This is a really important discussion for Australians to be having, because any changes will have a significant and long lasting impact on our society. So it’s important we listen well and understand the issues at hand.
Personally, I can see why many want this change to happen. I understand that many in the LGBTI community consider that without this change they feel ostracised, unequal and their relationship is invalid. I appreciate the fact there are some same-sex couples who love one another and want to make a lifelong commitment to another person.
However, as much as I get all that, I cannot support this change to the definition of marriage, because like so many laws in our society, this will have a far wider impact on our culture than just those same-sex couples who want to marry. If we were making a decision that was just about the individuals concerned, it would be much easier. But the impact of this change has much broader implications than that.
I understand there will be many who know me who will disagree with me on this. However, I would ask you at least hear me out and try and understand what I perceive those issues to be.
Before I say any of that though, I want to reiterate, that my friendships with those who hold a different opinion to me on this, is not conditional on the outcome of this decision. We are all made in the image of God, and therefore, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Other voices in this debate are just a valid as mine and I need to listen to them as well.
Of course, as a Christian, I am convinced that God has given us (humanity) a good pattern for marriage. As the creator of the world he knows what’s best for us, and that includes how we do relationships. The good pattern that God gives us for marriage is a sexually exclusive, lifelong union between a man and a woman for the raising of children. We are quite obviously made male and female in order to compliment each other sexually, relationally, and emotionally. In addition, our male-ness and female-ness are vital elements for the raising of children with both a father and a mother. And this is not just a 'good' for Christians. As people made in the image of God, this is a 'good' for everyone.
God gives us this pattern for marriage, not because he's a spoil-sport, but because he loves us. It’s because God is loving, that he sets boundaries for sexual relationships in order to protect us and guard us from getting hurt. It's similar to a parent who puts their child in a sand pit and tells them as long as they stay in the sand pit they can do what they want, but they're not to go outside the sandpit because there are bindies and glass and they will get hurt. And the same is true for sexual relationships. When we get into sexual relationships that are outside God's good pattern, it causes damage and people get hurt. We see this in
- one-night stands
- the pain of couples separating after living together
- the destruction of relationships and families caused by adultery
- the 90,000+ abortions that happen each year due to unwanted pregnancies of couples who are not married
Even if you don't agree with me on this good pattern for marriage, there is more to it than this - because, changing the definition of marriage will have far wider implications than just those same-sex couples who want to marry. By way of example, the move to 'no fault divorce' in the 1970's might have seemed good for couples wanting to end their marriage, but the flow on effect of this on children, families, and as a result our society since then, has been devastating. Similarly, the shift in abortion laws might have seemed good for sake of the mother involved, but the flow on effect means that tragically, there are over 90,000+ babies aborted each year in Australia.
We will be naive to think that the change of the definition of marriage will not also have serious flow on affects. It will be like a stone thrown into a pond - the ripples will continue to move out and have a far greater impact on our society than many of us realise. And its these broader implication and impacts that are just as concerning and ought to be considered by all Aussies - Christian or otherwise.
These are some of the broader issues I believe we need also consider.
Rights of Children: Children are the voiceless party in this debate and they too have rights. It’s not just the rights of same-sex couples who want to marry. Margaret Somerville is Professor of Bioethics in the School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame Australia. In a recent article she said
"Deciding whether to legalise same-sex marriage involves dealing with a clash between adults' claims and children's needs and rights. In such cases, a truly humane ethic requires choosing in favour of the weakest, most in need, most vulnerable persons. Clearly children belong to this category..." http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/08/15/4718836.htm
Children have the right to be raised by their biological father and mother and therefore, marriage is the best place for raising children. Same-sex marriage makes that impossible. The critical importance of this is underlined by men and women like Heather Barwick, who was raised by a loving lesbian couple and are speaking out against same-sex marriage because of the impact this change will have on children like them. Heather says,
"A lot of us, a lot of your kids, are hurting. My father's absence created a huge hole in me and I ached every day for a dad. Same-sex marriage and parenting withholds either a mother or father from a child while telling him or her that is doesn't matter. That it’s all the same. But it’s not."
Millie Fontanna is even more forthright about this issue. Millie is in her early 20's and grew up with lesbian parents, and was raised as an atheist with no religious affiliation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g4vphO1Sk). And yet, she insists the negative impact of children raised by same-sex parents, as loving as they may have been, is something that cannot be underestimated nor should it be ignored.
As a nation, we have made this mistake already by forcibly adopting babies away from teen mothers and thereby breaking the bond between mother and daughter. In 2013 Julia Gillard apologised for this in the National Apology for Forced Adoption. We don't want to make this mistake again. Marriage gives every child the mum and dad they have a right to. Which future Prime Minister will have to apologise to the generation that grew up without a father or mother?
Gender Confusion: One of the impacts of redefining marriage to include same-sex is that we implicitly say - gender doesn't matter. Gender fluidity and gender indifference, not only take away an essential 'good' of our humanity, it will lead to gender confusion amongst our young people. An example of this is seen already as a result of the Safe Schools Programme which is being taught in Victoria. Since its inception in 2010, the increase in gender dysphoria in children presenting to the Royal Children’s Hospital has increased from 7 (2010) to 170 (2015). This is seriously concerning.
Freedom of Speech: We should be really concerned about the impact this is issue is having on one of our most fundamental human rights - our freedom of speech. Many who hold to traditional views of marriage are being shouted down, ostracised, assaulted, labelled as 'bigots', and 'homophobic' merely for voicing a different opinion. In schools and the work place, students and employees are being pressured to comply with and participate in LGBTI policies and events. Company directors are being bullied to resign for holding a traditional view of marriage. Even before the law has been changed, Catholic Archbishop, Julian Porteous and Presbyterian Pastor, Campbell Markham have both been brought before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner for respectfully expressing the orthodox and legal view of marriage.
Brendan O'Neil who is a journalist and describes himself as 'an atheistic libertarian' says there ought to be great concern because ...
"anyone who opposes gay marriage is demonised, harassed and thrown out of their jobs ... there's real ugly element to this. What is extraordinary and unacceptable is they (supporters of SSM) cannot tolerate the existence of anyone who opposes gay marriage. And I think we sometimes fail to understand how extraordinary that is ... in the space of a decade, something that humanity believed for thousands of years has suddenly become a form of bigotry, a form of hate, something you're not allowed to express in public life - that extraordinary shift in intolerance, is something all liberals, like me, should be worried about." Q&A Monday 17th August 2015 (http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4273039.htm)
Disagreement within the LGBTI Community: One of the more surprising aspects of this debate is not everyone within the LGBTI community wants this change. A sizable proportion of the LGBTI community are actually against the change in definition either because they believe marriage is between man and woman, or marriage is for children or that the act of marriage is inherently hetero-normative. One example is gay couple Ben Rogers and Mark Poidevin who recently affirmed that they want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. Mark Poidevin shared the concerns raised above when he said “If we make one exception for one community, that being the same-sex couples, where does it stop?"
This is issue by no means the ‘great universal injustice’ to the LGBTI community that many claim needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, those within the LGBTI community who are expressing this dissenting voice, like Ben Rogers and Mark Poidevin are being silenced, bullied and ostracised by their own community for expressing opposing views from within.
There are other flow on effects of making this change, however these seem to be the most significant issues for us to be wrestling with.
I expect there will be supporters of same-sex marriage who will say "how can you deny this change to two consenting adults who love each other?" In response to this I would say that 'love and consent' cannot be the principles for making this change. For if this were the case, then what is to stop someone marrying a minor or more than one spouse? If they love each other and consent, then using the same logic, we are forced to say that must be okay. I think most would agree that neither of those scenarios are okay. So we need to look to something more than just 'love and consent.'
Other supporters of same-sex marriage will say "this is about marriage equality - you are not treating my relationship equally". However the reality is, equality can never be achieved for marriage, because marriage will always exclude someone. It is by nature exclusive. Changing the current definition to include same-sex marriage may make it equal for same-sex couples, but it will remain unequal for others who want to marry children, close relatives or more than one person. So we need to have a better reason than 'equality'.
In short, this is not a simple issue of meeting the demands of individual same-sex couples. This is a much broader and complicated issue. What I have tried to do above is to outline some of the reasons, concerns and logic for us to consider. And while none of them are conclusive in and of themselves, taken together they provide a good rationale for us Aussies to at least pause and reflect on these things before we decide which way to vote on this issue.
Grace and peace