Marriage is based on difference, not sameness. Two people of the opposite sex become one because of their difference, and that gives them the potential to create new life. The Marriage Act affirms this.
Margaret Thatcher claimed that there is no such thing as society, only individuals. Some people also argue that marriage is just about individual choice, and that love is enough. They forget community too.
Marriage is a radically generous idea, going beyond the woman and man involved to the children they hope to create and the contribution their family can make to the community. Marriage is the way the community encourages responsible relationships between men and women and attempts to secure the well-being of any children born of their union. Marriage is unitive of a couple in their complementarity which is potentially procreative.
Gender is significant. While there have been marked changes in the understanding of marriage, including the move away from regarding women as mere chattels, or from the use of marriage to confirm family and political alliances or from restrictions on inter-racial marriages, marriage has always been the union of a woman and a man.
Despite the claims of those advocating marriage equality, you cannot equate something that is essentially different. A union between same sex people and a union between opposite sex people is essentially different and only one has the potential to create new life.
The ACT government recognises this and seeks to circumvent it with proposed ‘‘parallel legislation’’ for same sex marriage. In other words, it presumes to redefine the notion of marriage in fact and in law so as to champion the oxymoron of "same sex marriage". Does it truly matter if marriage is changed? Yes, because it is something designed for heterosexual people. Imagine if Christianity was extended to people who do not believe in God, it would no longer be Christian. So how can marriage survive as a useful institution if it is extended to people it was not designed for?
Same sex marriage advocates speak of their right to parenthood. Here, one must distinguish between the loving intention of a same sex couple and the rights of a child. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says a child has ‘‘as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents’’.
A same sex couple cannot have a child as a result of their union but as the result of a previous relationship or an arrangement with a surrogate or an IVF clinic. In that instance, a child becomes the object of a claimed right, not the gift of unitive love. For the sake of the child and ultimately for the dignity of all, no one has a right to a child, whatever one’s aspiration for parenthood.
It is especially noteworthy that same sex civil unions now afford couples the same rights as for married couples. However it is argued that allowing same sex couples to marry would give them acceptance in the community. On the contrary, it would be recognition at odds with both their orientation (to sameness) and the nature of marriage (unitive and procreative). I am therefore advocating a natural law rebuttal to the ACT government’s proposed ‘‘parallel legislation’’, which is out of step with the rest of the country and in potential conflict with existing law.
Of course, now same sex marriage legislation is passed in the ACT, even with exemptions for religious bodies, the matter will not end here. Overseas experience is that churches, photographers and wedding reception facilities amongst others have all faced civil claims for not agreeing to be party to a same sex marriage. What about the right not to be involved in a union to which one conscientiously objects? What about the right to religious freedom?
Rights are not always reconciled easily. Therefore discussion of contentious issues should be conducted respectfully and in the hope of not offending against love or truth. I subscribe to that position as a citizen and as a priest purporting to minister the inclusive love of God.
While the proposed legislation is no doubt well intended, it sadly confuses the status of people by presuming to equate that which is essentially different. The legal gymnastics of ‘‘parallel legislation’’ should be rejected in truth and out of love for the dignity of all citizens. We can do better and how we might do that is the discussion we need to have.
Monsigner John Woods is Administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn
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