Date: May 20 2012
THE RECENT declaration by US President Barack Obama that he supported the right of same-sex couples to marry is what Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey Appleby would have described as a courageous decision.
It was brave because there is no certainty Obama's honesty will benefit him in this year's presidential election. Though a professing Christian, Obama does not court the Christian vote in the same calculating manner as his political opponents.
Unlike the US, the Christian vote in Australia has limited impact. Notwithstanding official Church teaching, even the 20 per cent or so of Australians who regularly attend church would be divided over the question of same-sex marriage, though probably the majority would be opposed to it.
Supporters of same-sex marriage in Australia frequently indicate it is a dispute between them and people with religious commitments. Certainly, you won't find too many Church leaders advocating a change, but it is fair to say the matter has received far deeper consideration within some church groups than in the secular community. This is particularly the case in the Anglican and Uniting churches.
It is also fair to observe that religious objection to same-sex marriage is primarily based on Scripture, not homophobia, though the line between can be blurred. The Catholic Church says its objection to same-sex marriage has nothing to do with religion but the natural order of things. Further confusing the matter is that there are considerable numbers of homosexuals who are Christian, even clergy.
One suspects the general political reluctance in Australia to provide for a legal same-sex commitment is based more on fear of losing votes from a relatively ill-informed prejudice than from the Christian Church, which certainly has no monopoly on homophobia. In other words, there would seem to be many people of no faith with a strong objection to same-sex marriage. The official Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church doctrine is that marriage is between a man and a woman. Officially, most legal rights of homosexuals are supported by these churches and same-sex couples are welcomed as members by some, probably most, parishes. Even in the Catholic Church, homosexuals receive pastoral care from some priests.
The sticking point is marriage. Even if Australia's Marriage Act was changed to allow for same-sex marriage, the major churches would not perform the ceremonies under their present doctrines.
Some church leaders assert they do not object to homosexuals who are celibate and there are homosexual Christians who agree with this. But with an increasing understanding of sexuality, this seems an unreasonable imposition. Surely a Catholic Church which generally requires its priests to be celibate should have learned this.
The Uniting Church's Justice Unit says that while the question of same-sex marriage within the church is for it to determine, denying loving and committed same-sex couples the right to have their relationships validated under Commonwealth laws entrenches discrimination against them. This carefully worded statement avoids the word marriage. Surely, at least for the time being, a legal arrangement, though not marriage, is preferable to the present impasse.
As with most compromises it is not ideal, but neither is the present position. For many people, this is not a simple or black and white issue. But what should be made clear is that no couples, same-sex or otherwise, have an inalienable right to children.
This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.
[ Canberra Times | Text-only index]