My views on the currently vexed question of gay marriage.
|I should be clear that this is written from an Australian perspective, and some figures and legal issues are specific to Australia. At the same time, the general principle applies much more widely.
Conservative religious commentators continue to express opposition to gay marriage, and in this, the major political parties follow along, docile and compliant. I probably need to make my position perfectly clear. I am a practising heterosexual (if I practice for long enough, I might just get it right) and I have no affiliation with any gay lobby organisation. I am simply a bystander who feels that there is a substantial injustice at work here. Edmund Burke, the Irish philosopher and statesman famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Whether I qualify as “good” and how much impact this will have are open questions. But it needs to be said. I should also say that I am using the term gay as “code” for the whole range of sexual preferences, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and same sex attracted.
The crucial point about marriage is not that it conforms to some religious dogma but that it is a public statement by two people who are committing their lives to each other. The key issue is the commitment; the content, not the form. So there is absolutely no reason why it should not be equally as valid for a gay couple as for a heterosexual couple. Marriage is a human construct, no doubt originally conceived to cover a variety of situations; defining paternity, financial advantage, continuity of name, inheritance, political expediency etc. The idea of marriage for reasons of love is a relatively recent phenomenon, but is no less valid for that. The problem with far too many “Christian” apologists (and, regrettably, both the major political parties) is their emphasis on so-called “family values” (worse, “traditional family values”).
It is very difficult to pin down precisely what is meant by “family values”, but the reactionary lobby would have us believe in a family as a married heterosexual couple with two children living in some mythical form of domestic bliss. Even if this ever did exist, it is clearly not the case today. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that, in 2003, 46% of families were couple families with dependent or non-dependent children, 38% were couples with no children and 15% were single parent families. In passing, in 2006, 76% of couples who contracted a marriage said that they had lived together before the marriage and, interestingly, 61% of those marriages were contracted by a civil celebrant, further indication of the lessening of the religious influence.
Given this background, it is difficult to understand the entrenched antipathy towards gay marriage. It is even more difficult to understand or accept the proposition that the “gay lobby” is out to destabilise the institution of marriage, particularly given that rough estimates place the proportion of gay people in our community at no more than 10%. In other words, the 90% heterosexual majority have nothing to fear from the claims of the gay community for equality before the law. The question is should one person's religious beliefs be used as a weapon to exclude others from fundamental legal rights. Denial of marriage to gay couples creates a second class of citizens and attempts to remove at least in part, the separation of church and state.
Heterosexuals are clearly destabilising the institution of marriage all by themselves. And the fact that close to 50% of all marriages end in divorce suggests that “’til death us do part” and government registration is no guarantee of an enduring relationship. It is surely preferable that we recognise, support and celebrate two people who love each other putting this commitment into practice rather than deny some of them that acknowledgement.
All the bigotry and discrimination in the world cannot disguise the fact that, if gay couples wish to make a commitment to each other, in private or in a public ceremony, they can and will do so. It doesn’t need the presence of a priest or registration with a government authority to make that commitment binding. What it takes is willingness and determination to make it work, qualities that are clearly not the sole preserve of the heterosexual majority. Nevertheless, the denial of a legal right to a minority of people for no better reason than that their gender preference differs from that of the majority is totally unjust and wholly discriminatory.
Those who are so enthusiastic about a denial of gay marriage for religious reasons should go back to their Bibles, and read carefully the accounts of Christ's teachings in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They will find no references whatsoever to homosexuality or same-sex relationships. What they will find, if they can remove their blinkers for long enough, is a powerful message of love, respect and dignity for all of God's children, by all of God's children.
The outrageous hypocrisy of those who choose to discriminate in this way but who then claim to be Christian is deplorable in its pretension. They might do well to read the 13th chapter of the first epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, which is unequivocal about the value of love. And if they’re still undecided, check out the parable of the good Samaritan.