THE REFORM OF THE MARRIAGE ACT &
THE PRIVATISING MOTIF IN THE LIBERAL WORLD-VIEW
As reported previously, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, has given her strong public endorsement for “marriage equality”. The terms of her affirmation of same-sex marriage need to be examined carefully. They include an implicit challenge to anyone who might vote “Noe” in the anticipated plebiscite.
There is, however, a problem of some importance to our evaluation of our current set of intractable political problems. We will have to return to it in a later email. It concerns the fact that at an earlier stage in the campaign to promote “same-sex marriage” many politicians and parliamentarians, like Ms Bishop, at home and abroad, have secured their own parliamentary and political careers by saying “Noe!” in the face of the demands of this neo-liberal political movement. This movement of over three decades can rightly be termed “neo-liberal” because it has seen, whether intended or not, a concerted privatisation of parliamentary debate on the issue that now comes to its culmination. The Minister’s latter-day support casts a shadow of profound ambiguity upon her previous support for the 2004 Amendment to the Marriage Act, and its unequivocal definition of marriage. If that was the true definition of what constitutes marriage in 2004 what, precisely, is the change that we are now supposed to be considering in the anticipated plebiscite? That then provides us with a persistent theme for this series of broadsheets.
The challenge that is before us comes especially to those of us professing ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and who will say our “Noe!” vote is in line with His teaching. For us then the”Noe!” will be an affirmation that His teaching requires our undiluted support for marriage as the exclusive male-female marital bond. “Noe!” in these terms represents one expression of a Christian support for marriage, that is already required of us whether this plebiscite is held or not. Still, the implicit appeal to love and compassion in Ms. Bishop’s justification, raises a valid question about how an ongoing Christian political response likewise makes the claim that it is driven by love and compassion for all, an “all” that does not exclude same-sex attracted young people and citizens, or those who support this proposed legal error based upon an empirical mistake.
Read her words carefully. Does she not suggest that a plebiscite “Aye” from our political community to endorse Parliamentary legislation will simply show how much the Australian people care for each other, how much we want to treat each other with love and compassion?
From what she has gone on record to say, it appears that those planning on voting “Noe” must be entrenched in the past. It is like a tug of war. Having got to where she now is, Ms Bishop is alongside the new PM and presumably on the side of those with their feet firmly in the present, opposed to a view cemented in the prejudices of the past. Her comments suggest that those who disagree, those who propose to vote “Noe”, are in danger of withholding love from same-sex attracted citizens. Ms. Bishop’s explanation of her support for a plebiscite tells us of her belief that political support for “marriage equality” is simply about love and compassion for fellow citizens who are same-sex attracted people. Thus it seems that this is not so much at base a political issue by is a basic moral concern “that goes to the very composition of our community.”
It is by her appeal to “the way we feel about each other, how we treat each other” that she now challenges that part of our political community who propose to vote “Noe”. Opponents of “marriage equality” – if there be any of us left by the time the plebiscite comes around – must be challenged by this way of construing the plebiscite. Taking what she says seriously, it seems she is suggesting that it is now a matter of giving or withholding love and compassion. Presumably in the past, she, and others, were among those who hitherto have not be as loving and compassionate as they should have been. Except, of course, that their lack of love and compassion, keeping their views to themselves kept the party united!
For Ms Bishop, it is self-evident. “Love and compassion” drives her political “Aye”. Up until quite recently the strictures upon Liberal Party parliamentarians meant “Noe”, and included her “Noe”. This was because party unity was said to depend upon preventing such conscience votes and cabinet members from “crossing the floor” when the vote for “gay marriage” legislation came before the house. Such strictures are now a thing of an “unloving” past. The Liberal Party has moved on. Party unity now means something else; the old has been deposed and a new leader has been installed.
For Ms Bishop, the old strictures can now be seen for what they were: manifestations of a deep, dark lack of love and compassion. The Liberal Party of Australia is now, more and more, in step with the changes that have taken place in Canada, UK and New Zealand (and as the populist and celebrity led-tide turns in the USA) in a global embrace of “love and compassion”. So now it is not just a matter of giving or withholding love or compassion; it is also a matter of the Australian electorate endorsing the Liberal Party’s transcending its “unloving past” and getting in step with the world-wide movement. As I have suggested in previous posts on this issue, “marriage equality” presupposes a concerted global movement carrying with it entrenched western liberal and neo-colonial implications.
Ever since the sentimentalist view of “spreading love around” was proffered by the British Prime Minister, those who oppose the change to the legal definition of marriage worldwide, have been presented with a significant political challenge: how are they to demonstrate politically that their “Noe” is also motivated by love and compassion for all, including those same-sex attracted fellow-citizens who demand “marriage equality”. Presumably there will be many more in other polities world-wide who will clamour for this change as the neo-liberal movement rolls on and on. Meanwhile, parliamentary democracy continues to show the deleterious impact of “privatisation” upon public governance.
So, if we are convinced that we should say “Noe!” how are we to show politically that it is our love and compassion for all citizens that impels us to take this stance? That’s the question. If our Christian political task is to love our neighbour with public justice, then as well as warnings about the unintended consequences of such a change, it will have to be bold and reach further with the intention of developing a comprehensive Christian political option.
To say “Noe” is to adopt a stand which requires us to demonstrate politically that we are motivated by an alternative love and compassion because the love of Christ Jesus Himself constrains us to do so. This cannot be done merely by rejecting “marriage equality” legislation; it must involve the public affirmation of a way of life that, in the words of the apostle Paul is unashamedly saying “Aye” to the good and perfect ways of the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:20).
This is why Ms Bishop’s statement should not be brushed aside. It is indeed a challenge to every Christian in this polity. How are we Christians to now live politically? How are we in our ongoing way of life to demonstrate love and compassion in our political perspective by an unequivocal commitment to marriage in the terms that Jesus taught? Voting “Noe” in the plebiscite needs to coincide with a comprehensive political affirmation that puts forth a coherent case of seeking justice for all, rich in policies that would allow all genuine institutions to flourish. And so it is going to have to explain what justice means in a total sense, but that will also require policies for marriage, family and household – not excluding families and households where there are same-sex parents.
In the meantime, in the face of our dominant cultural patterns, Christians are going to have find a way of re-discovering the meaning of “Noe” in other ways to preserve and enhance a healthy integrity for the marriage institution. By saying “Aye” to marriage one is also talking about commitment to a way of life that has no qualms about quietly saying “Noe” to some conduct (whether by diaphragm, pharmaceuticals or condom) in order to affirm chaste pre-marital living and to endorse in deed the honourable and undefiled character of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). When such Biblical teachings become part of any proposed political “Noe” then there may also emerge the prospect of a Christian political option, repentant from the heart, that is not compromised by its own furtive duplicity.
Tuesday 1st December (Sunday 8th November) 2015.