Council of Christians and Jews: “Same-Sex Marriage” Panel: My paper and some additional questions

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.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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16 Responses to Council of Christians and Jews: “Same-Sex Marriage” Panel: My paper and some additional questions

  1. What is the purpose of these discussion panels, David?
    Clearly from your report one thing they achieve is to highlight the moral confusion that exists within the religious communities broadly defined as “Christian” and “Jewish”. How is that helpful? Does participating in such events, I wonder, give some legitimacy to fundamental error? I recall Dr Sasse’s remark “there are some things not open for discussion”. Would we participate with Unitarians in a discussion on the Godhead? When fundamental differences exist on sources of authority, what hope is there for discussion?

    Anyway, in number 11 you write, “The problem lies still with the issue of sexual acts between people of the same sex”. I would go further and maintain that the problem lies with same-sex desire, from which desire the illicit sexual act springs. For a Lutheran this desire falls under the rubric of “concupiscence”, and is sinful, but a Catholic might categorize it under “moral disorder”. To use the Catholic language, then (“when in Rome…”), the real problem is not “sexual acts”, as you say, but the moral disorder; has not the Pope recognised this by excluding even celibate homosexuals from the priesthood (if I remember rightly)? One could not then go on to say that “the Bible sees nothing wrong with same-sex relationships”; in fact, the Bible regards same-sex orientation as the consequence of idolatry (Romans 1).

    • Schütz says:

      1) On the benefit of such discussions

      I disagree with you quite strongly on this one, Pastor Mark. It depends on what the purpose of discussing anything of importance with anyone. There may be a number of reasons, including:

      a) trying to find a compromise upon which all can agree
      b) trying to persuade others of one’s own point of view
      c) reaching a better understanding of the other’s point of view

      In a discussion such as this (or, if you like, Sasse’s example of the Blessed Trinity), pupose (a) is certainly not in view. However, purposes (b) and (c) certainly are. Often, in interfaith dialogue, my only goal is (c), but this case was not specifically a case of interreligious dialogue. Rather it was a case of public discourse on a matter touching the heart of our life together as a society. And so in this case, purpose (b), that of persuasion, was certainly a part of my goal and purpose. And if the matter is important, as this matter is, I don’t really see the benefit of saying “what’s the point of the discussion? you have your opinion and I have mine”. We have to get involved in public discussions like this precisely to get our point of view out there in a persuasive way.

      2. On the “sinfulness” of same-sex attraction

      You are quite right to place same-sex attraction (at least “attraction” in a sexual sense) under the category of concupiscence. Lutheran and Catholic theology would agree on this. And yes, we would also agree that such an attraction is “disordered”. The question is simply whether or not the attraction as such is to be categorised as “sin”. You rightly point out that since the Reformation, Lutherans have considered concupiscence to be “sin properly speaking” as a manifestation of “original sin” still present even in the faithful after baptism. The Catholic Church at the time rejected and still rejects the idea that “original sin” continues to be at work in the faithful after baptism, but does agree that ‘concupiscence’ continues. This ‘concupiscence’ however is not taught to be “sin properly speaking”, for there is no moral guilt except where one gives way to the temptation that arises from ‘concupiscence’ (whether in act, word, or just in thought). It is really the definition of “sin” that is in question here, not the question of whether this is the result of ‘concupiscence’ or ‘disordered attraction’. I can only suggest the very helpful doctoral thesis by Chris Burgwald on this matter, which I can send to anyone who emails me with a request for it. For example, the exclusion of same-sex attracted persons from admission to the seminary is not because such people were “sinners” but because of the risk of ‘actual sin’, in terms of giving way to the temptations arising from ‘concupiscence’, arising from the ‘disordered’ attraction.

  2. Matthias says:

    I am not surprised at the response of the UCA minister or the progressive Rabbi but i would have thought the orthodox and Conservative would have been more upfront when it comes to the Biblical precepts.
    And Pastor mark Henderson is right ,what is the use of these panels. How can there be common ground with those who interpret Scripture and the traditions selectively and I am not referring to our Jewish brethren but rather the UCA who’s position is well known as being accomodating.

    • Schütz says:

      Well, not a lot of common ground, that’s true. But see what I wrote about about the purpose of these discussions. It was not a “dialogue” in the classic sense, but more a panel at which the speakers aired their points of view. I certainly found it educational – for instance, I was surprised at the openness to same-sex ‘marriage’ from some of the rabbis.

  3. Gareth says:

    With the Australian Federal and Tasmanian Parliaments recently sending homosexual marriage to the dustbin of history in Australia (or at least for the next twenty years), I thought it was a bit weird that no-one has heard much from Tony lately…..

    • Schütz says:

      You are very confident about this, Gareth. I do not have the same faith in our popularist politicians to continue steadfastly to reject the push for a change to the Marriage Act. At least, not without a far more vocal defence of marriage from the people upon whom they depend for their election to office.

      • Gareth says:

        I take your point David that certain sections of the Catholic community need to lift their game but considering the militant and well-resourced homosexual lobby had every celebrity under the sun on board, the secular media pushing their cause for the last few years endlessly and fact that we are Federaly currently in a Labor Government- I thought the vote in Federal Parliament was pretty comprehensive and sent a great message for the meantime.

        Not to mention in Tasmania setting a great example by rejecting the state-based marriage stunt making it harder for the Marriage Age to be changed through the back door via other States (no pun intended).

        A victory is a victory – lets celebrate good times for the defeat of those that want to undermine our national and religious traditions and family values.

        • Schütz says:

          I just think that the “victory” may be a pyrrhic one. Consider that the liberals did not give a conscience vote to their members.

          • Gareth says:

            David, even pinko-lefties such as Malcolm Turnbull have admitted that a Liberal Party ‘conscience’ vote (which was unneccesary since they went to the last election with a policy stating they would uphold the Marriage Act) would have little or no difference to the final vote: In answer to your response even Malcolm Turnbull has admitted that a conscious vote granted to the Liberal Party would have made little or no difference to the outcome: http://afr.com/p/national/politics/marriage_debate_conclusively_won_R5jcylsBxewZAUl0NCmKUL

            You know I am a pretty pesimistic guy but I am confident on this issue that:
            a) the Australian public has been badly mislead on the actual level of support for homosexual marriage across the Australian community.
            b) the homosexual lobby literally spent millions on the recent campaign and are bitterly disappointed after having the secular media champion their cause for so long they couldnt even muster one-third of the vote in a Federally led Parliament.
            c) Despite secular media reports, the vote in Parliament reflected that the majority of our current Federal Politicans understand which way ‘the wind truly is blowing’ on the issue reflecting that in reality the majority of Australians see homosexual marriage as a bridge too far.

            You have a point that on this particular issue, one could be pessimistic for the future we should live life here and now and be happy that the issue in legislative terms is probably dead for the next ten-fifteen years.

  4. Schütz says:

    Peregrinus left a comment on this topic at the bottom of my presentation. Because of its general nature, however, it is better if it is read here in this discussion, so I am reposting what he wrote there here.

    It’s true that “the distinction between a “secular” and a “religious” marriage does not hold for the Catholic faith”, but of course that’s also true for other branches of Christianity, and indeed for Judaism.

    The real issue here is not what the Catholic (or any other) church thinks about marriage, but the extent to which the Catholic (or any other) church can reasonably ask the state to reflect the church’s views in its laws, policies, etc.

    It’s a complete non-starter, I think, to argue that law or public policy should reflect Proposition X, simply because Proposition X is held by Catholics. And even if we could show that Proposition X is held not only by Catholics but by most Christians, and by most Jews as well, that wouldn’t strengthen the argument any. (But the fact that many of the various traditions who agree that there is no distinction between religions and secular marriage nevertheless believe different things about marriage pretty well torpedos the view that civil law and policy on marriage must reflect the religious understanding.)

    We can only argue that Proposition X should be reflected in law and policy by reference to considerations which are the proper concern of the state. And, if we want our arguments to succeed, we have to refer to considerations which the state authorities accept are the proper concern of the state.

    You raise an excellent question when you ask “should religions tell the state what to do with regard to justice?” The answer, of course, is yes, they should.

    But in the context of the present debate, I think what that requires is an argument to show that it is unjust to, e.g., me if the state recognises a conjugal relationship between two other persons of the same sex as a marriage.

    And the argument has to be a compelling one. The disadvantages to those two persons if their relationship is not legally recognised in this way are (a) obvious and (b) considerable. Justice clearly requires that we should not impose those disadvantages on them unless the case for doing so is very clearly made out (which, we must remember, is not the same thing as “very passionately argued”).

    And, to be honest, I’m just not seeing this. How, exactly, does it work injustice to you or me if the state recognises a conjugal relationship between two other persons of the same sex as a marriage? I would have no idea how to go about constructing such an argument myself, and I’ve yet to see anyone else make an even half-way credible fist of it.

    • Schütz says:

      It’s true that “the distinction between a “secular” and a “religious” marriage does not hold for the Catholic faith”, but of course that’s also true for other branches of Christianity, and indeed for Judaism.

      Well, no, not for Judaism, it turns out. What we would call a “nuptial blessing”, they call a “kiddushin” (roughly translated, I think, a “sanctification”). An orthodox rabbi at the panel (not on it) stated that he could only ever celebrate Kiddushin for a Jewish man marrying a Jewish woman. What those outside of the Jewish community did wasn’t his business. This seemed to me to be a distinction between a secular and a religious marriage, which isn’t present in Catholicism or Protestantism (it might be in Orthodox thinking, however).

      The real issue here is not what the Catholic (or any other) church thinks about marriage, but the extent to which the Catholic (or any other) church can reasonably ask the state to reflect the church’s views in its laws, policies, etc.

      To be honest, neither I nor the Church are really asking the State to take on what the Church thinks about marriage. It is more a case of the Church defending a universal social institution – one which the Church views as fundamental for human flourishing – from extinction. It is hard to think of a parallel case, but consider parenthood or perhaps personal property. If a Government were to arise that wished to abolish the rights of parents to raise their own children or the rights of its citizens to own private property, and the Church were to mount a campaign to retain these essential aspects of our society, would the Church be “imposing” her own particular doctrines upon the State, or would she be acting as the defender of society over against the State?

      We can only argue that Proposition X should be reflected in law and policy by reference to considerations which are the proper concern of the state. And, if we want our arguments to succeed, we have to refer to considerations which the state authorities accept are the proper concern of the state.

      Indeed! That is precisely my point. And what the Church is saying is that the maintanance and defence of marriage IS the “proper concern of the State”. I fail entirely to see that it is any business of the State to regulate the sexual relationships of individuals to one another apart from criminalising non-consensual acts, acts against minors, and acts that cause bodily or psychological harm. (I do not support the criminalisation of homosexual activity, for instance.) The State does have responsibility to regulate relationships from which children and hence families arise, for the sake of the well-being and stability of such households. Homosexual relationships are by their nature infertile and therefore do not require protection by the Government. At the same time I also believe that there are many other kinds of relationships that do not involve sexual relationships which do need to be protected for the sake of justice. But the kind of sexual relationship that produces children is the business of the State.

      You raise an excellent question when you ask “should religions tell the state what to do with regard to justice?” The answer, of course, is yes, they should.

      Good, we agree on that. Even where it is a matter of the Church “imposing” – or at least trying to persuade – the Government of an issue of justice that might be only viewed as such by Catholics.

      But in the context of the present debate, I think what that requires is an argument to show that it is unjust to, e.g., me if the state recognises a conjugal relationship between two other persons of the same sex as a marriage.

      Yes, but not just to “unjust to me” as an individual, but “unjust to society” as a whole. Changing the universal definition of marriage – when marriage is a fundamental building block of society – to extend it to couples of the same sex would fundamentally alter the role that marriage has. The problem is that the so-called “marriage equality” argument is being entirely viewed as a good (or justice) for the same-sex individuals desiring to enter this kind of a relationship. They have not in any way made a case for how extending the definition of marriage to them would serve the cause of justice for the whole of society.

      The disadvantages to those two persons if their relationship is not legally recognised in this way are (a) obvious and (b) considerable. Justice clearly requires that we should not impose those disadvantages on them unless the case for doing so is very clearly made out (which, we must remember, is not the same thing as “very passionately argued”).

      I don’t know if this is the right way of viewing the matter. For a start, as I understand it, there are no “disadvantages” imposed. We can sort out (if we haven’t already) things like inheritance and hospital visiting rights in other ways than calling their relationship “marriage”. Other “rights” enjoyed by married couples are not enjoyed by them for their own sake, but for the sake of the children who may be born in such relationships. If a case can be made for marriage law as it currently stands being to the “disadvantage” of same-sex couples, then you could reasonably argue that it also “disadvantages” all unmarried people. For that matter you could argue that any law that recognises any two people in a committed sexual relationship as “marriage” would also disadvantage any two people in a committed relationship which is NOT sexual! You would then have to argue that marriage itself is unjust simply by the fact that it exists. That is silly. Am I disadvantaged because I don’t receive certain benefits that the State gives to people in situations in which I do not find myself? eg. Am I disadvantaged because I do not receive benefits from being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or a student, or a pensioner, or a disabled person? It would be perverse in the extreme to argue that I am disadvantaged by the giving of such benefits to a few because of their special needs or the good they present within society.

      Or to put it another way, if two people engaging in consensual homosexual acts are not “disadvantaged” by the current marriage laws when they live as single people, how is it that they suddenly can claim to be “disadvantaged” when they decide to share the same house and a life long committment to one another? I just don’t get it.

      • Gareth says:

        Of note here is that the Catholic Church cant be accused of manipulating Australian secular law to reflect its own interests/views when in 1961 Catholics were still somewhat a disadvantaged minority in Australia.

        The Act is highly influenced by Anglo Protestanism not a Catholic understanding of marriage, although it could be argued that its only amendment in 2004 (to insert the words ‘between a man and woman) was influenced by relevant Ministers in the Howard Government with a Catholic background.

  5. Joe says:

    In terms of the anatomy and physiology of the human body I’d like to understand how homosexuality can been seen as supported by the body’s present day form.
    Even leaving aside the origins of humanity – created, evolved, seeded from life forms from another galaxy … from a scientific, rational, empirical position how would one mount an argument in support ?

  6. John Nolan says:

    As far as I understand it, homosexual inclination per se would not disqualify a man from seminary training, and even if he had been in a homosexual relationship a number of years earlier (and repented of it) he would still not be automatically excluded. The rules were drawn up by Card. Ratzinger in the wake of the sex abuse scandals, the vast majority of which involved homosexual activity with adolescent boys and young men. His prompt and prudent action provoked strong criticism from the usual quarters and even a ticking-off from the London Times, which seems to have reverted to its 19th century anti-Catholic stance.

  7. Louise says:

    The Uniting Church – what is it good for? It has lost it’s saltiness. I wish somebody would euthanase it.

    Why on earth would Jews not come out strongly against same sex “marriage”? Do they not read their own Torah? Good grief!

    • Gareth says:

      An interesting note on the Uniting Church in Australia is last Census figures revealed that it is in terminal decline in Australia.

      Whether this is a good thing or not, it really does put to death the lie peddled in the mainstream media/liberally-minded Catholic media and outlets such as the ABC’s ‘religion report’ that Church’s that liberalise their moral stances/doctorines are growing in popularity or is anyway a recipe for Christian growth.

      In fact sections within different Australian Church’s (Catholic and Protestant) that are seeing anysort of growth are those that hold firm to their traditions.

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