Amending the Marriage Act: the case against change
Tuesday, 6 December 2016
| David Griffin
Marriage Equality: Equality for Whom?
A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh, Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7
All Christian ethics begins with God. Secular ethics airbrushes him out. The evangelical, orthodox and catholic moral sense has forever held that sexual activity is well-pleasing to God our Creator and Saviour only within the promissory bonds of marriage between husband and wife as revealed in Scripture. This is not a difficult or controversial statement. It is bedrock Christian ethics. Marriage is a God-created reality, not a simply legal construct. But we are now living in a culture of unyielding and corrosive eroticism and homo-eroticism.
Cries for equality always beg the question, ‘Equality for whom?’ Currently it is not legal to marry someone if you are already married. Nor can you marry a direct descendant or ancestor, a sibling or half sibling, someone already married, someone under the age of 16, someone who cannot give informed consent or someone of the same sex. There are many loving relationships, such as father and son, grandmother and grandchild, but these are not recognised as marriages.
‘Marriage equality’ is thus highly selective and continues to deny marriage to bisexuals, those under the age of 16 and those seeking poly-marriages. Thus it perpetuates the ‘inequality’ of the current Act.
Such rhetorical sleight of hand morphs into a nastier form. During the related Safe Schools debate this year some politicians criticised those who wanted the program amended as ‘bigots’, ‘homophobes’, ‘Neanderthals’ and ‘knuckle-draggers’. With this they insulted most indigenous Australians who are unsupportive of both this program and same-sex marriage, including those responsible for the Bark Petition on marriage presented to the Federal Parliament. Such intolerance is breathtaking and emotionally and culturally unsafe for students who disagree. The rhetoric of hate is used to describe simple disagreement. Bullying by name-calling designed to intimidate and insult is standard fare and ironically comes primarily from those who want the Anti-Discrimination Act’s 18C unchanged.
‘Forcing your opinion down other people’s throats’ is a clever emotive argument that implies violence through the use of the word ‘force’. It is a shrewd strategy designed to induce guilt for holding an alternative opinion. It has, unfortunately, been extraordinary successful. The new progressive establishment is the old Toryism inverted, believing itself to be society’s moral custodian with a duty to subdue dissenting voices.
Assaulted by such bullying rhetoric, many Australians are cowered and reluctant to express their concern about same-sex marriage: they can only take so much insult. It is possible that only those who rest in the unyielding audacity of the prophets and the apostles are strong enough to withstand such withering and caustic censure.
Marriage as a Social Good
Some may recall that, when cohabiting became common in the 1980s, the majority of psychological studies loudly proclaimed that marriage conferred no discernible benefits over cohabiting. Now that those who are same-sex attracted seek to marry each other, we find that similar studies loudly proclaim that marriage does indeed confer enormous psychological benefits. A case of specious pleading?
Marriage is clearly a social and spiritual good, given to us by our loving Creator and heavenly Father. Marriage protects children who are best served by having and knowing their father and mother. Homosexual relationships cannot bring forth children, and are thus not equal to marriage. Male + female is different to male + male or female + female. Male and female is both complementary and live-giving.
But is marriage a palliative for LGBTQI people with suicidal thoughts? It is reported that the rate of suicide is significantly higher for LGBTQI people than the rest of the community, and that the age of first suicide attempt is 16, usually occurring before coming out. At this age, it is hard if not impossible to argue that their marriage impediment is a contributing cause. Some may recall that similar arguments accompanied early gay pride in the 1970s. First it was decriminalisation, then the removal of discriminatory laws such as those concerning inheritance, then the legal right to adopt: all have been advanced by the argument that they will lessen LGBTQI self-harm. The suicide argument is almost impossible to counter because it is portrayed as gross harshness and inhumanity – violence and hate, again. But not so: all suicide is tragic, but the fact that it has been used to legally progress the LGBTQI cause at every stage suggests it has been misappropriated for a political cause. I would pastorally counsel those who use this argument to desist as it serves to promote and reinforce already existing damaging thoughts. Please increase psychological help to all people with self-harm tendencies, but please do not (mis)use this to advance a political cause about marriage.
Two Endangered Species: Tolerance and Dissent
‘What harm will same-sex marriage make?’ David Starkey, one of the UK’s most socially active gay atheists, sees a new shrill intolerance, just as nasty as the old one. He defends the right of Christians who run BnBs to put up a sign that excludes same-sex couples. But such tolerance has, by and large, long gone. There are too many examples of intolerance to cite, so here is just one. This year a NSW church using a school for Sunday meetings was excluded because it publically supported biblical marriage. At the assembly, it was openly stated that they had engaged in hate speech. Here is a state education department judging that agreement with an Australian Commonwealth Act is sufficient cause for exclusion from a public asset and that expressing such agreement amounts to hate - and declaring this judgment in a public place. Is it any wonder that church groups and others who believe that marriage is between man and woman are nervous? No accountancy firm would have their right to rent state-owned office space determined by their attitude to the federal budget. But will solemnising marriages in public parks depend on the celebrant’s views? Will private marriage counsellors lose their accreditation if they will not counsel same-sex married couples?
Australia’s Marriage Alliance has long had to contend with the intolerance of the media refusing to run their ads. The media, that great defender of free ideas that characterises tolerant and open societies, shuts down the very thing it champions. Commenting on Marriage Alliance’s frustrations, the ABC Media Watch’s Paul Barry agreed that such one-sidedness was a genuine threat to open debate, though he concluded by declaring himself a same-sex marriage supporter in order to lessen the anticipated hate mail.
Just Human Rights
The most recent strategy is to escalate same-sex marriage to a human rights issue. This again selectively identifies only one group worthy of this extension. Are not those below 16 years of age also human, and so worthy of such a human right? Too young? But not too young to have gender-realignment surgery, which is far more permanent than many paper thin marriages of today. The denial of this ‘right’ to bi-sexual people, or those who practice multi-marriage from other cultures, exemplifies homo-eroticism’s western chauvinism.
Human rights concern justice, but biblical justice is the twin brother of righteousness, and both are children of God’s covenant with his people. This covenant is expressed in divine commandments. Liberal justice is not biblical justice. It can never be just, in the biblical sense, to support actions or enact laws that break the covenant righteousness embedded in God’s commands. God’s commands about sexuality are straightforward (Gal. 5: 19; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5; Heb. 13:4: the Greek word translated sexual immorality is porneia), and behind them is the presupposition that our sexuality is intrinsic to our created human nature in God’s image as male and female, united (Gen. 1:26f, 2:21-25). What is natural to us is defined not by our endochrinological reflexes or drives, but by our commanded createdness. What is properly natural is what accords with our created natures, not what is automatic, like a reflex revenge punch. Nothing coming from God’s commands is contrary to or diminishes our created naturalness, including his framing of our sexuality. Good laws uphold our created naturalness and goodness. Bad laws legally establish those aspects of our lives that are disordered, fractured or misaligned with our created naturalness.
The revisionist interpretation that paints same-sex biblical texts as neutral or positive remains unconvincing. Nor can we reassign Jesus as a genderless prophet of ‘universal love’. If, as they say, Jesus was anti-establishment, the new establishment is homo-erotic. That Jesus said nothing about homosexuality confuses biblical ethics with Christian ethics. Jesus did not directly mention gambling, alcohol abuse, family violence, drug taking, government corruption, foreign invasions … which were commonplace in his day, yet Christian ethics negatively assesses all these matters. That Jesus affirmed the complementary model of marriage in Genesis 1-2 (Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9) is sufficient for principled Christian ethics, as it maintains the Old Testament moral tradition and anticipates its apostolic extension. Uniformly, Scripture affirms a simple notion: that sexual relations are pleasing to God only in marriage between husband and wife. Legally embedding this ethic is no more ‘forcing our opinion on others’ than urging others to care for destitute and oppressed people (Is. 1:17). Biblical justice and mercy are subsets of walking humbly before God in all his ways (Dt. 10: 12; Micah 6:8). Cultures that legally embed biblical injustice or unrighteousness, that is, which do not walk humbly before God, can’t flourish.
David Griffin is pastor of North Canberra Baptist Church and author of The Word Became Flesh: A Rapprochement of Christian Natural Law and Radical Christian Ethics (Wipf and Stock, 2016).