Saturday, June 01, 2013

How very reasssuring

Prompted by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's public declaration of support for same sex marriage, I decided to write letters to a couple of "marriage equality" campaign groups. My letter reads as follows:

Dear Sir/Madam

I have a question about your campaign. Safeguards are in the Bandt marriage equality bill, which was defeated in the Federal Parliament last year, to allow members of the clergy and celebrants to exercise their conscience and decline requests to perform same sex marriages, and therefore be protected from having legal action taken against them by aggrieved same sex couples. Can you give guarantees that not one individual Christian, church, or Christian organisation will be adversely affected by these reforms? Kevin Rudd is proposing a secular model of marriage which is open to two consenting adults of either gender, coexisting alongside a church sanctioned, model, which will remain restricted to heterosexual couples. In practical terms, is this feasible? Will you and other marriage equality campaigners be satisfied with allowing these exemptions to remain in place. In the event of marriage equality becoming law, is it possible that you may seek to have these exemptions overturned at a later date? Thankyou for taking the time to answer my questions.

Australians for Marriage Equality replied to me a couple of days later. Their email included a link to a PDF of a fact sheet on "Marriage Equality and Religion." This document seeks to refute some of the commonly raised objections that some religious communities have made against same sex marriage. Looking at this document, the scholar in me asks, where are the references to support the assertions made in this paper, such as the assertion that their movement has widespread community support, or that same sex marriages were performed in the past, and so on?

Either intentionally or unintentionally, its inference is that as a Christian holding conservative views on this issue, my views on this issue are comparable to those of Christians in earlier generations, who used the Bible to justify forbidding interracial marriage and relegating women to an inferior position in the marital relationship. Just as these views are no longer acceptable, so too Christian opposition to same sex marriage on Biblical grounds will eventually be thought of in the same way. It also features favourable quotes from church leaders in favour of same sex marriage.

To summarise, the spokesperson who answered my letter believes that I have no reason to be concerned about the prospect of same sex marriage, because "Respecting religious values and allowing same-sex couples to marry are not mutually exclusive. Australian law clearly distinguishes
between civil and religious marriages. This means it is possible for same-sex couples to publicly affirm their love and commitment through a legal marriage, and for faith communities to continue to define religious marriage in whatever way they wish."

The second respondent to my letter, who responded almost a week later, was more emotive, and singled out the Catholic church for censure. Perhaps he assumed that I'm Catholic, when I'm actually not, but that's another issue.

The respondent wrote:

I think in a declining member base that the Church should not be so selective on who is welcome in their clubhouse and who is not.  Though it is their clubhouse.
Gays and Lesbians are not the only people the Catholic Church refuse to host wedding ceremonies of, they also refuse to marry divorcee's.
It is their club and therefore their rules.
We are not concerned about the right for Gays and Lesbians to be welcomed by a club.  We are concerned about being welcomed by the Government.  In law we are to be all equal.  If we want to maintain a 'Marriage Act' in our constitution then it must apply to all peoples not a majority.  2 people in a same sex relationship should be extended every legal right and protection to formalise their legal relationship through marriage and be awarded the same society standings and protections offered to married opposite sex partners.  These human rights are not related to the Church nor do we require the Church to oversee such.  Other than the Church being the loudest and biggest opponent to Marriage Equality they have nothing to do with the Marriage Act.  It is simply a place where some religious people may choose to have their marriage, if they are accepted by the Church.

So would we be attempting to seek inclusion within the Church.  I would not see that likely, we don't accept the rules of this club, the preaching in this club, the vilification suffered by our people by this club and at large want very little to nothing to do with this club.  So to answer your question would I be wanting to challenge their position to be forced to include me, I think not.

The official answer to my question from two same sex marriage campaign groups is "no." I assume that they answered my questions honestly. The question is how representative their views are of the same sex marriage movement as a whole. In the marketplace of ideas that have contributed to the debate on this issue, t's not too hard to find statements from other activists who will not accept any limitations on the right to marry, even if it means coercing their opponents. The law isn't set in stone. It can be challenged in court or amended. In the likely event of a member of the clergy or celebrant being taken to court for declining to perform a same sex wedding, I will hold them to their word. When this does happen, will they keep their word? Will they oppose any moves to remove exemptions to protect religious organisations from being forced to perform same sex marriages? Will they stand up for the rights of individuals or organisations to exercise freedom of conscience on this issue? We shall see.

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