Marriage Equality : An Ethical No Brainer


Forty years ago  the  cruelty  of homophobia  significantly shaped social mores in Australia. Happily, as repeated polls demonstrate, most Australians  have moved past these discriminatory attitudes while the laws which legitimated them have largely been removed by our Parliaments.

However, when it comes to marriage equality (or so called gay marriage) there is still one bridge too far.  This is a direct consequence of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reluctance to allow his members a conscience vote on the question, thereby demonstrating his disregard for the liberal philosophy his political party claims as its founding doctrine.

As ever, leading the charge to save us from the social ravages of faithful, life committed same sex partnerships are certain Christians and their conservative churches. They choose to overlook the reality supported by science that a diversity of sexual preferences is normal within our species.  Consequently, their intolerance is now cloaked by the question of “defining marriage”. Marriage, they say, is only for a man and a woman,  demanding that our Parliaments in this secular democracy protect their minority view.

Personally, I find a disturbing deja vu in all this. Over forty years ago this newspaper carried a prominent page three story quoting me under the banner, “Cleric tips ‘blessing’ for man marriages”.

Anonymous hate mail and venomous telephone calls began instantly.  In no uncertain terms I learnt that I had crossed a forbidden boundary.  My actions were the subject of censure motions in church councils, while the President of the Methodist Conference wrote to The Courier Mail assuring readers that my views were not those of the church.

Altogether, the conflict damaged me personally but also gave me a profound sense of the hurt gay and lesbian people experienced on a daily basis. The years have taught me that sexuality is an area which must be approached with compassion while the matter we now refer to as “marriage equality” sits high on my social justice bucket list!

In that news report long ago I was quoted saying: “Inasmuch as the spiritual dimension of marriage is a matter of faithful, loving relationships open to the love of God, the church will have to face the possibility of conveying its blessing on homosexual partnerships where persons intend a faithful and loving commitment under God.”

I lamented then, and still do, the hurt and pain caused to so many (in the LGBTI community) who simply want their love to be publicly recognised as it is for heterosexual couples. Others may lament changed attitudes to marriage and family in recent decades. Though, as the present Dean of St John’s Cathedral, Dr Peter Catt, a supporter of marriage equality, recently reported: “a significant majority of Christians surveyed by Crosby Textor in 2014 support marriage equality”.

Common sense, let alone Christian or humanitarian ethics dictate that self-discipline, love, commitment and faithfulness in relationships – the hall marks enshrined in the institution of marriage – should not be denied to people simply because of sexual preference.

We all know of high profile same sex couples who practise such “marriage” – former High Court Court judge Michael Kirby, former Senator Bob Brown, Senator Penny Wong. To that list most of us can name members of our extended family, political persuasion or even ministers of religion. How cruel and unnecessarily stupid it is to deny them the full blessing of society on their sacred union!

However,  as many MPs sound out constituents on this matter during the forthcoming Parliamentary winter recess, there is a danger that various devices will be proposed to circumvent a straight forward decision on this matter. The costly and unnecessary process of a popular plebiscite is one likely avoidance mechanism. Then there is the so called “French solution” which separates the civil and religious aspects of marriage, again unnecessary for no religious organisation is forced to forsake marrying under their particular rites.

A simple and just amendment by the Parliament to The Marriage Act will achieve marriage equality: “two persons” instead of “a man and a woman”. It really is an ethical no brainer!

The Rev. Dr Noel Preston is an ethicist, retired Uniting Church minister, adjunct Professor, Griffith University and a member of APCVA.