HOW CAN ONE VOTE RESPONSIBLY AND TAKE A PRINCIPLED LONGER-TERM STAND WHEN PARTIES RESOLUTELY REFUSE TO DO SO?
A concerned friend forwarded to me an Australian Christian Lobby’s warning about a vote for Labor at the forthcoming election. As could be expected, it is about “same sex marriage” or “marriage equality”. Among the statements of this brief broadsheet were the following, addressed personally :
The reality is that if Bill Shorten’s Labor Party is elected we’ll have same-sex marriage by October. / Elections are about our future./ We are called to make a choice./ But this election, Bill Shorten and the Labor Party have promised to take your choice away./ Bill Shorten will deny you and every other Australian their right to vote in a plebiscite on marriage.
The first thing that should be said is that this Broadsheet fails because it is not truly educative in a helpful political sense. It is simply the stuff of which scare campaigns are made. To appeal to the “right” to make a “choice” in a plebiscite is misconceived. And it should not be forgotten that it is the complete misrepresentation of marriage as a “civil right” that is part and parcel of this world-wide movement.
And apart from its alarmist style, these brief sentiments confront us with various problems. If elections are about “our future” then they are about our ongoing responsibility as electors of the representatives who take their seats in our country’s parliaments. The “future” then is about the future of public governance, and our ongoing political responsibility. This is not somehow cancelled when Parliament makes an error. [Have we ever ceased from being citizens when our Government authorised injustice in the past?] Indeed when there is legislative error and when Government acts wrongly, our sense of political responsibility may be heightened by a sense of our failure as citizens, and with repentance before the Throne of Grace we may then with God’s grace see once more the true parameters of our public obedience. Should we not seek God’s help to understand our own irresponsible neglect, where we have failed to love our neighbours with due respect and promoting justice?
And even after the next election, and even if such erroneous legislation is passed, it will still be our calling as Christian citizens to promote public justice as much for marriage as for all the other lawful and healthy relationships that all our fellow citizens enjoy. In that sense our “choice”, the most basic of all human “choices” will remain unchanged. Will we cease from obeying God to bend our understanding henceforth to the legal error the Federal Parliament makes when it legislates such an empirical mistake? (ref: Acts 5:29).
Apart from the fact that we do not yet know the composition of the new Parliament, the statement from ACL is misleading and fails to adequately educate the Australian electorate about the political issues facing us. It misrepresents our ongoing political responsibilities by narrowing them down to a “choice” in a plebiscite, now said to be our “right”. ACL presumes that a Labor initiated conscience vote in Parliament on SSM legislation will then get through, and well it might. So? What then? Will it simply be a united pious lament that we didn’t have a chance to vote in a plebiscite that may well give us the same result? Public discussion needs to avoid superficial warnings. Public discussion needs analysis that explores the political mistakes that are unravelling on all sides with this contentious matter.
The Broadsheet continues with other egregious misleading assertions that fail to deal with the fact that the Coalition’s promise of a PLEBISCITE – a negotiated deal that was struck in order to keep the party united when they dumped the former PM – comes on the back of the Liberal and National Party failure to adequately explain why they have turned away from their former “rock solid” commitment to marriage. They decisively demonstrated such a commitment in their block voting on significant legislative amendments back in 2004. Was it then, as many suspected, merely a stand that was more concerned about losing the “conservative” vote than it was with explaining the necessity of the legislative changes that were then welcomed overwhelmingly on both sides? Is it now merely a matter of once more trimming the party’s sails to the populist wind?
It is a massive political failure of nerve by both Coalition parties, as well as Labor, let alone the Greens. What stands out is the inability of these parties to develop and publicly defend a comprehensive marriage and family policy. How is marriage to be rightly and appropriately respected in workplaces, in social welfare policy, in health and schooling and education? How does our understanding of marriage in this country have an impact for relationships beyond our shores? How will “marriage equality” in this country have an impact on marriages in Polynesia and Melanesia? Are we really prepared to become part of a world-wide neo-liberal effort to redefine marriage?
Not only do the two major political blocks now seem incapable of defending policies that ascribe due respect the male-female character of marriage (well established in human history long before parliaments ever existed), they seem to have lost sight of the connection between an affirmation of the male-female character of marriage and the many other policy areas that have a bearing upon the promotion of healthy family, community and wider social life.
And on all sides there seems little understanding that such a Parliamentary legislative mistake – and that is what it would be and has been already in other legislatures: Canada, New Zealand, UK – may well have an ongoing impact upon the shape of our parliamentary democracy for years to come, and in ways the advocates of “marriage equality” simply do not entertain. This is not just about Parliament giving “thumbs up” to same-sex couples who covet the term marriage for themselves. Though the 10th of the 10 Commandments proscribes “covetousness”, there’s no explicit legislative impediment that would prevent such citizens from coveting the term. But then there is no reason why Parliament should acquiesce in this covetousness.
Of course, it is a sine qua non of such comprehensive public policy development that legislation needs to be formulated by respecting the rights of all citizens married and unmarried, parents and children, whatever the orientations, life-issues, identities and disabilities they may have or may be developing. But the tone of the ACL Broadsheet is alarmist in its one-sided concern.
There are many issues – not least with the emerging international dimensions of LGBTI “rights” on the political horizon – that have to be worked through in relation to this matter. This is a sustained world-wide movement that is substantially supported and funded. Ithas many dimensions and there are important facets in this discussion that are too easily missed. We have alluded to some of them above.
We have written previously, asking “Just how much have we left undone?” In relation to the pressing issues of “body politics” we can ill afford to allow these matters to become merely a matter of our reaction to dominant political trends. There needs to be a sustained effort among Christians to develop policies that are integral to our discipleship, and which we can then share with each other nationally and internationally, to give genuine expression to our faith in Jesus Christ and the utter reliability of what He has taught us about the full meaning of our lives, including the place of marriage and of procreation. And with such a development in political understanding we may then have something to offer to all our civic neighbours.
Nurturing Justice looks to the day when a party policy platform can be formulated that properly respects marriage for what it is. In the meantime we will warn against playing political games to placate the powerful interests that seek to engineer a global change to reality by legislating change in the definition of lawful marriage.
In response to his Broadsheet, I have sent the following letter to Mr Shelton at ACL.