Some unsolicited advice on equal marriage

I’ve seen quite a number of church leaders making statements in support of a No response to the Turnbull government’s ABS survey on equal marriage. In nearly every case, there isn’t much of an argument on the merits of why the state should enforce their views about marriage. Rather, they express concerns that, if equal marriage is allowed, they will be forced to conduct marriages, or to employ members of same-sex married couples.

This seems like a nonsense to me. If that is the real concern, the obvious answer is to support a bill in the current Parliament that allows equal marriage but entrenches the right of the churches to discriminate in this way. That’s a compromise that would almost certainly be accepted, and once in place, would be hard to change. What government, having reached a compromise that more-or-less satisfies everyone would want to reopen the can of worms?

On the other hand, suppose that the survey yields a No response thanks to the advocacy of the churches, or even worse, there’s a Yes majority in the survey but the LNP right blocks legislation? Then, when Labor gets in, there’s no obvious reason to make concessions to a group who’ve shown themselves to be implacable opponents in any case.

Speaking more generally, it’s obvious that (nominal) Christians are going to be a minority of the Australian population quite soon, and, quite possibly, a small minority in a few decades. So, it would make good sense for the churches to dissociate themselves from people like Kevin Donnelly and Lyle Shelton who argue that the majority (currently Christian) should be able to impose their views on the minority. A whole-hearted commitment to strict governmental neutrality in matters of religion would make much more strategic sense.

Update I just saw that George Brandis made the same point. Not sure what I think about that.

34 thoughts on “Some unsolicited advice on equal marriage

  1. Two points:
    Firstly, what of those already employed by the Church – they are effectively “dismissable” under a rule that allows the church to discriminate.

    Secondly, a poll around a few friends of mine supported same gender unions, but most of them were a bit uncomfortable with the term “marriage” being applied. My cohort was 60+ years old, and all of us married a long time. We found it hard to equate our respective marriages to a newly minted same sex marriage. What was proposed instead was a copy of a French option. They apparently have a civil commitment option that is for all intents the same as marriage but is not called a marriage.
    I’m not sure that that option has been explored but if not it may be worth testing the idea.

  2. My wife and I have been happily married for 47 years now. We rarely see each other, but that is part of the secret of happiness. Currently she’s in Switzerland.

    I have to say that what I personally find offensive is the fact that poor people can get married and have exactly the same legal recognition of their marriage as a rich person such as myself.

    This makes me feel quite uncomfortable and I would really feel much better if the use of the word marriage was reserved for people who have assets of at least one million dollars each at the time of marriage. Poor people could still have a civil union that is effectively legally the same as marriage, but society would no longer participate in the fiction that a union between working class oinks is the same as a true marriage between a pair of society’s betters.

    So I would be willing to have a compromise where rich gay people could get married (some of my best friends are rich gay people) while people who are receiving welfare benefits or pensions would no longer be allowed to describe their personal unions as marriage.

    I think that’s something we can all agree on.

  3. @gmhendo

    There are a lot of piecemeal ways that same sex life partners are gaining equal rights to opposite sex partners, but there is only one way to equalise across the board now and into the future. If a linguistic quibble must stand in the way of non-discrimination, then have a referendum. Change s 51(xxi) of the Constitution. Delete the word “marriage”. Replace it with “civil union”, or “life partnership”. Then no-one is “married” as far as any law or regulation of our secular state is concerned. It’s a folk thing, or a religious thing, but it adds no weight to civil recognition of the relationship.

    ps We already have the French system, except that the state authorises some religious officials as well as civil celebrants to conduct civil marriages, so that they don’t need to take a separate trip to la mairie.

  4. seems like nonsense is the correct expression. Unfortunately/fortunately ‘their’ view of marriage has been around for yonks. Just because you disagree with it does not make it ‘much of an argument’ On this you are catallaxising!
    mores the pity they did not make such a fuss when that terrible man Murphy gave us no fault marriage. That was the killer

  5. The position of the Catholic Church is particularly confused. Civil marriage is not the real sacramental bond. So what does it matter how the godless state organises it? In one of Evelyn Waugh’s wartime novel series with Catholic antihero Guy Crouchback, he meets his divorced ex-wife by chance. She is shocked when he proposes sex: after all, in his eyes they are still married. That’s a coherent if unpopular position.

  6. The demand for ‘religious freedom’ for the anti-gay-marriage rump is an interesting one.

    Most Christians, and a substantial proportion of Christian denominations (that is, their hiearchies), support gay marriage. The current legal position denies them the right to make or to perform the marriages they believe their religion supports.

    Yet we hear nothing about defending the religious freedom of those whose religious views endorse gay marriage. We hear only about defending the right to discriminate against the married and their marriages, if the law changes.

  7. James W: But in another Waugh novel, a planned marriage to a Catholic falls over because it turns out the groom, who is willing to convert to Catholicism, has already been married in a Protestant ceremony. He makes the argument that this shouldn’t count, but gets nowhere.

  8. Among all the noise over this issue, it is rare to see a clear enunciation of precisely what problem is supposed to be overcome by the proposed legislation. Marriage is a complex institution with property, sociological, emotional and spiritual dimensions. It is entirely appropriate for the state to regulate unions as a matter of contract and property law; and the state has a responsibility to ensure that children – future citizens – are brought up in the best possible circumstances. The basis for legislation for the emotional and religious dimensions is much less clearly demonstrated.In our society there is no basis for the State to become involved in the religious dimension. With gmhendo above, some of the heat might go out of the issue if different strands were dealt with on a separate merits

  9. @Alphonse
    Alphonse thanks for that.
    There seems to be a willingness to over-discuss the issue, and there seems no solution that suits everyone.
    I’m still of the view that we have a non-married commitment option. You point out that we have that already – but a civil service is considered a marriage so it is not the same as what I had in mind.

    One post drew attention to the semantics which is fair enough. But if that’s the main issue I’d be surprised. The real issue is that there are people out there who are same gender and wish to be joined in a union. Surely that is their right and the discussion should be around how to make that possible. Any solution is going to require giving some ground from entrenched positions and moral stalwarts such as the Church or Tony Abbott need to accept that their argument is unjust to many people.

  10. @Ronald
    Ronald I’m just too dumb to understand the subtleties in your post. I did try to attribute the style to a public personality but without much success. I thought Trump for a moment…

  11. Waugh had an interesting sex life as well as a religious obsession, and no doubt knew more about this than either of us. JQ’s second example seems in line with Canons 1055 and 1056, which as far as I can see make any marriage between two baptised Christians a sacrament (whether they think it is or not).

  12. Hi gmhendo.

    There was no subtlety in my post. While it might seem I was trying to get across what it must feel like for other people to consider your own marriage to be unworthy of using the word marriage to describe it, this is not the case.

    Any reflection upon how it must feel to not be permitted to use the word marriage because it might hurt the feelings of rich people was entirely unintentional.

    The fact is, I simply hate poor people and I will do whatever I can to make it clear to them they entitled to being treated the same as the rich.

    This may seem cruel, but it is for the good of society.

    We cannot ignore the fact that children of rich parents:

    – attend better schools.
    – obtain higher levels of education.
    – have access to better health care.
    – have substantially higher income over their lifetimes.
    – and are simply happier than poor people.

    So while it is not practical to stop poor people from forming unions that are legally the same as marriage, we shouldn’t allow these unions to use the word marriage because they simply aren’t as good as a real marriage between two rich people and we shouldn’t pretend they are.

    This way, more people will be motivated to become rich, thereby improving society.

    Personally, I can’t wait to replace the poor people in my sweatshops with robots.

  13. @Ronald
    Ronald you say: “… I simply hate poor people and I will do whatever I can to make it clear to them they entitled to being treated the same as the rich.”
    And then: “… I can’t wait to replace the poor people in my sweatshops with robots.”

    Do you see an inconsistency there?
    Perhaps you are having trouble articulating just what you mean.

  14. @John Quiggin
    didn’t misread you John just didn’t think much of your argument . as I said very catallaxian.

    By the way whatever happened to social conservatives in the ALP?

  15. “Not sure what I think about that.”

    That arguments should be considered on their merits, rather than on the identity of the person making them?

  16. Even monkeys get it. Reciprocal rights. Marriage for me, cucumber for you?
    Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally: Excerpt under 3 mins.

  17. Ronald: I’m sure you mean “poor of spirit”, and specifically this is some kind of parable about those who have been chosen to follow the one true god living rich and fulfilled spiritual lives, compared to those poor unfortunates who have been condemned to eternal exile and utter poverty of hope and spirit.

    I agree that we should have “religious marriage”, which is like “native title”, a special, inferior type of psuedo-marriage that’s largely ignored by the state. But it’s also limited to those who can show an ongoing connection to the religion and a real commitment to practicing the religion in its original form as it was when first discovered. I think that would meet the needs of the religious to feel special without impinging on the freedom of real Australians to get on with their lives.

  18. @Ken_L

    “That arguments should be considered on their merits, rather than on the identity of the person making them?”

    Sadly, no, at least not in general. But that’s an issue for another day. In this case, I mainly mean that I may have to revise my opinion of Brandis, which was pretty firmly held until this week.

  19. There are a great many arguments and only so many hours in the day. Starting your day by assuming that arguments from idiots deserve the same consideration as arguments from experts is a recipe for never getting anything done.

  20. You said “That’s a compromise that would almost certainly be accepted”

    I think you are wrong. I used to think like you did, but now I think if a church exemption like that was proposed you would see significant resistance from the gay community. I think their end game is acceptance by the church.

    For the record I would vote yes either way.

  21. Duncan Earley :
    I think if a church exemption like that was proposed you would see significant resistance from the gay community. I think their end game is acceptance by the church.

    I think many Christians would also object, as they have already accepted that gay people are people. There are really solid Christian arguments for gay marriage, and many more for recognising the humanity of gay people. There are Christians (and other religious people) who are reduced to speechlessness by the injustice of the silencing of the pro-people Christian side of this discussion. Jesus, if you look at what we know of him, was a bit notorious for siding with the outcasts, the downtrodden, the unpopular. It was kind of his thing. FFS, one of his most popular followers was a *Samaritan* (amusingly, today we would say “a man of middle eastern appearance” and that is also accurate, albeit somewhat less specific). There were Christians in the 1980’s working with AIDs victims, at a time when that disease was as close as you’ll see today to leprosy when Jesus was befriending lepers. That parallel did not escape some Christians. Others… well, many things are beyond them, Jesus does not reject the mentally limited either.

    Remember that there’s little media value in lack-of-conflict between gay advocates and Christian leaders, and there’s a lot of complexity in the anti-gay church leaders vs Christian debate. Much easier to focus on the gay-vs-Christian idiocy. But if you want real scholarly excrement-hitting-impeller some of the Christian journals are instructive.

    It also takes mere seconds online to find the Christian arguments fo same-sex marriage. Like this:

    It’s less easy to find arguments for a return the traditional biblical marriage, at least in part because the “how the wives must treat the sex slaves” bit is tricky to explain. But then, that’s one of the arguments *for* recognising that marriage has changed and must continue to do so. Which means the traditional biblical marriage fans are a bit quiet on this one.

  22. @Duncan Earley

    To be clear, you think if a bill including exemptions were proposed as a result of a Yes vote in the plebiscite, there would a significant group of gay advocates opposing the bill? I doubt that. Like the advocacy of a boycott, any such move would evaporate pretty fast, given the risk that the chance might not come again (cf climate change).

    And, as I said, whatever people might hope for, once the issue has been resolved, very few politicians will want to revisit it.

  23. The last thing they are going to do is dissociate themselves from the hard conservative stance if the threats by archbishops to sack staff who don’t follow the party line is true.

    Fresh from watching two SBS docos on fringe Mormon and Scientology cults on Sunday night, it struck me that the Catholic and other churches could be heading for the margins also- fringe cults run like like dictatorships, at odds with society and convinced that they are above or beyond the norms to which the rest adhere.

    I therefore hope we don’t go the the way of the USA, where civil society has been too weak to prevent a civilised society being broken up and to some extent taken over by deranged empires within empires- Gilead, here we come.

  24. I can’t envisage the churches supporting legislation that would allow them to discriminate – openly breach the second commandment – that would be a declaration of being openly un-Christian!

  25. By far the strangest contributions have come from Paul Kelly (the journalist not the musician). After over 40 years as playing the cool dispassionate rationalist he is going on and on and on about the threat to religious freedom more marriage equality. It is bizarre. He must have reconnected with his Catholic roots late in life. A lot of people do when the end isn’t that far away but Kelly has become more Catholic than the Pope. Kelly has become a man possessed. It is weird.

  26. rog :
    I can’t envisage the churches supporting legislation that would allow them to discriminate – openly breach the second commandment – that would be a declaration of being openly un-Christian!

    I was referring to the second great commandment – love thy neighbour as thyself.

  27. It’s remarkable the number of people in this debate who appear to have convinced themselves that granting one group of people equal rights somehow diminishes their own.

  28. @Ronald
    Ronald, a word of advice – never attempt satire on the internet without heavily marking it as such. A lot of people will take it as straight, as witness a couple of comments. Anyway I must tell you that you’re no Jane Austen for irony.

  29. Yes I expect gay groups would oppose an exemption. Just look at Moz’s reply after mine already trying to protest against it. Ask some gay people or advocates what they think and I think you will find an almost immediate negative reaction. “That’s not fair”, “Why should a priest be allowed to stop a marriage”, “Don’t Christians love all people” etc. At best you might get them to say that it can always be reversed later, but as you say an exemption, if it was included, would be hard to reverse afterwards.

  30. The talk of exemptions is mostly confusion, or perhaps in some cases, misdirection to promote the ‘no’ case. A change to the Marriage Act to legalise same-sex marriage will have no effect on the ability of religious organisations to refuse to solemnise marriages that don’t meet their religious requirements. Religious organisations already have very broad exemptions from anti-discrimination laws (Commonwealth and State)for the purposes of religious freedom, and the Marriage Act expressly states that ministers of religion are not obliged to solemnise marriages. Arguments about religiously inclined bakery owners not wanting to make cakes for gay weddings is just special pleading, and is essentially no different from (for example) a Muslim bakery owner claiming that they should be allowed to refuse to serve Jewish customers.

  31. but what business is it of any religion in what is essentially a civil contract for kinship and heritage rights.?

    canon law,sharia law,sectarian doctrine and so on each claim rights over (in their eyes) the whole bloody population in tha world!

    and if the laws weren’t protected as sacral and spiritual,would qualify as totalitarian.

    by divine right.

    i quite like the wording in The Declaration of Breda which goes— “liberty for tender consciences”.

    you can’t be legally picked on for your beliefs and at the same time you can’t pick on any one else for their beliefs.

    even if it means refraining from saving their souls by whatever means possible.


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