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.
The main basis of the Archbishops argument seems to center around his own narrow religious beliefs.
His God and his opinions.
It would seem that he is not used to dealing with people who do not do what he tells them to do or who ask for reasonable explanations that are based on science evidence and facts.
What I hear from all these religious leaders is “My God tells me that this is what you must do”
Hardly a rational argument to convince atheists or even thinking theists with.
Greetings. In case you’re wondering how I found your blog: “the archbishop & the ‘s-word’” came up when I did a Google search while trying to find the full text of Ms Gale’s statement, and it’s in relation to that statement that I make this comment. I don’t understand why one would “not consider that the proposed amendments (to the Marriage Act) can possibly lead to the legalisation of polygamy”. Australian law can already treat as de facto spouses those who live as though married to someone who is already married (source, the paragraph beginning with the word “Changes”), just as it can treat the members of a same-sex couple which has the requisite attributes as de facto spouses. If same-sex de facto spouses ought to be, or at least can be, upgraded to de iure spouse status–which is precisely what the proposed amendments to the Marriage Act would do–then why oughtn’t, or can’t, opposite-sex (or for that matter, same-sex) polygamous de facto spouses be upgraded to de iure spouse status too? (I’m not asking you to answer on Ms Gale’s and/or the Law Council of Australia’s behalf; I’d just be interested to know why someone, such as yourself, would conclude in favour of the one upgrade but not, consistently with the same premiss/es, the other.)
Law Council of Australia president Catherine Gale is infinitely more qualified than I am to pass an opinion on whether legalising same-sex marriage is likely to lead to the legalisation of polyamorous relationship. To recap, Ms Gale said:
‘The Law Council does not consider that the proposed amendments [to the Marriage Act] can possibly lead to the legalisation of polygamy….’
She’s not the only one who thinks the slippery slope argument is ridiculous. Here’s an excerpt from the report of the Senate Committee into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 released this week:
‘Marriage equality for same-sex couples is not a ‘slippery slope’
4.20 The committee points out that Senator Hanson-Young’s Bill (along with the other two bills currently before the parliament) provides only for the union of two people, and not more; and there is no suggestion that any of the proponents of marriage equality in Australia are advocating for anything different. The committee strongly rejects any assertion that these bills represent a ‘first step’ towards the legal recognition of unions of more than two people.
4.21 Moreover, the committee does not believe that there is any widespread public support in Australia for the recognition of ‘poly’ relationships in the Marriage Act: there is simply no call or push in mainstream Australian society for such relationships to be legalised. On the basis of the views expressed in the nearly 80,000 submissions received by the committee in this inquiry, the committee does not believe that there is any impetus in the Australian community for the law to be changed to recognise polygamous or polyamorous relationships. There was no evidence presented to the committee suggesting that people in such relationships feel discriminated against or that they should be given the right to marry multiple partners.
4.22 The committee also notes that there is no legislative history in Australia with respect to recognition of polygamous relationships, and this can be distinguished from the legislative changes that have been made within the Commonwealth, and the states and territories, to end discrimination against same-sex couples. In any event, if a member of parliament were to introduce legislation in the future that provides for such relationships to be legally recognised, that legislation would be subject to the same robust parliamentary checks and balances that are applied to every piece of legislation, and would not simply pass into law unabated.
4.23 In the committee’s view, it is manifestly absurd to suggest that ending the discrimination currently suffered by same-sex couples who are unable to get married will somehow lead to an influx of groups of more than two people seeking formal recognition of their relationships in the Marriage Act.’
That’s why I concluded as I did.
Thanks for that reply, Ms Douglas. God, and you, willing, I’ll post a full response tomorrow; I’m short of time at the moment so I’ll just say that I’m still none the wiser as to the premiss/es which lead one to conclude in favour of de-iure recognition of same-sex unions but not polygamous ones.
Sorry to take so long to get back to you; I ran out of time on Friday, and I don’t go on the computer on the weekend. Although this comment will be relatively long, I have tried to keep it as concise as possible.
1. It’s true that “[i]n none of the overseas countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised has this led to the legalisation of polygamy”–yet; but as of mid-2012, that’s only about ten years of legalisation, and it might take longer, perhaps a generation or more (it took almost forty years from the legalisation of no-fault divorce to the present situation).
2. I agree that “there is [not ]any widespread public support in Australia for the recognition of ‘poly’ relationships in the Marriage Act”–yet; but that’s irrelevant, since the question at hand is whether the desired amendment of the Marriage Act will lead to an amendment to accommodate de-iure polygamy.
Furthermore, the committee seems to be saying, in 4.21, that de iure polygamy should not, and will not, be legalised, because it is currently unpopular. But presumably Gay Marriage advocates think that the Marriage Act should be amended in the manner in which they desire to amend it not merely because it is popular, but because it is right. And I still don’t see how they, or other Marriage Equality advocates, can think consistently that de iure Gay Marriage is right and de iure polygamy is wrong.
3. “There was no evidence presented to the committee suggesting that people in such relationships feel discriminated against or that they should be given the right to marry multiple partners.” Of course no such evidence was presented; the committee didn’t ask for it to be presented.
4. “The committee also notes that there is no legislative history in Australia with respect to recognition of polygamous relationships”. That is incorrect, as the article to which I link in my first comment shows.
“… and this can be distinguished from the legislative changes that have been made within the Commonwealth, and the states and territories, to end discrimination against same-sex couples.” But Prof. Williams does not gainsay, whether directly or indirectly, the information in my linked article. (If you’re interested in discussing this point more thoroughly I would be happy to do so.)
Oh, how I weary of these kinds of pompous arguments. One might just as well argue that slaves should never have been freed because then women might start to get uppity. Women should never have been given equal rights as it was the start of a slippery slope to giving equal rights to indigenous populations. Indigenous populations should never have been given equal rights because then – shock horror – even homosexuals might want to be treated equally!
The equal union of two consenting adults is what we are talking about with both heterosexual and same-sex marriage. All credible psychological and sociological research points to the fact that children raised by same-sex couples are no worse off – and on some measures better off – than children raised in equivalent heterosexual households.
I am aware of no studies showing the same results for children raised in polygamous marriages. That would need to be established before polygamy could be recognised by the state. Other concerns about polygamy is an inequitable power-balance, issues of consent, and custody of children in the event of marriages breaking down. Concerns about abuse of welfare payments may also enter into it.
For these very reasons, in 2008, the California Supreme Court distinguished polygamy from the , same-sex marriage by explaining that polygamy is “inimical to the mutually supportive and healthy family relationships promoted by the constitutional right to marry.” I expect that any Australian court would find the same if the issue was pushed here. The fact is, it isn’t.
I actually think it is rather heartening that bigots and homophobes have been reduced to arguing against same-sex marriage on the basis it may lead one day – maybe twenty years down the track – to polygamy. It shows they’re running out of credible arguments.
Thank you to you brave women who so articulately stand up to the likes of Peter Jensen. As an ex-clergy wife I have experienced the unspoken expectations and the psychological abuse. “Pure evil” I would agree with. Even years ago I could smell it. In a conversation with a Baptist deacon rel. of mine, he said of Jensen “He’s a man o’ God”. I said, “I think he’s dangerous”.