What price should we attach to marriage?

The media has been abuzz with the announcement made by accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), that the proposed marriage plebiscite will cost Australians $525 million.

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The cost attached to the plebiscite itself is $158 million. Another $30 million has been estimated to deal with mental health issues that may arise for LGBTI people from potential hate-speech and acts, $66 million set aside for the yes/no campaigns, and it is estimated that while we duck off to the polling venue on a Saturday afternoon to vote, there will be productivity loss around the nation to the sum of $280 million.

It needs to be said that despite how some media outlets are reporting the PwC modelling, this figure is not factual, but is an educated opinion, and one which is already being disputed. It is also important to note PwC is not acting as an impartial third party, but they are a strong supporter of same-sex marriage and of the group Australian Marriage Equality.

Despite these qualifications, let’s assume the sum is accurate. Given all those factors I would call myself a reluctant supporter of the plebiscite.

Bill Shorten has said of the plebiscite, “what a waste”. I sympathise with this view, for I can see how the money could be used to assist any number of important social concerns: mental health, housing for indigenous Australians, addressing domestic violence, and refugee assistance are just a few of a hundred issues requiring attention and support. Having said that, the notion of changing the definition of marriage is no small thing, and it is naive for anyone to suggest so.

The proposal is not a tiny amendment to the law, but the radical and complete alteration of society’s most basic building block: from marriage comes the family unit, and from family communities are formed, and with communities a society and nation is shaped. Marriage is not everything, but it is an important thing and it is one which has held an almost universally accepted definition since history began. Until recently very few societies would even consider the question, and today the vast majority of nations remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Let us understand that no one is quibbling over a few words, at stake is rebooting the very notion of marriage. There are already community voices arguing that this rewrite is simply a steppingstone to further changes and even the eradication of marriage altogether:

Last year, Simon Copland, a columnist with the Sydney Star Observer, argued that equal marriage might unfortunately limit expressions of sexuality, saying that ‘while monogamous marriage still works for many, our society is increasingly questioning whether it should remain as the only option’.

At the 2012 Sydney Writers’ festival, Dennis Altman, was among a number of speakers who declared their hope that the Marriage Act would be eventually repealed altogether.

The point is, it is not hyperbole to suggest that should marriage redefinition take place, it will be considered a watershed event in Australia’s history, one which will have inevitable and enormous repercussions for society.

Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage.

Yes, $525 million is a lot of money, but when one breaks down the cost per capita, it comes to $21.88 for each Australian. For the cost of little more than a movie ticket, I can have a say in deciding the direction Australia will take on the most fundamental social unit

A separate concern surrounding the plebiscite has been raised by various advocates for marriage change, including Rodney Croome who said,

“The damage an ugly and divisive campaign will do to vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, their families, and youth will have far-reaching consequences that cannot be quantified,”

As someone who has a voice in the community, albeit a small one, should the plebiscite be presented to the nation, I want to state publicly that hateful speech and actions against LGBTI people are unacceptable. A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act. Throwing bile at another human being is detestable, whether it is done in person or on twitter.

“A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act”

As important as this plebiscite is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is the good of others. I have no desire to sacrifice people for the sake of a vote. I do not wish harm on any homosexual and lesbian Aussies, and will gladly speak against such behaviour. But please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly is not to hate, and to think that it is risks undermining the foundation of democracy.

The logical terminus of Croome’s argument is a prohibition on disagreement; that is not healthy for democracy and would set a bind on the conscience of those who disagree with the change to the marriage law. A society that forbids the public articulation of civilly expressed views that come out of a long, thoughtful and widespread tradition is on the road to becoming the very thing it claims to stand against.

It is possible, indeed desirable, to show kindness in disagreement. I realise that kindness like marriage is a disappearing norm in Australia today, but showing gentleness and respect toward those with whom there is a different view ought to be basic to our humanity. Is this not one of the reasons why Donald Trump leaves us shuddering?

Indeed, the essence of Christianity is Jesus Christ showing kindness to a world that had no room for his beliefs,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While bullish and malicious behaviour toward same-sex marriage advocates is rightly called out, I wonder whether those leading the charge for marriage change insist that their supporters don’t resort to hate speech toward those who believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman?

Will they pledge to publicly denounce individuals who disparage the millions of Australians who do not support same sex marriage?

Will they call out public figures who time and time again call people homophobes and bigots for believing only in heterosexual marriage?

Australians are increasingly recognising that this decision is of major consequence, not only for the way we build society, but this may have enormous implications for ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of religion’. We only have to look at Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to see how same-sex marriage introduces a wave of intellectual and moral oppression on those who cannot for reason of conscience affirm it.

The Labor Party have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow their members to vote against same-sex marriage. This is hardly the stuff of a dynamic democracy. Only two weeks ago, Labor Senator Joe Bullock was forced to retire because of his Party’s unwillingness to allow a conscience vote on this issue. Such political censorship has given cause for the public to doubt that a fair vote can take place in Parliament.

I share concerns over the cost of a plebiscite, but given what is at stake the Australian public ought to have their voice. If John Howard believed in taking the GST to an election, how much more should the question of marriage, which is insurmountably more important, be given a say by the people.

This is not education

In explaining the Victorian Education Department’s own position on secular education, they state,

“The legislation clearly states that the government school system is secular, and open to the adherents of any philosophy, religion, or faith.”

This is clearly no longer the case. As a supporter of secular education I am concerned to see these principles eroded by programs designed to reconfigure how children think and behave; Safe Schools is one such program.

When Corey Bernadi first suggested a connection between Safe Schools and Marxism, I laughed and thought his comment unhelpful. However, he appears closer to the mark than many first believed.

The Australian newspaper today published a piece where Roz Ward  links Safe Schools with a political and social agenda, namely that of Marxism and same-sex marriage  (Roz Ward oversees the Safe Schools program in Victoria, and she co-authored its content).

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courtesy of The Australian

In two speeches (one in May 2013 and another in 2015), Roz Ward has explained (quoting from The Australian),

“It is a total contradiction to say we want (the) Safe Schools ­Coalition but you can’t get married to the person that you love,” Ms Ward told a rally in Melbourne. “(Teachers) have to work in this context where we have this state-sponsored homophobia in this discriminatory law and still fight against homophobia.

“The question of equal marriage is important in every single school that I go to, because I talk to teachers and they say to me: ‘How can we continue to fight against homophobia when the students will say to us that same-sex couples or transgender people cannot get married to the people they love? The law says it’s not equal and then we need to turn around as teachers and say: well it should be but it’s not’.”

Railing against a “push to fit people into gender constructs that promote heterosexuality’’ at a Marxist conference in Melbourne last year, she alluded that Safe Schools was part of a broader strategy to change society.

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation,’’ she said. “Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordin­arily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

According to the chief author and organiser of Safe Schools in Victoria, this program has a political and social agenda. It does not exist simply to combat bullying in schools, but is designed to instruct and influence children according to a socialist ideology, which includes strengthening the case for same-sex marriage.

In his time, Karl Marx identified a societal problem with capitalism, but his solution was flawed, and those who have followed in his footsteps have too often faulted. Marxism may advertise equality, but achieving it requires others to be silenced and marginalised. Indeed, history reveals how open-minded and constructive Marxist led societies have been: amidst all the gulags, red-book education, blood-shed and oppression, all the love and acceptance simply radiates from Karl Marx’s legacy.

In the case of Safe Schools, singling out children who may not affirm the new ‘normal’ is not only a sure path to discrimination, but the material itself expressively calls these children by derogatory terms, including ‘sexist’. Labelling children who don’t subscribe to all the values of Safe Schools is somewhat ironic and hypocritical given how the course instructs children to avoid tags; even the use of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ is discouraged.

In contrast to this latest epiphany of Uncle Karl, Michael Jensen this week suggested a view to humanity that is far deeper and attractive. He writes,

“The Christian faith has bequeathed to our culture a great gift: the teaching that we are all made in the image of God. That concept permeates even apparently secular documents like the US Declaration of Independence. It coaches us to see humanity in the face of the other. It was this conviction that held good against the social Darwinians of the late nineteenth century, who would rather have placed people of different races on the lesser rungs of the human ladder.

Add to that the experience of Jesus Christ: rejected by his own, abandoned by his friends, convicted by a corrupt and lazy government, tortured, tormented, and killed. At the heart of the Christian faith is the sign of the cross, which calls us to remember what we human beings are capable of as well as to recall what God offers us.”

In other words, as Christians we are troubled by the fact children are bullied, including homophobic behaviour in schools. All parents drop their children at school each day hoping and expecting they won’t be mistreated. We want our schools to be safe for all children.

Can we not have in our schools a program that encourages respect and kindness, without all the add-ons that are so controversial and unnecessary?

The Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, has this week confirmed that the program will be compulsory in all Victorian Schools by the end of 2018. But why? This is not education. This is not anti-bullying. By her own admission, Roz Ward has explained how Safe Schools is part of a broader strategy to rail against heteronormacy and to slam-dunk same-sex marriage. Again, I understand that some people will have no issue with this, but many others are concerned and are asking for a more reasonable and less politically motivated alternative.

A Christian response to bullying

Michael Jensen (Rector of St Mark’s Darling Point, Sydney) has written this helpful piece about bullying and what a Christian response should include. I have published it with his permission:

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That people are bullied, victimised, and even assaulted because of their sexuality in contemporary Australia is completely unacceptable.

For me, this is a simple corollary of the teaching of Jesus Christ. And as a Christian, and particularly as a Christian minister, I am compelled to stand against those who would advocate or participate in such treatment of GLBTIQ people, or anyone else for that matter.

It has to begin at school. The school playground can be a tough and even brutal place.

I had a great experience at the private boys’ school I went to. I was tall for my age, played sport, I was white, I didn’t have anything foreign on my sandwiches, and I wasn’t gay.

But even then, I do remember episodes when my mettle was tested by the crowd. I was teased for being a minister’s son, or for having ideas beyond my station, or for having pimples – ‘Pizza Face!’ being the taunt.

This was nothing. I brushed it off, because I had all the advantages.

The bullying was noisiest for the Asians, who of course couldn’t pretend they weren’t who they were. Their difference was obvious, and they were teased because they inspired envy – many of them took the top spots on the merit list each year.

But there was one boy, smaller than the others, who was always at sea. From the beginning of Year 7, he was singled out as the ‘poofter’. It was determined that he was gay, and that too great an interest in him or too deep a friendship with him, would render one’s own sexuality suspect.

I don’t recall the victimizing of him ever becoming physical (though of course he might tell a different story). But I can only imagine that school was as isolating and lonely for him as it was exciting and encouraging for me – and I shudder at the imbalance of it.
Recently I met his father at a reunion. Without betraying confidences, all I can say is that my classmate’s life has not turned out well.

Later when I became a teacher, I often heard students call each ‘gay’ as a term of abuse. To be gay was, in teen-speak, to be despised. I knew that there were students who would identify as gay, or who were at least questioning their orientation. The menace to them of this language was obvious. And it seemed obvious that this language, and the attitude that generated it, needed to be challenged. It was simply unchristian.

The Christian faith has bequeathed to our culture a great gift: the teaching that we are all made in the image of God. That concept permeates even apparently secular documents like the US Declaration of Independence. It coaches us to see humanity in the face of the other. It was this conviction that held good against the social Darwinians of the late nineteenth century, who would rather have placed people of different races on the lesser rungs of the human ladder.

Add to that the experience of Jesus Christ: rejected by his own, abandoned by his friends, convicted by a corrupt and lazy government, tortured, tormented, and killed. At the heart of the Christian faith is the sign of the cross, which calls us to remember what we human beings are capable of as well as to recall what God offers us.

How could a person who worships a victim of bullying turn away from those who are being victimized and bullied?