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.

Lessons in how to disagree with popular opinion

When children speak in favour of atheism or secularism or GLBTI issues, they are praised and receive vocal public support.

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Last week, several anonymous female school students received wide public backing when they expressed to the ABC, “shock and frustration” by the “outdated” ideas Archbishop Davies promoted.  Archbishop Glenn Davies had spoken at the annual service for Anglican School Leaders, and as part of his address he made comments about gender equality; nothing radical, he affirmed the historic Christian understanding.

But when a teenage girl spoke out on Friday in favour of the Bible and the Bible’s teaching about marriage, the story was sadly very different. Paige Katay wrote a piece for The Drum, and was also interviewed by Julia Baird for The Drum’s evening television program.

To be fair, and probably in view that a 17 year old school girl was speaking, many people dampened their rhetoric from some of the usual delights. It should also be noted that  a significant number of people encouraged Paige for her courage, clarity and conviction. However, underlying many the comments was a streak of condescension, with frequent references to ‘brain-washing’  and ‘indoctrination’.

Here are some examples from the comments section on ABC’s The Drum:

“Good that this poor child is having her washed brain questioned by @cassandragoldie who knows what happens when men rule”

“Spirited defence, but I suppose a girls Anglican school has to rationalise like this in order to stop the girls smelling a rat when the law of the land says they are equal to their brother….”

“Your “belief” that males and females have different gender based roles in society and relationships is incredibly sexist. This type of “belief” ALWAYS results in *MEN* occupying the primary positions of societal authority and power, whereas you interpret it as “a beautiful kind of harmony”. Yep, you’ve been very effectively and thoroughly brainwashed by your religion.

Yes, the Archbishop has you thoroughly controlled and brainwashed. After all, nearly 2,000 years of brutal Christianity has shown it’s all about domination and control of others. Luckily, old style violent Christianity has been slowly defeated over the past several hundred years by secularism ….. by secular morals, secular freedom, secular democracy and secular decency. Hopefully Christianity will never return to it’s bad old days.”

And among the responses on twitter (some tweets are sadly unrepeatable):

“Poor brainwashed indoctrinated Child.”

“Paige Katay believes in invisible men in the sky & has been indoctrinated from age zero. Her opinions are worthless.”

“I had been mightily impressed with how today’s young people seem so progressive and socially aware. Then along came Paige Katay.”

As I observe Australians debating important issues, I can see three main approaches:

The first approach (and most common) is where there is no engagement with an opposing view with reasoned argument or questions, just ridicule and bullish tactics.

This has become all to common when discussions use the word ‘gender’ or ‘marriage’. 

I had believed that bullying was a reprehensible act, and the public outraged at any whiff of children being intimidated, but apparently it is okay if the person in question is a Christian teenage girl affirming her beliefs. 

The second approach is somewhat better, although far from ideal. Here, there is no engagement with the views actually presented, but loaded with assumptions about what we ‘think’ the person has said or should be saying, a critique is offered. But arguing against a caricatured position is hardly fair and it does little to progress debate.

This was evident on Friday’s episode of The Drum, when Tom Allard was asked a question about Paige Katay’s views. He began by rebutting an idea that Paige never articulated, and when Julia Baird corrected him, he then spoke against a view of the Bible that no Christian that I know of, believes or teaches.

The third approach is where each party listens carefully to the others, and can repeat accurately the views you disagree with, and then offer a respectful critique, and finally outline your own position. It requires humility, honesty, and kindness, even when you feel strongly about the issue.

As Australians talk to polemical social and moral issues, I am not surprised that many are choosing to interact in the first two ways,  although I am nonetheless disappointed and saddened, especially when politicians and ‘leaders’ resort to these machiavellian tactics. Here, I want to encourage people, especially Christians to work hard at exemplifying the third way. Paige Katay has given us a wonderful example, as have many other Christians in the public space. Indeed, non-Christians such as the now former Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, also give us an example.

I remember watching a short video conversation on the Gospel Coalition website between Tim Keller, Matt Chandler and Michael Horton, where they agree that we want to be in the place where we can express the views of our opponents better than they, such that they can see that we understand them.

Meekness may not be easy, but Jesus certainly thinks it is the way to go. Let’s resist hateful speech, false representations, and parodies, and insist upon words and a way of communicating that reflect the Lord Jesus. 

Is it a donkey? Is it a lion? What has happened to freedom of speech?

“You think freedom means doing what you like. Well, you’re wrong. That isn’t true freedom. True freedom means doing what I tell you.” (Shift, in The Last Battle)

I can’t remember many times when I have found myself agreeing with Germaine Greer, but on this occasion I am at least sympathetic with her situation. A petition with over 800 signatories is pushing to ban Germaine Greer from giving a lecture at Cardiff University, on account of her views about sexuality. That’s right, one the world’s most outspoken voices on women’s rights and sexual liberties is apparently too orthodox for these students.

1445718397585The author of the petition commented, ”Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.”

“While debate in a university should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.” (quoted in The Age October 25, Petition calls for university to ban Germaine Greer from event over ‘hateful’ transgender views)

Based on this explanation it sounds as though Germaine Greer must hold some very distasteful views about transgender people. However, when I listened to Greer’s views, it appears that the accusations are false. The point that so riled these Welsh students is that Greer believes that surgical and hormonal treatment does not make a man into a woman. In fact, Greer does little more than state a biological fact. Listen to this interview by the BBC (language warning):

The allegations are so ridiculous; I feel like I need to rub my eyes to make sure that I’m not living in some fantasy land. But no, this isn’t Narnia or Animal Farm.

The allegation of transmisogyny maybe unfounded, but that doesn’t matter because the accusation itself is an effective way to silence opposing views.  It may not have worked in the case of Germain Greer, not but not everyone is boisterous and thick skinned.

These students from Cardiff University have used a tool of debate that is becoming all to common:

  • Silence your opponents by accusing them of hate.
  • Silence your opponents by insisting that their views will lead to abuses.

No one is doubting that homosexual and transgender people have suffered abuses, and speaking out about such treatment is only right. The issue here, however, is not about protecting transgender people from hate and abuse, it is about denying people the freedom to discuss and disagree with the current sexual milieu. What makes this whole approach particularly ugly is that it is using people’s vulnerabilities and fears as a smoke screen for social engineering.

Germaine Greer is not the first victim of these Calormene-like speech police, this is the growing experience for many groups in the UK, Canada, Germany and the USA; especially Christian groups.

Sadly, this change of climate is also moving over Australian society, and a cold winter is gradually freezing out free speech. Take for example, Bill Shorten’s op-ed piece for Fairfax on the issue of the plebiscite for same-sex marriage:

“But I don’t think enough attention has been paid to the biggest risk a plebiscite brings – the danger and the damage of unleashing a divisive, drawn-­out debate.

A plebiscite could act as a lightning rod for the very worst of the prejudice so many LGBTI Australians endure. A platform for people to attack, abuse and demean Australians on the basis of who they love.”

In other words, we should by-pass public opinion because public views may not necessarily conform to the progressive agenda.

“You thought! As if anyone could call what goes on in your head thinking.” Just as Shift challenged the Bear who dared question him, we seem to be  moving toward a democratic totalitarianism, where society permits us to support same-sex marriage and sexual fluidity, but we are no longer free to offer a dissenting voice. Nowhere is this more evident than perhaps in Victoria where the Daniel Andrews’ Government is introducing policies that deliberately target the removal of Christian ideas and values from the public arena.

Deitrich Bonheoffer observed how the Reichstag Fire Decree of 1933 changed the public space in Germany. He wrote,

“Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the rights of the assembly and association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”

We have begun down this insane path, and if the media and certain political parties are anything to go by, the journey is just beginning.

In light of this, I offer these 3 suggestions:

1. Don’t accept the premise behind the case for marriage change. Disagreement and disapproval does not equal hate. The Bill Shorten’s and Cardiff students of this world would have us believe that there are only two roads to travel, either total acceptance or hate and fear. Both options are untenable. Christians know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us a third way, that of loving and reasonable disagreement.

2. Don’t yield to the pressure and remain silent. It is important for the plurality of Australian voices to be heard in the public space.

3. Speaking up is no longer free; it will come at a cost. Our situation is unusual in light of world history; we have enjoyed social freedoms that people in many other parts of the world have never experienced. It has been possible to speak openly without any genuine sacrifice, perhaps a few crude comments thrown our way but nothing more. We need to wake up to the fact that Australia has changed, and for Christians, Jesus’ words about taking up our cross may become more than just words.

A donkey dressed up as a lion is still a donkey, no matter how much a monkey tells you otherwise. That old Narnian like Bear, Germaine Greer, has spotted a fraud in public discourse and we Aussies’ would be wise to also question the course that national conversation is now taking.

Puzzleaslan