Yesterday, when I should have been helping my wife with my daughter’s fourteenth birthday party, I was fulfilling a committment I had made some three or four months ago without taking proper note of the date: I was one of six speakers at the Council of Christians and Jews Same-Sex Marriage Panel.
The panel was made up of six speakers in all, three Christians and three Jews. The Christians were myself, as a member of the Catholic Church, Pastor Mark Tuffin of the Lutheran Church, and Rev. Dr Lorraine Parkinson of the Uniting Church. The Jews were Orthodox Rabbi Shamir Caplan, Conservative Rabbi Adam Stein, and Progressive Rabbi Fred Morgan.
We were each given ten minutes to speak, although we probably went over a little. The three Christians all spoke from prepared texts, and the Rabbis expounded a little more freely. The Christians spoke first, beginning with myself and followed by Pastor Mark. Of the six speakers, Pastor Mark and I were the only ones to take a stand definitively against the redefinition of marriage to include same sex couples. The Rabbis had varying approaching, none as strongly rejecting the proposition as Mark and I did, nor any quite as strongly endorsing the proposition as Lorraine did.
In any case, I am posting my own presentation on this site under “My Stuff” (click here to go directly to the link).
While listening to the other speakers, I began to jot down some statements they made, and some reactions and questions that were raised for me. All of the following comments were made during the presentations or discussion.
1) “Marriage is evolving.” Maybe, but as far as I can make out, a core constant of the idea of marriage has always been that it is a covenant/contract between a man and a woman. If we are now to change that particular constant, what is the idea essential to the word “marriage” that we are able to apply it to this newly proposed model, the idea that connects it with the past history of the use of the word?
[At question time, this was the only question I was able to put to all the participants. Lorraine answered “a promise to life long fidelity to the exclusion of others”. Many others simply said: “Language changes – there doesn’t have to be a consistent idea”. In which case, are we not in Wonderland where a word means exactly what I alone think it should mean? How can we have any kind of consistent debate about the issue without an agreement on meaning?]
2) “The current law enshrines inequality at the heart of our nation’s legal code”. Bishop Anthony Fisher has consistently argued in various places that justice requires some laws to provide for special needs of particular people in particular situations (eg. special benefits for the disabled which able bodied people cannot access). It is not inequality to have laws which protect family structures in which children are raised.
3) “Religion is a human construction” and, more broadly, “All human concepts are human constructions”, with the implication that we can therefore alter them to suit ourselves. This one is very popular these days. However, it goes counter to the conviction at the heart of many major religions that fundamental religious truths are in fact revealed by God.
4) “What the law decides for society in general is no business of the religious community which remains free to do things they way they like”. One Orthodox rabbi, not on the panel, explained that he could never do Kiddushin for anyone other than a Jewish man and a Jewish woman, but what the rest of society did with what they called “marriage” was their own business. The distinction between a “secular” and a “religious” marriage does not hold for the Catholic faith.
5) “Religions should not tell the state wht to do in regard to marriage”. Okay. Should religions tell the State what to do with regard to justice? If one believes that marriage issues are a matter of justice, do religious groups not have a right to speak out about this conviction?
6) One rabbi said “There exist in some quarters of the Jewish community an attitude toward active homosexuals in relation to the hallakah that 612 out of 613 ain’t too bad, and therefore that people in homosexual relationships should be allowed to be rabbis and cantors.” Should a man who enjoys a diet which includes pork be allowed to be a rabbi? Or are the kosher laws more important than the sexual laws?
7) “It is not credible that religoins should argue that the purpose of marriage is the procreation of children. After all we still marry people who are past the age of childbearing.” This is a common argument, however the Church teaches only that married couples should be “open” to life whenever they engage in intercourse. A couple who because of age or medical conditions are unable to conceive can still be “open” to the possibility of life (by means of an unusual natural occurance – cf. Abraham and Sarah).
8) “God wouldn’t put a person in the situation of being homosexually attracted without making it possible for them to be sexually fulfilled.” God indeed tempts no-one, but there is the assumption here that homosexual attraction is a not only a natural (in the sense of commonly occuring) human condition, but a good attraction rightly ordered to human flourishing, ie. that the attraction really does originate from God rather than from the human flesh and psyche.
9) “If I want the law to allow me to live according to my value system, I must allow it to let you live according to your value system.” This may be true to a degree, but we obviously do not apply it in blanket terms. We are not a completely libertarian society. We do make judgements about people values and we do declare some values to be incompatible with the well being of society.
10) “Any couple that raises children should have the protection of the law – and same sex couples have just the same ability to conceive in ways that heterosexual couples do: IVF, donor sperm/egg, surrogacy, etc.” This argument assumes that these are good and natural ways to conceive children.
11) “The Bible talks only about homosexual acts; it does not envisage the situation of committed, loving same sex relationships”. In fact, I – and (I would suspect) all of you reading this – am in numerous “same sex relationships”. We all have relationships of varying degrees of intensity and committment with people of the same sex. But none of my “same sex relationships” involve sex. The problem lies still with the issue of sexual acts between people of the same sex (and hence by implication, outside of marriage as currently defined). I have nothing personally against “same sex relationships” that do not involve sexual acts, and, I would argue, neither does the bible or the teaching of the Church. Hence this argument is a red-herring.