Today in the Sydney Morning Herald in an article entitled Stylish Same-Sex Campaign Glosses over Real Issues, Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen suggests that what he describes as a ‘sustained and brilliantly-orchestrated campaign to radically alter the marriage laws of this country’ is proving so successful simply because it is based on a handful of clever slogans than Jensen says are difficult to refute. In response, I’d like to address some comments to the Reverend Doctor Jensen.
Archbishop, you identified three slogans that have given you particular difficulty and, lucky you, you’d also been given some space in a prominent newspaper to do your derndest to poke holes in them. It was your big chance to explain just what’s so wrong about letting the gays get hitched, and heartened by the title of the article, I was keen to see what ‘real issues’ you had be able to uncover for us. Popcorn at the ready…off we go.
Slogan 1: Marriage Equality
The reality of the world God made is that human beings are in two sexes, male and female.
Really, Peter? That you still think that you can make statements like this and not be challenged reveals how very out of touch you are with contemporary Australia. I can accept that you have a right to believe that a god exists, that that god created the natural world, and even to believe that the Book your god is supposed to have authored has something meaningful to say about human relationships. But many of the rest us hold dear those beliefs in the very same way we confidently await Santa’s arrival each December. Just because you have devoted your life to Christian dogma (and indeed earn your living from it) does not mean that any of those beliefs form the basis of a self-evident ‘reality’ for anyone outside the evangelical Christian community, or indeed that they ought be valued as the last (or even first) word on human experience or legal provisions surrounding it. The majority of non-religious Australians simply do not accept that ‘marriage is a God-given institution’ as you said in your letter to the churches also released today.
Even if you are simply arguing here that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ while homosexuality is not, you’re on very shaky ground. Pointing at the world and saying, ‘Look! Men…women…duh!’ doesn’t build a case for a ‘reality’ that privileges heterosexual marriage and excludes all other relational variations. It is well-established that homosexuality has always existed in human populations in roughly the same proportion as it does now, just as is true of animal populations. Homosexuality is not normative – it is not a majority orientation – but it is absolutely normal in that it is naturally occurring everywhere, if you care to cast about a blushing glance. Some men are sexually attracted to men, and some women to women. They didn’t choose to be that way, they just are. That’s about as natural as it gets.
And some of those people want to get married. It’s marriage that is the social construct. The fact that there are both men and women in the world does nothing to tell us about the appropriateness or otherwise of any contractual arrangements into which they choose to enter. Humans invented marriage – probably for reasons of social stability. It’s for this reason if no other that you should be glad that some homosexual people would like the right to share in the opportunity of a lifetime of wedded bliss such as that you and Mrs Archbishop undoubtedly enjoy.
You also argue (I’m summarising here):
‘Equality’ is a misnomer: real equality would include pedophilia, incest and bigamy.
Apart from the obvious straw man strategy of equating same-sex relationships (which are legal, adult and consensual) with practices that fail to qualify on one or more of those counts, you have not managed to make any point of refutation here at all. An oblique allusion to the tired, old slippery slope theory hardly counts as a reasoned argument. If I am understanding you rightly, you would like to make people fearful about purchasing Object A by telling them that if they do, they will get Objects B, C, D and E in the package free of charge. Objects B–E are not A, or in reality even like A, but people should know that will arrive in the post together, and we should be very, very afraid about that. In the absence of evidence, generating baseless fear is a common ploy. It’s patently dishonest though, and unless you are Bill Muehlenberg, you probably know it. You probably also know that marriage to a minor, marriage to a sibling, and polygamy are condoned in the Bible. But perhaps it’s impolite of me to mention.
The Law Council does not consider that the proposed amendments [to the Marriage Act] can possibly lead to the legalisation of polygamy. The proposed amendments only seek to create equality between heterosexual and same-sex couples in marriage. In none of the overseas countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised has this led to the legalisation of polygamy.
That’s what an argument based on evidence and professional expertise looks like, Peter. FYI.
Slogan 2: Marriage won’t change
Here’s where you start to really nail your colours to the mast. In response to statements that legislating to allow same-sex marriage will not essentially alter heterosexual marriage you say:
My marriage would be different. It’s no good asserting otherwise. When a society redefines one of its basic institutions, it affects everyone. I would have to find a different word for my marriage, or add the rider ”heterosexual” to the word ”marriage”.
Did you really just say that? Do you tell your friends you have a ‘white marriage’ now that we allow blacks and whites to tie the knot? And gays have been having sex for, oooh, a while now. Do you describe your intimate relations with your wife as ‘heterosexual sex’ just so as to be clear it is distinct from the icky sex the homos get up to? Perhaps you do. And perhaps you just will have to find a new and suitably self-righteous name to adequately describe your own marital status should Australia legislate to remove discrimination against people you’d rather now share the institution with. Perhaps ‘smugarriage’ would do.
You go on to say:
Same-sex marriage is symbolic of social acceptance of gay sex as a moral good.
True, true. Or at least, acceptance as a moral neutral.
Most people still believe the physical make-up of humans points in another direction.
I most certainly am not sniggering at the little phallic allusion you snuck in there, Mr Archbishop, sir.
But they would not be able to prevent their children being taught that consenting sex between any two persons is a matter of moral and physical indifference.
We’re not silly, Peter. Those of us who have lived inside evangelical Christianity know that ‘immoral’ is code for ‘sin’, and that word necessarily embodies ‘judgement’ which inevitably leads to ‘eternal damnation’. What you are really saying here is that homosexual people are going to burn in hellfire for eternity and that the effect on our nation if we fail to tell our littlies that dreadful truth will be catastrophic.
I’d like to say (a) bullshit and (b) have you considered at all the catastrophic effect of telling young gay people they are going to suffer an eternity of fiery torment? Given a choice, I’d rather explain (as I have) to my children that some men love men and some women love women, rather than describe the unending agonies a supposedly loving god is going to wreak on gay friends and family for not being born heterosexual. Legislating for marriage equality won’t change your Book and it won’t change your belief in the sin, judgement and suffering detailed therein, but it will help young Australians – gay and straight – know that the expression of their sexuality is normal, and that it is acceptable to the rest of us.
Slogan 3: It’s inevitable
The stylish and confident propaganda has become pervasive. Federal politics is in danger of being distorted. Those who are doubtful or opposed have been tempted to remain silent rather than be accused of promoting hate. But it is interesting that in 30 US states where the matter has been put to a direct vote (as against imposed legislative or judicial change), the majority voted against ”gay marriage”. There is also evidence of electoral fatigue in Britain and Australia.
Same-sex marriage is not inevitable. It is not even possible. It would be better for us all if the law reflected the truth human beings have always known. Social engineering cannot change realities as basic as these. But the consequences of an attempt may still be painful.