some of them do it really well, and some are crap. This seems to reflect almost exactly heterosexual parent family situations. I can’t see why legislation shouldn’t be amended to see that same-sex couples are able to raise children in these stable, loving, supported environments, and I can only see that not allowing the same legal recognition for same-sex couples in regards to raising children will only result in less stability for these families. I can’t really accept that.

    Again, I don’t know the details of the French situation here, but I would love to see things like adoption laws overhauled in Australia to allow stable, legally-recognised couples to raise children in a loving environment.

    I think you are right to conclude that it’s your job, as a Christian, to embody a ‘Christian ethos’ and to strive for justice. Indeed, I would expect it. You are also right that, just because something isn’t popular, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fight for it. I think you are also correct in saying that people who don’t agree with you should be able to recognise that it’s ok for you (or I, or anyone) to disagree with them. But I also think that much ‘Christian’ discussion of these issues has been angry and graceless. I would expect non-Christians to pick up on that anytime we embody such things and to call us out on it. I’m happy to disagree with anybody, but I do hope to always do it without disregarding their basic dignity as a human being.

    I look forward to your long reply to my long reply to your long set of initial questions ; )

    1. Thanks for this.
      My following (more general) questions/remarks would then be:
      (as relates to the numbered questions above)

      1) Would you need to change the constitution for this?
      Every country is different on this point (and sometimes I really get annoyed at the media pointing out this or that other country going for it, which is totally pointless and irrelevant – what matters is what CAN be done in Australia given its current constitution, not what the Papuans have decided to do, who cares really?!)
      I take your point regarding my shifting the game. It was deliberate.
      I merely wanted to point out that, generally speaking, Christians and secularists are on a collision course (whether they want to admit it or not), and are in fact already involved in an ideological battle. And I don’t see things improving on that front.
      There comes a day, indeed it is perhaps already upon us, when hetero-sexism (i.e., the rationalization of heterosexuality as the ‘norm’) will be deemed homophobic and condemned by law (homophobia is already a crime in some country), which will make life difficult for the more conservative circles of the three main monotheistic religions.
      Pressure groups in France are already asking for bans and sanctions on associations/churches providing seminars to help people out of homosexuality. What will the next step be? Banning hetero-sexist speech from the pulpit? And if so, what about adultery and all the rest? If we keep at it, we might be re-writing the 10 commandments!
      What people lose of perspective, focusing only on the issue itself, is that the processes leading to social and legal change are as important, for the future of society, as the issues themselves. The whole egalitarian argumentation is flawed, from a logical point of view. I can’t wait for the day when some idiot will claim the right to marry his/her dog on the basis that other people can marry too!
      What I wish intellectuals in this country would do is lead society into an intelligent reflection about the greater significance of all this and resist the temptation to succumb to the pressure of lobby groups politicizing (and emotionalizing) the issue.
      At the end of the day, the more important questions are: what kind of society do we want to have, and on what moral values do we want it to be based?
      But these questions are totally absent from the debate because the foregone conclusion disseminated by the media is that all those against same sex-marriage are just a bunch of conservative pricks from a by-gone era (‘des vieux cons reactionaires’ in French, amongst whom I proudly claim my place!), who, thankfully, will soon enough have breathed their last! (That’s what a lot of French lefties hoped for, but the problem is that it revived homophobia like never before)

      2) Regarding children.
      You do not tackle the ethical question of medically assisted procreation, including surrogacy, which I think raises serious concerns from a social (even social-justice) and ethical point of view.
      Secondly, I understand that raising children is already the ‘de facto’ situation for a number of gay/lesbian couples, but is that a reason to make things ‘de iure’?
      Again, means are as much important as the intended end.
      I am troubled by the greater social and philosophical implications, i.e., whether it is ever legitimate to legislate something bec. a small minority is either in favour of it or already practising it.
      If you follow that principle of law making, you’d have to legislate drug consumption, tax evasion, armed robberies, and, for the US, mass shootings! And indeed why not so. I dare rapists, thugs and child abusers to lobby their gov. for a greater tolerance on behalf of society (and don’t tax me of making homosexuality a crime, that’s not the point).
      Here again, to express ‘un voeux pieu’ (i.e., it’s pie in the sky), it would be helpful to the public debate if the LBGT and the media shifted their strategy from making emotional appeals in favour of their cause (I almost cried at the gay couple witnessing the birth of their two daughters in India on 60 mins the other day…) and consider the greater implications of it all.
      Ultimately, I am not overly concerned whether gay/lesbians will be recognized as due parents (though I’d rather not bec. I am not entirely convinced that children’s psychological well-being won’t be affected). I am much more concerned whether politicians and legislators alike will have thought through the implications of it all. This is not just about satisfying the whims of your electorate. Much more serious issues are at stake for once.

      On a final note, I am perhaps more scarred and baffled by the way the debate is run and the policies are reached than by their actual content.
      The social Darwinist can try to convince me all he/she wants that our society is moving forward and shaking the dust of its primitive intellectual torpor off its feet, I can’t help but think that we are regressing intellectually and socio-culturally.

      Alright, enough of this, I must return to the even more convoluted and obscure world of Roman law…
      (no need to reply to this btw, though you may if desperate — for once I’d like to have the last word!)

      1. My friend, I will leave you with the last word on this, no matter how irrational some of your arguments are ; )

        If ever I am to complete this thesis of mine, I’ll have to follow your lead and keep my focus on obscure historical speculation.

        I would simply say that we should discuss some of these points above over a coffee some time, because I think your questions (and fears) are reasonably easily answered.

        Until then, I’ll finish by saying ‘C’est le ton qui fait la chanson.’

          1. I was hoping you’d bite ; )

            In regards to the Constitutional intricacies, I’ll leave that up to the experts in legal matters. Jos Renruo’s comment above begins to speak to that point, but I’m sure there’d be some fun and games in the High Court to sort it all out.

            Your point about heading towards the ‘clashing’ of secularists and people who operate from a faith background is only an issue, I think, when the fundamentalists on both sides lock horns. For people who simply cannot see possibilities other than their own, their can be no compromise. Conflict is the only possible outcome. This is already happening, and will certainly continue to happen.

            All I can say about this is that this is exactly why I think a good classical liberal arts education is vital for all citizens. Our education system is fixated on vocational education, and I think this is to the detriment of society. The capacity for critical thinking is the prerequisite of a functioning representative democracy.

            When people realise that we do have a voice, but that voice is part of the many voices of a pluralistic society, we are on firmer ground for working out how to live together. It gives us each a sense of humility.

            Your comment about hetero-sexuality eventually being deemed ‘homophobic’ is, I think, where you are becoming somewhat irrational. It would be like making race somehow illegal. What I think *should* rightly be outlawed is discrimination based on these things. We can recognise diversity without letting it become division. In fact, we might even celebrate it.

            You offer up the old ‘slippery slope’ argument, which is most often based on fear of the unknown. This is the essence of irrationality. I don’t think that you’re an irrational person, but this is an irrational argument.

            And this is why I offered the little proverb about the tone making the song. It’s not necessarily what say that matters, but how we say it is very important. We can disagree, but the argument should nevertheless respect the inherent dignity of the person and be offered in honesty and openness. I think even this would make a massive difference with these discussions.

            I’m not saying here that the ‘leftys’ are right; I’m simply saying that they have the right to an opinion and to form a lobby in exactly the same way that I do. I would ask all parties in these discussions to debate the issues rather than attacking people, but as a Christian I have a special concern with how we as Christians embody grace and love.

            2) The issues you raise about ‘the children’ are many and complex.

            I have absolutely no problem with medically assisted pregnancy, and I don’t see why a lesbian couple, for example, shouldn’t have access to fertility treatments through sperm donation.

            Surrogacy is something of a separate issue, and I share your concern with people being exploited as ‘human incubators’, especially in regards to the poor or otherwise vulnerable. Again, though, these issues are complex. The debates would need to continue around specific legislation as it arises, but I guess I’d just preface it with the statement that I can’t see why a same-sex couple should be disadvantaged over infertile heterosexual couples in it all.

            You then raise the irrationality again with this concern about ‘small minorities’ lobbying around legislation for all sorts of harmful things. The issue here is that we have a clear *majority* asking for ‘marriage equality’, so it’s not just a small group of people having disproportionate influence. Also, you conveniently sidestep the very real ‘harm factor’ that is clearly part and parcel of most of the things you identify. This potential for harm is simply *not* inherent in either same-sex relationships or same-sex couples raising children. It’s apples and oranges.

            Legislators (and those they represent) can *never* think through absolutely every contingency and possible ramification of policy. They (and we) can only work with the information we have. This is what it means to be human. We should give it our best shot, but there are always limitations.

            On your final point, this is the joy of our representative democracy. I can think that all sorts of people are buffoons or whatever, but I must understand the society that I am part of. I can have as much of a say as anyone else. Perhaps us Christians will one day lose all possibility of input in public discourse, but I don’t think it’s happening soon. What we are experiencing now is simply being put back in our place after the excesses of the Christendom experiment. Even if we were, though, it wouldn’t really worry me. That is, after all, the position out which the Church is at it’s finest.

            I hope this helps, but I’m still happy for you to call me a coward…or a buffoon! : )

            1. I totally agree on the first few paragraphs re: a liberal education, critical thinking, etc., as long as society makes sure it is not left to the lefties.
              Sorry to focus on France again, but universities have been a breeding ground for the most radical left-wing ideology (against which, I admit, I’ve launched my own little crusade).
              Compared to them, the Australian lefties are as fierce as the Aristocats!
              The French left-wingers are just intellectual Talibans. They obliterate you if you don’t think like them. (I recommend Le terrorisme intellectuel by Sevilla to give you an idea of how anti-democratic Sartres, Foucault and the like could be).
              But that’s a different issue, moving on…

              Re: heterosexuality being deemed homophobic.
              I maintained my claim, though, if you re-read my comments carefully, I actually referred to ‘hetero-sexism’ (i.e., the rationalization of heterosexuality as the ‘social norm’, i.e., the natural way to experience a meaning and productive sexual relation)’ and not ‘heterosexuality’. There is an important nuance.
              It is not fear of the unknown, it’s becoming a reality – at least in Europe more and more and in North America.
              But maybe you and I watch/read different media outlets.
              Actually, I’ll admit that apart from the news-less ABC report I hardly bother myself with the useless and brainless Australian media.
              I mean, a poor-old asylum-seeking boat sails into a defenceless harbour and it’s a Normand invasion! WTF!

              On point 2).
              The argument is provocative, but it’s deliberately so to highlight the problem of legal precedent.
              Further, it is not because the majority wills it that it is necessarily good for society, despite what lobby groups claim.
              I find this way of reasoning not irrational but absurd (from an ethical point of view, not just a theological one).
              Once upon a time human sacrifices were in vogue and the beating of wives, children, and slaves, for their own good!, was a national sport…
              Perhaps a less extreme example is that of cannabis, deemed by many to be a recreational if not medicinal drug, but thought by an increasing body of scientists to be more harmful than it first appears.

              The problem with children is that there are not enough studies to tell us what the real, long term impact might be.
              As responsible adults, we have by-law a duty of care to protect the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, e.g., children, and not let them be manipulated by whatever pressure groups.
              Gays/Lesbians raising children might turn to be harmless, but until proven so we should proceed with extreme caution.

              But here again, I’ll pull the ideological card because all this is not merely about practical legislation, it is about a reconsideration of what moral and social values inform our societies.
              How do we decide what is ethical or not?
              Australian society is somewhat clueless bec., outside of its increasingly repressed Christian heritage, secularists never articulated any alternative moral ideology like the French Republicans did to supplant Catholic ‘moral oppression’.
              Remember the debate with Nathan Reeds (I think it was) on Scripture classes which were to be replaced by what must have been French-inspired ethical/moral classes. People were left scratching their heads, but I knew exactly what he was on about.
              Without necessarily falling into the trap of fundamentalism, the public should be alerted about the ideology supporting the proposed legislations and encouraged to think critically and seriously through the issue and implication for the way society is evolving.

              So there you go.
              I shall leave it at that bec. I really need to return to senseless Roman legislation.
              Overall, I am not as fiercely opposed to the same-sex union as I might sound.
              I am more annoyed at the subliminal social conditioning the media are putting us through and the increasing victimization of people of think differently from the LGBT lobby.
              One can be against it all and not be a Nazi for goodness me!

  11. Hey Josh – not to trivialize what you’ve said (I love it) – But man the acronym for the LGBTQI group just gets longer and longer!

    1. Haha! You’re right : )

      I think the balance will be found somewhere between using the clumsy and ultimately unhelpful term ‘homosexual’ and an acronym consisting of all the letters of the alphabet in order to note all nuance ; )

  12. Josh said
    “So, I use my vote, but I must also try to live out my faith in a way that causes others to recognise the God I follow. Basically, the idea is that non-Christians should look at the way we Christians live and say, “I’ll have what s/he’s having!” ”

    and

    “In regards to marriage, I guess this should mean that, once we have our relationships blessed ‘in the sight of God’, those relationships should be so packed full of love and care and faithfulness and respect and mutual submission, and so free from all forms of domination of the other and control and lack of respect, that others should look at these relationships and take notice. This is our witness. Trying to rely on legislation to define what true ‘marriage’ looks like is a hopeless waste of time and, ultimately, it completely devalues the theological concept behind it.”

    I just want to say that non-Christian marriages can be “packed with love and care and faithfulness and respect …(etc etc)”

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