(Articles by various authors)
1. WHY CALL IT ‘MARRIAGE’?
In response to hearing that I am campaigning for Marriage Equality, an elderly clergyman asked, ‘Why call it ‘marriage’?Â My response was to outline the huge changes to the institution of marriage that have occurred over the last 150 years.
150 years ago marriage involved the transfer of property, the bride, from her father to her husband. She was a chattel.Â Echoes of this persist in some Christian rites of marriage. This is no longer true.
Until more recently family bloodlines were viewed as important and certified by marriage. Marriage across racial lines was either illegal or frowned on. Today those interested in bloodlines certify them by paternity tests and racial lines have greatly receded in importance.
While marriage seemed to be very much about family and children in the 1950s that came to an end as the children left home, fertility rates and family size radically declined and the age at first marriage in Australia rose from about 20 to about 30 years of age. Each of these changes reduced the amount of time a couple was likely to spend in childraising.
150 years ago it was nearly impossible to get a divorce, so desertion was rife and high rates of maternal mortality meant that few couples lived together for a long time. With the receding focus on children the importance of the quality of the marital relationship became paramount. Where it had declined or disintegrated, divorce came to be not only acceptable but expected. Today over one-third of marriages involve at least one person who has been married before.Â Churches opposed the changes to the divorce law and some still refuse to marry someone who has been divorced. One resultÂ of this is that the majority of marriages in Australia are solemnised by Civil Celebrants, not by the church.
Today marriage has become primarily a matter of companionship between two adults who commit to be there for each other, to build their lives around each other, and to seek the good of the other in an on-going relationship.Â Why call this marriage? Many who find themselves in adult companionate relationships seek to do so. Including the elderly clergyman mentioned above who when well past family and children had married his current partner.
Today, in Australian society marriage is what we call adult pair-bonding. Even when referred to as ‘de facto’ we are actually using a shortened form of the full term, ‘de facto marriage’. My clergyman would not have accepted this term, why should same sex people seeking marriage be limited to ‘de facto’ status?
When marriage is primarily about adult companionship the gender of those in a relationship ceases to matter.Â That is what Australians have come to realise.
For some in the church it is all about power. They feel their power waning. They are losing control. The church has already lost the marriage market to civil celebrants. They Â now face Â losing the capacity to shape the legal definition of marriage which is a symbol, not the reality, of their power to coerce Australians to their will.
Because this battle is between a group seeking dignity and respect on the one side and another fighting to retain a symbol of its power there is not much ground for rational discussion.
The sociological fact is that the institution of marriage has changed to become one of companionship. This is recognised in Australian law. In this context the gender of partners makes no difference. That is why we should call it ‘marriage’ and extend it to all who seek to work together with family and community support to achieve the aims and realise the values of marriage – commitment to care, support, enjoy, love and be there for each other.
Gary D Bouma, author of Being Faithful in Diversity: Religions and Social Policy in Multi-Faith Societies. ATF.
Professor of Sociology, Monash University
Associate Priest, St john’s Anglican Parish, East Malvern
June 18th, 2012Â .
2. The following is the consensus position of our congregation on the subject of Marriage Equality. This was discussed and approved on Sunday 18 June 2012, and has incorporated numerous community suggestions, but is by no means closed to further feedback and improvement.
The purpose of this statement is to focus discussion on what we are actually saying, as this has not always been covered in reports about us, or addressed by all commentators. We request that this PDF, or this page on our website, be linked and distributed widely, and judged on it’s merits.
WeÂ emphasize, as always, that we do not speak for any church other than our own on this subject. We are a young church and not particularly large or influential; there were 30 present at this Sunday meeting. But we are quite clear on this.
(Note that for brevity, we use the word ‘gay’ for the entire GLBT and related communities, though we recognize that those communities do not use the term in this way.)
WHAT WE ARE SAYING ABOUT MARRIAGE EQUALITY
We are saying three things:
1. We are saying political campaigns which cultivate fear and mistrust of gayÂ people and of the gay community are dehumanising and do not represent us.
- Prominent Christian lobbyists have argued that long-term gay relationships should matter less under Australian civil law than long-term heterosexual relationships, that gay people’s relationships are not legitimated by our common public values, and that they are a danger to society. This cultivates a blanket fear and mistrust of gay people – 30% of the population of our suburb, and some definite percentage of yours. That is why we say these campaigns are dehumanising.
- All our churches are deemed hateful when people’s gay friends, neighbours, colleagues and relatives – or they themselves – are degraded in this way and we remain silent. That’s why we are saying publicly that these campaigns do not represent our church.
2. We are saying Christians should not try to take political power over other citizens and thereby control their behaviour.Â
- Legislating our Christian convictions attempts to establish them by force of law and legal penalties, rather than to commend them by persuasion and by example. We reject this on Christian principles. The church and gospel suffer – to say nothing of how others suffer – when theology is legislated or assent is coerced.
- This is not what Jesus represented in his actions and his words. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbours as much as ourselves, to serve them and lay down our lives for them. We are not here to rule or marginalise or degrade any person.
3. We are saying Civil marriage and Christian marriage are different.
- The government administers civil marriage for people of all faiths and no faith. It does not and should not impose a Christian view of marriage on all citizens. Likewise, the government does not define what Christian marriage means. It cannot do so. That is how as a church we can be committed to Baptist resolutions about marriage, to a consistent biblical understanding of the issues, and to same-sex marriage as a civil policy.
- Life-longÂ gay relationships are a basic fact of life in Australian society. We’re saying we have seen no good civil reason why these relationships should not be recognised by civil law as the exact same commitment to fidelity that is recognised by civil law in heterosexual marriage.
- We don’t deny this raises many serious questions for ourselves and other churches, and we do not claim to have resolved all these questions. Rather, we are saying we support Same-sex Marriage as a civil policy, and we do so for these decisive Christian reasons.