As irksome as it might seem, we need to cross-examine our language. Let us think about how our common usage is part and parcel of the mythology that is persistently set forth about “Marriage Equality” and “Equal Love”. So even if it be a difficult and frustrating exercise, let us consider our strange usage of language. In our advanced, enlightened, progressive English-speaking world these days it seems we tend to avoid using the term “sexual intercourse” and instead we find ourselves immersed in discourse about those who are “having sex” or who have “had sex” or of those who desire to “have sex”.
The verb “to have” might suggests that “sex” is something to be consumed, like an ice-cream. Even so, at the back of our minds we are aware of the activity that our language is seeking to capture.
I am suggesting that it is here, in our everyday language, that we can begin to pinpoint what lies behind the intense and persistent demand that the Marriage Act use generic terms and uphold “Marriage Equality” and “Equal Love”. We are confronted by a claim that justice will be served if the Act designates “persons”, rather than specifically identifying “man” and “woman”, as those who constitute and bind themselves by marriage. By deferring instead to “two persons” (who then presumably “have sex” or get married because of a wish to do so) we are supposed to be supporting a view of marriage that isn’t “sexist”, that affirms “Equal Love”, that is more consistently democratic..
It seems that in our taken-for-granted language there is an anticipatory moment of this “Marriage Equality” trend. The assumption is that it is in and from our language that “sexist” views are generated. What is needed, it is suggested, is a “non-sexist” view of marriage as a “public good” and for this we must not rely upon “stereotypes” of “male” and “female”. And so emerges the view that marriage legislation does not need to view marriage as an institution that presupposes “husband” and “wife” (until death parts them), and thus neither do we have need any longer of the definition of lawful marriage which looks forward with exclusivistic anticipation to a new generation in which “fathers” and “mothers” enjoy exclusivist privileges based in public law. So then the problem that needs to be resolved is that “marriage” as hitherto conceived (and in the full sense of that term) is not only viewed legally but more importantly normatively as the source for (the institution of) the “family”. And it is that presumption of normativity which then fuels the “Marriage Equality” demand that this is a restriction that has been oppressive, nothing but a legislative attempt to impose a viewpoint found to be alien to many in the population. Are there not various other possibilities by which “families” are formed, and will not a change to the Marriage Act help to correct such a factual error from our public discourse? Would it not be much better and simpler (Occam’s Razor) to avoid all male-female exclusivism and simply embrace “Equal Love”.
There is indeed a profound issue here. And when we think about it we are confronted with the accusation – arising from within a neo-liberal world-view – that to retain Marriage as a male-female bond is not only to endorse terminology that is cause and consequence of a structural “exclusion” of those who do not “fit” such stereotypes. It is to provide a basis in law for the arrogance that heterosexuality is normative for humans. Moreover, it would seem that many with senior legal standing in our polity have actually gone further and endorsed the view that the Marriage Act, as it now stands, is a consequence and cause of an internalised “homophobia” in our population, a deep-seated self-hatred found in those who do not fit the dominant “sexist” stereotypes. The Marriage Act in this view gives legislators grounds for further regulations that imply that one form of sexual orientation is legitimate and another is not.
How then is Nurturing Justice to develop a comprehensive Christian public policy response to the “Marriage Equality” movement with its “Equal Love” epithet? We have written much about the public policy absence – reaching back decades – of a coherent public policy framework of “marriage, family and household” due to the entrenched and populist Lib-Lab cowardice. But how are we to actually contribute without confirming the reactionary stereotypes that are being artfully composed (by journalists in the ABC, The Age and The Australian to name a few prominent sources) that suggest that any “Christian political option” is simply another reactionary attempt of conservatives who want to live in the past and lobby for the special treatment in law of “Christian views”.
The first thing we have to do is to rightly understand the perspective that is being presented by Marriage Equality and Equal Love advocates. That’s why I have penned what I have above in “I” and “II”.
As we have said previously, we are involved in a local political manifestation of a global initiative that persists in parts of the world that claim to be advanced, enlightened and progressive. We, in Australia, are already fully part of this political movement. Rather than being “behind”, as some advocates of “Marriage Equality” suggest, I suspect that our public debate may actually be is extending the application of the neo-liberal humanistic world-view further than what has been achieved elsewhere. One only has to look at how State legislatures are busily adjusting legislation and regulations to accommodate the demands of this wide-ranging, well-funded, corporation-backed political movement. It may be a movement that relies upon superficial discourse but in many respects its deconstructionist applications are deeply rooted in our culture. Yes it is a movement that has been generated from within, and presupposes commitment to a liberal-humanistic way of life. But such a way of life is not countered by the mere recognition that humanism has arisen from within a Christian cultural heritage. It will not be harnessed by appeal to Christian dogma. Indeed it has arisen because, and its political power has been buttressed by, Christian citizens and parliamentarians – of all denominations – claiming that it is their private faith that provokes them to give it their public support.
Recently a weakness has emerged for “Marriage Equality”/”Equal Love” in its profoundly undifferentiated demand for human rights. Because of its attempt to redesign human identity according to an abstract theoretical commitment to human rights, this political movement finds itself helpless before, and unable to resist, the exploitation of childhood for its political purposes. And so we have heard about the deconstructionist vision of childhood sexualisation. Ideologues have proudly presented their goals for the re-sexualisation of childhood (and of course of childhood nurturing) by appeal to “fluidity” and a spectral analysis of sexuality “options”.
It’s prominent advocates argue for action that would distribute “Equal Love” though they seem to have ignored the question of the rights of those who have responsibility for the oversight of childhood and human maturation. Those caught up in support of “Marriage Equality” find it very difficult to resist the deconstruction of childhood by a dogmatic acquiescence in what is a totalising abstraction that presumes that a longing for sexual pleasure, for the fulfilment of sexual desire, is basic to human identity. Such a longing must be given priority; parental nurture must capitulate in the face of what is, in fact, an abstract wish buttressed by the theories of a pseudo-science. Marriage, as we have hitherto received it, has simply been set of “choices” shaping human identity in its entirety, “choices” which are entirely contingent and which, due to their totalising character, present themselves as innate and defining instincts. The claim of “Marriage Equality” is that these are not innate and therefore the way to social justice is to deny the oppression that stems from their constriction of human choices. (Here is the precept implicit in the current libertarian view of “sexuality” that a person who should only ever obey a rule that s/he makes for her/himself.) “Sexuality” is viewed as a modality of a person’s identity to be made by the sovereign individual. The “choice” of sexuality is a vital ingredient to this identity and of course also relates the person to the “other person”, the one with whom one choses / wishes to “have sex” (We are yet to hear about the “M” sexuality – the monosexuals). “Having sex” may involve a desire to “have children” but the law must recognise the essential (sic!) equality of all desires implied in the search to “have sex” across the entire polity (at least “sex” that is not unlawful), and hence must not exclude a “same-sex” desire to “having sex”. Was not homosexuality de-criminalised back in 1981? Moreover, those with such a “same-sex” desire should not be excluded by implication from the population of those who want to “have children” just because of accidental biological impedimenta.
Let us carefully take note of this expansive viewpoint that has arisen from within the liberal-humanistic world-view, and which dispenses with its former accommodation to a Christian or biblically-directed view of the marriage institution.
As we do so, let us reconsider what our Christian response to this should be. How should we be understanding the teaching of Jesus and the apostles for ourselves and for our way of life. Perhaps we have been travelling done a compromised Christian-liberal path. Perhaps, in discussing the politics of sexuality, we will come across our own sins, our own sexual compromises. We should not rule out the likelihood that our latter-day response to “Equal Love” has as much to do with that compromise we have made in our own way of life, from our own hearts. We must engage in self-examination, and not allow the “legal error based on an empirical mistake” made by our political opponents to be a convenient distraction from our own need for repentance.
By positing human rights as the defining criterion to assess the value and meaning of public governance, the liberal humanistic viewpoint has confront various problems. One concerns the persistence of a Christian way of life in the society in which it proposes to unfurl its flag of freedom. How is liberalism to accommodate a Biblically-directed, Christian view of life and of marriage? How was this accommodation previously achieved?
Let us look again at the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and ask: Could the accommodation have been made by a specific interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28?
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (ESV)
Think about it. For a married man to look with “lustful intent” after “another woman” is adultery; but the proscription is much wider. Jesus is teaching that adultery is much more than a married man looking lustfully at “another woman”. Jesus has broadened and deepened the way His disciples will read Exodus 20:14 by a viewpoint that proscribes the wilful directing of lust at any woman. He goes on to say that to adopt such a view of the co-image-bearer of the Lord is as good as gouging out one’s eye, of cutting off one’s hand (see vv.29-30). For anyone to look with lustful intent at a woman is to diminish the full character of human bodily life in God’s Kingdom.
And so, if what Jesus is teaching here implies a way of life, rather than merely a narrowed down definition of adultery in order to accommodate Biblical teaching to a liberal-humanistic political view, an entirely different direction is suggested. Legalised marriage is viewed, or rather skewered, as a God-given necessity after the fall in order to counter an innate sexual depravity that would go after “another woman”. But there is no mention of “another woman” in Jesus’ widening and deepening of the Commandment. Moreover, the compromised view will simply assert that adultery is simply countered by both the man and the woman in marriage looking at each other with equal (lustful) intent. Is this not a Christian view that wants to affirm that this worthwhile and valuable social institution for civilising the next generation has been given by God “on account of sin”? Think about how this comment has a bearing upon a Christian’s understanding of courtship? Is courtship simply a matter of “waiting until after the wedding”, entertaining a mutual sexual lust until one can be married as if chastity is simply not “having sex”? Are these indicative of the misleading paths of a Christian-liberal accommodation? Are these not the kind of compromises in world-view terms in relation to which Christians – also those seeking to promote a Christian political option for marriage – should repent?
The Christian community world-wide may need to rediscover the teaching of Jesus with respect to marriage as a genuine liberation from bondage to (sexuality idols) and we will discover that such a way of married life is simply not compatible with what has been taken-for-granted in attempts to accommodate Jesus’ teaching to liberalism.
In this 21st century political context, when we read of Jesus’ definitive “You have heard it said … but I say unto you …” rendition of the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” we may note, to our hyper-sexualised consternation that though he is reported to have spoken in terms of a “man” (although the text actually has “everyone” [PAS]) and a “woman”, and not in terms of “one person” and an “other”, the principle has a surprising consequence particularly if we are wanting to follow his teaching today.
Think about it. Violation of God’s law can occur within marriage, within an act in which the “woman” has become an object of lust, we might say a locus of sexual satisfaction. After all, would not 21st century intuition (particularly one that had been subjected to repeated depictions and innuendo about “having sex” in “popular culture”, Hollywood, Bollywood, Maddison Avenue, Foxtel, let alone supermarket advertising, not to ignore rampant pornography and sex slavery etc etc), instinctively take this to mean that “sexual satisfaction” is rendered impossible. How can one have “sexual satisfaction” if one does not desire “it” (ref here to “I” above and our discussion of “having sex” as an ice-cream) or allow oneself to be induced into desiring “it”?
PS. Are we only to consider the denunciation of Nathan the Prophet in his scathing rebuke of King David? What about the provocation of the bathing Bathsheba in view of King David’s window? What of her complicity in the battle-field murder of her husband? Surely David was not the sole guilty party of that adulterous union?
There is a profound issue here for any principled Christian political option and it now means that Christian state-crafting cannot avoid such matters since it is also the healthy nurturing of children that is in the balance. That also means that Christian political reflection will have to take place in a context where Christian citizens are also thinking about how family and household-life can preserve and protect the integrity of courtship and a chaste lifestyle. The question then is: how can such matters be referred to in any elaborated Christian political option without taking the misstep that a Christian way of life requires Government to give it civil-religious preference in the polity’s legal system?
Nor is there any attempt to respect Jesus’ teaching in the latest secularised redaction of the liberal rights view of marriage. For a clear exposition of this juristic “Equal Love” viewpoint see the personal blog of Brian Walters SC which begins with the affirmation: “Marriage is a public commitment between two people to a life-long relationship”. (It is a 2010 blog and I am assuming that it is still his considered view. It would be worthwhile to hear his response to what I have penned above.)
As we have suggested in previous posts, the debate about “Marriage Equality” – with or without a plebiscite – has already put its advocates on notice to explain why they are disposed, as they certainly seem to be, to bypass parental oversight of childhood and advance the ideological sexualisation of childhood. Are we not being told (by some) that school children should be taught to view each other as the objects of their own sexual desires? Just who do these educators think they are?
Here again is a major political issue. It confirms just how politically problematic it is for State Governments to legislate as if State School practice – however that is negotiated by principals, teachers in active consultation with the parents in their school communities – can be the prevailing norm for how schools relate to the parents of the children committed to their charge.
There is of course much more to be said. The above is my summary of what I have concluded about the current state of the debate generated by the “Marriage Equality/Equal Love” movement.
24.10.16 (revised 25.10)