Little reflection is done on slogans generally, let alone those used in this debate. They’re memorable and they’re persuasive and that’s all that counts. Often however, the cogency dissolves with just a little careful thought. ‘Love wins’, but whose love? what kind of love? and wins what? ‘Love is love’ but what does that mean? Aren’t there genuine, celebrated forms of love that don’t and shouldn’t lead to marriage? ‘Marriage equality’, but the conclusion is assumed from the beginning. We are talking about redefining marriage so the very first word of the slogan is up for grabs. Then there is the question of what kind of equality we are talking about.
A great deal has been written about this topic but it is often clouded by high emotion. I suspect many of us are horrified by the way in which those on one side of this debate have been vilified and often bullied into silence by those who are apparently espousing freedom and tolerance and equality. The news reports over the past few weeks have shown people being intimidated, meetings being disrupted, petitions to deregister professionals who express their opinion on the subject, and much more that we would have hoped would never have been part of a liberal democracy such as Australia.
If you post something on social media in support of the ‘no’ vote in this campaign, you can expect a torrent of angry responses and even threats. Large businesses have weighed into the campaign — though they are never heard on other social issues like the refugee crisis, the rise in homelessness, the drug scourge, domestic violence — and employees who have a different opinion are quietly counselled not to put their jobs in jeopardy. All of this even though the current law of the land enshrines the view of those who are saying ‘no’. It appears that in some quarters you are not even allowed to think in a way that questions this social engineering juggernaut. One employer recently sacked a contractor and told the press that ‘advertising your desire to vote no is, in my opinion, hate speech’ (Madlin Sims, reported at news.com.au 19 Sept 2017). Whatever happened to the sentiment, wrongly attributed to Voltaire, that ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’?
I am persuaded it is in the best interests of all Australians to vote ‘no’ to this proposal for change. As a Christian, I have strong biblical reasons for opposing the change: Jesus’ teaching on marriage as it was intended from the beginning (Matt 19:4–6); the analogy between the union of a husband and a wife and that between Christ and the church (Eph 5:23–33); the Bible’s consistent view against homosexual behaviour, as distinct from same sex attracted people (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10); and the injunction to love my neighbour and seek his or her welfare (Matt 22:37–40). I find these statements of Scripture both compelling and sufficient. However, those who do not regard the Bible as the written word of God will not accept this line of reasoning. Perhaps, then, it might be helpful to summarise some of the arguments for voting ‘no’ without an appeal to God’s revelation of himself and his purpose.
1. Marriage is not simply a cultural construct. Marriage as the sexual union of a man and woman, and so the creation of a new family unit, is not just the invention of the West over the past few hundred years. Right across all cultures and all ages this ‘institution’, for want of a better word, has been a bedrock of community life. It brings together a man and a woman with the normal expectation that children will be reared in the loving care of both biological parents. It has consequences for a wider network of relations, parents, siblings, and friends. This has been the established pattern of building communities for millennia. Any attempt at change is not simply altering something that is a recent social convention. Nor, does it seem, will those who advocate it be satisfied with a modified definition. The Gay Manifesto (London, 1971) insisted that ‘the very form of the family works against homosexuality’ and ‘we must aim at the abolition of the family, so that the sexist, male supremacist system can no longer be nurtured there’.
2. Changing marriage has consequences for children. The family created by a new marriage is the ideal context for the rearing of children. In this context they are protected and nourished by the love of both parents, secure in the knowledge of their biological connection to both their mother and their father. Sometimes, of course, some kind of tragedy intervenes and children are separated from one or both biological parents. In such cases the care and compassion of others enables most to develop well, despite the difficulties. However, what is contemplated in this move is the intentional redefinition of marriage which would normalise separation from one or more biological parents and, more than that, make that situation itself intentional from the beginning. Most of us have no idea how serious the consequences of such a move will be for those children brought up in that new context. Anecdotal evidence already suggests that the experience is not as neutral or beneficial as many would have us believe.
3. Changing marriage has consequences for parents. The family is ideally an environment in which both sexes are valued. Each father and mother have unique contributions to make to the family, not in subservience to some cultural stereotype, but rather as the varied natural expressions of their personalities, physical abilities, backgrounds and personal propensities. Yet where parents are both of the same sex, then the other sex is necessarily excluded at the outset from the intimate, day to day role of parenting. Where a man and a woman model mutual respect and generous care for each other, the children of the marriage have the opportunity to develop healthy, positive ways of relating to people of both sexes. Of course there are families which are dysfunctional, just as there examples of other good things in our world that are broken and not what they were intended to be. That is always a tragedy, but it not a reason to discount the myriad of functional families where children rejoice in the model of healthy relations between the sexes. Yet once again to change the definition of marriage to allow the deliberate exclusion of one sex from the role of parenting is far more than the provision of care for those whose experience is not all it should be.
4. Changing marriage has consequences for society in general. You don’t alter one of the basic building blocks of a society without affecting the society as a whole. Society relies for its future on healthy marriages producing more or less well adjusted children, young adults and in time the next generation of adults. Where marriage and families are put in jeopardy by such a revolutionary change to their very definition, we have every reason to expect the loosening of other ties of community. This will show itself increasingly in a devaluing of those who disagree with us in one way or another. The concern that certain basic freedoms will be under threat should this change be made is much more than mere scare mongering or self interest. The behaviour of some during this campaign has proven this to be a very reasonable expectation. If while the law is not changed, those who are simply saying what the law says are vilified, excluded, threatened with being deprived of their livelihood or worse, if our thoughts and opinions are being policed by others, if the message being promoted through schools, universities, and the media leaves no room for disagreement, we have reason to be concerned that a change in the law will lead to a further erosion of freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion.
These are not the only arguments against the change that is proposed. Yet even without recourse to religious arguments (and their exclusion from the debate is an issue in itself) there are good reasons to vote ‘no’ in the current postal vote. For the sake of children, parents, and society in general, such a redefinition ought not to be attempted.
Of course the call for respect towards those with whom we differ, which has been a feature of the arguments above, must move in both directions. There is no justification for vilification, exclusion or violence towards those with whom we might disagree on this issue. Saying ‘no’ should have nothing to do with hate or bigotry; neither should such behaviour have anything to do with saying ‘yes’. It will not provide the protection of treasured values that some seek or the legitimisation of their choices that others seek. It seems we have fallen far short in this debate of the ideals of liberal democracy when alternative arguments are not allowed to be heard and those who disagree face retribution of one kind or another.
The proposal itself together with its inevitable consequences should be enough to encourage people, whatever their political or religious affiliation, to think again before they cast their vote in the current survey. That some of those consequences are being anticipated in the events surrounding the vote should itself confirm the wisdom of saying ‘no’.
For a very helpful treatment of the issues surrounding the gospel of hope and the reality of same sex attraction, see S. Allberry, Is the Bible anti-gay? (New Maiden: Good Book Co, 2103). A shorter blogpost by the same author can be found at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-can-the-gospel-be-good-news-to-gays
In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this blogpost was authorised by Mark Thompson, of Sydney, NSW.