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Sentimentalism: Why the Campaign to Change the Legal Definition of Marriage Isn't Going Away

Tuesday, 21 June 2011  | Bruce Wearne

The world-wide political agitation for "gay marriage" rolls on relentlessly like an incoming tide. As a political movement there is a continued lack of discussion about the public legal consequences of such an allegedly "progressive" legislative change. Why should that be? Why do we not hear, in systematic and clearly spelt out terms, why the prevailing "heterosexual" definition of marriage is unjust and a clear perpetuation of injustice?

In Australia, one does not have to wait long for an answer: the demand is EVER cloaked in rhetoric and slogans. The newspaper polls that ask readers on a regular basis whether "gay marriage should be legislated" are simply not part of any comprehensive educational campaign. One might therefore come to the conclusion that there is no coherent viewpoint driving this movement since what is put forward is not a matter of argument. How do we account for this? Could it be that what is above political argument no longer stands in need of argument? That indeed seems to be the case. The question is: what is believed, in this instance, to stand above political debate?

Why has there been no sustained and comprehensive statement of all the policy implications that will follow from such a change to the public legal definition of marriage? For instance, why did Senator Hanson-Young's Senate Bill insert the words "no financial implications" to her unsuccessful "Marriage Equality Bill", when clearly such a change would have to require a significant nation-wide public education campaign. We drew attention to this embarrassing oversight in our own submission but there has been no real effort that I have seen to actually address the issue and provide a fully elaborated "institutional impact assessment" of the proposed change.




No comprehensive "institutional impact assessment" has been put forward with the demand. In fact, there does not seem to have been any understanding that such an assessment should be available before the proposed changes. Having confronted the demand, in one form or another, over the years, and decades, I have come to the conclusion that the power of this movement almost entirely lies in its sentimental attachment to an egalitarian ideal. It is this ideal that stands above debate and it is adherence to this ideal which supposedly obviates the need for any systematic justification for the change. Hence, it can be said that the movement feeds off people's feelings of unease that to oppose "gay marriage" is not just to oppose "marriage equality" but to stand in the way of egalité itself.

Opponents of gay marriage might well do more to give greater attention to this sentimentalist approach and reflect upon the lack of genuine political argument from "gay marriage" advocates who avoid the public and legal consequences of their proposed "progressive" legislative change.

The way in which the mass media present the issue might give the impression that there is an inexorable tide of public opinion flowing in it favour. There may well be such a tide, but I would suggest it is a tide of sentiment which runs blind to the public and legal consequences of what is involved.

Those wanting to explore further the inner weaknesses of the "gay marriage" argument are invited to consider, or re-consider, the contributions Nurturing Justice has tried to make on this and related issues.


Political Accountability - the impetus to "gay marriage" has a lot to do with the inability of those who came to adult maturity in the 1960s and 1970s to critically examine their own sexual experimentation in younger days. A Christian political option needs to assist "baby-boomers" to come to clearer understanding about the political character of personal morality (or immorality).


Is marriage a state institution? - marriage is not a state institution. Those who demand "marriage equality" as a right don't seem to realise they are wanting the state to expand its activities in a reactionary way. To assume that government confers marriage as a right not only changes the legal definition of marriage, it represents a change to the way government is to be viewed.

Ongoing Political Consequences I - links the issues of "body politics" to "conscience votes" particularly when the major political parties seem incapable of promoting sustained and informed political education and public debate.

Ongoing Political Consequences II - why should a gay or lesbian friendship be privileged by considering such relationships to be marriage. What would such a change do to friendship in our society? "Marriage equality" deepens the already profound uncertainty about marriage as a viable social institution.

Ongoing Political Consequences III - does parliament have within its charter the creation of marriage? What is the government's responsibility for right definition of the things and relationships that function within the polity?

After the Twilight of Political Confusion I - Christian citizenship in political life.

After the Twilight of Political Confusion II - how the mass media contributes to widespread confusion about marriage and political responsibility.

Cynicism and Obsessiveness I - The legal error based on an empirical mistake blurred by the empiricism of public-opinion polling.

Cynicism and Obsessiveness II - those advocating thorough-going environmental impact assessments are strangely quiet about institutional impact assessments.

Re-Examining Political Views Across Generations I - Do we have the basis for a constructive cross-generational discussion about the nature of marriage?

Re-Examining Political Views Across Generations II - How does the agitation for "gay marriage" relate to the libertarian morality of the 1960s and 1970s?


Senator Hanson Young Urges the PM to Adopt John Howard's View on Conscience Votes - A 'conscience vote', albeit in an unanticipated way, can keep elected representatives unaccountable to their electors.

What is the purpose of the marriage act? - Though marriage relationships are regularly ending in divorce or separation, Government is still duty bound by its own mandate to properly define the relationship.

Submission - Senate submission


Brave New Rights Talk about Abortion Law Reform - The issues of "body politics" are inextricably linked together. This is a comment on the appalling legislation recently enacted by the Labor Government in Victoria.

How can a legal redefinition of marriage bring justice? - Discussion in the light of the legislative possibility that marriage will be re-defined to accommodate the "marriage equality" activists.

What is Human Autonomy? - A discussion of the modern humanistic religion in relation to the experimentation with human embryos that was basic to RU486.

Free range chromosomes - Further exploration of how a libertarian view of "body politics" infuses itself in many ways into public governance.


Human Seed Law and Politics - More on body politics and the need for comprehensive policies that see bodily life in public legal terms.

Public Justice: On the Path to Political Life - An attempt to list the basic categories of a Christian political option for Australia and this region.

Public Morality and the Mass Media - Via the mass media we are subjected to ongoing daily education. Why is there no Christian daily news service?


Conscience votes and the Withering of Conscience - the libertarian consequences of a former PM's failure to abide by his own political platform.

Public Debate and Gay Marriage - Why Mr Justice Kirby's advocacy of "gay marriage" is simply an avoidance of sustained political argument. The question of entitlements from the public purse for people who cohabit supportively.

Public Emotions and Just Debate - The common resort of "Homopobia!" misses the point. The sentimentalist approach of "gay marriage" advocates.

Just Human Embryo Research - To what extent is our public-legal order compromised by the "ethical" demands of powerful commercial interests, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry?



Nurturing Justice is written by Bruce Wearne, Point Lonsdale, to encourage a sustained Christian political contribution by seeking justice in the gentle and merciful rule of Jesus Christ, the ruler over all of the earth's political regimes.

June 2011 © The contents of this email are copyright. Editions may be photocopied or retransmitted in their entirety but not otherwise reprinted or transmitted without permission. "Nurturing Justice" is a project to encourage Christian political reflection based upon wise and loving civic participation. Comments are welcome and should be sent to

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