“We will not now be subject to a law that we cannot make for ourselves!” (1)

The Conundrum of a Marriage Equality Plebiscite

We republish a series for ongoing discussion based upon the post of November 3rd last year.

The question from our previous discussion remains: how will those who as Christians believe that “marriage equality” is just plain wrong, going to explain politically why they are not as “out-of-date” or as “anti-progressive” as the Marriage Act’s definition of marriage is now supposed to be? This is not merely a question that will have to be asked by Australia’s Christians if a national plebiscite on “marriage equality” ever comes about.  It is the question that they and their fellow believers in other jurisdictions (UK, Canada, New Zealand, USA and elsewhere) are going to have to address for some considerable time in the years ahead.

How can the allegation that to reject “homosexual marriage” is simply to live in the past be countered? Do not LGTBI fellow citizens have the same rights as everyone else? And does not the definition of marriage in the current Marriage Act curtail those by limiting marriage to male-female life-long unions? Does not the definition of marriage have to comply with the freedoms guaranteed by the UN charter of human rights? How are Christians following the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles to answer such questions and give their own 21st century rationale for marriage when the 21st century is defined in the  “progressive” libertarian terms of a neo-liberal outlook? Indeed, how are they to reject the ideology of “marriage equality” and at the same time present themselves as authentic defenders of public justice, of freedom and equity and basic human rights?

This is a vital political matter. In addressing it, the first question to ask might indeed be to ask about the political education of Australian citizens. How is it that with the country’s multitude of Churches, schools, social welfare agencies and organisations that continue to operate under a Christian banner, the idea of a Christian political option seems strange if not totally alien? We need to reflect upon taken-for-granted assumptions of our political life. Has not our Christian world-view become so misshapen by accommodating the various policies and rationales of the Liberal Coalition, the Labor Party and the Greens, that Christian voices either have no informed political judgment to give, or when we do speak out (yes even this broadsheet) we seem to make no sense at all?

But then we Christians don’t have that on their own. That lack of coherence seems to have characterised “both sides” of politics (if not all standing in between) for some time now. The lack of coherence in terms of a political rationale is not hard to find. The Liberal Party’s “plebiscite” is a case in point; it is a “stitched up” deal to placate the opponents of the current P.M. It really has little to do with “marriage equality” as such and is simply a device by which the Liberal Party – hitherto staunch opponent of the demanded changes to the Marriage Act – can, with a new “team captain” – who does support such changes – present itself as a party willing to make principled compromises. But there is no inner connection between the deal to hold a plebiscite – to determine the “will of the people” – and the anticipated legislation for “marriage equality”, except of course that Liberal-National MPs will now have a “free vote”. All the while we hear no coherent political rationale for either why or why not such MPs support or reject “marriage equality”. And for politicians of “both sides” to explain why we have a Marriage Act to begin with, is simply the political discussion we need to have but it is a matter too far beyond their own comfort zones.

Yes, we have heard that a plebiscite is likely to bring out all the nastiness of those who are afraid of homosexuality, and the delicate vulnerability of members of the LGTBI community. But if what is now needed is an opened-up public debate on the issue of “marriage equality” we have to face the fact that the elaborated political rationale for the current Marriage Act has not been set forth by any of the major parties. In fact we might have to conclude that Australia’s citizens now inherit a severely attenuated and malformed political discussion about sexuality, marriage, family and living together in households. And as such the “threats” on the horizon of nastiness and LGTBI “vulnerability” has everything to do with the ongoing inability of Liberal-National, Labor and Greens parliamentarians and their parties to adequately educate the entire electorate about the meaning and purpose of the Marriage Act.

I have implied in the earlier post, the PM has not shown any great interest in opening up this kind of political discussion; he, as a married man who allows his marriage to become a feature in glossy magazines (like the Opposition leader) has been much more concerned with currying public favour by his prominent support for “marriage equality”. For all his “thumbs up” for same-sex marriage, aligning himself with Justice Michael Kirby under the “progressive” banner, his Parliamentary career, let alone his Prime Ministership exhibits a serious leadership failure in his “lawyer’s duty” to contribute to the political debate – involving a complex issue of marriage jurisprudence – by arguing the case “Aye” and “Noe” from both sides before showing why his “Aye” responds to what he says are fatal problems with the “Noe”. Why not? If he is so skilled a debater, a wordsmith of such eloquence, why is he in retreat from this vital political debate so central to our nation’s economy?

Oh, he may say, the time for him as “team captain” is not during an election campaign but when the legislation finally comes before the House. It is hard to see how such a rationale is anything but a cop out. Legislation about this matter has been constantly before the house during his time as an elected politician. He has previously made his views known that this is of vital importance, although now he is obviously reluctant to say anything that might threaten the coalition’s unity, risk losing his electoral support and the count of “thumbs up” on Twitter and Facebook. But this is only a minor part of the snags we now run into.

3 November 2015 amended 26.6.2016

To next time

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