I’ve written a fair few pieces recently talking about why I don’t think people should vote against marriage equality.
That’s all very well, but to my mind talking about why one shouldn’t vote no is less compelling than talking about why one should vote yes.
I’m voting yes for a lot of reasons. The easy, personal reason is quite simply this: that I have a large number of gay and lesbian friends who would like to be able to get married, and I honestly can’t see any good reason why they should not be allowed to do so. I don’t see any substantive differences between their relationships and mine, and so I don’t see why they should be treated differently under the law.
I want to digress for a moment, because I’ve seen a lot of people saying that gay couples are already equal under the law, and I want to reiterate that this is not true. While it is possible to register a same-sex partnership in many Australian states, not all states allow this, and often registered partnerships are not recognised in crisis situations, leaving same sex partners unable to visit their partners in hospital or make decisions around their funeral arrangements. The great thing about a marriage certificate is that everyone understands what it means and no-one can challenge it.
Another place of inequality is around parenting and children. I’ve seen a lot of concerns raised about the rights of children to know their biological parents, and I have some sympathy for this. There are good medical reasons for a child to have some awareness of his or her family history, and I think it’s also healthy for children to have multiple parent figures available to them. (The more, the merrier, in my view! My godmother was a wonderful help to me at some difficult times in my life.)
But I think that if we are really concerned about the rights and safety of children – especially those who are being raised by gay or lesbian couples, or those who might be LGBTQI themselves – then voting in favour of marriage equality is one of the most important things we can do.
If we are going to talk about the effect on children, we can’t ignore the fact that same sex couples already have children, either from previous marriages, or by IVF or surrogacy, and we need to act in their best interests to ensure that, particularly if something happens to the biological parent, these children can continue to be raised by the ‘social parent’ who loves them and has been raising them alongside their biological parent. Under Australian law, children of same sex couples are viewed as having only one legal parent, and this means that they have fewer protections under the law. In some states, a parent’s partner is able to legally adopt the child they are helping to raise, but there is certainly no presumption of shared parenthood. In particular, if the legal parent dies, the child is considered orphaned and while the remaining social parent may get custody, there is no presumption that they will do so, particularly if other biological family members object. This bereaves the child a second time.
And while we are thinking of the children, let’s spare a thought for children who may be LGBTQI. By keeping same sex marriage illegal, we perpetuate the idea that their relationships are inferior to those of their straight friends. It isn’t easy to come to terms with the idea that you are different to the people around you (and children are not known for their tolerance of difference in others). Children don’t need the government underscoring the idea that they are not just different, but in some way wrong.
I’ve talked about concern for my friends and concern for children, but I also think that as a Christian, I have a strong ethical imperative to vote yes. (So yes, I’m going to start banging on about Christianity again. Sorry.)
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbours and to stand with the oppressed. We are called to speak the truth and to fight for justice. I honestly believe that if Jesus was alive now, he would be on the side of marriage equality.
Quite frankly, while I see a lot of talk about the Biblical model of marriage and the Biblical view on homosexuality, I really don’t get the impression, from reading the Bible, that sexual relationships have ever been something that God feels all that strongly about. At least, not compared to our treatment of the poor, the refugees, the sick, or the oppressed. The Bible as we have received it spends a lot more time on matters of social justice – books and books of it, really – than it ever does on marriage or on sexuality. I really don’t think that policing who other people go to bed with is God’s top priority, or the thing we are supposed to focus on. I think this obsession with sex is really a human one.
I think, too, that it’s always easier to think about sins that we aren’t tempted to commit than sins in which we are all complicit (she says, typing on her cheap laptop that was probably assembled by someone working in horrible conditions for little pay, using electricity that – well, I’m in Germany this week, so it might come from windfarms and be less environmentally hazardous than it usually is, but on the other hand, travelling means that I’m drinking a lot more from plastic bottles which aren’t too environmentally sound, so I’m definitely complicit in environmental dodginess there. And let’s not even think about where our clothes come from.). We are living in a world in which, with the best will in the world, it is almost impossible to opt out of choices that harm other people. We can try to minimise our harm, but we are none of us perfect (which is sort of the point of Christianity anyway). And that’s hard to live with.
So I think that it is very human to look through the Bible, see something that it is relatively easy for most of us not to do, and go ‘aha! Well, at least I’m not sinning like that!’, in order to make ourselves feel better.
But I’m pretty sure that isn’t what Christianity is for.
I seem to have digressed massively. I am slightly off my face on cold and flu tablets, which may be having exciting effects on my theology (but it’s OK, I was sober when I voted).
In terms of the Biblical arguments against homosexual relationships… look, I’m going to skip most of the Old Testament stuff, because it has been written about extensively by Actual Trained Theologians, and anyway, that isn’t the Law that we are really supposed to be living by, as Christians. Instead, I’m going to be even more radical (those are GOOD cold and flu tablets) and suggest that the Bible doesn’t really say anything meaningful about gay relationships at all. The idea of an adult, consensual, same sex relationship wasn’t one that really existed in Biblical times. Yes, the Jewish purity laws forbade homosexual relations, but a lot of this seems to have been in response to Those Perverse Gentiles Over There Who Do Dubious Things In Their Temples and Fail To Respect Hospitality.
And once we get to the New Testament, it’s hard to miss the fact that Jesus’ ministry was radically inclusive. He associated with pretty much all the people a good Jewish boy was supposed to avoid – women, gentiles, tax collectors who collaborated with the Roman conquerors, Roman soldiers themselves, criminals, and more. He allowed his mind and his ministry to be changed by the arguments of a Samaritan woman. He healed the beloved slave of a Roman centurion, and this without telling him to sin no more, though both Jesus and the people around him would have had very strong suspicions about precisely what sort of relationship the two men had.
The theme of radical inclusiveness continues into the New Testament, though the apostles do take a while to get their act (or their Acts!) together in this respect. But to me – and again, Actual Trained Theologians (don’t try this at home, kids!) have explained this far better than I can – the crucial moment comes in Peter’s dream, which I think shows up in Acts. At this point, the early church was struggling with the question of Gentiles who wanted to become Christians and whether they should first convert to Judaism and be bound to follow all the Levitical laws. And then Peter, who was one of the leaders of the more orthodox faction, dreamed that God offered him both clean and unclean meats to eat, and when he would have refused the unclean meats, he was admonished not to call unclean the things which God has made clean. Peter understood this immediately as a directive not to judge or to exclude, but to include all who sought Christ, regardless of their race, and from this point on, Gentile converts were no longer required to be circumcised, or to follow Jewish purity laws. Essentially, this is the moment when Old Testament law ceases to be a requirement of Christianity. God’s love is boundless, and God makes clean who he wants to make clean, and it is not for humans to put restrictions on this or to second-guess God’s decisions.
Jesus didn’t have a lot to say about marriage in general. It wasn’t his top priority, frankly. But he did say that bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit. What are the fruits of a good marriage? Children? Well, I’m in trouble then. Love? That one’s a bit easier. Andrew is fairly lovable. Patience, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, self-control…?
I don’t know how many of those things I have. But I’d hazard a guess that my friends in loving same sex relationships have at least as many of those qualities as I do, and that their relationships support them in developing these qualities just as much as mine does for me. (And even if they didn’t, this is not a referendum on the quality of other people’s relationships. What a hideous thought.)
One thing that drove me away from Christianity in my late teens and early twenties was the Church’s obsession with sexual ethics. I was going through some very difficult times – I was depressed, I wasn’t eating, I was coping with the aftermath of a sexual assault which I didn’t even know how to acknowledge at that time – and the friends who were really there for me and helped me and looked after me were mostly in relationships that, according to my understanding of the Bible at the time, would send them straight to Hell unless they ceased them immediately. (Yes, it really did take me until university to figure out that gay people existed. I was a very oblivious teenager.) And I couldn’t believe in a God who would punish good people for loving the wrong people or for loving the right people in the wrong ways.
I still can’t believe in a God who would do that.
I believe in a God of love and of justice, and in a God who wants me to live out those qualities in my own life. To me, this postal survey is precisely about love and about justice. Consider the question: we are being asked whether a person who is in a loving relationship with a person of the same sex should be treated by our laws in the same way as a person who is in a loving relationship with someone of the opposite sex.
Love, and justice, right there in front of us. The answer should be easy.
To me, it can only be yes.