Red Herrings Rampant

So, let us pause and consider what has persistently been given as arguments for “Marriage Equality”.

As I write this I’m wondering if I have missed anything. Have I been so oblivious to an argument that has seemingly captured the “enlightened” world?

The first and primary question that shall frame our examination here is this:

what is the argued justification for the assertion that a same-sex permanent union is itself marriage?

Is it anything more than an assertion?

Have we heard anything that explains why a same-sex permanent union always has been a form of marriage and now, when the law is changed, will be a legally recognised form of marriage? Have we heard anything other than that marriage must be redefined by the State to include same-sex permanent unions? Are we to say that the argument comes down to this: “a same-sex permanent union should be viewed as, and will be legally recognised as, marriage when the law says that it is”?

When we put it in these terms we realise that we have been led on by arguments that repeatedly and persistently avoid the issue:

  1. With respect to the appeal to human rights we confront two prevalent but regularly unjustified assertions:
  • the first is that marriage is itself a civil right. Our reply to that is that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman based upon a solemn vow made and maintained publicly together and to each other.

But if marriage is a civil right, as some proponents claim, then they should first have raised the need for an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and hence propose that marriage be included in the list of fundamental freedoms and at the same provide a reformulation of Article 16 which has to do with the marriage institution itself. Such an appeal to marriage as a human right seems to allow itself to be circumscribed by the so-called inviolable principle of national sovereignty, although as we shall see below this circumscribed advocacy of “Marriage Equality” raises no qualms in its appeal to what has been done by “progressive and enlightened nations” even if a majority of United Nations members do not subscribe (have not yet subscribed) to the proposed legislative deconstruction of marriage to make it compatible with enlightened liberal opinion.

  • the second is that it is a denial of human rights for the Marriage Act to have a definition of marriage which is “exclusive” in the sense of excluding relationships of couples who want their relationship to be called marriage but who cannot be said to be “lawfully married” in the terms of the Marriage Act as it now stands because they are of the same sex. In this sense the purpose for which the Marriage Act and its definition of lawful marriage was drafted is completely forgotten. The definition of marriage as contained in the Marriage Act is indeed to recognise lawful marriage and to exclude forms of marriage which do not comply with the Marriage Act’s definition. It’s aim is not to establish one kind of interpretation of a dyadic (male-female) relationship by excluding other kinds of dyadic (same-sex) relationships.

2. There is also an extremely naive assertion that Australia needs Marriage Equality legislation because we are the last English-speaking advanced country not to allow same-sex marriage (Peter van Onselen September 24th The Australian). This is more of a cringe than an argument. Those who wish to defend “Marriage Equality” by such an appeal have not explained why this polity should follow on this path and explain why they have not made a legislative or judicial error based on an empirical mistake.

Would it not be just as cogent to say that Australia is now the first English-speaking polity to recognise that a serious legal mistake has been made by other polities when they have tried in vain to advance homosexual rights by joining in the neo-liberal global experiment that would engineer social change by legislation, by seeking to reconstitute a central social institution by legislating a new generic definition of marriage.

3. Likewise, an appeal to all the surveys that have revealed that “most Australians support same-sex marriage”, is similarly disingenuous. Irrespective of what the numbers are one will still have to ask what such signalled “support” means. After all “support” can simply mean allowing people to refer to themselves as a married couple (freedom of speech affirmed). “Support” can mean allowing people of the same-sex to contract to live permanently together (freedom of association affirmed). “Support” can mean being friendly and sympathetic.

And in recent times it is commonly said: “Let’s pass the Marriage Equality legislation so we can get on with the rest of our lives.” In other words – “let’s get it out of the way!””Support” in a survey thus might well mean a deep-seated desire to de-politicise public discussion about marriage. Again, an appeal to surveys does not, of itself, constitute an argument. If anything it highlights the need for genuine political discussion about marriage, family and household and how these are to be properly respected in our administration of public affairs. How are we to have public justice for marriage, family-life and household hospitality when there is such a judicial muddle with respect to these matters as identified so cogently by two senior academic jurists?

Australian law on relationships is currently in a complete muddle. In various places around the country, there are marriages, civil partnerships or civil unions, registered de facto relationships, and unregistered de facto relationships, all of which end up being treated in almost exactly the same way as marriages at least once certain thresholds are met (and subject to proof if the existence of the relationship is contested). (Patrick Parkinson and Nicholas Aroney “The Territory of Marriage: Constitutional law, marriage law and family policy in the ACT Same Sex Marriage Case” 2014, pp.38-9.)

4. More recently, the Liberal-National Coalition Government has attempted to maintain their parliamentary unity, and the unity of their respective parties, by stitching up a deal to hold a plebiscite on “Marriage Equality”. This was part of the negotiated change of leadership from Mr Abbott to Mr Turnbull. And so the underlying view on that side of the Parliament has conceded that whatever definition of marriage is contained in the Marriage Act it will only ever be what is deemed to be “politically correct” by the powers that be. (We are not aware of any political commentators who have joined Nurturing Justice in reckoning with this shift in the Liberal-National view of the public-legal dimensions of the marriage institution – but that is now the base-line commitment of the Liberal-National Coalition). This brings us to the view held by the Treasurer, Mr Morrison, who has happily let it be known that he would vote “Yes” for “same-sex marriage” legislation even if his vote in the plebiscite was “No”. In other words, his is a view, again not argued, that marriage is whatever is ordained by the vox populi. Presumably, Mr Morrison the Christian believes we live at present with a Marriage Act endorsed by a Christian vox populi.

5.   We have repeatedly pointed out that one of our persistent problems with political debates in this nation is a tendency to replace considered argument with elaborate appeals that are simply expressions of sentiment. Nurturing Justice would not suggest that it is, and remains, completely free from such a tendency. In fact we have pointed out that Christian contributions to this political debate have traditionally hamstrung themselves by assuming that discussion about marriage has only marginal relevance for our political life as citizens. And so it is still widely felt that a political argument about marriage – what it is and how it should be lawfully recognised – is to have already given the game away. The prevalent view is that Marriage and Family belong in private, and are to be safeguarded by our religious spirituality. Politics is public, and therefore secular. In this respect Nurturing Justice, in its “rear-guard” advocacy of a Christian way of life cannot ignore the problem that Christian negligence has prepared the ground for the “marriage equality” harvest in an allegedly “religiously neutral” sphere.

But now the devoted defenders of equality with democratic sentiments have become advocates of “Marriage Equality”. It is, they now claim, “love” that motivates their advocacy of this much needed change. We might still be waiting for an explanation of the strategic change in the movement from the former attempts to argue for “same sex marriage legislation” by appeal to “civil rights” to “marriage equality” based on “love” and “spreading the love around”. But even while such advocacy appears deeply rooted in a seemingly unshakeable appeal to sentiment, democratic sentiment, we are still to hear a political argument that explains how a same-sex life-long union is a marriage.

Are we to conclude that a same-sex life-long committed union is a marriage simply because legislation will say that it is so?

We face a problem here. How can the emotional state of the sentimentalist advocating “marriage equality” be given due respect? The common view will be that by subjecting his or her position, as it has been emotionally expressed, to “rigorous examination” is hardly fair. Is this not “attacking the person”? Recently a new Parliamentarian in her maiden speech said that she had entered the House of Representatives carrying a sense of disillusionment about the nation’s laws that treat the love of one of her sons as inferior to that of his brothers. That, she revealed, was why she was opposed to a plebiscite and presumably she would also give her vote for “Marriage Equality” legislation.

The difficulties we have in answering such sentiments are obvious. How to fairly respond to this MP’s view of the law? But now these sentiments have entered into political debate. How does one proceed to argue against such assertions? It is as if such assertions transcend political argument even while they are formed very decidedly to contribute to the public justification for a change in the Marriage Act. Would it not be unseemly and unfair to take these as arguments? If that is where we have reached we may well have come to a point from which there seems to be no turning back. This is not just a psychological point but it has a kind of coherence with the logic of our system of parliamentary politics that has been seriously malformed under neo-liberal individualism. We now struggle to actually develop genuine political debate!

To take another example: how does one now tell the former Human Rights Commissioner, whose advocacy of “Marriage Equality” and his political career are so inextricably linked to his “engagement”, that his support for such legislation is wholly misconceived. It is like telling him that his entire way of life is wrong. To now suggest to him that this is a debate about the role of the Marriage Act in our system of public governance will seem to him, and those in this debate who are swayed by his commitment to his way of life, to be somewhat obscurantist, “out of date”, if not completely irrelevant, or even an attack upon his person.

But to make that judgement about the limitations of this debate, one would have to first accept the validity of the “way of life” that is presupposed by such advocacy.


The way ahead for a Christian political option, it would seem, is not by trying to divert the current libertarian stampede; instead, those committed to a Christian way of life -which includes a biblically-directed understanding of marriage, family-life and household stewardship – need to embark on a long-term political self-examination. That has been the persistent suggestion of Nurturing Justice since we began intense political reflection on this matter.

In the meantime, in the face of our dominant cultural patterns, those seeking to promote a Christian political option are going to have find a way of re-discovering the meaning of “Noe” in many other ways as well. That will be part of a concerted effort to preserve and enhance a healthy respect for the God-given integrity of marital responsibility, responsibility of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband, and for their mutual respect for the marriage institution itself. By saying “Aye” to marriage, as it is directed and endorsed by Jesus’ teaching, means one is also talking about commitment to a way of life that has no qualms about quietly saying “Noe” to some or other 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 eventually become part of a way of life then any proposed political “Noe” may also look forward to the prospect of a Christian political option, repentant from the heart, that is not compromised by its own furtive duplicity.


19.10.16 (slight revision 1.11.16)


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