For some reason the decision of the ALP Conference has been hailed as a landmark decision, interestingly that decision which has been made in the midst of a large amount of hype is seen as significant, though with the conviction of a conscience vote on the subject leaves one wondering if this is a case of being seen to be doing something while nothing changes.
The issue broadly published as Gay Marriage is indeed about changing the Marriage Act to remove the understanding of ‘a man and a woman’ and replacing that with two persons without concern for gender.
Historically in monogamous communities they has arisen a symbolic definition of the relationship. In the English Speaking world this has been largely understood in terms of the Book of Common Prayer of 1661, accented to by the House of Commons in 1662. In the Book of Common Prayer Marriage is accorded as being given by God for these purposes:
- First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
- Secondly, It was ordained for as remedy against sin, guard to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
- Thirdly, It was ordained for mutual society, help and comfort, that the one might have the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
The express presumption of the Book of Common Prayer is that these two persons may be addressed as ‘This Man and This Woman’.
In terms of the first clause is about the future of society and the ongoing community where children are born and raised that in their turn that may take their place in the community.
The second is the play at home clause for the Peace and Order of society that we might operate form the safety of well defined relationships, and not be encompassed with the need to constantly defend and regain ground, or be ever looking for new relationships rather than being focussed on other (possibly more productive) tasks.
The third clause, beautifully described as ‘mutual society, help and comfort’ is without doubt about sustaining and being sustained by relationships that endure.
The other great purpose in marriage was for the orderly transition of material possessions, money and property from one generation to the next.
In the current spectrum of secular society we now have a call for the removal of the implied discrimination which says that the two persons must be of different gender. I want the review this in terms of the purposes, working backwards.
- Most Property passes from one generation to another on the basis of a Last Will and Testament, if this is not challenged and redrawn by a court, on the absence f such a document in terms of the rules for such distribution, and normally managed in that case by the Public Trustee. The gender base of the marriage has no real bearing on this, save that the interests of the surviving spouse or life partner will be upheld by the court.
- Mutual Society, Help and Comfort, is clearly an area where the gender base of the marriage argument clearly has little weight. Gay couples may have very strong relationships, and equally Straight couples may be married ‘scrappily every after’
- The play at home cluse is certainly an area where we would all do well, and it seems intrinsic to the needs of human society that we do not have open relationships where we sleep around. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with this.
- Procreation and the Nurture of Children is clearly an area where the opponents of Gay Marriage have spoken loud and clear. None the less we don’t require people to undertake fertility tests as a pre-requisite toe marriage, nor do we disbar older persons clearly past child bearing from marriage.
Gays and the Bible
There certainly are passages in the Bible that or first reading seem to be very clear on the subject, (and I don’t want to rehearse the argument, but rather to recognise that the words of Jesus recorded say nothing, and the Pauline passages may indicate some bias, and the Sodom and Gomorrah story is more about the lack of hospitality). Effectively there is not a huge amount of Biblical material on the subject, and yet much has been made of it. Many women go to Church these days without covering the hear.
Living in Sin no longer fashionable?
It is interesting on a society which for a lot of recent time I thought had all but given up on marriage – and certainly the idea that marriage came before children – that we find the people who can get married don’t want to and the people who can;t get married do want to. This may say something about the human condition.
A Note of Agreement
It is interesting just when we though that Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard could agree on nothing we have to note that they are agreed on this one subject. The Labor Party Conference (a non elected body made up of a great number of union heavyweights and power-brokers) has now made as policy the support of same gender marriage. As if to stop in happening they have also allowed a conscience vote on this issue in the parliament.
The assumption is that the Liberal Party will be opposed, and that may be the case, however I suspect that on a private members basis there would clearly be those who would support it.
And then for the Exemptions
I imagine that any enactment of this to be survivable would require some exemptions from compliance, and certainly religious organisations representing the theistic traditions of the children of Abraham would seem to need to be excused from the position. That being said, does that then mean we draw a defining line between ‘sacramental’ and ‘secular’ marriage, and if we do, have we achieved anything at all?
I don’t see how we can compel the Roman Catholic Church, The Islamic Council, The Baptist Union, The Council of Australian Jewry, The Anglican Church of Australia and others on this issue, without being seen to have compromised religious freedom – yet at the same time if these bodies do not embrace this, what will have we achieved?
The change of policy by the ALP without the granting of a conscience vote to Members of Parliament would I suspect have been very divisive. I have a feeling a lot more work and thinking needs to be given to this issue. I have little doubt in my mind that we will do it, perhaps not immediately, but we will get there.
Personally I have gay friends in real and committed relationships and think no less of them, their rights or their relationships than I do of others who are straight, married or not. The human condition is that we do well when we are in committed relationships and legislation is not the determination of the quality of the relationship or of good that it does you.