I’m going to respond to the lengthy discussion in the combox to my post on the possibility of “civil disobedience” in relation to same-sex “marriage” laws here rather than there, where my comments would get somewhat lost (and we don’t want that, do we?). I want to respond to three issues: Perry on the kind of civil disobedience I am advocating; Tony on how my comments relate to divorce law; and Clara on whether or not we should institute a “Church only” marriage.
Perry calls my bluff by asking just “what kind of civil disobedience?” I had in mind – beyond the refusal of the Church to bless or solemnise such partnerships. [Note: Same-sex relationships, legalised or not, cannot be called “unions” – civil or otherwise – any more than they can be called “marriages” because the whole “one flesh” thingy relates only to what happens when a man and woman are “united”. One of the central reasons that marriage between two people of the same sex cannot take place is the simple matter that the “two remain two” at a very deep and real level: the “miracle” of marriage in which “the two become one flesh” does not and cannot take place whatever they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.]
It is a good question, and on reflection, I realise that I had not thought this through very deeply. I think the most effective kind of civil disobedience on the part of those who defend true marriage must come in the form of words: what we say, preach, teach, write, print, publish, discuss etc. in the public square. It is in the sphere of rhetoric that such battles are fought, won and lost for the hearts and minds of people in our society today. The most effective kind of civil disobedience that we can mount is a refusal to use the new vocabulary in the way the social re-engineers demand. We must refuse clearly and publicly to call any kind of same-sex partnership “marriage”. We must teach that, the laws not-with-standing, such partnerships are NOT “marriages” (or even “unions” civil or otherwise). We must not do anything that would accord such partnerships the dignity of marriage. And above all, we must clearly proclaim and teach what marriage really is (more on this in a moment).
We should not be misled into thinking that we will be let off lightly for taking such a stance, or that to take such a stance will not require a great deal of courage. Not only will we be the victims of all kinds of hate speech (being called ourselves “hate-speakers”) for such a stance, but it may well become illegal to make such claims (since after all, the law will stand against us precisely in defining such relationships to be what we deny them to be).
And here is where I mean that we must do more than simply refuse to solemnise or bless such relationships. For my part, I share Andrew Bolt’s and Paul Kelly’s lack of faith in assurances that Churches and other religious communities will remain free to make such a refusal (Kelly says: “Only a fool would accept this at face value.”) How is it possible that this will not be regarded as “discrimination”? The passing of same-sex “marriage” laws would require more legal “exceptions”, such as that which currently “allows” the Church to continue to “discriminate” in matters relating to ordination and employment (although even these “exceptions” are currently under attack). The problem with such “exceptions” to the law are that they are precisely “exceptions allowing discrimination”. The exceptions put the Church on the back foot rhetorically and legally from the start. The mere fact that these ARE “exceptions” highlights the point of view that the Church is, legally, guilty of “discriminating”.
Were such laws to be passed, the Church must mount and maintain a campaign of education and discourse which teaches the clear truth about the nature of marriage. I remain dubious about whether we will have the courage and determination to carry this out. I base my doubts upon the way in which we have failed to clearly convey the plain and simple truth about marriage in the face of other attacks on this fundamental estate of our society, attacks such as legalised re-marriage (which is more of an issue for the Church than legal divorce) and the recognition of temporary and private partnerships as “defacto marriages” (as opposed to permanent common law marriages which have traditionally been recognised largely for the sake of the children of such unions). The lengthy discussion in reaction to my previous post is a clear example of how even well-educated Catholics (such as most of the readers of this blog are) can be very confused about the true nature of marriage. It has been argued that one of the reasons why so many annulments have been granted in recent decades is because many people have attempted marriage without properly understanding what marriage is – that is, they are unable to contract a true marriage because they have not had a clear intention of what it means to marry in the first place.
Tony’s first question in the combox to my previous post was why my comments do not relate to the State’s laws concerning divorce. In part, they do, but I do not dispute the State’s right to govern the estate of marriage by governing the process of divorce. I think it is worth acknowledging that just as marriage itself has been a universal phenomenon in human society, so has divorce – even in religious communities, such as in Jewish and Muslim societies. It is not even true to say that the Bible forbids divorce – the Torah is a part of the Bible and it allowed divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jesus, on the other hand, forbade it, and the Apostle Paul followed this up by explaining that marriage between baptised Christians must be permanent because it is a sign of the mystery of the relationship between Christ and his Church. The indissolubility of marriage in Christian teaching pertains particularly to what we call “sacramental” marriage between a baptised man and a baptised woman. States, on the other hand, have always had laws governing divorce, because it is necessary to have laws which govern the situation of marriage break-ups for the protection potential “victims” of divorce. I believe this is proper, and in accord with natural law, whatever position one may take on the issue of remarriage after divorce.
I believe that it would also be false move for the Church to invent something such as Clara suggests along the lines of a “Church only marriage”. Despite the fact that the Church proclaims marriage between two Christians to be a “sacrament”, the Church did not invent marriage. Rather, marriage – which is a natural estate – is raised to the dignity of a sacrament by virtue of Christ’s Paschal Mystery and by virtue of the status of the marriage partners as baptised Christians. The Church has the power to bless such marriages – it is the Church’s “nuptial blessing” of legally solemnised marriages which is the historical origin of the ecclesiastical celebration marriage. The State – in certain jurisdictions and because of historical context – gives the Church and (in places such as Australia) other “ministers of religion” the authority to legally solemnise marriages. In the final analysis, the State properly has the power to govern the circumstances under which it will recognise a legal marriage – short of actually defining marriage to be anything other than a union entered into for life between one man and one woman. (Note that laws legalising divorce do not change this definition – a marriage is not legal if it is deliberately entered into as a temporary or time-limited arrangement – the intention to remain married “as long as you both shall live” is a fundamental requirement for a legal marriage).
There are many other issues raised in the discussion on marriage in the combox to the previous post, which I cannot go into here without this becoming an overly lengthy post (“Too late!” they cried). So I will leave it at that for now.
UPDATE: One addendum. The discussion in the combox went into the quesiton of whether or not polygamy should or could be recognised in Australia. An interesting test case has just been decided in Canada. The ruling judge said: “The law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times… It seeks to protect against the many harms which are reasonably apprehended to arise out of the practice of polygamy.”