Everyday Justice in Conversation (4)

Here We Go Again – Confusion Reigns

“Under the Government’s plan, a postal vote asking if the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry will be sent out to everyone on the electoral roll.” (ABC web site 9 August 2017).

This is so naive and so ignorant of the public-legal matter itself, and of the way in which our elected Parliaments have a major player in misshaping public understanding for so long. It is politically embarrassing.

It is wilfully ignorant of the way people are currently using the term “marriage” in their every-day discussions. This is a pragmatic device fraught with deep contradictions. And these contradictions are not going to go away, whatever the outcome of “letting-the-people-have-their-say”. It is a kite-strategy, we recall, initially flown a couple of weeks ago, by the newly installed “multi-department” Minister for Home Affairs.

Nurturing Justice is certainly not commending this latest populist initiative. It is more an attempt to hold a political coalition together than it is about finding just policies in relation to a problem generated by a populist surge that is not going to go away any time soon.

Yesterday, we identified the initial step that is being avoided by “both sides” as they continue to avoid elaborating their political vision for how marriage, family, and household matters, if not also friendship, contribute to our national life.

This unprecedented (voluntary) initiative confirms that the Liberal-National “side” of politics is no longer a coalition of parties, as it bends itself backwards on its public-relations path to shore up electoral support for elected members of its “side” as the next election beckons. Such political self-interest at the expense of the national interest can only confirm the political and legal misunderstanding of the current state of affairs. And meanwhile deep factionalism still tears it apart. Genuine public discussion about marriage, if not of the institution itself, is made hostage to this political mob’s fortune.

We will say it one more time (not for the last time): read what two competent jurists say about the complex legal situation we currently confront in the administration of marriage law across the Commonwealth, Ask yourself whether a citizens free postal vote is going to do anything more than confuse a confused situation. Ask the couple who have moved in next door or your own adult children who have entered into permanent living arrangements how they see their relationship and their entitlements and how their relationship functions in relation to legal requirements).

As it stands the key phrase in the news report – “[whether] the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry” – is so fully ambiguous it may well provoke many to opt out. The wording strongly suggests that the current state of affairs in everyday life is being ignored. The formulation assumes that somehow the current legislation prevents freedom of speech, if not freedom of association. And it does no such thing. When has the definition of lawful marriage ever prevented same-sex couples from saying they are married, from referring to each other as marriage partners as thousands of de facto (“hetero” if not same-sex) couples have done for decades?

Moreover, whichever way this search for a legislative path goes, the presumption of those initiating this ballot is that the nation’s view on this matter can be properly gauged by it. It cannot. The issue presupposes a gross falsehood, namely that the political parties – via their receipt of public funding for elections – have educated the electorate already about the state of affairs governed by the Marriage Act. That is the offensiveness of this initiative, Mr Dutton. To send this out to all registered voters is to assume that the voters are competent to make a judgement in public-legal terms, when in fact they have to a large degree rendered incompetent by the studied self-interested negligence of our major political parties since at least 2004 (we’ll only refer to the mass media en passant here).

The above formulation assumes that the State by law prevents same-sex couples from asserting their belief that they are married.

The above formulation does nothing to challenge the implicit Statism in the populist view that marriage is a creature of Government. It is a confirmation that Parliament does not now know how to politically answer the accusation that the definition of lawful marriage in the Marriage Act, which both sides endorsed in Marriage Act amendments from 2004,  is an implicit violation of the human rights of same-sex couples. Some imply that such a definition of lawful in the Act is implicitly homophobic. Parliament has long since given up the task of defending the bi-partisan changes “both sides” endorsed in 2004 to the Marriage Act. If they are now no longer wanting to support that bi-partisanship, why aren’t they busy explaining themselves? The answer is: they are too busy “running for cover”. Mr Shorten’s current anger at the Government with predictions of an efflorescence of hate speech are merely a political cover-up of his own party’s contribution to public confusion. When has his party ever explained its pragmatic U-Turn on this matter, let alone his “side’s” failure to have the matter properly and publicly debated?

Do you believe that the current definition of lawful marriage as contained in the Marriage Act represents a violation of human rights?

We have suggested that this is the question that needs to be asked of this matter. But Labor as much as the Liberal-National coalition simply do not trust the electorate on this matter to raise it in these terms. For it part the electorate gives many signs that it is paying them back in like manner. These parties in their elevated privilege continue production of “both sides” core and non-core electoral agitprop. And they are so eager, so very eager, to display their post-modern credentials even as the “absolutes” of their respective “sides” dissolve in their rhetoric (ref the definition of post-modernity according to Jean-Francois Lyotard as incredulity to all meta-narratives). Labor’s absolutes are now “civil rights”; for the Liberal Coalition it is their tattered banner of “Vox Populi Vox Dei”.

There’s more to be said. For instance, what role does a Government have in relation to language? Can definitions of terms be legislated? Will some read the ballot question in terms of whether it is Government that can determine the meaning of the words we use? [While the Christian church has no mandate to depart from the teaching of Jesus about marriage, what it is, see here the wise words of N T Wright on the political danger of asking Government to legislate to define the meaning of words.] Further posts on how and why the reform of political parties is necessary for our ongoing state-crafting will follow. It is and will continue to be an important part of our everyday conversation about justice.

BCW 11.8.17

 

 

PUBLIC EMOTIONS AND JUST DEBATE (2)

Nurturing Justice 2006 3 November

In this issue, I want to extend our discussion of the calls for “gay marriage” from the Greens and Judge Michael Kirby by setting forth the beginnings of a Christian strategy to discuss this contentious and problematic issue. By this stage we should not be under any illusions. The possibility that “gay marriage” will be given legal sanction in this country is by no means remote. Perhaps, as time goes on, the likelihood even increases. Mark Shields of the NewsHour recently gave this opinion: “I mean, the tide has turned on this issue. I mean, the next generation is just immeasurably, profoundly more tolerant of gay relationships than are their grandparents. And there’s a movement that’s inevitable” (October 27. 2006). He is speaking of the US. Are we in Australia about to follow the US down this path? It wouldn’t be the first time.

In introducing this topic last time, I drew attention to the emotional aspect of this debate and emphasized the importance of developing an overview of political life. To make a positive and constructive Christian political contribution to all political debates, not just about marriage law and related issues, a lot of careful analysis will be required. We will have to sort through issues self-critically and certainly not hide from the possibility that our presentation of the Christian message has failed to provide any clear alternative to the so-called sexual revolution. The public confusion about sex, sexuality and marriage is all around us. It is a confusion that has to be addressed. With something like 80,000 abortions per year and many, many marriages falling apart, there simply is no ground for Christian triumphalism.

In our reflection on this issue we must question ourselves as to whether we are rightly understanding the problems confronting us.

So to start. The question before us is: should a homosexual relationship be granted the legal status of marriage? “No!”, all on it’s own, doesn’t get very far. If “No!” is to express a genuine political concern for public justice its needs to be followed by an elaboration of the political view of marriage that has brought us to this conclusion. Can we do that?

We have to explain what our “No!” means politically? OK then let us first explore what “No!” shouldn’t mean. Remember, our aim is to develop political argument to meet the arguments of those whose answer to the question is “Yes!”

First, “No!” doesn’t mean a desire to avoid political debate by merely expounding moral and ethical precepts. The question needs to be taken in its political-legal sense and our “No!” needs to be a political-legal “No!”. It needs more than moral elaboration.

Second. “No!” doesn’t mean that we are making an argument for legally restricting the use of the word “marriage” so that committed couples who might want to refer to themselves in this way are legally forbidden to do so on pain of penalty. That would not be a positive development. If any couple are living together and want to refer to themselves as married, we might have our own views on that, and if asked for our views, we might tell them that they are not really married until they have “gone through” a marriage ceremony to make it public. But on that level of inter-personal interaction our “No!” to gay marriage is not to suggest that the law be changed to restrict the way people use the word in public or in private communication. To expand the powers of government to control the way the word “marriage” is used (or any other word for that matter) would be to take a path that wanders far from the limits of public justice. And anyway there are many male and female “partnerships” that refer to themselves as married. Conventionally they were referred to as “common law marriages”.

Third, to say “No!” doesn’t mean that homosexual couples are being singled out for special negative treatment. The demand for “gay marriage” is often couched in terms of civil rights. Though any “No!” is based on the view that marriage is not a civil right, it is not to suggest that homosexual couples have in some way forfeited their civil rights. Any view that a homosexual couple living together is not a marriage needs to be explained in terms of a wider view of law and human relationships. The law doesn’t usually regulate friendships and nor should it. Here are some other dimensions of the issue.

If a mother and son want to be legally recognised as a marriage, the law already says “No!”, and so it should. Likewise for a brother and sister who might want to make the same claim. Moreover, in this jurisdiction, polygamous and polyandrous arrangements are not accepted as lawful forms of marriage, even though our legal restrictions do not deny that these arrangements are marriages. What the law says in this instance is that polygamy is not a recognized form of marriage in this jurisdiction.

So, “No!” in our case means: a homosexual relationship is something other than a marriage and therefore should not qualify as a lawful marriage. Our “No!” means that we will still not accept that it is a marriage even if marriage law is changed to include homosexual relationships within the legal definition of lawful marriage. Our “No!” in that instance will expand to saying “No!” to the lawful definition even when the lawmakers who are redefining marriage in the way proposed go ahead . Our “No1” will mean that in our view a legal error based upon an empirical mistake is not corrected simply by legislation that incorporates the mistake into its erroneous definition.

As so our “No!” also means that Governments sometimes make mistakes on the basis of erroneous legal judgments. And there is a wider question here about how we should then live as citizens in the context of error.

In this instance, should a legal judgment decide that homosexual relationships should qualify as “marriage”, it would not only misidentify the committed non-marital relationship that may or may not want to be legally recognised as a marriage, but it would also mean that marriage had been redefined because the law would henceforth consider something that previously was not marriage as marriage. What isn’t being addressed is the underlying dogma that it is the law itself that makes marriage. “No!” in this case means a rejection of the idea that the law makes marriage marriage.

To legally redefine homosexual relationships as “marriage” on the basis of an assumption that the law makes marriage would certainly challenge the widely held view that marriage law is about the legal recognition of marriage. What is ignored here is marriage’s ascribed institutional character, having an authority that is established outside the competence of the political community. It seems that advocates of such law assume that marriage is a human creation and so assume that what humans have made they can un-make and re-make.

“No!” here also doubts whether the just support and regulation of committed, long-term relationships will be enhanced by legally re- defining those relationships (including homosexual relationships) as “marriages”. “No!” views two friends who are living together, committed to supporting each other, without any sexual bonding, as a friendship, not a marriage and for exactly the same reason considers a homosexual relationship to be a friendship. In our complex society there are indeed multiplying ways in which people can live together in supportive and loving relationships. But love does not equal sexual love, and ongoing complaint on behalf of “same-sex marriage” about “equal love” is not only blurred, it is blurring.

Such diversity of relationships should evoke our (civic) respect and honour and at points there will be need for changes in laws to ensure justice. But justice is not served by calling a relationship marriage just because the parties to that relationship want to have their relationship re-made in those terms. More can be said here about the “social constructionist” and “consumerist” assumptions that are strongly evident in our commercialised and post-modern way of “doing politics”.

Fourth, to say “No!” doesn’t mean that only heterosexual lawfully married couples should qualify in law for benefits that are already available for people living in committed (household) relationships. “No!” in this case does not mean any criticism of such provisions like “paid carer’s leave” or hospital visiting rights, superannuation entitlements, and so on. Moreover, it may indeed be a matter of justice that laws governing such allowances and access, as well as many financial and contractual relationships (health benefits, superannuation, inheritance), be changed in order not to discriminate against non-married supportive couples. And it would in fact be discriminatory to single out one kind of non-marital relationship for a privilege usually granted to marriage partners while denying that privilege to other kinds of enduring partnerships and committed friends.

Politics is about open debate. We citizens may disagree with each other. At this point in time those arguing for and against “gay marriage” are certainly going to disagree. But the important point is to find ways by which political debate is developed as we disagree and as we find just pathways for policies and laws. We need to avoid the tendency of treating fellow citizens as of no account because they disagree with us on contentious issues, and certainly we should not exclude their voice from our attention because they are committed to other political causes. We should seek to tell the prominent public advocates of “gay marriage” why we disagree and why we think the campaign for “gay marriage” is misconceived. But we also keep alert to the clash of assumptions that will come when public policy is debated.

BCW 31.3.17 Edited version of 3rd November 2006.

Some Observations; Some Persistent Questions.

I

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..

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.

V

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.

VI

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?

VII

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.

BCW

24.10.16 (revised 25.10)

Re-Introducing Nurturing Justice

Readers will not need to be told that we have just passed the 15th anniversary of what the Americans call “9/11”, the 11th of September 2001. Thinking back over those years, I have thought it might be appropriate to type some lines that explain why Nurturing Justice has been deemed by me to be necessary. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the news, go to a major news website, and it may be difficult to figure that what we are as much involved in the political consequences of political actions (and inactions) of events 15 years ago (or more). Often it is merely the political problem that occurred yesterday we find shouting at us as if it can fixed by action today (or at the latest, tomorrow – social media feed anyone?). But political debate is not just about arguing about near-future consequences of present proposals. And neither is this merely another post encouraging readers to explore the Nurturing Justice archive, although I would be delighted if you would take the time to do so. Your feedback is always welcome.

So, as we think politically about how our political responsibility has been formed over these 15 years, I wish to re-introduce the reason I have launched Nurturing Justice. And the way I do that will be by trying to identify a key political thread that knits together what has been taking place over these 15 years. Of course, such a wide-ranging intention needs a focus, and for the purposes of this post I will outline a political view of how genuine political parties have been systematically undermined and thus displaced from our debate about vital issues of public governance.

This is no usual “conspiracy theory”, at least it is not simply about how some mass popular movement has taken over. It is about how our major political parties have hijacked themselves. That has been a persistent theme of Nurturing Justice since it was launched in 2006.

Today, I started out intending that this not be a long post. There’s much that can be said; the archive is freely available for those wanting to investigate the way I have developed various aspects of this persistent political thread. At the conclusion of this post, I will also provide a link to two other posts that will launched soon after this one.

So why has Nurturing Justice been initiated? The answer is quite simple. It has been launched and maintained as an attempt to promote – as our blog by-line says – “a Christian political option for Australia and the South West Pacific.” And as our previous post said: we aim to do justice to political debate! That is a necessary first step to developing a Christian political option. And yes, NJ has been around now for over ten years, but we believe that a decade has not been long enough to make more than an initial few baby political steps toward this goal. And political debate also requires genuine public justice!

Nurturing Justice, therefore, has consistently tried to draw attention to a major development in our political life that too often is left off the agenda of current political debate and its accompanying discussion. In other words the “development” we have sought to trace is actually a lack of genuine political development in public debate, a growing tendency to narrow political debate in order to preserve the elite aspirations of major political players, in other words so that the Liberal Coalition and Labor, with the Greens and One Nation not so far behind, be not inconvenienced.

Nurturing Justice has been provoked by the persistent transformation of political parties into public relations firms for self-proclaimed political elites. We have sought to analyse the twisting and turning of major political players who are unwilling to actually promote debate of the issues they are effectively suppressing. They do not wish to support public debate that would critically examine their own conduct as political parties. We wish to explain why so much of what passes for political debate blocks genuine contributions to public reflection about public governance. There persists an ongoing failure of major, if not all, extant parties to explain and thereby seek electoral support for their view of what a party is and what it should be. There is, from political parties a failure to articulate what they believe about themselves, about political parties and how these seemingly ubiquitous players in all dimensions of our polity, should contribute to the administration of public justice. But where is there political party attempt to promote open political debate that allows due respect for the searching lights of genuine public opinion about them as parties?

Consider The Weekend Australian (September 10-11 2016) which ran the headline: “Costello’s blast: Libs lack vision”. Apparently, the former Federal Treasurer said that the Liberal Party’s “historic mission” is to be the custodian of small government and low tax. Meanwhile, his former boss, John Howard, says that the Liberal-Coalition has to get the right balance between “what is desirable and what is achievable”. And when we read further we discover that the Liberal Party’s “vision” is its view of how it gains support from the electorate at election time so that it can remain in Government. It’s task is to help make all of life consistent with the view that good public governance is really about economic management with an occasional sprinkling of respect for “good moral principles” (whatever they are these days).

And so, with this at the centre of Liberal-Coalition efforts to maintain party unity at all costs, the Coalition cabinet have now decided upon a plebiscite on “same-sex marriage” and “marriage equality”. Presumably the Liberal-Coalition cannot have a policy on this because they have come around to the view that it is for the people of Australia to decide. But decide what? Are not the parties of the Liberal-Coalition a privileged part of our public governance and do they not have any political beliefs that will decide this matter for themselves as a party? And so we should not expect to hear anything during this upcoming plebiscite debate about the Coalition’s comprehensive marriage, family and household policy platform. That has now been relegated to wherever it is that former political party policies end up. To have and put forward such a policy package, presumably, would split the party. Tut. Tut. And that will never do.

Whatever else the plebiscite will be, the funds set aside for “Aye” and “Noe” will not be sufficient to enable the Liberal Party to explain the principles that require it to shift away from a comprehensive marriage, family and household policy. Why? Because the Liberal Party’s decisive shift away from principled party politics is long-established. It is firmly embedded in the Liberal Party’s “conscience”. The primordial political principle of the Liberal Party is that it is there to ensure that it controls the government of the country; and if that means it cannot govern without being united, and if being united means forsaking coherent policy about the core institutions of our economy – marriage and family – then presumably marriage and family can be forsaken as well.

But, of course, they won’t be saying that.

Costello and Howard make such public pronouncements as if their own contributions by limiting policy debate by focusing upon small government and low tax, or balancing the desirable and the achievable has nothing to do with the political confusion about public governance and marriage that pertains on their “side”. And it is notable that their public statements indicated that they no longer have any real concern about a political party’s policy about itself and what it believes a party should be.

One has to wonder whether Peter Costello’s public blast about the Liberal Party’s lack of vision at a Menzies Research Centre business leaders’ forum is simply a diversion. Careful political analysis will show just how far the Liberal Party has wandered away from the political vision of Alfred Deakin (1856-1919). It should be remembered that Deakin’s initial speech in the Victorian Parliament was to tender his resignation; he had been informed that voting papers were not properly distributed in the electorate for which he had been declared winner. And in the subsequent election, he lost! Politics according to Deakin was not about holding onto power; it also meant relinquishing power to maintain one’s principles. The Liberal Party has, as we have noted in these pages, been willing since 1974 to give up its stated principles about parliamentary democracy in order to enhance the political power of its own party. The Liberal Party is over. Is it going to take another 42 years for it to wake up?

When in 2001, John Howard reneged on his pre-election undertaking that there he would not support legislation to allow embryonic stem-cell research, all Peter Costello had to do was to follow Alfred Deakin and remind his Liberal Party leader that although he was PM, he was still accountable to his electors. Howard could always resign and seek re-election, but presumably this was no longer part of the then Prime Minister’s “vision” of the balance between what was desirable and what was achievable. Presumably the arguments of the pharmaceutical companies in favour of that ill-fated research intervened between the Member for Bennelong and his electors. That was 15 years ago, and had the then Treasurer argued as a genuine Deakinite, he might have even been able to confirm Deakin’s political vision within the Liberal Party of Australia. But he didn’t. And his failure to do so, notwithstanding his latter-day grandstanding on “vision”, has simply continued the process of the Liberal Party walking away from its task as a political party and instead maintain its unjustifiable place – that is, in terms of its own founding principles about Parliamentary democracy, in our polity. It is simply now a public relations firm with serious questions about the manner in which its own self-proclaimed elite standing is maintained.

Our concluding comment concerns the upcoming plebiscite and advice about how to contribute to the impending debate. Don’t be fooled by the nonsense about “equal funding” to “both sides”. The major political issue that the Liberal-Coalition and the Labor Party have to explain is why they have walked away from putting coherent marriage, family and household policy as integral to their views of economic justice. Whatever else the plebiscite may be, and whatever else may be the result of the subsequent debate, Nurturing Justice is concerned that it is already shaping up as a serious diversion from genuine political debate about the way in which the transformation of political parties into public relations firms has simply cleared the way to a view of Parliamentary competence in our system of Government that it can invent new forms of marriage with the permission of the “people”.

Here are two further posts:

Tracing the Historical Hi-Jacking of Political Parties.

Can political parties be saved?

BCW

13.9.16

NOT BY LEGISLATION ALONE

Isn’t it interesting how, within the Federal Parliament today, among those now taking their seats to consider legislation designed to enhance the governance of this country, we do not hear any coherent and organised political voice in support of Marriage, let alone of the Marriage Act in its current form? Debate has now moved on to a scrap between political players all seeking to get some kudos from the anticipated “Marriage Equality” legislation when it is finally passed.

Given the real-world complexity of this issue, and given the fact that both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights do not redefine marriage to make it compatible with the libertarian theory that a same-sex union should be granted marriage status, and given that Australia is a signatory to both of these international agreements, it would seem wise for Federal parliamentarians to cease and desist from trying to eke some political advantage from this proposed “reform” (which in our view is no reform at all).

         Instead they should be thinking about how to generate more political debate among citizens young and old, about the way marriage and family (and household) life should be considered in law and how these basic social institutions should be discussed openly and fearlessly in political debate.

         We need more principled debate about marriage and family in relation to public governance, not less. We need a way of doing politics that gives us, and each other, time and room to develop our own thinking about the ways in which legislation should ascribe public justice to marriages and families as well as to households, and other long-term relationships of many kinds. As a deeply confused polity – with many changes taking place before our eyes, of citizens from differing backgrounds, foregrounds and heart-beliefs –  we need to start thinking in terms of a much longer, ongoing time-frame in which the entire citizenry, young and old, are encouraged to participate with their political views at whatever stage of sophistication they may be.

         And our parliamentary representatives should be taking on this task, seeking to foment that kind of ongoing (yes inclusive!) national discussion. Given our national civic confusion the best advice may be this: festina lente – hasten slowly.

         The issue about marriage cannot be resolved by legislation alone and it is not going to be made any easier by legislating “Marriage Equality”, trying to use the law to make that which isn’t marriage into marriage. There is not only significant confusion, but also profound disquiet, about the way this issue has been manufactured and the discussion malformed across the entire community – and we know that the problem about this is not only here at home but also overseas. We should not be goaded by apocalyptic accusations that we are somehow being “left behind”.

         And as I have suggested, there are grounds for suspecting that we are being coralled as a polity to become part of an attempt to rewrite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at least of Article 16.

         Nurturing Justice has given its view that the pervasive disquiet and confusion has been generated to a significant degree by the educative failure of the two major political sides (the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor) which in this instance means a failure to reckon with, and explain, their political view of the public legal dimensions of marriage and family and household in our polity. And we have pointed out how the recent election and its complex aftermath is a demonstration of an ongoing historical failure of both “sides” to engage in effective ongoing political education. Both “sides” resile from such education because, for one thing, it would mean that their own performance, qua parties, is put in the spotlight, their transformation into public relations firms for the political elite, which contrasts markedly with their presumed task of enhancing just representation in our national life.

       Take for example how, back in 2004, in response to efforts to legislate “same-sex marriage”, they voted overwhelmingly to reform the Marriage Act. Now, without any clear legal or political explanation as to why they are no longer doing so, they are advocating something quite different. But whatever that may be, they still refer to themselves in a gratuitous way suggesting that they, in their party affiliations, are indispensable to our system of public governance.

         And so the changes to the Marriage Act in 2004, which effectively legislated an equality of public entitlements between “civil unions” and married couples, are no longer part of the debate, at least where the debate gets prime media attention. “Same-sex marriage” agitation has since morphed into “marriage equality”. I have often wondered why and how this came about and it seems that we are now, apparently, dealing with the implications of a 2013 judgement from the High Court that can be read here. The crucial statement of that judgement reads:

   “Marriage” in s 51(xxi) includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.

         Though this High Court statement of 2013 is of significant constitutional weight, when have we ever heard the PM, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Greens, or other parliamentarians advocating “Marriage Equality”, discussing the implications of this sentence – made by jurists in this High Court judgement – for our lives in this country? (Or have I been asleep?) This is something of such profound importance that it simply cannot be contained in Twitter tweats or the dogmatic manipulations of the 24 hour (or less) “news cycle”.

         It is disturbing enough to read that High Court’s 2013 judgment. And then we should read the serious criticism raised against its presumption by two constitutional jurists. Though this High Court opinion has such an important part in the way we should understand the current political debate, we have heard little if anything about it in all the huffing and puffing about “Marriage Equality” and the proposed plebiscite.

         So, are we to receive coherent political leadership on this matter?

        Is the statement as noted above of significance to how our constitution is understood and how we should now view proposals to change the Marriage Act? How are we to view the relationship between civil governance and marriage? And are we to simply flag through this statist view of what should derive from parliamentary supremacy in our political lives? Where has there been open political discussion initiated by our political elite as to whether the Constitution envisions anything like what is implied in this sentence of the High Court’s judgment about Parliament’s role in our life?

         Are our politicians afraid perhaps of criticizing the Court’s ambiguous and provocative judgment? Or is this indicative of a bi-partisan boycott by “the union of legal professionals in politics” so that such a discussion that might call them to account qua profession is suppressed ? Might such a discussion cast doubt upon their bona fide standing in our polity? Might it somehow undermine their own understanding of what they are doing as representatives of electors in Parliament?

         And so what we seem to have is a genuine farce, a mere “lolly scramble” over which side of politics has cleared the way to “Marriage Equality”, when in fact it was the High Court’s 2013 judgement that provides the open of the door for the political competition that is now being played out.

         Let’s ask it again: was the Federal Constitution in giving the Federal Parliament jurisdiction over marriage ((Part V – Powers of the Parliament) thereby implying a Federal Parliamentary power that could, via legislation, make that which is not marriage into marriage? The unjustifed and indeed unjustifiable statement of the High Court certainly seems to say so.

         It seems that some weird and not so wonderful political doctrines are being passed for self-evident reality in that (juristic) judgment but also the same view has been alive and well in the presumption that marriage is a creature of parliamentary legislation. This view certainly requires open political debate (as well as the kind of challenge from jurists we have linked) and that debate is not going to go away when politicians presumptively try to close the books (at least, if they can, for the next little while) on marriage by legislating “Marriage Equality”.

      Moreover, those Parliamentarians who are so worried about young people’s fragile sexual identity, should set themselves to examining the full social emotional consequences of their policies across all groups. Without doing that the “use” of professional advice about the possibilities of youth suicide simply sounds suspiciously like a covert way of telling people who actually believe that same-sex relationships are not marriages to stop referring to their belief in public life because it is “violent”, and will have to do so when legislation is finally passed. It sounds more like a threat, and also a political warning to any jurists who might want to challenge the egregious error made in the above quoted statement of the High Court.

         Such echoes of moral dictatorship are indeed alarming and no doubt there are young people on the verge of adulthood who, upon hearing these comments, become deeply troubled by them.

         The aspiring dictators of public moral discourse, so firmly committed to the salvific power of their “side” of politics, ought first to examine the failings of their own party, and explore their own inability to openly develop and stand by a coherent marriage policy seeking a better understanding about how we all are accountable for how we give shape to our political culture.

         If there is a profound and deep level of personal uncertainty abroad it does no good to simply blame your political opponents for the words that you presume to put in their mouths because they disagree with your own tentative views. Such wiseacres ought also to be asking what such presumptive legislation will mean for generations of young people, future citizens, yet unborn. We would do better as a polity if the political parties inside and outside of parliament set themselves to further develop their comprehensive political views on marriage over an extended period.

         How has the Marriage Act hitherto functioned in our political life and how should legislation be formed so that marriages and human relationships of all kinds are to be given due respect in all the legislation and legislative agendas that come before the Parliaments of this country at Federal, State and Local levels? We also need to give careful attention to how our laws and policies have ongoing influence and decisive impacts upon our contribution to our neighbours in the region and beyond and thus also upon their lives and how they then have an impact us as well.

         In other words, we should be giving thought to how we, in our contribution yo global politics can, via our own policies and the dissemination of our political outlook, begin to meet the very real challenges that face marriage people around the world in their everyday lives.

BCW 29.8.2016 (amended 9.9.2016)

 

 

   .

Responding to “Get out of the way!” and the New Breed of Moral Dictatorship

For some time now Nurturing Justice has been emphasising that political debate cannot be narrowed down to merely a matter of “individual choices”, not even the choices of majorities. For public justice to be maintained in our form of parliamentary democracy, political parties are needed to state their political beliefs in terms of a comprehensive vision that explains to their candidate’s electors the basis of and the party’s view of the necessity of proposed legislation.
We keep all that in mind as we note with some surprise the tally of readers for our recent post of August 12th. That post by reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights raised the possibility that our local Australian political debate is simply flying in the face of what our Government has already committed us to defence and uphold. But that enduring ambiguity can not and will not be overcome merely by a surge in the blog-count, let alone the Twitter roll.
NJ makes no apology for continuing to post political argument. At times, as with this post, we will delve at length into our own archive and rewrite what we have posted previously. We will not shy away from providing, as best we can, extensive political argument that aims to clarify what is at stake in our public task as citizens to promote public justice.

 

I

In a previous post last November, we drew attention to a 2013 “join us or get out of the way” video sent around at election time by the Australian Greens. That artefact of political ruthlessness implied a political competition in which “threats” are from now on simply “part of the game”. It is ironic that this broadside against the norms of civic discourse doesn’t seem to have concerned the increasing of chorus of “Marriage Equality” advocates who are saying that a plebiscite portends all kinds of negative politicking. But it was that video that marked a very regrettable stage in our recent political and electioneering history and sadly it was consistent with other some “threats” – “we are watching you” – that were promulgated under parliamentary privilege by that party’s leader at an earlier time. And such veiled threats  – whether “We’re watching you!” or “Join us or get out of the way!” – do not enhance political debate. They are pulpiteering dogmas designed to chill opponents – they are designed to close down authentic debate, even if the fear they induce is justified as “play acting”. They also say something like: join us or you’ll be wearing more the same!

     Given our social-media ethos of instantaneous political gratification, we can expect to be told that any whiff of moral dictatorship noted in that 2013 video arises from our over-sensitivity rather than from that inaapropriate electioneering. It will be passed of as of no enduring significance, an ironic smiley face even as the unenlightened, the “over-sensitive”, see it as nasty. We would be counselled not to get too “uptight” about it.

     Nevertheless, the unhelpful rhetoric of an erstwhile “third force” should not be evaluated in isolation. It actually emerged from a political process within the Parliament. The leaders of “both sides” had hitherto closed down debate that had been generated by this “third force”. The legislation they found acceptable enhanced their own electoral appeal, while marginalising, even if it were only for a short time, the dissent that had brought on the parliamentary debate in the first place.

     Though I am not suggesting that the Greens should be viewed as innocent victims, it was rather convenient then (i.e. all the way back to 2004 and before than as well as subsequently) for the Liberal-National coalition and Labor to “wedge” the Greens’ legislative efforts in that way. And was there no electoral advantage in making it seem as if the Greens party was simply committed to having its leader’s chosen lifestyle given a parliamentary “thumbs up”?

     Of course, that may have never been said, not in so many words. Yet apart from the electoral advantage gained by that “wedging”, the bi-partisan effort in 2004 to resolve the issue carried within it a significant political perversity that has not since been overcome. In fact it has deepened the crisis we face because the Australian parliament has been inhibited in its development of policies that would ascribe due and just respect to marriage, with proper protection to its integrity as an inherently male-female institution vital to our social fabric.

     And this parliamentary inhibition surely reflects the sense of uncertainty, if not crisis, that pertains to married life across this country and beyond. And in that sense, yes, we are all involved in this political problem and, yes, we all should shoulder our own part in resolving it. But anyone who thinks that the Opposition Leader’s proposed “marriage equality” legislation or Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite will resolve the political problem now facing marriage, are living in a neo-liberal Flatland; and so we have political debate where unexplained politically-correct abstractions about compassion and solidarity, designed to evoke friendly sentiments, replace genuine flesh-and-blood politics.

II

     In previous Nurturing Justice posts, I have often drawn attention to the fact that from “both sides of politics” (a phrase, incidentally, regularly used by John Howard when he held the Prime Ministerial office) we are no longer being served by genuine political parties. Instead, standing behind the parliamentarians are publicly funded public relations firms that are employed to ensure that those elected on their “side” retain their seats in Parliament.

         Though public funding of political parties was introduced in 1984, the slide away from genuine parties has been the norm since 1974-5, when the Australian electorate was called upon, from both sides, to resolve what has since been called the constitutional crisis. In the process, it was only Don Chipp (1925-2006) and John Grey Gorton (1911-2002) – even if then only in garbled form – and never the Liberal Party, and neither the ALP, coming to the assistance of the confused electorate to explain that a vote for Malcolm Fraser was to endorse the Liberal Party’s effective overturning of the view of Parliamentary democracy that was presupposed by its own party’s constitution and platform. This was a revolution within the party itself and was led by the party’s parliamentary wing in order to improperly win government. Of course the party constitution assumed that the Senate was to be accorded due respect; but a party’s numbers in the Senate – a house where the interests of States were to be overseen – were not to be used to thwart governance that orginated in the House of Representatives.

     And since then: how has the political debate about public governance in this polity been characterised? Answer: In order to safeguard their respective standing in the electorate, both sides have consistently distanced themselves from their own party platforms when it was deemed appropriate to enhance their standing in the polls. In so doing they think they are accommodating public opinion, maintaining their share of electoral support and thereby increasing their chances of winning elections (if not the share of public funds that derive from the election).

     And since that time “both sides” have also persistently failed to develop coherent policy options for what I have called the issues of “body politics” (marriage, family and household, abortion, euthanasia, research on human subjects, pharmaceutical research and also notably about the consequences of the decriminalisation of homosexuality (1981) for the support of same-sex friendships of all kinds (and not only those friendships which seek to maintain themselves as a sexual bond) to public life.

         And it might even be that an unintended consequence of this elite political manoeuvring has also meant a denigration genuine friendship as part of our social fabric. At the very least the inability of the major parties to unequivocally address “body politics” suggests further research about the social consequences of populist libertarianism, not only from those advocating “same-sex marriage” but also from.

     These matters have been concertedly removed from political debate and consigned to a specious realm where “conscience” is supposed to reign supreme; in other words these issues, when they are not considered divisive, have been privatised. Now, after decades of the “privatisation” of many public goods which previously were held in public trust by the State, it is the Marriage Act itself that stands on the cusp of being “privatised”.

III

     The term “privatisation” itself is full of great irony. And we might be justified in asking some probing questions here about what our public debate about marriage truly represents. Would we be departing too far from reality to probe the commitments of the elite class of “movers and shakers” in Australian public life and suggest that an instinctive fear, born of post-modern incredulity, is at work among those of the political class who view their vocation not so much as service to their electors but as their personal career? Would a failure to amend the Marriage Act, to bring Australia in line with the libertarian developments of other western polities, constitute a threat to the pre-eminence of their political parties in our political life? And so we have continued to point out that the “neo-liberal” world-view – the assumed autonomy of unencumbered individuals and their choices – has manifested itself “on both sides” in the “privatisation” of party political programmes?

     One consequence of this is that those entering political debate without the diffidence of “both sides” to a forthright policy platform of “body politics” issues, are regularly characterised as “extreme”, as “unrealistic”, as “intolerant”. And so the inability of the major parties to develop coherent policies on these issues is presented to us as a mere result function of their contribution to the maintenance of civic virtue!

     To have a clear and comprehensive framework for policies, especially on these so-called controversial issues of “body politics”, meant, in former times, that some dissenters would end up resigning their membership and joining or launching other parties. As long as it was understood that a political party had to have such a comprehensive framework, then such a drift in party membership was to be expected, even if it were regretted.

         What is a political party’s contribution? Is it not to give voice in the legislative process to a significant political viewpoint that is alive, or should be, in the electorate? But since the party organisation allowed itself to become subservient to its parliamentary wing the distinctive character of political party membership has been seriously blurred. Allegiance to the party’s constitution and platform is outweighed and displaced by a parliamentary discipline – increasingly oriented to public opinion and the defeat of political opponents and so to winning the next election.

     And in this way the political party’s former purpose to give political voice to its own membership’s political viewpoint becomes somewhat irrelevant. Party membership now consists is accepting that the party’s strategists have been employed to devise a plan to gain or regain election under a traditional banner with whatever wording is thereby given to the election platform. And so it’s now a vicious oxymoronic circle. And the term “coherent policy”, at least at the parliamentary level, becomes a matter of deciding what rafts of policies will keep and increase the crop of politicians who align with “our side” of binary politics. Winning enough votes at the next election becomes the sine qua non of a contribution to this kind of parliamentary democracy.

         The basic idea of this kind of political system is that it should be controlled by the ongoing distribution of entrenched privileges to those establishing their careers in the competition between these “public relations firms”. And as we have noted: sometimes such careers continue on with a “parliamentary phase.”

         Such “politicos” then work as the obsequious agents of these self-defined political elites. We can readily read the results in the “Editorial Pages” of the Sun-Herald, The Age and The Australian but also elsewhere across our increasingly fragmented mass-media. And the powerful media, qua surrogate opposition, becomes overly absorbed with telling us about its own impact, reporting on what is “trending on Twitter” and other “social media”.

     The above analysis also explains why “both sides” scrupulously avoid developing policies that draw attention to the responsibilities of political parties, namely the task of such publicly registered associations in ensuring a just system of parliamentary representation for all electors. Not only do the political parties of “both sides” avoid authentic political education, they perpetuate a serious misrepresentation that politics is primarily about the winning of elections, irrespective of whether it is they or their opponent who is going to win.

         This is a heightened level of political miseducation pure and simple. It is a serious misunderstanding of political responsibility which should, however, be about the enhancement of citizenship as an indisepnsable part of public justice. Modern and democratic public governance has developed in ways that presuppose the unavoidable political responsibility of citizens whose participation involves promoting and upholding public justice in whatever social setting they find themselves. Such settings may indeed include marital or familial relationships. People’s households need not be excluded either.

IV

     And so, “Marriage Equality” and the proposed “plebiscite” continue to function ambiguously in our everyday politics. Even after the inconclusive 2016 poll, the Australian electorate is now being enjoined to make a further political judgment not just about the public value of an institution crucial to the fabric of our society, but also about its internal composition. But since when have civil government ever had the competence to create marriage? Did not the Marriage Act, from the outset, simply identify the leading characteristics of the type of marriage that would, henceforth, be accepted as lawful marriage within the Australian polity?

     From this and our previous discussion, readers might well conclude that we are suggesting we would be better off having a plebiscite that probed and evoked the Australian electorate’s view of political parties and how we, from now on, should be represented in Parliament and how true accountability of elected parliamentarians to their electors is to be restored, how a political party should contribute to making Parliamentarians accountable to their electors.

         Due to a persistent effort to put their party’s interests at the centre of Australian democracy, the major political parties have effectively undermined themselves as parties, and brought parliamentary democracy to its current state of disrepute in the eyes of citizens, with its all too ruinous state of “party politics”. And now it seems that these associations are expecting us, the national electorate, after years of political misguidance, to provide a mature political judgment about proposed legislation! “Marriage equality”, for all intents and purposes, looks and sounds like the angry deconstruction by a confused millennial generation of an institution that has already lost its former prestige even if it has been with humankind for millennia.

         Messrs Turnbull and Shorten are clearly living in a mythological universe, a cloud cuckoo land, seeking assurance from Twittered evidence that their next pronouncement will coincide with whatever it is that is “trending” among citizens (i.e. those who will be called upon to vote at the next election). The 2016 election has not in any way dinted their view that the cumulative vote of sovereign individuals with their sovereign rights can sovereignly solve each and every problem, and can thereby magically make same-sex relationships, which clearly are not marriage, into marriage – all by legislative fiat. And meanwhile these major political machines constituting “both sides” of politics conclusively demonstrate their ideological bankruptcy by scrupulously avoiding taking sides since that would threaten party unity! What a sham! Do they truly want us to believe they are serious?

V

     So we keep in mind that we are being brought to the plebiscite’s ballot box by politicians from “both sides” who have gained their political careers by becoming paid up members of these public relations firms (parties) that are now exposed for their political cowardice, having resolutely refused to develop comprehensive and coherent policy framework to support an institution before it was acknowledged as basic to the Australian polity, was also a basic structure (albeit in variant forms) of the pre-existing life of the land’s indigenous inhabitants. In point of fact an understanding of marriage is an integral component of any political vision, even while it is not, as such, a political institution.

         The question is this: how can you have a coherent political vision if you now try to displace the male-female character of marriage with a legalised form of words purporting to ascribe generic “marriage” entitlement rights based upon “personhood” to whatever binary partnership may claim it? This is nothing other than the weasel words of a failed individualism, the ideology at the heart of liberal humanism. Is this the culminating purpose for which liberalism has been aiming since John Locke (1632-1704), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Alfred Deakin (1856-1919) and Frederick Eggleston (1875-1954)?

     The equality of “entitlements”, in so far as they are distributed by law, is already a legislated political fact between marriage and civil unions (that may also include both heterosexual and same-sex relationships so established). So why is this fantastic (in the proper sense of the term) issue still on the agenda? Could it simply be that the major public relations firms that dominate our Federal Parliament are so committed to what is “trending” on social media, that they simply do not know how not to go ahead? Their commitment to the normative role of public opinion as measured by surveys on the one hand, and “party unity” on the other, seems to have left them with no choice.

       Or could it be that the Australian polity is actually being coralled by stealthy international “movers and shakers” of global initiatives, into becoming a party to a longer term attempt to re-write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? (see our previous post) There’s now an emergent inner ambiguity in our politics, in our Government, our Parliament and Judiciary, about how we are to adhere to the UDHR and also to the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights.

     The truth is that “both sides” of politics, with their respective public relations firms, are no longer capable of enunciating a political programme that requires policies that ascribe due public respect to the marital institution itself. It is not only marriage – the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life – that is being politically deconstructed here. It is the public respect that is due to this and all other institutions by all citizens that is now being subjected to a systematic effort to conscript public and legal power to contribute to what would be, if Parliament had creative ex nihilo power, the dissolution of marriage “as we have known it.” It implies that such public-legal respect for the marriage institution itself can be replaced by an abstract “compassionate solidarity”, legally certified about those involved in a generic union between two individuals which the “community” is now expected by law to call “marriage”. The Turnbull-Shorten commitment to this mythology will, we predict, in time render them both helpless victims of an empirical error – if they haven’t already begun to woken up to the fact!

     This might be an appropriate plot for the narrative of a sentimentalist novel located in Flatland in which gendered individuals inter-relate with other gendered individuals to demonstrate their compassion and giving opportunity so that the “other” can give occasionally contracted binary solidarity. But how can a coherent political vision be developed from this two-dimensional attempt to redesign this basic and complex human institution? How can an abstract respect for a generic “personhood” fulfil the public justice requirement to give due respect to male and female humanity in their joint vocation as those responsible for bringing a new generation into the world?

         Is it truly the case that it has only been in the last century (during what many have said is a moral decline of the west) that a fundamental fact of human civilisation has been discovered, namely that marriage is merely the legalising of a sexual aspiration to unity borne of friendship and that in previous generations this fact has been obscured by an unnecessary cloaking of such a sexual aspiration in gendered terms? If so, then marriage is only incidentally a male-female bond, and we are witnessing the emergence of a new social form. Meanwhile men are to be legally respected as (potential) fathers and women as (potential) mothers without any unnecessary impediments, or person of the opposite sex challenging their right to parenthood in this undoubted individualisation process. (We have been drawing attention to these efforts to open “up the market” for human seed (male) and eggs (female) since our Nurturing Justice 2008 articles).

VI

     Make no mistake; this attempt to enlist the Australian Parliament in this latest “western” and humanistic attempt to deconstruct marriage is now revealed as neo-liberalism’s dirty secret. This is neo-liberalism’s Whelan the Wrecker in Parliamentary guise. We are not only witnessing an attempt at a comprehensive libertarian makeover of marriage but this is part of a wider attempt to give expression to what is believed to be the future’s one-and-only viable world-view. The political pressure for such change is intense even if it is not put forward within a well-elaborated policy-framework; it not only comes internationally, from those same-sex couples who have had their “marriage” confirmed overseas, but it also comes from those who have contracted surrogacy arrangements in other polities and returned home with their offspring and in their train have commenced agitation, aided and abetted by major newspapers, for significant changes to laws in state jurisdictions.

     And, at the same time, notice just how ineffectual are the voices of “religious” dissent, given the almost complete erosion of public trust in Christian churches and their institutions, by the effective and hypocritical deconstruction of marriage by sexual abuse.

     But all this “deconstruction” hasn’t happened without attempts on “both sides” of the neo-liberal political fence – the Liberal Coalition and Labor – to harness what was taken to be the “Christian trend” that might have helped to restore party unity. In the US, as we know, the “Christian right” morphed into the “tea party” but such fundamentalist initiatives have all but collapsed in the wake of the Donald Trump “secularistic” belligerence. First there was Kevin Rudd’s October 2006 “Faith in Politics” a few months before he became the Labor Leader and Leader of the Opposition. In this piece Kevin Rudd made a challenging appeal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

… when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

         In retrospect, this essay seems to have been a part of Rudd’s initially creative effort to challenge the political orchestration of various forms of organised Christianity in support of conservative incumbents (Bush, Howard). But then Rudd’s later failure can be detected by the essay’s attempt to harness Christianity to a “leftward social democracy” without criticising his own party’s lurch towards the same neo-liberal economics and its libertarian ethics. If his was an attempt to unify Labor by an appeal to Christian teaching it failed. One wonders as well whether Rudd’s public embrace of same-sex marriage has simply assisted Labor’s embrace of an ethic more libertarian than one amenable to the exclusive male-female marital bond as taught by Jesus and the apostles.

     On the other “side” Tony Abbott’s stint as Prime Minister seems to have been a last ditch attempt to assert the importance for the Liberal Party of the Christian social teaching that finds its source in Papal encyclicals since the late 19th century. But with the accession of Malcolm Turnbull to the leadership of the Liberal Party and the Prime Ministership, the Liberal-National Coalition is shown, as occupants of the Treasury Benches in Parliament to be just as confused and just as wedded to a libertarian viewpoint as their confused opponents, unable to give a coherent and comprehensive explanation of their public philosophy.

VII

   If we have only recently becomes alarmed at the way popular culture now takes for granted the paganism of this latest libertarian “discovery” that marriage is a civil right, then perhaps we have been asleep politically and also in other cultural ways as well. We have not been as alert as we should have been to what, for decades, has been before our very eyes. I am not just referring to the latest in film, television and literature that more explicitly than ever before gives expression to this switch. It is as if our lives have unfolded in an altogether new context, a switch in world-view of wide-ranging proportions.

     We may have noticed how, over a couple of years, week-in, week-out, the young man we often met on our bus was slowly but surely transforming himself, so that when we met last week we found it very hard to avoid averting our eyes from her. That is the kind of everyday reality that can meet us if we have eyes to see it. And let us not, by any means, under-estimate the profundity of this switch –  neither for the young person claiming a transgendered identity, nor for ourselves who have to pinch ourselves to verify that we are awake and not dreaming.

     Meanwhile it is the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor parties who have, in fact, by their parliamentary opportunism, brought us to this situation by their 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act and by their failure to give any ongoing justification for doing so! Where have the parliamentarians who so resolutely voted on that former occasion been in the subsequent decade? Where is the developed policy and a rationale for marriage for us to consider in line with what they had so solemnly legislated? Answer: Nowhere.

     Apart from anything else they were prevented from doing so by the political machine’s demand that they stay united in conscientious quietude! Coherent policy on marriage would undoubtedly split the party, but it did not then stop party advisors recommending a unanimous, or near to unanimous vote on the 2004 amendment, when this was seen as a crucial step to eventually winning Government.

     And so the truth of the matter is that these “Ayes” from 2004 have not made much impact at all, at least not upon the public debate in defence of the 2004 amendment. Did they then vote for that amendment assuming it was in some ways like magic and therefore impervious to any later change? Amend the Marriage Act they did; but the problem did not disappear! This subsequent absence in public policy debate is damning evidence that though these parties may qualify for the massive share of public funding they receive for fighting elections, they no longer qualify as advocates of a coherent political vision that explains to the people of Australia what they have been doing to justify our trust. They may speak sweet words when they require political respect and compassion from the electorate, in order to harvest their share of public funds for every vote cast, but the parties machinations only welcome “visions” when they augment current public relations fads.

VIII

     And if we still happen to believe that we should vote “Noe” in any upcoming plebiscite then the pressure is well and truly upon us to look again at ourselves in relation to the times in which we are living. If we,  those who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ, are out of step with the times is it because we are keeping in step with the Spirit of this Person we say we follow (Galatians 5:25)?

     This series is not an appeal to the Liberal Party to return to some kind of covert Christian Liberalism, anymore than it is a call to the Labor Party to revert to what seemed to some observers to be a Christian Socialist strategy in Kevin Rudd’s efforts to put his party back on the rails. No, this site is for an authentic Christian political option. And what I am suggesting is that this nation’s political community – on “all sides” – has been moving further and further away from the attempt of its major parties to adapt their liberal humanist beliefs to traditional Christian understandings, not only of the role of government, but most decidedly of the responsibilities of marriage and family.

         And if all that is so, then we Christian citizens are going to have to ask ourselves some equally serious questions about the corollary of the neo-liberal accommodation of an ostensibly Christian view, namely the degree to which we Christian citizens have actually been playing a game in which we accommodate ourselves to the basic tenets of the neo-liberal humanist commitment to human autonomy. Has our politics merely been an accommodation? If it hasn’t been that, where is it, where can it be seen in ongoing political terms? Where is the programme with policies that are comprehensive in scope, that are clearly enunciated to work for public justice as the way we show we love our neighbour – all of our neighbours – as ourselves? Or have we been too much caught up in the humanist religious drive to transform Biblical faith into just another expression of human self-sufficiency?

Sunday 21 August 2016

Amended 9.9.16

The Universal Declaration and Marriage Equality

Exercising Political Self-Reflection & Education

Consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Read it through. You can gain access to an English translation of it here.

     Now, reflect upon this and do so by connecting your thoughts to what you have heard and what you continue to hear from the advocates of “same-sex marriage” and “marriage equality”. Nurturing Justice has been discussing this for over ten years. You can find discussions on our earlier efforts to legislate “same-sex marriage” from the archive of broadsheets and other public-policy writings here. I hope you enjoy the search and I also trust that it will be truly edifying.

     Our repeated refrain is that marriage is not a civil right. That is a simple point, but whenever there is an argument for “same-sex marriage” or “marriage equality” you will hear this appeal to human rights, as if human rights are the criterion by which marriage – and its very existence as a human institution – is to be judged. Hence we hear again and again an appeal to the right of the individual person to be married. Anything less is viewed as a violation of human rights. To say that marriage is – as it has been for millennia – a male-female institution is to deny the enlightened view that human rights must be marriage’s basic criterion. Hence “persons” are those who get married, not male and female. This is the ideological view that total equality between a same-sex permanent relationship and “marriage” (as defined in the Marriage Act) is a denial of human rights. Indeed, marriage is assumed to be a human right, and because of that assumption, a same-sex relationship is considered, has to be considered, as equal to marriage. And what is equal is then the same. You will hear the logic repeated again and again.

     But now consider Article 16. It reads:

1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

     Now the question is this: if the States of Canada, UK, New Zealand, USA and other polities, either through their parliaments or by judgements handed down by their courts, have made allowance for “gay marriage” or “marriage equality” on the basis that marriage is a civil right, then we shall have to ask whether or not they are thereby foreshadowing a change to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? In fact, we have to ask whether they consider the Declaration to be deficient because it does not refer to marriage in the way they demand marriage to be understood – i.e. as a civil right.

     Indeed, with this movement taking on global dimensions, it needs to be asked whether we are in fact in the early stages of a redrafting of the Declaration. After all if marriage is what this libertarian-liberal view says it is, then those promoting “marriage equality” must be part of a “way of life” that must eventually seek to have the Declaration redrafted to comply with their (erroneous) view that marriage is a civil right. Hence, the effort in Australia to gain Parliamentary approval for “marriage equality”, as we suggested last time, is simply one localised attempt of a world-wide movement seeking to gain added political credibility for its libertarian contractarian sociological theory of human relationships. The error is not only about marriage; it is also about what Parliament can actually do via legislation.

     The other intriguing question is whether, with such a legislated and judicially demanded redefinition of marriage, these enlightened polities have already foreshadowed their lack of compliance with Article 16 (in letter and in spirit) since it clearly does not now refer to marriage in the way they have said it must be understood in their respective jurisdictions.

     The leaders of the governments of USA, UK and Australia were quite committed to ignoring the United Nations in 2003 as they formed their “coalition of the willing” to (illegally) invade Iraq. Why should such governments now continue to profess allegiance to the Universal Declaration and its view of marriage once they have embraced the fictitious and erroneous view that a same-sex relationship can be magically transformed into what it is not merely by means of a Parliamentary or judicial decree?

     The relationship of “marriage equality” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is but one aspect of an ongoing mistake, a deeply mistaken view that has taken hold around the world that will have significant and longer-term consequences both at home and abroad. And eventually, sooner or later, this mistake, like all mistakes (including mistakes about the character of of human rights), is going to have to be corrected. That may be a long way off but it will come.

BCW 12.8.16 (Amended 8.9.16)