A Case for heterosexual only marriage

Increasingly, Australians have been led to believe that same-sex marriage is the great inevitable. The legal definition of marriage may well change in 2017, but the case for change has been less about cogent reasoning, and much to do with emotive stories and slick slogans. One should not ignore peoples personal experiences, but if we are to be fair, we will also listen to the equally powerful stories of same-sex attracted people who are asking us not to change the marriage definition. Yet, stories alone should not dictate Australian law.

Disappointingly, many people have been driven to silence, following a constant tirade of abuse from numerous politicians and media personalities. To even question the validity of same sex marriage is paramount to a new social heresy according to some. But it is possible, indeed desirable to speak for the dignity of LGBTI persons, and to seek their well being, without making the logical misstep of calling for marriage redefinition.

My local member, shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, suggested on the weekend that, “Anyone who thinks they can delay marriage equality in Australia further is standing in the way of history. Time to catch up with reality.”

While I’m impressed with Mr Dreyfus’ Delphic like insight, we also know how history shows that people often make the wrong choices. It may well be that there are good reasons for holding to the classical definition of marriage, and therefore, having sensible recourse for explaining to the Australian people that we should refrain from any change.

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You see, the question remains, what is marriage?

What is it about the nature of marriage that requires us to remove man and woman from its definition?

Is it love?

Love is of course a wonderful thing, and there are many kinds of love, but is this argument sufficient? Surely, not every loving relationship should be called marriage? The reality is, there must be more to marriage than love, otherwise even the proposed redefinition is discriminatory and inadequate.

But Australia has already changed the definition of marriage

Another argument that has been put forward is the view that marriage morphed throughout history, therefore it’s okay to once again institute change. This thesis however is nothing more than an example of historical revisionism. The 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act did not change the nature of marriage, it simply spelled out what was already established belief and practice. And when the Marriage Act was enacted in 1961, it was not reinventing the definition of marriage, but delineating what was known to be true about marriage; it was a self evident truth. Similarly, the Family Law Act 1975 which established the principle of no-fault divorce, did not alter the meaning of marriage, but wholly depended upon it.

What about the argument of equality?

The phrase ‘marriage equality’ is often cited, and it’s a clever piece of marketing, but it is also self-defeating and potentially disingenuous.  First of all, all sides in the marriage debate believe in marriage equality, but equality depends on how one defines marriage. Second, if the current debate is really about honouring equality, for whom is it attaining equality? The draft definition will continue to discriminate against polygamists and polyamorists, and it will also discriminate against those who believe marriage should have fixed term rather than ‘being for life’. If proponents of ‘marriage equality’ are in fact wanting equality for all, it makes sense to ask, why do they insist marriage should remain between 2 persons and be intended for life?

Such questions are not difficult to answer for those holding to the traditional and historical understanding of marriage, but I am yet to hear a persuasive argument from those advocating change. Indeed, I am keen to hear one.

As far as I can see, pretty much everyone in the marriage debate discerns a level of discrimination, but the question is at what point? What is it about marriage that requires 2 persons and life long commitment?

After an interesting dialogue last year, one interlocutor wrote to me saying, “marriage is about what people want it to be, whether it’s about love, convenience, social acceptance, children, getting a visa or whatever.”

I appreciated his honesty, and it demonstrated that when nudged, the reasoning for marriage change frequently ends in this same place of vagueness and imprecision. But arguing that the meaning of marriage is malleable is a fast track to making marriage meaningless. Conversations such as this one revealed the argument boils down to individualism, and to the belief that I am free to determine meaning as I like. As appealing as that may at first sound, it’s ultimately fallacious and counter-productive for a healthy society.

If I walked along the Monash freeway, I would soon find myself in trouble because the Monash freeway is not designed for pedestrians. Others may join with me and begin campaigning for pedestrian access along the Monash freeway, but it’s illogical because Freeways are not designed for any and all modes of travel.

Similarly, marriage is and has always been designed for a particular type of relationship: a loving consensual relationship between a man and a woman, intended for life, for personal relationship, for procreation, and for the building of society. There is something inherently unique about this covenantal relationship that we call marriage, and which can only be fulfilled by a man and a woman. As an example, biologically, the act of procreation requires 2 persons: a man and a woman. And such is the intimacy of this sexual union, that it requires the kind of loving commitment that marriage provides. We all know  children who grow up without a father or without a mother, but I don’t know of anyone who believes that this is a good thing. It is sometimes necessary given the awful reality of domestic violence, or the tragic death of a parent, but does anyone truly believe that the ideal context for raising children is without a mum and dad?

If Australia is to change the Marriage Act, we need better reasoning than what we have heard thus far. And 2016’s argument, ‘well, the Americans have done it’, probably doesn’t hold so much weight anymore!

I trust people won’t confuse my frankness here with glibness or insensitivity, for I do not wish to cause hurt to any for whom this is a personal issue. I genuinely desire for you to have life to the full, as Jesus spoke about (John 10:10). It is also possible that there will be a few ‘religious’ people who will read my words and use them to agitate views about homosexuality that I do not share; they will not find an ally here because the God whom I know and serve has made every human being in his image and they are deserving of love and dignity. That marriage is for a man and a woman is a good thing,  which even many gay and lesbian people recognise and affirm.

Is it wise to redefine marriage? Which ever way you respond to that question, we need to also answer these questions: what is marriage, and with what reason(s) do you define at such?

 

 

 


 

This post is a updated version of a piece published last year

Same-sex marriage narrative isn’t so neat

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It wasn’t that long ago that we were listening to advocates for marriage change insist marriage wasn’t about children, and that it was misleading to use children as part of an argument for classical marriage.

For example, last year on QandA, the Federal Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, shouted down a fellow panellist for daring to connect marriage with raising children. The panellist was Katy Faust, an American blogger who was raised by two lesbians (one being her mum). She speaks affectionately about both women who raised her, she nonetheless believes children ought to have a mother and father.

“While my mother was a fantastic mother and most of what I do well as a mother myself I do because that’s how she parented me, she can’t be a father. Her partner, an incredible woman — both of these women have my heart — cannot be a father either.”

Penny Wong is also on the record, rebuffing Eric Abetz who submitted same-sex marriage would deny children the basic rights of a mother and father.

Di Natale’s and Wong’s outrage in not unique to them,  it has been mimicked by other politicians and social commentators. Indeed it has become part of the narrative: don’t bring children into the marriage conversation.

The only problem with this plot line is that SSM advocates have now found ways to use children in support of their own case. Hence, it’s anathema for one side to mention children, but it is only right and natural for children to be front and centre waving rainbow flags.

Last weekend in Melbourne at a marriage change rally, young children were organised to be on the platform and talk about their positive experiences of living with 2 mums or 2 dads. These children then featured in weekend newspapers across the nation.

Today in Canberra, Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfus met with ‘rainbow families’ at Parliament, and the ensuing photo-op has been splashed all over social media tonight.

This dramatic shift in narrative has taken an even stranger twist today; while children from gay families were being welcomed by Mr Shorten and Mr Dreyfus, in Canberra was another woman raised by 2 lesbian mums. But for some reason, Labor representatives were not keen to meet with her, and certainly no photography and selfies for their twitter accounts. Why were some children raised by 2 mums or dads put in the political spotlight, and  24 year old Millie Fontana was refused even a casual chat?

It appears as though her story doesn’t fit with story that is being written for Australia’s history books.

In an interview in Triple J today, Millie Fontana says,

‘I’m an atheist. But our story needs to be told. It’s natural to want a mum and a dad. But when we speak, we are told we are homophobes and Christians’.

Fontana is not alone in her belief that children should have a father and mother; there are numerous similar stories of children who were raised in same-sex contexts, but for the most part these testimonies are being ignored. Why? They don’t fit into the narrative being spun by certain political and social scriptwriters. 

The changing story goes something like this: children are not relevant to this marriage debate…except now those raised by lesbian or gay parents…so long as those kids don’t believe that children should have a dad and mum. 

Millie Fontana’s testimony is especially awkward because unlike someone like Katy Faust, Fontana is an atheist and even supports same sex marriage, but she does not believe children should be denied their mum and dad.

The reality is, there are many different Australians concerned with same-sex marriage and with its consequences, and they can’t be put in a box labelled, ‘heterosexual religious bigots’. In fact, very few people can accurately be described as such, but again, that’s not the story Mr Shorten, Ms Wong, and others want Australia to believe.

I’d love to see Mr Shorten and Mr Dreyfus meet with Millie Fontana, to hear her story. More important, the Australian public ought to be aware that the SSM narrative is not so neat and tidy, and contrary to reassurances from political leaders, there are real consequences that will flow from changing the definition of marriage.

Read more of the Triple J interview with Millie Fontana

While she’s for same-sex couples marrying, she has deep concerns about what same-sex marriage would mean for family structures. Families like hers.

“Same-sex parenting is not something I’m against,” Millie told Hack. “It’s got to be done ethically. There’s no easy way of raising a child in a same-sex scenario.”

“Same-sex marriage coming in basically says we don’t need biology,” she said. “Marriage itself has been so intertwined with child reproduction, and what I want to see happen is the preservation of child rights, regardless of who gets married.”

Not knowing her dad denied her “genetic integrity”, Millie said.

All children have a right to know who they are.”

Millie didn’t meet her dad until she was 11 years old. His absence had a big impact on her life.

She’d asked her mums to meet him as a young child, and they’d said no. She started acting out and having problems at school.

“It was very hard for me to establish a stable identity,” Millie said. “It was negatively impacting my development.”

‘There was always something missing’

No one ever teased her at school, and her mums were loving and provided all she needed for a stable home life. But Millie said she still clung to the “missing gender” in her life.

“There was always something missing for me, and I can honestly say that I always wanted to know who my father was.”

Millie is against same-sex couples denying their children access to their mother or father. She’s also against single people choosing to have children, for the same reason.

Drumming along to the wrong beat

Yesterday’s The Drum invited two Anglican ministers and an atheist to discuss the question of marriage and homosexuality.

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Panellist Jane Gilmore came out and suggested, ‘Logically, I can’t see how Christian stance on homosexuality and ‘marriage equality’ makes sense’.

Her reasoning for this Christian’ illogic’ is that Christianity is about accepting ‘Jesus as the Son of God and the Gospels as the word of God’ but that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and so Christians should support both homosexuality and Same-sex marriage.

It is true, accepting Jesus as God’s Son and believing the Bible to be the word of God are both essential (and might I add, sublime) parts of the Christian faith, but is her rationale about marriage accurate?

I understand most Australians no longer read the Bible, and rarely listen to sermons expounding the Bible, but when one goes on national television and erroneously suggests the support of Jesus Christ, I can hear someone shouting fact check!

When we open and read the Bible we soon discover that Jesus often spoke about marriage, and when he did he repeatedly affirmed these two points: First, he affirmed the Old Testament view of marriage, that it is between a man and a woman intended for life. Second, Jesus called all other sexual behaviour porneia, meaning sexual immorality. It is important to note that Jesus was not towing the normal cultural line  of his culture; often he spoke about marriage in front of people who contravening Old Testament teachings by divorcing their wives for all kinds of crazy and wrong reasons. He challenged the marital norms of his day by reaffirming one woman and one man for life.

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh,” the words of Jesus in Mark‬ ‭10:6-8‬.

According to Jane Gilmore, not only did Jesus have nothing relevant to say about current questions over marriage, homosexuality is only mentioned in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, Gilmore also gets this wrong. The New Testament speaks of homosexuality on three occasions. We shouldn’t make more of it than there is, but we cannot ignore the fact that on every occasion the New Testament speaks of homosexual behaviour, it does so negatively.

It should be said, none of these passages are pitching their argument against people who experience same-sex attraction or sexual confusion, but of practice. Indeed, there are many Christians who live with same-sex attraction, and have chosen to live a life of abstinence.

Abstinence is of course portrayed as one of today’s deadly sins; a vice not a virtue. But perhaps this says more about our society than it does about the good of self-control.

Gilmore is guilty of one further error, although it’s understandable for those who haven’t read the Bible: It is a mistake to pit Jesus’ words against the rest of the Bible, for it is believed he is the ultimate author of all Scripture, and as Jesus himself said, all the Scriptures point to him. Again, the 3 New Testament mentions of homosexuality are found in the midst of discussions exploring the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what is considered ‘sound doctrine’.

The two Anglican ministers on the panel unfortunately did not correct Jane Gilmore, and I suspect the reason is, revising her lack of Bible knowledge would expose the hypocrisy of their own views. Let’s be clear, these two men were on the program specifically because they support same-sex marriage, a position which Julia Baird pointed out is not supported by most Anglicans. The truth is, all major Christian denominations in Australia share what we might call, the classic view of marriage.

Rod Bower, of Gosford Anglican, tried to give some credence to Gilmore’s miss-exegesis when he claimed the Bible authors only knew of heterosexuality and nothing of homosexuality. To back up this allegation, he suggested that the Bible’s only issue with homosex is when heterosexuals are doing it. This is a very poor reading of Romans ch.1, and only few scholars would even entertain this as a possible interpretation. The phrase ‘abandoned natural relations’ (Romans 1:27) does not mean heterosexuals acting contrary to their nature. The noun phusikos is used in both Scripture and Hellenistic Jewish traditions to speak of created order. Neither Paul, nor any Bible writer, differentiates between“homosexuals” committing acts of homosex and “heterosexuals” committing homosex. Homosexual behaviour, regardless of how one might define one’s sexuality, is contrary to God’s created order, contrary to phusikos.

Our atheist professing panellist did get something right, Jesus did speak about love. It’s true, Jesus said a lot about love, and he wasn’t just a preacher, he practiced love, and he loved those whom others were unwilling to love. But this love Jesus taught and modelled was not expressed in a moral vacuum, such that we can fill it up any way we like, and his definition of love was not derivative of popular morality or from religious shibboleths. Rather, his love is an expression to human beings of Divine love, a Trinitarian love, a holy love.

Jesus had plenty to say about sex and marriage, but arguing that Jesus would support same sex marriage is as incongruous as predicting Sydney Swan supporters will be barracking for the Doggies at Saturday’s AFL Grand Final. In Jesus we will not find an ally for progressive sexuality, we do however discover a God who demonstrated profound love and concern for those who found themselves in alternate situations, some by choice, others forced upon them. He gave up his life to promise a new kind of life that is more ultimate and satisfying, no matter where we have found ourselves.

The Sri Lankan evangelist, Ajith Fernando tells the story, ‘A convert to Christianity, when asked what attracted him to Christ, said “what other God would die for people like me?’

People may choose to disagree with Jesus but let’s not debase these important conversations by misrepresenting him, or anyone for that matter. At a time when our national discourse is often overrun with stereotypes and misinformation about opposing views, is it asking too much that we get the facts right?

Mark Dreyfus on the Marriage Debate

My local member of Federal Parliament, Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, gave a keynote address at today’s Freedom For Faith Conference, held in Melbourne.

Mr Dreyfus spoke to the topic of Marriage Equality & the Proposed Plebiscite. I appreciated his candour and contribution, for what has become a stimulating day thinking through issues of Religious Freedom.

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I wish to offer 6 brief comments in response to Mr Dreyfus’ presentation.

First, Mr Dreyfus began by asserting that the main concern of persons opposing SSM is the issue of religious freedom. Indeed, there are a range of questions and issues relating to freedom of religion should the Marriage Act be changed, and no doubt these are a concern to those not supporting SSM. It is however a mistake to suggest these concerns are the main reason for opposition, which I would argue is, the reasoned belief that marriage by definition is between a man and a woman.

It is important for the public to understand that issues surrounding religious freedom are an important corollary, but  the primary concern relates to the definition of  marriage, and that marriage shouldn’t be redefined to allow two persons of any sexuality for the very reason that marriage refers to the life long covenantal relationship between one man and one woman.

Second, Mr Dreyfus made his argument for SSM saying, ‘it comes down to a simple truth – love is love’. Such an argument however is inadequate. There are many forms of love,  and most of them should surely not be grounds for marriage. Love is a necessary ground for marriage, but it does not stand alone. There are other necessary prerequisites, which include biology, gender, children, social order and good.

Third, Mr Dreyfus suggested that ‘it is not right to judge another person’s love’. I am happy to go a long way in agreeing with this statement, except it must be noted that marriage is not merely a private matter; by nature it is public. Marriage is the formal declaration of a new family unit, separate from other familial relationships socially, physically, personally, and legally. Thus by definition, it is only appropriate that society has a role in determining our understanding of this institution.

Fourth, Mr Dreyfus presented 3 reasons why Australia should refrain from holding a plebiscite.

  1. it will acts as an unhelpful precedent
  2. the cost
  3. the danger to LGBTI people

I have argued elsewhere that the precedent argument is somewhat fallacious, given that Australian Parliaments (both Federal and State) have undertaken 60 referendum and plebiscites since Federation.

Mr Dreyfus’ second and third objections have warrant, although there are reasonable responses to these as well (cf. https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/08/labor-party-proposal-deserves-attention/)

Fifth, Mr Dreyfus admits that altering the Marriage Act may well lead to significant social changes to society. This is a significant admission, one that we shouldn’t overlook –  as Australia’s Shadow Attorney General, and as a supporter for marriage change, Mark Dreyfus indicated that changing our definition of marriage will forseeably change the fabric of society.

Sixth, Mr Dreyfus challenged the room (filled with lawyers and academics!) to prove that changing the law will lead to restrictions in religious freedom. Several lawyers and academics took up the challenge, citing examples from overseas and even from within Australia, in relation to employees being forced to choose between their conscience or compromising in order to keep their job.

As Mark Snedden noted during the question time, the cost to religious liberty is already being demonstrated including in the Australian Labor Party, where if you wish to gain preselection you must now either give up belief in heterosexual only marriage or be denied preselection.

Once again, I found it helpful and insightful to hear my Parliamentary representative speak to this important issue. However, the concerns of many Australians will not be alleviated as a result of his address, if anything, they have gained substance. But one thing was positive, I witnessed another example of a  civil and serious engagement on the topic of marriage.

More Christian leaders weighing in on the plebiscite issue

Two thoughtful articles were published today by two Australian Christian leaders, critiquing the pros and cons of the marriage plebiscite.

While they are addressing different points, they could be read as complementary pieces.

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Mike Frost asks the question, ‘is Australia really mature enough for a plebiscite on this matter?’ His answer? No. His reason?  ‘Are Australians capable of debating this matter without descending into a cruel and divisive fight about intensely personal matters like people’s religious views and their sexuality? I very much doubt it.’ Sadly, it is not difficult to find examples, many from people supporting SSM, but deplorable comments have also been made toward LGBTI Australians.

Ray Galea is also concerned with the rhetoric plebiscite; he is concerned for the well being of gay and lesbian Australians, and he is also conscious of how Christianity may be presented to the public during this debate.

This Pastor from Western Sydney offers sage advice for Christians, that we must not let this issue confuse, lessen, or hide the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also right to point out that personal testimony is a powerful tool to persuade people of Christian theology and ethics:

“Our ongoing focus should be on where the battle is really fought. Its in our homes. It’s when we get to present to our family and friends spouses who are loved and respected.”

Whatever the outcome on the plebiscite the real battle for marriage is first and last on the ground, as the world sees husbands and wives under the Lordship of Christ living out order and equality, love and respect (Eph 5:33).

The better our marriages the more powerful is our argument that God’s way is indeed the best way.”

Without taking away anything they have said, the fact remains, someone needs to decide whether the Marriage Act will change to include same-sex marriage or not. If not the people, then the Parliament, but of course  many of the malicious and slanderous comments have come from the lips of our political representatives. If we can’t trust the Australian people with a plebiscite, we certainly can’t trust the Parliament.

The question then is, where can serious discussion take place on this issue?

There are of course many positive examples, although few come to public attention because calm, intelligent, and respectful conversation doesn’t send the news cameras racing to the scene.

I don’t think we should give up on highlighting attractive examples of public debate on marriage, and to encourage Australians emulate these. Sadly, there will always be some who insist on fighting dirty, and we trust that these dreadful tactics will be exposed and seen for what they are. Perhaps some of the vitriol stems from fear, certainly much of it is hate, but most disgraceful of all are those who are using hate and insult as a weapon to silence other points of view. Such methods are unChristian. Indeed, we must go further and not only set an example of gracious dissent, we must be prepared to call out that mud when ‘Christians’ are throwing it, and we should be ready to take those hits for our gay and lesbian neighbours.

Always remember the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ remains the most true and compelling example of how to engage in conversation where there is significant disagreement. He would never compromise the righteousness of God; the New Testament records many events where Jesus disagrees with the views of 1st Century Jewish society. But Jesus didn’t stop with disagreement; he went much further: he volunteered to lay down his life for the very people with whom he disagreed. His death and resurrection provides us not only with the example par excellence, but it works, it brings about forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

It is encouraging to see more Christian leaders expressing views on this issue of marriage. I share the concerns that my brothers Mike and Ray have raised, but I do not think any of the alternatives will prove to be more reasonable and civil. However, whether there is a plebiscite, a Parliamentary vote, or no vote at all, the Gospel doesn’t change, the way we view our fellow Australians shouldn’t change,  and the partnership of love and truth must remain in our mouths, hearts and lives.

Labor Party Proposal Deserves Attention

This afternoon news broke that the Federal Labor Party are considering agreeing to the marriage plebiscite, so long as this set of conditions are applied:

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Photo from The Age

  • plebiscite is self executing or binding
  • No public funding for either side
  • Voting is compulsory
  • question is fair and reasonable

In my opinion these are reasonable requests and deserve due consideration from Malcolm Turnbull and the Cabinet. The Age is reporting that ‘Christian groups’ will be angered by list, but I don’t see any reason for objecting.

Of course, the big question is, what will the question be, and it is understandable that people will wait for this announcement before making a final call on support for the plebiscite; I don’t envy those who are responsible for framing the question.

My only qualification to Labor’s suggestion is that it is unreasonable to expect MPs to vote against their conscience, that is, should the Australian public vote to change the law. If the majority of Australians vote to change the Marriage Act, I don’t think MPs should vote otherwise, but should their conscience not permit them to support same sex marriage they should have freedom to abstain from voting. Therefore, a self executing  plebiscite is preferable (I’m not a lawyer, and so I don’t know whether this is possible and how this would work).

There is one vital  matter that has not arisen, either today or in most public discussions on the issue, and that is how redefining marriage will impact many other aspects of Australian law and life. Changing the Marriage Act is not so simple,  as though all we are doing is removing a couple of words. Rather there will be a significant ripple effect throughout  many areas of law, including discrimination laws, family law, and property and finance laws. For example, when the U.K introduced same-sex marriage, they produced a 62 page document outlining many of the laws that would require reworking in light of the change. The point is a simple one, we mustn’t think that should we vote to change marriage, the discussions are over. It is only fair that in the lead up to the plebiscite, the Government outline to Australians, details of the many implications that will arise from altering marriage.

Anglican Minister asks Bill Shorten a question

Following a Church service in Canberra this morning, as part of the commencement of the new Parliament, Anglican Minister, Ian Powell, asked Bill Shorten a question about his use of language in describing opponents of same-sex marriage.

Mr Shorten was clearly not prepared for this conversation, and to be honest, I felt some sympathy toward Mr Shorten as I know I’d feel taken back by a surprise question.  The scene looked a little awkward for both men, with Mr Shorten being curt in his responses, and Ian Powell sounding nervous. Then again, politicians are used to street QandA, and an opportunity presented itself for a member of the public to ask a valid question to one of our nation’s leading political figures.

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It should be said,  the man who  approached the Opposition Leader isn’t a right wing liberal leaning conservative, but someone  who likes Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. He was respectful of Mr Shorten and gently spoken in his tone.

Rev Powell said, “You described people who weren’t in favour of changing the definition of marriage as ‘haters who come out from under rock’. Can I ask you not to speak like that?”

Mr Shorten has made such remarks. Following the horrific massacre in Orlando, he said,

“We’ve seen two terrible events in the last week have shown that hate and terrorism does exist in modern societies.”

“I don’t want to give haters a chance to come out from under the rock and make life harder for LGBTI people or their families, to somehow question the legitimacy of their relationship.”

Bill Shorten initially responded by suggesting he was being taken out of context, and then he qualified himself again by saying,

“People of faith can be opposed to marriage equality, but some people who object to marriage equality do have homophobic attitudes,” he said.

I think it is only fair to take Mr Shorten’s comment at face value, and assume he genuinely believes that not everyone who opposes SSM is hateful. That is pleasing to hear, mainly because it’s true; indeed, probably the overwhelming majority are not phobic. Unfortunately, however, and Ian Powell is picking up on this theme, the rhetoric that the Australian public is hearing from Mr Shorten (and others) overwhelming insinuates that any and all discussion about marriage will lead to hate and bigotry.

Mr Shorten has previously used lines including,

“When I see people hiding behind the bible to insult and demonise people on the basis of who they love, I cannot stay silent. I do not agree.”

And of the plebiscite, ‘it will just be “a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia”.

I don’t think Ian Powell’s request is so outrageous. Is it too much to ask our national leaders to tone down their rhetoric on the marriage debate? Bill Shorten has been mild compared to some other politicians and public figures, but nonetheless, it is simply counter productive to continually insert the words ‘hate’ and ‘phobia’ into every public statement about marriage.

Leaders have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to set the tone of public discourse, demonstrating that Australians are capable of debating even the most sensitive issues and yet remain friends. Instead of jumping into the mud with those who are truly derogatory, could we not instead aspire to that line from The West Wing, spoken by the President’s Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry?

“We’re gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.”

Marriage Plebiscite crumbling under light weight arguments!

In an interview on ABC’s Lateline, Friday night, Michael Kirby (former Justice of the High Court) was interviewed on the topic of the marriage plebiscite. During an engaging interview, Justice Kirby articulated his concerns over the broad debate on marriage, including his reasoning for not supporting a plebiscite.

I was immediately struck by one of his arguments, of how the plebiscite may set a “very bad precedent”. It is important to think through the ramifications for future decision making processes, and what we are communicating about our democracy by setting this path of a public vote. I was persuaded, until I discovered that plebiscites and referendums are not as rare in our history as we might think.

Since Federation in 1901, at the Federal level Australia has held 44 referendums and 3 plebiscites. The States however, have conducted many more plebiscites, covering a wide range of issues including the establishment of Wrest Point Casino (Tas, 1986), closing hours for alcohol selling establishments, extending shopping hours (WA, 2005), and daylight savings.

In other words, on no fewer than 60 occasions, Australian Governments have taken an issue to the people and asked for their opinion. That is one referendum or plebiscite every two years; meaning we’re overdue.

In 1977 a plebiscite was conducted to decide our national anthem. Now, maybe I’m not as patriotic as other Aussies, but in my view, marriage is significantly more important than choosing to sing ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

So, the bad precedent argument doesn’t work. What of Michael Kirby’s other compelling argument against the plebiscite?

“I don’t think we should draw any inferences about what would happen in a plebiscite, especially a plebiscite of compulsory voting in this country. I think we would draw better inferences from our history on constitutional referendums: and on that matter, we have a record of 44 proposals that have been put to the people at a referendum and only eight have succeeded. Australians vote “no” when they get a chance.”

Did Michael Kirby suggest that we shouldn’t hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because Australians will probably vote against it?

It certainly sounded so. Emma Alberici certainly thought so, because she followed up with this question, “Because you firmly believe it would be defeated? The “no” vote would win?”

Justice Kirby obviously had a change of mind, for this time he said, “No, I don’t think it would be defeated. I think it may well be passed. But this is a bad way of going about it. It’s not the Australian way.”

By the ‘Australian way’, Kirby then repeated his argument about setting a bad precedent.

Interestingly, on Insiders today, it was revealed that the Labor Party Room has been briefed by pollsters who are saying the plebiscite won’t succeed, and thus adding weight to Labor backing away from supporting a plebiscite.

Malcolm Turnbull responded,

“the worst argument, the absolutely worst argument against a plebiscite is to say that it wouldn’t be passed. So if Labor is seriously saying that, if they are saying, ‘Don’t consult the Australian people because they won’t give you the answer you want,’ it is the most anti-democratic argument.”

I don’t always agree with the Prime Minister, but I think he has a valid point.

© www.timbauerphoto.com

I am not questioning Michael Kirby’s commitment to the LGBTI community, nor his convictions about marriage. Neither am I arguing for the plebiscite here,  but I am simply making the point, if you don’t want a plebiscite, you need to make a case with more substantive reasons than these.

Dangerous Suggestion: Plebiscite will incite suicide

I was deeply concerned to read The Age publishing this article today, Marriage equality plebiscite proposal fulfilling expectations of frustration’, written by Rodney Croome.

There is a serious question as to whether it is ethical for a major newspaper to publish an article that uses suicide as ammunition to stop public debate.

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Photo from SMH. Louie Davis

Croome said,

“If a plebiscite occurs, and when the first young gay person dies at their own hand, I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could to stop it.”

“I also urge them to consider how they will feel when the first gay teen dies because of the hate they voted to unleash.”

Where do such comments leave us?

Using suicide is the trump card, whether the allegation is true or not. It leaves everyone speechless, because even to question Croome’s rhetoric will be interpreted as heartless and bigoted.

I am no stranger to the issue of suicide, having conducted funerals, counselled grieving families, and listened to people considering ending their life. In my view it is dangerous and irresponsible to ‘prophesy’ that a person will kill themselves should a plebiscite proceed. Suicide is not an issue to be treated lightly; not that I think Croome is doing so. Rather he is using the language as a storm cloud to overwhelm any possibility of civil conversation on this issue of marriage.

Before accepting Croome’s argument, it is fair to ask which studies he is depending on for his assertion? In Ireland, USA, UK, can he please point to those studies which substantiate a formal link between discussing marriage and the suicide of LGBTI youth?  Studies conducted in Canada and Denmark suggest that the suicide rate among gay men has, at best, only marginally shifted since SSM was made legal, although in some Canadian Provinces it has increased. I am not dismissing the reality of mental health issues and suicide among LBGTI people, for which we must strive to provide love and care, but Croome is claiming that a plebiscite on marriage will lead to young gay person killing themselves.

No matter where people stand on marriage, we do not want anyone being harmed. And I will repeat what I have now oft-said, I will gladly stand alongside LGBTI people against voices who would wish them ill. I don’t have to agree with someone in order to want their good and see them flourishing.

Would it not be more constructive for everyone if Rodney Croome followed the example of other public voices and encourage Australians to speak with both conviction and civility, with reason and respect? For example, Tim Wilson, who supports same sex marriage, recently spoke at a Symposium where he argued we “need a lived culture of open discussion.”

The debate in Ireland was cordial, as has been the case in many of the countries who have gone down this path. But for some reason, here in Australia, one of the most stable democracies in the world, we are being told that we cannot trust the people to even talk about issue, let alone vote in a plebiscite.

It may well be the case that marriage is what it has been for millennia, between a man and a woman. And it may well be that arguments for change don’t stack up, despite the emotive language being attached. It may well be that the gay and lesbian people who only believe in heterosexual marriage, are in fact right. The problem is, some, not all, but some advocates for change are trying every avenue to silence due debate.

A question for Mr Croome, are there any terms on which opposition to SSM can be put in a civil way? Or is opposition to SSM itself hate speech?

I agree with some of what Rodney Croome has written. For example, I understand his dissatisfaction with the process. When a Prime Minister says he will act, I don’t think we are expecting too much that he keep his word. At the same time, could it be that Malcolm Turnbull fully intended to hold the plebiscite this year, and only recently the AEC informed him that logistically it’s not possible. Could fault lay with them?

I feel some of Croome’s frustration, and I don’t take issue with Croome arguing for a free vote in Parliament. My preference is for the plebiscite, but I appreciate there are good reasons for and against both avenues. His question about how a marriage plebiscite might set a precedence for future issues is also worth asking.

This being said, publishers, as well as social commentators, have responsibility to set the tone of public conversation. In my opinion, The Age, has acted irresponsibly by publishing Croome’s piece, for sadly such comments can become self fulfilling prophecies; and that is the last thing we want.

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au