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Gays Getting Married – The Audacity
Dr Stuart Edser PhD. MAPS.MASCH.
(Author of Being Gay Being Christian)
Originally posted on the BGBC Blog
This is rather a sad day. On the day that the California legislature voted at final Committee stage to ban so-called reparative therapy, the citizens of North Carolina, which already bans same-sex marriage, voted in majority to uphold an amendment that states a marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman. Further, the North Carolingians voted to void all civil unions as well.
This is a strange day. One huge American State votes to uphold the protection and rights of gay people while another votes to perpetuate inequality. People huh, we’re a complex lot.
Quoted in the Huffington Post “Tami Fitzgerald, who heads the pro-amendment group Vote FOR Marriage NC, said she believes the initiative awoke a silent majority of more active voters in the future. ‘I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that marriage is between one man and one woman,’ Fitzgerald said at a celebration Tuesday night. ‘The whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design based on the demands of a group of adults.’”
And Joe Easterling (again in The Huffington Post), “who described himself as a devout Christian, voted for the amendment at a polling place in Wake Forest. ‘I know that some people may argue that the Bible may not necessarily be applicable, or it should not be applicable, on such policy matters. But even looking at nature itself, procreation is impossible without a man and a woman. And because of those things, I think it is important that the state of North Carolina’s laws are compatible with the laws of nature but, more importantly, with the laws of God.’”
In Australia, over the last year or so, like in other Western countries, the gay marriagedebate has heated up decidedly. We have had Senate and Lower House Committee meetings reporting that the majority of Australians now support marriage equality as a human right.Gay marriage has returned to the political and social agendas with a vehemence that has truly surprised most of Australia, including many gay people.
Labor’s official policy is now to have a conscience vote in the Parliament and since there are several potential bills before the House, a vote will eventually be had. The Coalition officially remains steadfast in its opposition with the leadership denying them a conscience vote, despite many coalition members privately agreeing with marriage equality and receiving substantial support within their electorates. Until very recently, the official Labor Party policy was to agree with the wording of the present Marriage Act, that is, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. As Australia’s mainstream socially progressive party, they have been very slow off the mark and thus quite disappointing.
Apart from a Letter to The Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (15 July 2010), I have remained silent over this issue publicly, mostly because during these times I was intensely committed to writing my book Being Gay, Being Christian, which does not treat gay marriage and quite a few other LGBT issues as well because both my Publishers and I felt the book was large enough already.
However, since the publication of BGBC, I am often asked my views and until this day with the American legislatures doing their thing, I have rather stayed out of the debate too publicly to concentrate on other LGBT/Christian matters, but with this vote in North Carolina, I feel quite sad that inequality based on ignorance and probably prejudice has ascended to the top of the pole. You will notice that there is a strong Christian element in the undergirding of the American debate, as exemplified by the two quotes I used above. It is here in Australia too, but not so overt. Now since my book is called Being Gay Being Christian You Can Be Both, I think there is enough overlap to put my views on this controversial topic on the record.
The Vexed Question of Gay Marriage
First of all, let me say that I do not believe that gay marriage is the most important thing in the lives of LGBT people. It is a first-order issue for me only in that its denial perpetuates us as second-class citizens. I think there are a lot of important issues in the lives of our community and this is only one of them. I am not saying that it is unimportant, only that I like to keep it in perspective as one important issue among many in our lives. But it certainly is the issue du jour and has captured the public’s imagination, so I want to give it the respect that I think it deserves. As such, this post is more of a short essay, rather than a quick ‘seven second sound bite.’ The issues are complex, so let’s give them some space.
Secondly, when this issue first came to prominence, I was initially of two minds about how I felt. Part of me wanted to see the end to a very clear discrimination, but there was also a part of me that agreed with the notion that gay people shouldn’t just copy the relationship models of the straight world and that we should develop our own, for while we want straight acceptance, we are not straight people – a whole other post for another time.So, while I do advocate for and celebrate gay difference – in my Consulting Room and my teaching and writing (Sydney Mardi Gras name changers take note), I have now come around to the thinking that such a patently clear discrimination and denial of a human right in a developed country like Australia is manifestlyunacceptable in the twenty first century. Thus, for now, I place the emphasis of my thinking on the removal of that injustice as soon as possible.
Simple and Complex
Gay marriage is at once a simple thing and a complex thing. It is simple in that we could characterise it as the expression of two consenting adult gay people who truly love one another, who want to share their life together in a committed way, and to make that commitment in a public forum and have it thus recognised by society, represented by family and friends and a duly authorised celebrant. What could be simpler than that? There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering in that scenario. Apart from the gender of the participants, there is no monumental paradigm shift in the meaning of such a ceremony. It happens every single weekend between straight couples. We are used to it. We can recognise a wedding when we see one and we have a general assumption that couples embarking on marriage have been together for some time and have grown in their love for each other to the point of making that level of commitment.
But it is also complex. Complex because in gay marriage, there is that gender difference from what we’re used to and that difference brings to the fore many of society’s fears and I must say, prejudices, about gay people.
There are many reasons that opponents of such a model use to repudiate gay marriage, some interesting, some utterly absurd and some just plain bigoted and prejudiced. Some of them use the traditional teachings of the Christian church as their basis. None of them in my opinion is persuasive under scrutiny and deconstruction. None of them in my opinion is therefore legitimate.
So allow me for the sake of clarity, if not for beautiful prose, to use the well-known and well-accepted genre of the rejoinder to discuss the principal arguments against gay marriage, be they interesting, absurd or bigoted, and then make a final statement. After all, St Thomas Aquinas used this format, so I’m in good company.
The Christian Argument
Gay marriage should not be allowed, so the Christians would say, because God says that homosexuality is a sin. It is called an abomination in the Book of Leviticus and the Catholic Church even says that gay people are intrinsically disordered and inclined to moral evil. Thus, it is simply impossible that gay people should be allowed to marry in the same way that straight people do, as this would equate their sinful lives [and relationships] with the non-sinful lives [and relationships] of straight people who can marry.
This may shock some readers who might think ‘well, no-one really thinks that anymore surely.’ Allow me to quote what Australian tennis legend and now Pentecostal pastor Margaret Court said in the West Australian newspaper in December 2011.‘ “There is no reason to put forward alternative, unhealthy, unnatural unions as some form of substitute” to family units comprised of heterosexual parents.“Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take,” Court said.“To dismantle this sole definition of marriage and try to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices that include sodomy, reveals our ignorance as to the ills that come when society is forced to accept law that violates their very own God-given nature of what is right and what is wrong.” ’ (1)
It is now unsupportable to interpret the Bible in the way that the Margaret Courts of this world feel free to do. All Biblical scholars of any note anywhere in the world now understand the vast chasm of time between the ancient world and our own twenty-first century world and that the words of Scripture need to be understood and interpreted very firmly in their own time before we start applying them willy-nilly to our own time. In other words, when reading the Bible, we need always to ask, ‘what would these words have meant to the original audience for whom they were intended; in their own time, in their own culture, in their own history and in their own geographical location and geo-political place in the ancient world?’Further, ‘what does the discipline of linguistics add to our understanding of the words in their original language, the ancient Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Koinan Greek of the New Testament?’
For those of you who will read my book Being Gay, Being Christian, you will read an entire chapter on these questions as I offer an exegesis of these sledge-hammer verses as I call them with these very questions in mind. This short essay is not the place to reiterate all that work, but I will say this – the Bible does not condemn homosexuality or gay sexual orientation as we know it today. What it does condemn is ritualistic same-sex sexual behaviour in worship or liturgical practices by straight people. It also condemns the selling of sex or of people for sex. The Bible does not understand, nor could it possibly, the modern psychological understanding of orientation as a strongly biologically influenced phenomenon that causes genes, brain tissue, hormones, personal psychology and cultural factors to coalesce into a particular sexual orientation that emerges around the time of puberty and that remains stable across the lifespan, neither wilfully chosen nor wilfully changed. Fulminating that the Bible condemns gay sexual orientation cannot be supported now by good scholarship in the disciplines of theology and Biblical Studies. Thus, opponents of gay marriage who base their argument on the notion that gay people are sinful and immoral because of what the Bible says, are ‘barking up the wrong tree’. Modern scholarship has shown that such teachingis unacceptable and illegitimate. It is unsupportable.
We Will Never Allow This In Our Churches
The Christians who say this kind of thing are really just in denial of the fundamental scholarship that shows that a gay sexual orientation is an integral part of the core of the gay person’s humanity; as elemental as personality, temperament, intelligence and eye colour. In this, there is no difference with straight people. Just so, a straight person’s sexual orientation is integral to the very core of his or her humanity.Modern medicine and psychology both now accept without reservation that gay people are neither sick nor prone to psychopathology, but are as perfectly normal and psychologically stable as the next straight person. So, the Christians who want to deny gay people the ability to marry really only do so on the basis of erroneous beliefs about gay people’s moral status; I might add, a gargantuan judgment in itself and a direct violation of the teaching of Jesus who assertively forbade his followers from judging others and focused moral evaluation exclusively on the condition of the heart, which others cannot see,eg., “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6: 37).
The Christian opponents of gay marriage will not come right out and say it, although Margaret Court in Australia and Republican former Presidential-runner Governor Rick Perry in the United States certainly have had a go, but their rejection of gay marriage is based on their rejection of homosexuality per se. I have spoken above why they believe this. As I have stated, and more fully expounded in my book, I think this position is now unsupportable, but the more fundamentalist of these believers will continue to spout this stuff denigrating the lives of gay people everywhere as being sick, sinful, unnatural, objectionable (to use Perry’s mot du jour), unhealthy, wrong, and my favourite, abominable. We gay people will always be thus to such as them.
For my part, if I wereever to get married, I would want to ask God’s blessing on my relationship and invite the Spirit of the Lord to be part of who we are and how we live our lives together. In fact, I already do this now, so it would be no great difference to me to do so in a wedding ceremony. Regardless, I guess the churches will keep us away from the front of the church with our partners for some time to come. So the obvious alternative would be,‘why not allow gay people to marry in civil ceremonies’ and stay away from the churches altogether?
As of 2010, civil ceremonies now comprise almost 70% of marriage ceremonies in Australia. This is a staggering number statistically. Almost 7 out of 10 people who get married in this country have voted with their feet and elect not do so in a church. Why they do so is a whole other essay and not for our consideration here. It is difficult to imagine anybody getting married and not thinking about where they will have their ceremony, so one can only assume that this phenomenon is well-considered and honestly decided. It is a rational act of the will and no doubt discussed at length by couples and then decided upon. Civil marriage is not just happening randomly. One of my own brothers has married in a civil ceremony even though he was brought up as a Catholic and I think he probably marks the Catholic box on the four-yearly census. Yet he, like most other marrying Australians, has opted out of a church wedding.
You would think that this would be the most rational and obvious answer to the Christians’ problems for gay people desirous of marrying. But no. They, and others who are strident in their opposition to such marriage, want to prevent gay people from marryingat all – even in civil ceremonies. “Never mind coming into the church bud, we don’t want you to get married in here, in fact, we don’t want you to get married at all, anywhere, and we will advocate and gather all our might against you” (think Jim Wallace and the Australian Christian Lobby as an example). Their zealotry is a bit scary, don’t you think?
It Will Undermine the Institution of Marriage
Opponents, both religion-based and secular, offer this as one of their trump cards. If you allow gay people to marry, it will undermine marriage for the whole of society. Okay, this is a big call so let’s look at this sensibly and rationally. I am not sure exactly what an undermined marriage would look like, nor am I sure what marriage in general would look like if it as a social institutionwere undermined. Presumably, it would be weakened in some way and less able to function.And presumably there would be evidence for such an observable erosion.
Would undermined marriage then mean that straight people would have to stop marrying? I hardly think that can be the case. It hasn’t happened in countries which do allow gay people to marry. Would it mean that the marriages that already exist would somehow be wounded or contaminated? I can’t see any plausible reason why that would follow. If I were to marry my partner [we’re now in our twelfth year together], would that hurt, hinder, weaken, tear down or destroy the marriages of my three brothers or the marriages of the people in my street, who are all very accepting of us and treat us like everyone else? Would my marrying hurt the concept of marriage – as I described in the opening paragraphs of this piece? I can’t see how it could. If one hundred of us gays, or a thousand of us, or even ten thousand of us decided to marry our partners, would such a plethora of marriages destroy any marriage of a heterosexual couple anywhere in the land let alonethe symbolism of marriage itself? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure that marriage in Australia would still be safe, admired, aspired to and valued and that it would go on, unperturbed by the fact that some gay people would choose to undertake a marriage ceremony.
So when opponents tell us that gay marriage will undermine marriage as we know it, I think we need to ask themassertively, ‘how?’ And we need to insist that they be specific because what they are declaring as truth is a mighty big call. If there is no evidence that gay people getting married will undermine marriage, and there is none in other developed countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Canada where same-sex marriage exists, then let them stop saying it. Let us not put up with such nonsense and let us call it for what it is – nothing more than wilful prejudice wrapped up in the cloak of the ‘protection of society’. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s “gilded tombs do worms enfold”. Prejudice is, and always has been, ugly.
Gay Marriage is The Slippery Slope
We are told by I think the less well-educated of the opponents of gay marriage that if the law is changed and gay marriage is permitted, then it will be the slippery slope to other forms of relationship models that are presently proscribed, eg., polygamy, incest and bestiality. Allow gay people to marry their partners and before we know it, others will be lining up to get the laws changed so they can marry multiple partners or their own immediate family members or their pet dog or the yard goat.
Oh for goodness sake! I really don’t have to write a rejoinder to this do I? I will say though, that I have come across all these as serious suggestions in the comments sections of various newspaper articles on gay marriage over the last year and even in an article by a presumably highly educated archbishop believe it or not – Archbishop Peter Jensen of the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese. It simply beggars belief. And I guess if I were to write a rejoinder to the holders of such an opinion, then, like all good investigators, I would tell them to look to the evidence. If any of the countries I mentioned at the end of the preceding section have increased rates of polygamy, incest or bestiality or their citizens are advocating changes in their laws to permit such actions, and all because they have legislated to allow gay people to marry, then – oh never mind!
Marriage is for Children
Opponents from both religious and secular persuasions say that marriage is the bedrock of society because it is the best place in which to produce andraise children. Since gay people cannot biologically produce children with each other, then marriage should be denied them.
I think this is very cruel; and not only to gay people, but to many straight people too. A marriage is a commitment between two individuals. It is not a commitment between members of a tribe. In my youth, I was the organist or pianist for countless scores of weddings for my church. I have just as many wedding ceremony stories as any pastor or priest, I can tell you. In all my years of attending weddings, I have never heard a vow that goes something like this: ‘do you take this woman and any children she will bear to have and to hold from this day forth, in sickness and in health,etcetc?’ No, the vows are made between two persons. We don’t marry our issue. We marry our partners. And I am talking about straight people. Now of course, when children do come along, the family is extended, but there is a family there to begin with, into which the children are born and then raised. Just ask any childless straight couple if they think they are a family or not.
The facts are that not everyone has children. Lots of people don’t have children. (Lots of people who do have children wish they didn’t!) Lots of couples don’t have children because they choose not to or they cannot. Whether it is by choice or by circumstance, their childlessness does not make them any less worthy, any less a family, any less a marriage. I have two families, just like my married brothers. I have my family of origin, as we call it in the counselling world, and my family of choice.The former is the family that I grew up in as a child and youth, and the latter, the family of my partner and me now.Marriage is not defined by children. It is a fact that most straight people who marry do have children, butit is equally a fact that many non-married straight people have children. It is also a fact that many unwanted pregnancies occur in the young and at times for older adults when they wish it were not so. What am I saying here? That marriage and children are not the exclusive co-incidents that are purported. Marriage does occur without children and children do occur without marriage. Frequently and unremarkably.
To then say, because gay people can’t have children together they should be barred from marrying their partners, is an absurdity in the light of the reality of life. Committed gay relationships are every bit as worthy the name of family as any committed straight relationship, with or without children. And let’s not forget the fact that gay people do have children too. I have personally seen many gay people over the years in my Consulting Rooms who have children and who are doing a wonderful job at parenting. Let’s drop the simplistic ‘marriage is for children’ routine and the ‘marriage is equated with children’ routine and accept the complexity of the human experience.
Marriage Has Been Between A Man and A Woman Historically
This is quite true. I do not know of any region or country in the world that has legitimated same-sex marriage in times past. It has always between a man and a woman.
While it is true, at least to my non-historian trained understanding, that official marriage has always been between a man and a woman, there have been plenty of instances where committed same-sex relationships have been accepted or turned a blind eye to as being part of the human experience of the society. Both Greece and Rome, the antecedents of our own Western modernity, and Victorian Englandall knew of such relationships and didn’t get too hung upabout them, even though they did not understand them as we do in the modern era.
However, there is a further argument against this notion; one that is really important. It is the idea that societies are not static – they change over time.Societal change is possible historically because brave activists advocate for change and society follows and eventually accepts the change as being normal. This has happened in the areas of slavery, child labour, women’s franchise, the rights of the indigenous, environmental causes, contraception, the treatment of mental illness, economics, divorce, the de-unionisation of the workforce and paid parental leave, to name but a few. None of these things were as they are now, and in Australia, we have seen monumental shifts in societal values in virtually all of these areas.
To say that we should keep something the same way because we have always done it that way, as our Prime Minister is saying, simply does not make sense intellectually.By the way, this is the same argument given by those who oppose Australia becoming a republic; generally the same lot. If we followed this reasoning to its logical conclusion, there would be no societal and cultural evolution at all and we may as well be governed and live under a benign dictatorship which would conserve things exactly as they are for all time. Or we would only allow changes in society that a small power elite agree to. But that is not the way we generally see things in the modern world in democratic countries like Australia. We know that science and other scholarship is forever making our understanding of the our world deeper and more profound all the time and so we expect innovation, evolution and change as part of the natural phenomenology of human existence.
This is exactly the same with the gay marriage issue. There is no good reason why it should be forbidden, so gay leaders advocate and open up the conversation for Australia to have. Should gay people be allowed to marry, the sky will not fall in, civilisation will not end as we know it, the church will not be destroyed, religion will not die, marriage itself will not be fatally wounded and over a very short span of time, the change allowing gay marriage will become as unremarkable as seeing gay people in the street or in a restaurant is now. Gay marriage as an issue will quickly disappear as it naturally becomes part of the furniture of society.
Positive Reasons Why Gay Marriage Should Be Allowed in Australia
Discrimination and Human Rights
The first is a discrimination issue. Discrimination, like prejudice, is truly ugly. If there are no legitimate reasons that would preclude gay people from marrying their partners, then the change should and must be made if Australia is to hold its head high in the community of developed nations. We no longer discriminate against gay people in areas of superannuation, taxation, employment or even advance care plans for the dying, so why would we withhold the right for gay people to marry their loved ones. It is inconsistent. If Australia is going to be a force for good in this world, then we better get on board and remove a patent inequality.
Labor elder statesman John Faulkner recently stated that gay marriage was a human rights issue. He suggested that human rights are not in the purview of governments to give or bestow; rather human rights are to be recognised, acknowledged and protected by governments. He further argued at the recent ALP conference that the Australian Labor Party should officially change its platform on marriage to encompass same-sex marriage and that the rights of gay people should be recognised and protected.
Recently, United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton under a directive of President Obama made an internationally recognised speech that called for the nations of the world to recognise LGBT rights and to protect and look after the LGBT people of the world. “Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality,” she said. “Gay people are born into – and belong to – every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors, and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes.” The Democratic Administration of Barack Obamahas taken gay rights to the world and is overtly linking good diplomatic relations to other nations who protect the gay community from hate crime and discrimination. This is now the geist and gay people the world over welcome it and applaud the US Administration for its courage. The President has stated openly, “I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons”. Australia needs to read the tea-leaves here. They are not subtle. Australia is supposed to be a just society. Remove the discrimination in this country. It is inconsistent with our values – it is unjust!
So what is it about marriage that makes gay people want to participate in it too? Well I think it is number of things. However, I think the most important of them is the notion that marriage is not only a legal contract nor, in the case of a religious ceremony, aprayer that the Spirit of God will bless and be part of the relationship, but it is also the notion that marriage carries high symbolism.
Yes, marriage is symbolic.
A symbol is something that represents another thing. Paul Tillich elucidates the semiotics of symbols and signs with wonderful clarity in his bookDynamics of Faith,where he says that a symbol has six fundamental properties:
1. like a sign, a symbol points to something beyond itself;
2. unlike a sign, a symbol can fully participate in that to which it points;
3. unlike a sign, a symbol opens up levels of reality which otherwise are closed for us;
4. a symbol also unlocks elements and dimensions of our soul which correspond to the dimensions and elements of reality;
5. symbols do not appear intentionally but grow out of the collective unconscious dimension of our being;
6. symbols grow and die, growing when the situation is ripe for them and dying when the situation changes (2).
So what is the symbolism of marriage? What do we think of when we think of the category ‘marriage’? It is understood by the collective unconscious of society that such a relationship has arrived at a point where two people have been together for some time, that they know one another well, that they love one another intensely, that they wish only good for the other, that they wish to perpetuate the relationship for the remainder of their lives and that they commit to such longevity making promises in good faith one to the other. These promises take the most serious form of promise that our language can point to – the vow. There is no higher promise that human language can enunciate.
Each of the participants proclaims their vows to their partner with all the meaning and solemnity that they can bring to the moment. They commit their lives to each other and promise that even through the hard times that they will love and support each other. At such a ritual, it is common for there to be tears as participants, parents, siblings, families and friends become caught up in the emotion and meaning that is being publicly declared. And those present typically applaudat the conclusion of the ceremony and offer the couple their best wishes and gifts to help them start out the new life together in this married state to which they have willingly committed themselves. Thus, the symbolism of marriage points to a level of relationship in society’s collective unconscious that understands it as the height, the apex, the zenith of relationships. All of this is there present consciously and unconsciously when we talk about marriage.
This is not to say that couples both straight and gay cannot and do not also enter into similar relationships without a marriage. They can and do. At present in Australia, gay couples who wish to emulate the level of commitment and solemnity of a marriage ceremony have to come up with something themselves, eg., a commitment ceremony or a civil union in some states. However, for those gay people who do desire to marry, at present they cannot.
Now gay couples who feel they are in the same place in the dynamic of their relationship as straight couples who become engaged, should be able to participate in that same ritual and offer their own vows of love, support and commitment. As we have seen above, there is no good reason why they should not. Far from weakening society I suggest, it would actually strengthen society and enrich it. Marriage equality is now part of the Australian conversation. The symbol of marriage is being extended from purely opposite-sex couples to also include same-sex couples.Research into the Australian psyche shows that around 65% of people have no problem with making the change (3). To them I suspect, most would be asking, ‘what’s the big deal?’
62% of Australians believe same-sex couples should be able to marry
75% of Australians believe reform is inevitable
78% believe there should be a conscience vote on the issue
74% of Labor voters and 48% of Coalition voters support marriage equality
72% of Australians with young children support marriage equality (4)
An on-line survey of everyday Australians was inundated with views. Of the total 276,437 submissions received by April 20, over 177,000 (64 per cent) were in favour for introducing marriage equality.
However, Angela Shanahan in the Murdoch owned The Australian offered this little piece of advice to conservative Opposition leader Tony Abbott after the ALP voted to change its platform on the issue but simultaneously elected to have a conscience vote on the floor of the Parliament when a piece of legislation is eventually presented, “if I were presumptuous enough to give any advice from the suburban home-front to the leader of the opposition, I would say: “Tony, Just Say No to a conscience vote on gay marriage”(5). (Abbott seems to have heeded her cry – no conscience vote is official Coalition policy.)
Sorry Angela but you’ve got it all wrong. You assume that you can speak on behalf of the suburbs and the home-front intimating that there are no gay people out there in the suburbs and that the home-front is made up exclusively of straight people with conservative views like yours. But you are seriously mistaken. There are social progressives everywhere and there are gay people everywhere. Within two blocks of my partner and me, I personally know of a gay chef around the corner, a gay nurse around another corner, a lesbian woman in the defence force around the corner, a gay couple – two social workers, in the next street, and a gay student two blocks away.And in the nursing home where my mother is now living, in this same suburb, she is being cared for by, among others, two gay male nurses (whom she adores); and these are just the ones I know of. Now multiply that for every street in every Australian city and you’ve got a whole lot of gay people out there in the suburbs and on the home-front.Symbols grow when the situation is ripe for them, Tillich stated. Most Australians know someone who is gay.This is a change whose time has come. If it were not so, we would not be getting large statistics like those quoted above.
The True Reason For Rejection of Gay Marriage
When it is all said and done, I suspect that the only real reason why opponents of gay people marrying their partners are so strident in their rejection is their fundamental rejection of gay sexuality itself. I think there is an essential but clandestine homophobia at its base, a rejection of everything gay and a repudiation of any notion that we gay people are the equals of straight people. ‘Your sexuality is not of the same quality as ours and your relationships are most certainly not. They are inferior. We will never allow you to think of yourselves as being as good as us, as moral as us – after all you are gay.’ And the word ‘gay’ is spoken with venom and opprobrium and rejection and hatred. This is death. It is plain old-fashioned prejudice and bigotry. They do not want us to have their marriage because if they allow it, we will be the same as them, and this they cannot countenance in their ignorance andtheir myopia.
Our lifestyles, as they stubbornly continue to characterise us in the face of clear scientific evidence that a gay sexuality is not chosen and is not a preference, are thought of as degraded. American Republican Governor Rick Perry offered this quip recently after the Clinton speech made headlines around the world. “This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americans of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong,” he said (6).
GovernorPerry, and those of his ilk, for the thousandth time, please see if you can get this – a lifestyle is when you’re a worker or a retiree or when you devote your time to biking or caravanning or fitness training or surfing or playing blackjack or being involved in politics or some other thing. A sexual orientation, gay or straight, is not a lifestyle; it is part of a person’s identity.Gay people are your fathers and mothers, your sisters and brothers, your daughters and your sons. We should be accorded all the rights of dignity that any human being is accorded. If you don’t know what they are, try looking at the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (7). Our lives are not “objectionable” and your words are a disgrace.
Gay people marrying their partners when all is said is about as normal and logical as straight people marrying their partners. The noise and racket about this issue is really only perpetrated by a strident but very vocal and well-organised minority. It is no surprise then that organisations like Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and GetUp have answered the call and not vacated the conversation leaving it for the opponents to fulminate over how the gays will ruin everything if they get their evil way.
I am proud to be associated with the idea that gay people should be respected and valued in this country and that our rights should be protected. I am against the filth of prejudice and the animosity of discrimination. I have absolutely no problem with gay people who are desirous of getting married being able to do so in civil ceremonies and frankly, I have no problem with asking God to give His blessing on such a union.
I am a gay man, a Christian and a Psychologist.It is ironic that as a Counselling Psychologist, I have literally helped save scores of marriages that would have otherwise disintegrated, yet I am not allowed to get married myself.Human beings have the same basic needs. We all need to love and to be loved, to accept and to be accepted. I believe in the message of Jesus about forgiveness and compassion and loving my neighbour. I also believe in a better Australia that can keep growing as a nation in the way we look after each other and those who need our help. Life is too short to waste on those who want to continually conserve the status quo.
Life is meant to change. We are meant to grow. It is the way of things. It is the lifeblood of development and maturity. It is the reason we all keep trying, the reason we all keep struggling with the vicissitudes of life.In fact, it is the very nature of life.
Paxet Amor – Stuart
Within the same 24 hours as posting this blog, US president Barack Obama has publicly stated that he now supports gay marriage. He cited personal relationships in friends and colleagues, the attitudes of his daughters – an acknowledgement of a significant generational difference in attitude, the fairness issue, where gay soldiers are asked to risk their lives for their country but are forbidden from being able to marry their partners, as factors that led him to this decision. It is historic in that no sitting President has ever supported same-sex marriage before. The day started out in North Carolina as a sad day, but ended as a happy day in the White House.
(1) retrieved from GNN SX website 8 December 2011, Serkan Ozturk journalist. http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/news/news-2/3449-tennis-champion-slams-politically-correct-gay-marriage.html
(2) Tillich, P. (1957). Dynamics of Faith. Harper & Row, 41-43.
(3) Newspoll, November 2010, 148,000 participants.
(4) Australian Marriage Equality Fact Sheet http://www.australianmarriageequality.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/1[email protected]
(5) retrieved 10 December 2011, The Australian, Angela Shanahan journalist.
(6) retrieved 7 December 2010 ABC News Online http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-07/us-takes-gay-rights-fight-international/3717162
Progressive Christianity is alive and well. It hasn’t yet got much of a toe-hold in the Australian imagination.But it will. Why? Because the old language of dogma doesn’t speak to people anymore. Spiritual needs have changed, the church hasn’t, and people have voted with their feet.
As part of this process, I wrote Being Gay Being Christian to say that the Christian church’s traditional teachings on gay sexuality are wrong, harmful and unjust. I also wrote it to encourage gay people of faith that their sexuality does not preclude them from having a faith in God.The booklooks at both the principal wings of the Christian church in the West today: the evangelical/pentecostal and the Roman Catholic. Both need to change urgently.The two wings of the church look to authority to tell us that homosexuality is a deal-breaker if you want to be in right relationship with God.
The evangelical wing looks to a literal interpretation of the Bible and six small passages that it claims denounces homosexuality. They don’t of course, but this wing persists in making sweeping statements that brush away the lived experience of gay people as being irrelevant. But our lives are not irrelevant to the discourse – it shouldn’t just be about the Bible. However, it does need to be re-examined.
In a nutshell, the Bible is a compilation of books written over a thousand year period by numerous authors. Antiquity was a different world – virtually a differentplanet to the one we have now. Tribalism was in its flowering. Survival, death, conflict, food and debt were the stuff of everyday life for everyone. Religious beliefs were just about as numerous as the tribal groupings themselves.
Any modern Biblical scholar can show that tribal agenda can be identified easily in the narratives of the Bible: political, social, religious. And modern scholarship states very clearly that when we read these narratives, we need to read them with a careful, even scholarly, frame of reference. We need to ask, “what would this passage have meant to the people for whom it was written?In their language?In their political situation?Within their cultural norms?In their time?” And this is precisely what the modern literalists fail to do. They thump the Bible with the attitude that they alone have the truth and declare, “the Bible clearly states” without acknowledging the vast chasm of time and social and political evolution between the ancient world and the twenty first century.
What I call the six “sledge-hammer texts,” are not talking about what we understand today as gay identity which is a lifelong stable orientation but about ritual sexual activities that included homogenital activity that was part of the worship of other gods. A linguistic, historical, sociological and anthropological examination of these texts is now not difficult to do and the old Bible thumping literal interpretations are just not sustainable under intelligent scrutiny. So yes, I understand fundamentalism as being anti-intellectual and a repudiation of modernity.
The Catholics on the other hand look to the authority of the Church’s pronouncements. In my book, I examine these in detail and show how they are erroneous in their assumptions, ignore science completely, are strident, offer no place for dialogue, are aggressive and hostile – you won’t believe how hostile – and use what is tantamount to intellectualised hate speech to vilify gay people and to deny the legitimacy of our lives. As I say in BGBC, “they misrepresent gay people repeatedly as selfish, bitter, sterile, hedonistic, narcissistic, pathological and inclinedtowards moral evil. This is a caricature of a gay person. This isnot reality, nor a description of the richness and profundity that is thelived life in this world” (p191). Now of course, I am not talking about all Catholic people here, just the Vatican’s official line. It’s horrendous stuff.
I said above that the traditional teachings are not only wrong but also harmful and unjust. As such they go against the whole spirit of the Gospel, a spirit profoundly concerned with justice and well-being.These teachings are harmful because they do violence to all gay people, regardless of whether they claim Christianity or some other faith or no faith. They are violent in themselves, butthey also filter into our society in a trickle-down effect that offers conservative zealots like Fred Nile and Margaret Court the idea that they can preach them publicly and fight for the right to remain ignorant and prejudiced. They do this under the nice heading of ‘family values.’ It’s not family values -it’s ignorance and bigotry. And when the uneducated or the intoxicated or the just plain antisocial get hold of these ideas, whether they come from the local pastor of the Holy Spirit church down the road or the Pope himself, aggression and violence can and do ensue. Gay hate crimes still exist today in this country.Homophobes are not born with this venom in their souls, they soak it up from the society in which they grow up. And the church has to acknowledge that it has had a voice in moulding that society.
Finally, the teachings are unjust. They indirectly perpetuate ongoing discrimination. Young gay kids today don’t need to be told they are sinful, rejecting of God, cannot be in a right relationship with God, must remain celibate for the rest of their lives, are intrinsically disordered and to top it all off, are inclined towards moral evil. My God, can you get much more barbaric? Our gay youth, as do all gay people, need encouragement, acceptance and a sense of safety and celebration of who they are, not anecclesiastical diminution of their lives in every way.
I am gay. I am a Psychologist and I am Christian. I read widely spiritually, including the Scriptures, and I understand the value of the search, the journey, the questioning. Unexamined dogma and a classical world-view are untenable. If I am to have a faith, then it must be an adult faith. And for there to be widespread adult faith, the Christian church must change.
IDAHO Day 2012
Published on the BGBC Blog 17 May 2012
by Dr Stuart Edser PhD. MAPS. MASCH. Counselling and Health Psychologist
author of Being Gay Being Christian, Exisle Publishing, 2012.
IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia is the new kid on the block when it comes to gay people being out, comfortable and proud on a global level. Why do we need it? Because there is still much work to be done. Homophobia is still alive and kicking.
There is much similarity with the women who participate in the Reclaim the Night’ marches. Mostly, we can all go out safely at night, but occasionally, people do run into trouble and can be threatened or assaulted. So these gallant and thoughtful folk march to say that our streets need to be safe places so that our society can flourish. You cannot have a flourishing society when there are threats of violence on the streets. Women need to feel safe on the streets. So do men. So do children. Safe streets are a signal that a society is healthy and flourishing. So they march. It is high symbolism. It draws attention to the issues. It is an acknowledgment that there is still work to be done.
So what about homophobia? Is it still out there? Well, just ask any LGBT person about the timeframe
when they last encountered some level of homophobia. Most will be able to give you an
answer somewhere within the period of the preceding twelve months. The last time I encountered it
was just one week ago on May 11 in the Comments section after I published a piece in The Punch
about sexuality and Christianity. Some of it was quite vicious. Homophobia is still alive and
kicking. It is a part of our societies. So a day like IDAHO Day is still needed. It raises consciousness
and helps to bring some focus to the world that we still have a long way to go on this issue.
The Origin of Homophobia
Where does homophobia come from? The answer to that question at least is easy. It comes from
patriarchy – the system of inequality that privileges men and masculinity over women and femininity
(from the Greek, Ï€Î±Ï„ÏÎ¹Î¬ÏÏ‡Î·Ï‚ [patriarkhÄ“s] – rule of the father). There are many ways to be a man.
But patriarchy insists that there is only one way to be a man, and this is a very specific type of
hierarchical masculinity. Patriarchy also insists that this form of masculinity is natural or normal.
Patriarchy says: this is just how males are. When ruling figures adopt this model and enforce it with
coercion, the result is a top-down effect whereby a competitive, hostile, jealous, dog-eat-dog, I’ve
gotta be first, emotionless, self-centred, unempathic form of masculinity becomes normalised. This
tribalistic form of masculinity is what gender sociologist R. W. Connell calls hegemonic masculinity.
And hegemonic masculinity has its less obvious forms in everyday masculinity. In the West, men are
supposed to be strong, controlled, focused, rational and independent. Women, of course are
therefore represented as the opposite: weak, uncontrolled, unfocused, irrational and dependent.
This classic gender model is not only normalised, but actually celebrated and accorded a centrality in
the way we structure society. Still in Twenty-first century Australia, men run the show. Where
women do succeed, they either have to fight like crazy to get to the top, or sadly, act like men so
they will be respected.
Patriarchy affects straight men in coercing them to conform.
Patriarchy affects women in keeping them competitive with each other for the favours of the males
(if you don’t believe me, watch how women treat each other in any open plan office with a few
women in it).
Patriarchy affects all gay people in the most harmful way as I shall describe below.
So patriarchy pretty much effects everyone and steers the gender order and thus the options of
people within a society.
Patriarchy, Homophobia and Gay Men
Patriarchy and homophobia go hand-in-hand for one very definite and observable reason. Patriarchy
has as its central tenet that women are inferior to men. Any man displaying any softness,
emotionality, any sense of being in touch with a more feminine side to his nature will be
instantaneously degraded in the patriarchal imagination. He will then be punished. For patriarchy,
there’s only one way to be a man and only one way to be a woman. Thus, with patriarchy’s ability to
order society in its own image, gay men and women don’t stand a chance. Why?
Because the one thing you cannot be in a patriarchy if you are a man is ‘not a man.’ ‘Not a real man’ is the standard by which gay men are judged by a patriarchal society. Gay men are seen as not real men. No man should sound like a woman. No man should look feminine. No man should be soft. No man should be in touch with his emotions. No man should display passion, enthusiasm or wonder in the way that a woman is supposed to. No man should be bookish or into creative arts. It is unmanly. We teach little boys that they shouldn’t cry because ‘big boys don’t cry.’ We teach little boys from a very early age that certain characteristics or emotional displays are unacceptable. We give them names like sissy or girly. It is unbecoming for a man, even a little boy type man, to display such behaviour.
Yet such sentiment has been around for a very long time. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the fratricidal Claudius speaks of Hamlet’s “unmanly grief” when Hamlet is grieving the unexpected death of his father. Men don’t show emotion. Men don’t talk about the deep things that trouble them. That would make them appear like women, who are very good at doing just that. So, gay men are prime targets for hegemonic masculinity or even everyday patriarchal masculinity. We are a threat to their sense of being real men. This is why they find us disturbing and don’t know what to do with us, so they often lash out, either in discrimination, hurtful humour, emotional abuse or violence. They retain their most hate-filled aggressive speech for us: faggot, fag.
But they have got us right to one extent although they miss the point entirely. Gay men usually are
more in touch with their more feminine side than are straight men. It doesn’t mean we are women.
It just means that we acknowledge a part of us that is quite antithetical to the patriarchal
masculinity stereotype. We are not afraid to show that we care, that we sing, that we dance, that we are in our bodies, that we care about our appearance, that we are engaged with our emotional life, that we can be soft and tender, that we hug and kiss other men hello and goodbye, that we like to be creative, that we love our music. Even gay men who work as plumbers or as other tradesmen, play rough contact sport, are members of the military or in elite sports, can identify with this softer side of them that is a little more feminine.
And the wonderful thing about this incredible acknowledgment in the face of almost overwhelming societal sanction against it is that we are comfortable in this because we know there is an authenticity in it. We get to be ourselves. It has usually taken us quite a journey to come out of the closet and to cease living the life-lie, so we are reluctant to live inauthentically ever again. We know that our sexual orientation does not make us less of a man; maybe it even makes us more of a man because we do live our lives authentically and fully, unlike many straight men who must conform to the masculinity stereotype to one degree or another even when they do not want to. Straight men are not supposed to be in touch with this side of their nature. Some are of course, but they pay a price. And that price comes from a basic elemental homophobia. Men are men and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Straight men who cross-dress clandestinely certainly do subvert this patriarchal system by bending gender conformity at least in the privacy of their own homes. Uncloseted gay men do it openly and unashamedly. And we pay a price too.
Patriarchy, Homophobia and Lesbians
Lesbian discourse has for years talked about the invisibility of lesbianism, both in society and in the gay world. You can see two women walking down the street hand in hand and we don’t too much bother. Society can cope with this, maybe even accept this. But two guys walking down the street hand in hand is another matter. You rarely see it outside Oxford Street, and even there now, not very often. In Australia 2012, two men openly displaying affection is still a big deal. Similarly, female cross-dressing is not considered as scandalous as men wearing women’s clothes. And yet, in some ways, lesbian women cop a double dose of the worst of patriarchy: already subjugated and devalued because of being women, they are then denigrated and often abused for being the wrong kind of women. Lesbians are considered a threat to the patriarchal system because they insist that they can live lives of integrity without marrying a man. The homophobia inflicted upon lesbians ranges from relatively mild workplace discrimination to the extremes of sexual violence.
Patriarchy and the Collective Unconscious
Homophobia is certainly out there. It is insidious and nasty. It is deeply misogynistic. It rejects the
feminine. And it particularly rejects the feminine in men. In Carl Jung’s Analytical Psychology, he
posited that humanity has an unconscious collective mind that transcends personal consciousness.
Because it is unconscious, it is out of awareness. Thus, for the collective unconscious to be expressed
in the male, it is expressed as anima, a softer more feminine self, which has to be repressed in the
conscious life. And likewise, for the collective unconscious to be expressed in the female, it must be
expressed through a masculine inner personality, animus. We know these are present in all of us
because in our most secret moments, our most alone times, we let animus and anima out of their
cages for a while and enjoy something profoundly nourishing, something that the conscious mind of
patriarchal society cannot accept or cope with. Homophobia springs from that rejection of engaging
our opposite sex gender. It is an uncontrolled lashing out at something it does not understand.
As gay people, we grow up in this same society that breeds homophobes. As children, we accept theÂ values and mores of society and normalise them, including traditional church teachings about sex
and sexuality if we are part of a church. This normalisation process is very harmful to us if we gay. It
effectively internalises homophobia within our very lives so that we have to come out not just once,
but for the rest of our lives. The shaming aspect of homophobia shouts at us that we should be
ashamed of who we are and how we are. It bellows at us that we should go back into the closet and
hide ourselves away again for we are unacceptable. You are not a real man. You are not a real
woman. It is powerful and something that psychologists call internalised homophobia. It is where we
beat up on ourselves.
None of us are immune. True story.Personal story. In summer, just a few months ago, my partner Chris and I went for a swim in the glorious Merewether Ocean Baths. There were lots of families, lots of kids, lots of teenagers and young straight couples. While swimming around, Chris came up to me and from a body’s distance from me, stretched out his legs and grasped my waist with his feet. Instantly and without thinking I brushed them off because of the fear of the humiliation of looking gay in public. Chris was hurt and began to swim off. I was immediately taken by the gravity of what had just occurred and my part in it. I had repudiated my own partner’s attempt at simple affection because of my own internalised homophobia. Interestingly, where Chris and I are usually quite open and affectionate with each other in public and I thought that I was beyond that kind of attack, I drew new insight that afternoon that really, none of us are immune. My brushing his feet away was like a reflex action – you know, tap the knee, the leg jumps out bypassing the brain. This is what happened in the pool that afternoon. An automatic internalised homophobia that tried to force me back into the pretending and lying of the closet. It happened so quickly that it took me by surprise as much as it did Chris. It bypassed my brain and I reacted rather than responded. I swam after him immediately and apologised and acknowledged what had happened and we swam to the pool ocean edge and peered out to sea for a while and talked it through, bodies touching each other as we leaned our arms on the edge and talked. We have to be so careful of homophobia, both as an agent of a patriarchal society and within ourselves.
The Ubiquity of Homophobia
Unfortunately, homophobia is to be found everywhere. It is rife in the schools. High school kids suffer an enormous burden with homophobic bullying, and at a time when they do not have the emotional maturity nor life experience to deal with it properly. Homophobia is in sport. There are very few out gay men in elite sport in Australia. When someone does come out, it is usually a big deal and makes headline news. Olympian Matthew Mitcham braved homophobia and came out before he won his gold medal in diving. Homophobia is in the police force, in medicine, in the law, in just about every career that you could name. It is certainly in politics. Occasionally it rears its ugly head and makes itself manifest in the parliaments of our country. Homophobia is everywhere. In some quarters, it is particularly strong and overt, while in others it is more subtle and invidious.
As I pen this post, four men in Iran are preparing to be executed for their homosexuality. Like the
two gay teenagers in this shocking picture, they will be hanged. Let me give you their names: SaadatArefi, VahidAkbari, JavidAkbari and HoushmandAkbari. I want to honour them because they are our brothers. They are being killed because they dared to be authentic. Homophobia, fuelled by patriarchal religion (and they are all patriarchal to varying degrees), is going to murder them. I hope there is a last minute reprieve but the sounds coming from Iran are not good.
On this IDAHO Day, let us remember that homophobia is just another form of prejudice, the filth of which we all need to reject as being unacceptable in a world that we want to be a better and freer place.
Paxet Amor – Stuart