Will a Time for Civil Disobedience come to the Church in Australia?

I have been reflecting today on the news concerning the Australian Labor Party’s adoption of same-sex “marriage”. Thankfully, the Prime Minister prevailed, and Labor MP’s will be allowed – despite official policy of the party – to exercise a conscience vote on this matter. Since the Liberal Party has maintained opposition (as a party, if not in all its members) to such radical social re-engineering, the Bill, when it is introduced, is unlikely to get up. However, we should not dismiss lightly this weekend’s developments. Polling would suggest that the issue is divisive in the community. It is my reading that many of those who do not oppose the proposition of same-sex “marriage” in the polls are not actually “in favour” so much as holding a “don’t care, doesn’t affect me, it’s a private matter, why not let gays marry eachother if they want to”, whereas those who openly oppose such moves have thought about the issue and are truly opposed to any such change to our law.

But now it comes to this. Were such a law to be adopted, would it be a true law? I’m not highly educated in legal matters or in the necessary moral philosophy, but it strikes me that what we are dealing with here is a “positivist” approach to law. Philosophers and moral theologians reading this blog please correct me if my categories are wrong, but I understand an approach to law to be “positivistic” when the law makers believe that by passing a law they can change reality. There are some laws that have no real correlation to reality – speed limits, for instance. The legal speed can be declared to be 100km/h or 110km/h or 50km/h or 3km/h – it is simply a matter of what is expedient to safe and efficient driving on the road. But laws governing marriage are grounded in a pre-existent reality – namely marriage. Marriage is not created by the laws of the State, but rather governed by the State. The State acts with authentic authority when it passes laws concerning marriage that accord with what marriage IS.

To pass a law redefining “marriage” as a life long union between any two persons of whatever sex, rather than between “one man and one woman” would in fact NOT be an exercise of the authentic authority of the State. The State simply does not have the power to redefine what marriage is. We are told that should same-sex “marriage” laws be passed in Australia, ministers of religion would not be obligated to celebrate such marriages. But it goes much further than this: the Church, it seems to me, is obligated to continue to witness to the true nature of marriage by refusing IN TOTAL to accept such a redefinition of marriage at all. Just as if the State were to introduce polygamy, the Church would be obligated NOT to recognise wives two, three or four (or more), so it seems to me that Christians are obligated – not only out of duty to Divine revelation, but to Natural Law, and to plain, cold, hard REALITY – not to recognise in any way the legality of a so-called “marriage” contract between two people of the same sex.

This may occasion acts of civil disobedience similar to the civil disobedience that occurred in the United States over segregation laws. Such laws were unjust. They were false laws, because they did not accord with the reality of equal dignity of every human being. It would be similar to the civil disobedience that Christian doctors exercise when they refuse to carry out abortions. The positive “law” allows it, but Divine Law, Natural Law, and the REALITY of the humanity of the unborn child does not. There are some things that the State simply has no authority to declare legal or illegal: laws outlawing private property, for instance, or depriving parents of authority over their children, would be in the same category.

The social re-engineers believe that Bills passed in Parliament can change reality. They cannot. We have a responsibility to stand against any suggestion that they can. Were marriage to be redefined in Australia’s laws as proposed by the new Labor Party platform, I cannot see how the Church could even recognise such “legal” relationships. A “root and branch” opposition would be required of us, for such a “law” would be no true law at all.

Are we ready to take such a stand? It certainly will not make the Church any more popular than it currently is (or isn’t). But once again, as I said in the post below, who’s really “out of touch” here? The Church, demanding that our government uphold universal and true justice, or the re-engineers who would have us believe that it is possible to turn black into white simply by passing a law to that effect?

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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37 Responses to Will a Time for Civil Disobedience come to the Church in Australia?

  1. Tony says:

    Why doesn’t the same kind of logic apply to divorce, David?

  2. Clara Geoghegan says:

    We could take the European option: separate civil marriage from religious marriage. Priests would no longer function as civil celebrants and people could choose a ‘church only’ marriage – which would solve the divorce issue too!

    • Peregrinus says:

      Hi Clara

      A point, and a query:

      The point: what you propose is not “the European option”. In (continental) Europe, churches are (mostly) forbidden from celebrating a marriage unless there has already been a civil marriage. Hence there are no “church only weddings”.

      That’s not to say that such a regime is impossible; just that you won’t find it in many places in Europe.

      The query: How would what you propose “solve the divorce issue”? Presumably Catholics who divorced could remarry civilly and not seek a church wedding. But that’s what happens at present. So what would change?

  3. Paul G says:

    As I understand it, the Church does not object to a civil divorce, but does to a second marriage.

    I have seen several marriage ceremonies in Belgium, and I think there is not much difference to here. There is a procedural difference that the civil ceremony is conducted in the town hall, usually in the morning, before a wedding in church in the afternoon, rather than having the paperwork done in the church, as it is here. I don’t know what would happen in either country if you attempted to have a wedding in church without the civil marriage contract.

    I thought Barnaby Joyce expressed it well yesterday – marriage is not so much a matter of two (or more?) people claiming the right to marital bliss as giving away your rights, in the interests of the potential family of parents and children.
    The idea of marriage predates Christianity, back to ancient Rome and well beyond, and it is clear that it’s purpose is a commitment by adults to limit their own freedoms for the purpose of giving birth to, and nurturing children.
    The current popular idea of marriage is a result of reading too many Mills and Boon novels, watching Hollywood RomCom movies and listening to Michael Buble songs.

  4. matthias says:

    I think that we have 4 options:
    1. Accept it and be culturally relevant-and eternally damned-see point 4
    2. Priests Bless the marriages of a man and woman after a civil ceremony as outlined by Clara
    3. Due to the fact that any proposed amendment,takes away the Scriptural view of marriage and of sexuality ,that this therefore renders the Marriage Act in the sight of God and the Church/es invalid and seeing as we should obey God rather than man-yes have just read that part of the catechism this weekend- the Church could conduct Marriage ceremonies that are valid in the Church’s and Scripture’s sight but not in that of the law of the land because the latter is not following what God has ordained.
    4. keep as is and see if a discrimination clause-supposedly not say the same sex advocates -is added whereby discrimination legislation is used to punish priests/pastors/ministers/rabbis who refuse to marry same sex persons,then the Church sticks to its Faith and Scriptures
    5. Stick to points 3 and 4 and or send same sex copuples to the Uniting Church or the Baptist Church

    However let us not forget that GLBT persons are sinners like us,who need a Saviour ,
    and we should therefore as the Catechism reminds us not have prejudicial behaviour against them,except that THEY know the Church’s position on them being needing to remain celibate.
    My blood boils when I hear the Westbro Baptist Church distort John 3:16. and say that God Hates gays.

  5. Stephen K says:

    David, this issue has brought into sharp relief the disjunction between what word we use from the “reality” or situation which it purports to – but may not correspond in people’s minds – represent. Saying so doesn’t necessarily make it so, as the song would have it. That’s the thread that underlies your post.

    However, I’d like to suggest two correctives to comments you made. Firstly, in my view, in a general sense, there is, strictly speaking, nothing a properly constituted State cannot declare legal or illegal. In a constitutional democracy, the authority comes from what people consent for the State to do. Thus, if the State declares the ceremonies of commitment and union between same-sex couples to be legal “marriages”, then they are certainly legal acts and can be legally referred to as “marriages” even if people continue to argue whether the contracts reflect different realities. This is not legal positivism to accept this. Legal positivism would instead equate law with good, such that whatever a law stated was good, rather than the reverse, namely, that a law should state the good (to be determined by other processes). When you asked whether such law could be a ‘true’ law, you seem to be implying that the only “real” laws are those that reflect a particular ethical or social paradigm. I suggest that to go down that path would lead to anarchy because everyone would reject as “false law” whatever they did not agree with. Remember, the “natural law” as the ultimate moral criterion is a disputed notion and for this reason I think arguments of beneficence and mischief work better and more persuasively in social, political and moral philosophy. So, my answer here is, yes, it is a true ‘law’ but it may not necessarily be a ‘good’ one.

    Secondly, following on from this, I respectfully reject the unqualified notion that the State could not legitimately or morally declare private property illegal, at least in the specific category of the means of production. Whether very many would ever consent to the alienation of even private chattels or be persuaded by argument that such a law or policy would bring social and psychological benefits is one thing – the question would have to be investigated – but denying the former is neither a self-evident truth or a matter of dogma.

    So much for the qualifications. As to your main question, I think it is entirely a person’s right to always act in accordance with his or her principles. I just wonder though, what form civil disobedience you have in mind? Do you envisage a selective civil disobedience, that is, one targeted directly at the offending legislation, or more generally? If the former, what do you think you could do? Insist, when meeting or confronted by a same-sex couple who have been legally “married”, on referring to each by their original surname (where one has taken the other’s) or by prefacing your conversation with a denial of their “married status”? Or refusing, in the unlikely event of your being invited, to accept invitations to wedding ceremonies by same-sex couples? And would such things constitute “civil disobedience” or simply rudeness? More substantial perhaps would be civil disobedience targeted generally: refusing to vote, pay speeding fines, parking in ‘no parking’ zones, or refusing to pay taxes. There could be others you may have in mind. Naturally, if everyone did these things the courts might begin to complain, though the lawyers would not and the taxation department’s resolve would be “from the rising of the sun to its setting” and it’s doom inexorable.

    None of the above is to be taken that I do not agree with the general argument that a key question is what do we mean by ‘marriage’ and will calling one situation by a name make it the same as other situations. There are arguable prudential difficulties arising from the legal endorsement of same-sex unions as ‘marriage’, but equally, one difficulty in this controversy arises, I think, from the selective flexibility in the traditional position. Clearly, if by marriage is meant ‘committed union’ or ‘faithful cohabitation’, then same-sex couples could be said to ‘marry’. But if marriage means ‘registered cohabitation/union for the physical procreation of children’ – or as Casti Connubii puts it – ‘the conjugal union of a man and woman’ – then they cannot. But to many people neither, logically, can infertile couples. And to adopt this latter approach too strictly leads to a subordination of the unitive aspect of any relationship. I don’t profess to have a neat answer to the issue itself at this moment, so by all means keep posting and discussing.

  6. An Liaig says:

    “to adopt this latter approach too strictly leads to a subordination of the unitive aspect of any relationship.”


    I think it it is important to make the point that in marriage, as opposed to other relationships, the unitive and procreative aspects cannot be seperated. If they are, then there is a serious problem with the marrige. This does not apply to infertile couples since their martial activities can still be open to life – even if it does not eventuate. there is a difference between being oriented towards and open to life and being aimed at producing life. The Church teaches that it is the former that is necessary for marriage. Marriage exists as a natural part of the human condition. it is not something created by law and it cannot be changed by law. If australian law were ever to recognise a same sex union as marriage, it would not chnage the fact of marriage at all. It would only mean that Australian law was out of touch with reality. This would be true no matter how many of the population supported the change. Law cannot change what is real nor can it make what is impossible happen. The basic problem is that the Australian populace has such a debased understanding of marriage, via such things as divorce and contraception, that ideas such as this can gain credence. The debased understanding of marriage is a real cancer eating at the heart of our society.

    • Stephen K says:

      An Liaig, well, I suppose that is the very question: is marriage something other than what people think it is, debased or not? You can’t beg this question in the way that I think you’ve done. I’d like this to be properly analysed. As for saying marriage is “part of the human condition”, well, I suppose it’s true that the norm appears to have been the pairing of a male and a female in a long or semi-permanent bond – this is a very widespread sub-group phenomenon: ducks and some other birds, at least, certainly mate for life and I believe some other species too. No doubt there is some innate psychology as well as the economics of efficiency that come into play here. I certainly think you could say that a male-female twosome is a normal human condition.

      But have all such arrangements been “marriages” in the Christian sense? For the sake of argument, let’s accept that by and large civilised societies (perhaps post- Neanderthal) have distinguished between approved marriages and mere cohabitations – between man and woman. Let’s also accept that whether a couple was actually fertile or not, what then was the basis of this distinction? Was it the public recognition and registration? Was it the permanent character of the vow or commitment? Was it some implicit recognition that a man and a woman who had vowed to stay together would best nurture whatever children came into their care and spin the wheels of an ordered, prosperous society?

      If the latter, is there much evidence for such thinking in ancient times? For the sake of argument, let’s accept there is. Now today, let us ask, is it true?
      You see, An Liaig, I’d like to nail down what distinguishes a marriage – as you say – in reality. A young girl and young man wed at Gretna Green – the marriage “disintegrates” within three months of the honeymoon, but both go on to find other spouses, common law or otherwise, with whom they raise children and enjoy faithful conjugality for over 70 years. Tell me, which better served the social good, and what was more real about the Gretna Green “marriage” than the subsequent scenarios?

      This leads to the second thing that I think needs probing, namely, why do you think the unitive and procreative aspects cannot be separated in marriage but can be in another (heterosexual) relationship? What do you mean by this? And, in the case of an infertile couple, why do you say that there is a difference in being oriented to life from being productive of life? Are you referring to contraception? At what I imagine could be described as the psychologically operative level, how can you say that that an infertile couple can be open to life if they are not productive of it? Are you referring to a “We would if we could” attitude?

      I think the topic needs further dissection.

  7. Peregrinus says:

    Some laws, obviously, are positivistic, and this doesn’t deprive them of moral force. In Australia we drive on the left; in France they drive on the right. The choice of “left” or “right”, if not quite random, has no substantive moral content. And yet it would clearly be immoral, in either country, to drive on the wrong side of the road.

    Other laws are clearly not positivistic. For example, the law which makes contracts enforceable through the courts reflects an underlying moral and social reality, which is that we expect people to honour the commitments they freely enter into, and that if you make a bargain and receive what is due to you under the bargain you must perform what the bargain obliges you to perform. If civil law ceased to recognise contracts, contracts would still have moral and social reality and it is the law, and not the contracts, which would become irrelevant.

    And most laws involve a blend of positivistic and non-positivistic elements. The law requires that certain contracts, to be enforceable, must be evidenced in writing (e.g. contracts for the sale of land). To an extent, the particular class of contracts which must be evidenced in writing is a matter for the legislature, and we need to respect what the legislature decides.

    Marriage, quite obviously, is a fundamental social reality which predates the state and, indeed, the church. If the state ceased to recognise marriage altogether it is the state, rather than marriage, whose relevance would be impaired. But, again, there is a positivist margin to marriage law. For example, a 17-year old can marry freely in Scotland, in New Zealand he can marry only if he has his parents’ consent, in Ireland he can marry only if he has the permission of a court, in Australia he can marry only if he has the permission of the court and his parents; in France he cannot marry at all. In every case the church accepts and enforces the positivist elements of state law. So in Australia, for instance, the Catholic church will not celebrate a wedding involving a 17-year-old if the civil legal requirements have not been observed, even though canon law permits a 17-year-old to marry freely. In France, and in certain other European countries, it is illegal to celebrate a church wedding which has not been preceded by a civil ceremony (illegal in the sense not just that no valid civil marriage results, but also in the sense that an offence is committed); the church does not celebrate such weddings even though, obviously, there is no canonical impediment to them and the faithful have a right to the sacraments. In many states in the US it is illegal (in the same sense) for a church to celebrate a marriage for which a civil marriage licence has not been first obtained; the church does not celebrate such marriages (and, so far as I can see, does not protest that it is being oppressed, or that the separation of church and state is being infringed).

    When we come to the question of divorce, governments broadly legislate in a way that is in line with social and community attitudes. If they don’t, they make themselves irrelevant. Social and community attitudes are mostly not in line with Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. The church lives with this, as it pretty well has to. While it may have views to offer whenever the reform of divorce law is on the agenda, those views are rarely accepted. The church gets on with the business of celebrating the marriages of those who wish to marry in a way consistent with the church’s view, and of dealing as best it can with the pastoral issues presented by those who have entered into civil marriages not in conformity with Catholic teaching on marriage.

    It seems to me that, if society at large accepts committed conjugal same-sex relationships as being socially equivalent to committed conjugal opposite-sex relationships, and as requiring the same degree of recognition as regards tax, inheritance, next of kin rules and other matters, then if the state does not recognise this in its marriage law, the state makes itself irrelevant. You can debate whether this can be done through “marriage equality”, as is urged in Australia, or through having “marriage” for opposite-sex couples and a remarkable similar “civil union” for same-sex couples, as in the UK. That seems to me to be a second-order issue.

    Like David, I don’t think we’re going to see either of those things in the near future, but I think we will see one of them at some stage, because I do think such a law would accurately reflect social attitudes in Australia. How is the church going to react?

    – David suggests that the church should refuse to recognise this “in total” – “not to recognise in any way the legality of a so-called ‘marriage’ contract between two people of the same sex”. I’m not sure what this means in practice. The church already doesn’t recognise the validity of a marriage following a divorce. Could a gay marriage be any more unrecognised than that? What form of civil disobedience is the church going to engage in? Are Catholic hospitals, for example, going to refuse to allow same-sex partners to act as next of kin where medical decisions or end of life decisions have to be taken?

    – Matthias suggests that the church should conduct marriage ceremonies that are not valid in civil law. The problem here is that the church doesn’t get to decide what is valid in civil law; the legislature does. Australian civil law recognises the validity of church ceremonies; how would we propose to change that state of affairs?

    And, more to the point, why would we want to do that? As can be seen above, the church has always been very strongly of the view that its marriages should enjoy civil recognition, and has always been prepared to comply with civil law to ensure that this will be so, and will mostly refuse to celebrate marriages that will not enjoy legal recognition. Our theology of marriage requires this. Marriage is not a private arrangement between the couple, or even between the couple and God. The entire community is involved in every marriage, and therefore it should be recognised by and in conformity with community structures and institutions.

    And we’ve been doing this event though for many years now the civil view of marriage (a contract terminable at will by either party) has been fundamentally at variance with the natural and sacramental reality as the Catholic church understands it. The fact that the community also recognises non-marital relationships has never been an argument for saying that it should not recognise marital relationships, or that we should wish it not to recognise them.

  8. As a Lutheran pastor, I have few difficulties with Clara’s proposition: let marriage law be entirely a civil matter (which it in fact is, to all intents and purposes, in a secular state) and let the church bless those civilly contracted unions which in its eyes are legitimate. I am already contemplating the day when I will relinquish my authority as a minister registered by the Commonwealth to preside at marriages. If and when same sex marriage is introduced – and the talk is the Liberal Party will move to allow a conscience vote to its parliamentarians, meaning we could have this reality as early as next year – whatever safeguards are written into the legislation to protect the religious conscience will soon be challenged. Aside from that, if the state does legislate for SSM, I for one could not acquiesce to being an ‘authorised celebrant’ of marriage thus defined. If that is civil disobedience, so be it.

    • Peregrinus says:

      I’m sure you’ll take advice (and consider the position recommended by your church) before you act on this, Pastor.

      Under s. 101 of the Marriage Act 1961 it’s an offence in Australia for a person who is not an authorised celebrant to solemnise a marriage, or purport to solemnise a marriage. This is what prevents “church-only marriages” in Australia.

      If you have a couple who have already celebrated a civil marriage, you can preside over a “service of blessing” or something of the kind, provided it is clear to everyone present that what you’re doing is blessing an existing marriage. But if you go through a conventional marriage service, giving the impression that a new marriage is being constituted, you commit an offence. So I think this requires care.

      Of course, if the churches want to renegotiate their relationship with the state, s. 101 could be amended or repealed. We could envisage a regime in which church and state completely ignore what the other has done, with the state regarding people who’ve had a church marriage as not married at all and with the church free to regard people who’ve had a civil marriage as not married at all, and with the couple free to have either ceremony, both ceremonies or no ceremony.

      The problem with this is that it flies in the face of reality. If a couple believe that, by celebrating their wedding in church, they are entering into a real covenanted marriage which binds them and indeed binds their family and community, what purpose is served by the state refusing to recognise that, and requiring the couple to go through a further civil ceremony which is meaningless to them? And what purpose is served by the state treating the couple as unmarried if they don’t go through this meaningless additional ceremony? Why would the state want to take this stance? And why would churches want the state to do this?

      I think this is one area where the state has to follow, and not to lead. If there is a significant section of the population who regard the exchange of vows in a church service as constituting a marriage, I can see no good argument for the state to take the position that it’s meaningless and irrelevant. And if there’s a significant section of the population who regard the exchange of vows by a same-sex couple as constituting a marriage, I can see no good reason for the state to take the position that it does not. I appreciate that this puts different sections of the population at odds with one another, but that’s what happens in a pluralist democracy.

      As for you personally being authorised to solemnise same sex marriages, set your mind at rest. You are only authorised to solemnise marriages “according to any form and ceremony recognised as sufficient for the purpose by the religions body or organisation of which [you] are a minister” (s. 45). As long as you are a minister of a denomination which does not recognise any form or ceremony as sufficient to solemnise a marriage between a same-sex couple, I don’t think you can say that you are authorised to do so.

      • Tony says:

        By way of analogy, Pere, I haven’t heard of any Catholic priest had up on discrimination charges because he refused to marry one or both in a couple who had previously been divorced.

  9. matthias says:

    Brilliantly put Peregrinus,however whilst one of my points is that if the State invalidates by legislation the traditional and Scriptural positions on marriage then in obedience to God the Church could conduct marriage services,but seeing as it is an offence for someone to preside at a wedding if they do not have a marriage licence then, a service of blessing might be the way to go. However there will come a time when ,and being very familiar with discrimination legislation and protected attributes of those under that legislation,the church will need to take a stand .Whether there is outright refusal to perform a service of blessing;whether there is a service of blessing, for those who are members of the faith in good standing will have to be decided by church leaderships. I cannot see the militant GLBT lobby or their “Christian” friends standing by and letting priests exercise conscience in this issue

    • Peregrinus says:

      . . . one of my points is that if the State invalidates by legislation the traditional and Scriptural positions on marriage . . .

      This goes back to the point made by Tony in the very first response to David’s post, which I don’t think has been adequately addressed by anyone.

      Didn’t the state “invalidate by legislation the traditional and scriptural positions on marriage” over a century ago, when divorce legislation was introduced?

      And no doubt the church was critical of that at the time. But its response was not to refuse to celebrate marriages any more, or to refuse to celebrate them in a way that the law would recognise.

      Apart from anything else, there’s a certain self-defeating attitude in that tactic. If the church celebrates valid natural and sacramental marriages but attempts to do in a way which ensures that they will not receive civil recognition, does that action not send the unmistakeable message that, in the eyes of the church, civil and natural/sacramental status do not need to be aligned? And, if they don’t need to be aligned, where is the basis for objecting to the civil recognition of same=sex marriages?

      There’s also a “cut off your nose to spite your face” aspect. Marriage is a real, natural relationship which has real-world consequences and effects for the couple and their family and community. Not the whole, but a significant part, of those effects are realised or reinforced through legal mechanisms – presumptions of paternity, rights of support, inheritance rights, status as next of kin – a whole host of stuff. And celebrating marriage in a way designed to avoid all these effects is, I think, trying to celebrate half a marriage. It’s offensive to our theology of marriage. And we can’t complain about the state ignoring our theology of marriage if we ignore it ourselves, when we wish to make what is essentially a political point.

      We want the state to recognise, support and give effect to marriage in its laws. I think this is non-negotiable. However the church responds to civil recognition of same-sex marriage, both pragmatism and principle preclude a response which fails to recognise this.

      PS: As regards attempts to force ministers of religion to celebrate same-sex unions, I note (a) I have never seen anybody demand this through legal means, and (b) the Marriage Act already contains an absolutely unambiguous statement that no minister of religion is obliged to celebrate any marriage, and further that he has the right to impose any conditions he likes before agreeing to celebrate any marriage and (c) if a minister of religion has ever been forced to celebrate a gay union against his conscience in any of the countries which has already introduced gay marriage or gay civil union, now would be good time to point to it.

      The time to react to an oppressive measure forcing ministers of religion to marry gay couples on the beach to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine” while wearing rainbow sashes and Estee Lauder “Kissprufe” lipstick (shade: coral) will be when such a measure is proposed or demanded from any quarter. Leaping up and down about it now can only suggest a victim complex to the unbiased observer, and it can only weaken the credibility of any campaign the church may mount.

      • Tony says:

        … on the beach to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine” while wearing rainbow sashes and Estee Lauder “Kissprufe” lipstick (shade: coral) …

        I’m inclined to ask how you know all that stuff, Pere, but I’m comfortable with mystery.

  10. matthias says:

    once again pere you have spoken well. I do not think it is cutting off our nose to spiter our face,rather it is saying “No ,here we stand bound by our conscience,catechism and Scripture,we can do no other” (Where have i heard similar words before!!!)

    I would rather have the Church celebrating Marriages under the Marriage Act , with people knowing that same sex marriages will still not be celebrated let alone condoned in the Catholic or Lutheran churches. Speaking of Lutherans, i would like to know if Lutheran ministers in Scandanavia who refuse Same sex marriages ( and I know that there are GLBT Lutheran ministers in those countries) are prosecuted

    • Peregrinus says:

      I would rather have the Church celebrating Marriages under the Marriage Act, with people knowing that same sex marriages will still not be celebrated let alone condoned in the Catholic or Lutheran churches.

      I’ve no problem with that, Matthias. What I was discussion was the idea that as a form of protest/civil disobedience the church would decline to celebrate any marriage which would be recognised under the Marriage Act.

      Speaking of Lutherans, i would like to know if Lutheran ministers in Scandinavia who refuse Same sex marriages ( and I know that there are GLBT Lutheran ministers in those countries) are prosecuted.

      In Sweden, the Lutheran Church has voted to give blessings to same-sex marriages. I’m not positive about this, but I think this means that they will celebrate opposite sex marriages (which the state will recognise) but they will only bless same-sex marriages already celebrated by the state (and individual ministers may decline to do even this). So far as I know there has been no legal or political action aiming to require the church to celebrate same-sex marriages, or to require any individual minister to bless a same-sex marriage. There is a move afoot within the church (i.e. in the synod) to have the church celebrate same-sex marriages.

      The Catholic and other churches in Sweden will neither bless nor celebrate same-sex marriages, and again I have not heard of any legal or political action aiming to compel them to.

      In Norway, the Church of Norway does not celebrate or bless same-sex marriages, and I am not aware of any legal or political moves to compel it to. It may be that some individual ministers will conduct blessing ceremonies; I don’t know this but it wouldn’t surprise me. Most (all?) of the minority churches in Norway will not celebrate or bless same-sex marriage.

      In Iceland, they have same-sex marriage. I’m afraid I’ve no idea what the stance of the National Church of Iceland is. In the past, when they had same-sex civil unions, the Icelandic church would bless them. Since this was introduced by way of amendment to the law it was probably because the church wanted to be able to bless civil unions. I don’t know whether there was an opt-out for priests who disagreed.

      In Denmark they don’t have same-sex marriage, but they do have same-sex civil unions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark allows, but does not require, its rectors to give blessings to those same-sex registered couples who seek them. Different bishops either encourage or discourage this in their dioceses. There is a formal liturgy for blessing civil marriages, but no similar liturgy for blessing civil unions. The liturgies used in practice are markedly different. I’m not aware of any legal or political action demanding equal treatment, or seeking to compel any bishop or pastor to behave against his own conscience.

      There’s a proposal in Denmark to introduce same-sex marriage and, although it hasn’t passed yet, there has been discussion in the church as to how to respond if this happens. About 60% of the CoD pastors oppose same-sex marriage and do not wish to celebrate it, but about 75% of church members (which is practically the entire population of Denmark) favour both same-sex marriage and the church celebrating it. The options most discussed within the church are (a) the church should allow the celebration of same-sex marriage but pastors can decide for themselves whether to celebrate it, and (b) complete separation of church and civil wedding functions, as in other European countries.

      (It should be noted that there is a precedent for the “individual priest option”; the Danish church will remarry divorced people but individual pastors may decline to do so.)

      So, bottom line: None of the churches in Scandinavia seem to be coming under legal or political pressure to recognise or celebrate same-sex unions/marriages. Such pressure as they experience comes from within the churches themselves, and takes what we might call “constitutional” form (motions in synod, that kind of thing) rather than direct action/disobedience/legal challenges. There seems to be a well-established culture of accepting that individual priests cannot be compelled to do even that which the church as a whole allows.

  11. Exy says:


    You forgot to mention that the Greens want all exemption laws for institutions such as the Catholic Church removed.

    • Tony says:

      I don’t think so, Exy. As I understand it, the logical basis for The Greens seeking removal for exemption laws is about schools which are partially government funded. Priests, in their capacity to perform marriages, are not government funded at all so the government has not logical right to ask them to do things against church rules.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Hi Exy

      Long time no see!

      “You forgot to mention that the Greens want all exemption laws for institutions such as the Catholic Church removed.”

      I’m not sure that this is correct.

      The “Marriage Equality Amendment Bill” introduced into Parliament by the Greens a couple of months ago (and still before Parliament) to allow same-sex marriage leaves untouched the provisions of the Marriage Act which require ministers of religion to celebrate marriages only, in accordance with the forms and ceremonies of their own churches, and which allow them to decline to celebrate any marriage, or to impose any conditions they choose before celebrating a marriage.

      • Exy says:

        Boys: Tony and Pere

        Thank you Pere for your warm greeting.

        Keep dreaming is all I can say to you both and of course with utmost respect.

        I have heard Bob Brown just too often and he is no friend of the Catholic Church and indeed Christian social and moral teaching on core issues. Interesting too, the huge unanimous agreement reached right across the board with the representatives of all major religions in Australia.

        Put the Greens new social order for society together, which of course includes abortion on demand, euthanasia and the complete new definition and deconstruction of the Institution of Marriage and you have a very clear picture of what awaits Judeo-Christian morality and indeed for all monotheist religions.

        All the smoke screening in the world will not hide their oppressive, anti-democratic, anti-basic human rights (unborn children, children created from gay unions and gay adoptions) and totalitarian agenda which will prove to be chaos for our Judeo_Christian and democratic way of life.

        Did you notice at the Labor conference when the motion was moved that the speaker included all the other sexual lifestyle groups under the gay lobby umbrella?

        Pere, how do we order this for society?

        Which minority groups may “marry” according to their agenda and how can this work and our society remain a just and democratic instituion?

        What about our citizens of the Islamic faith which allows polygamy? Can they now marry as they choose?

        Bob Brown has stated that the majority does not have the right to impose upon the minority but here we see a minority trying to impose its agenda on the majority and not only that completely redefining social order in that marriage is no longer between a man and a woman which has existed throughout the millennia?


        • Peregrinus says:

          Couple of points, Exy.

          First, I don’t know that I’m dreaming. I have actually read the Greens’ Bill, and it doesn’t in fact do what you say the Greens are committed to doing. My dreams seem to be more firmly based in reality than yours.

          It could, of course, be that the Greens will introduce a separate Bill to amend the marriage Act to require ministers of religion to celebrate all marriages that would be lawful. But I see no reason to think that they will. And, anyway, whether such a Bill would get through would depend not on the stance taken by the Greens, but on the stances taken by the Coalition and the ALP. If you think they are going to back that Bill, then I have a cheap bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

          Your whole argument here is essentially an ad hominem one; that, because this measure is proposed by the Greens, we should oppose it. This is not a very convincing argument. The measure must stand or fall on its own merits, and the fact that it is supported by the Greens is not enough to persuade me that it should be opposed.

          As regards which minority groups can marry according to their own agenda, you pick an issue that illustrates my point quite neatly. There are abundant historic examples of Christian governments governing Islamic populations, or governing populations with significant Islamic representation, giving legal recognition to polygamous marriages. The British in India are an obvious example. And British law also recognised and gave effect to polygamous marriages in colonial Africa, even though Islam was mostly not the issue there.

          Why did they do this, given their own concept of marriage, and their general desire to export the benefits of western civilization to the world? They did it because they knew that if the had a marriage law which was too much at variance with the reality of the society they governed, their marriage law would be irrelevant. If in fact people were entering into polygamous marriages in significant numbers, then a marriage law which failed to recognise that reality and address the consequences would be at best useless, and in fact probably harmful.

          The same is true of divorce law. Whatever you or I might think of divorce, if in fact large numbers of people do end their marriages and go on to form other relationships which have important real-world consequences, then the law simply has to recognise that reality. Serious injustice will result if this is not done.

          So should we give legal recognition to polygamy in Australia? Well, we practically do already. We accept and give effect to serial polygamy, obviously, through divorce laws. And we also recognise that a married person can have, in addition to a spouse, one or more de facto partners. And the position of de facto partners in this scenario is not a thousand miles removed from the position of junior wives or concubines in less “advanced” legal systems. We don’t call it legal polygamy. But that’s pretty much what it is.

          Should we formally recognise polygamy? If we have a sufficient number of people in Australia who are entering into formal polygamous relationships, and a sufficient section of the Australian community that recognises and accepts those relationships then, yes, we should. It makes no difference whether those people are Muslims or not. I don’t see why the Islamic variety of plural relationships should be treated with less favour than the well-established Aussie variety.

          And pretty much the same goes for same-sex marriage. If in fact gay people are entering into committed conjugal relationships, and those relationships are taken seriously within the community and have real-world consequences for the couple concerned and the wider community, then we can pretend to our hearts’ content that these relationships don’t exist or don’t matter, but we’ll be wrong. We readh a point where the question becomes not whether they should be recognised in civil law, but how.

    • Stephen K says:

      Sorry, Exy. Nowhere amongst the Greens policies is there such an aim as you have described. In fact, under their heading “Social Services” they say : “5.community not-for-profit organisations fulfil an important role in the provision of social services and must be supported and funded accordingly”. Church-based services would be included in this.

      You will have to base your antagonism towards the Greens on some other criterion.

      • Exy says:


        I suggest you make make an appointment with an ear specialist and then listen again to the many statements against the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI made by Bob Brown who with his party now holds the balance of power in the Senate of Australia.

        Also re your comment
        “You will have to base your antagonism towards the Greens on some other criterion”

        My negative opinion is based on their social agenda for society which contradicts Judeo-Christian ethics at its core in particular:
        abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and same sex “marriage”.


        • Tony says:

          Despite your colourful responses to Stephen and others, Exy, this statement:

          You forgot to mention that the Greens want all exemption laws for institutions such as the Catholic Church removed.

          in the context of this discussion (so called ‘gay marriage’) has no basis in fact.

          • Exy says:


            A nice diversion attempt away from the central issue and that is: gay “marriage” is wrong. Read David’s article again.

            My original statement was based on an absolute fact and from the mouth of Bob Brown personally.

            In a general tirade against the Catholic Church re her moral and social issues including employment, Brown said he wants all exemption laws which protect institutions such as the Catholic Church removed.

            This he said on either Lateline or 7.30 Report and I have never forgotten the remarks of which I reminded Pergrinus.


  12. Exy says:


    “Your whole argument here is essentially an ad hominem one; that, because this measure is proposed by the Greens, we should oppose it.”

    A nice diversion tactic and totally f
    false Pere, however my objections to the Greens are based on their policies which contradict Judeo-Christian ethics at their core and in particular the clear as crystal statements made against the Catholic Church and her moral and social teaching by their leader Bob Brown.

    The fact that their has been such an agreement by the leaders of so many religions and churches in favour of the current legislation and the Definition of Marriage cannot be ignored in this debate. They speak for a huge percentage of their faithful.

    As for your points re recognising other minority groups and their definitions and practices in marriage, I was addressing Australia and how it will apply to an Australian citizen who well may wish to have two partners such as a bi-sexual person for example.

    What about an average Australian citizen of European heritage who is not part of a minority group and desires two partners in his/her marriage?

    We have the separation of Church and State in Australia and I am not just arguing from a Catholic POV re the new definition of marriage. So divorce is not a point I have raised, also the Church recognises that marriages do break down and are terminated legally by the sate and in some cases canonically through an anullment.

    Pere the reality of what is happening is something that I am not ignoring. What is being ignored and a point you also have not addressed is that of the basic rights of children to their biological parents and to a mother and father in the case of adoption. Also what exactly is the new social order ? So far we know the postion of the major religions and Churches but we know next to nothing as to how the new social order will be implemented by the lobby groups and the Greens.

    On a dinner-debate on Compass a spokeswoman for gay marriage said couples should now be able to make up their own vows.

    Such as?


    My assessment of the Greens policies has been made

    • Peter says:

      I am well and truly with you here Exy!
      Last Wednesday(Nov 30)in the Australian,Australia’s leading political commentator,Paul Kelly put the boot into the ALP over gay marriage.Here is some of what he said-
      What is the new ideology of marriage?It is overwhelmingly about rights and expanding the rights agenda.It erects a libertarian construct of marriage and,once opposite-sex exclusivity is terminated,it opens the way for a variety of postmodern and cross-cultural constructs where marriage can encompass a range of sex options and people.
      In political terms,legalisation of same-sex marriage brings state and church into direct conflict.To try to solve this problem,Labor activists specify that changes to the Marriage Act will not impose an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.This is the escape clause and it is pivotal .
      It is designed to permit religious freedom to continue to exist in Australia.Only a fool would accept this at face value.
      The churches know this issue penetrates to the heart of religious freedom.Once the state changes the meaning of marriage,can you imagine the pressures all religions will face to perform same sex wedding ceremonies against their will?The Christian churches ,at some point,will become the focus of attack for denying gay marriage ceremonies in the name of religious faith.
      While churches will enjoy an initial exemption from the state’s law,that exemption over time will be attacked as an anomoly.No religion will accept at face value any guarantee from the Labor Party.
      This is obvious from the recent struggle over the statutory bill of rights.The churches opposed the rights charter because its anti-discriminatory provisions could be applied to churches and their schools and charities to remove their religious character and practices,unless exemptions were granted.And some politicians opposed the exemptions.
      The campaign against religious freedom has much traction.It is manifested in frequent demands that religion be driven from the public square into a strictly private realm,an idea that constitutes a betrayal of the secular state whereby the state was to guarantee religious liberty.

      Paul Kelly rarely commentates on religious matters but he is well and truly on the money here.

      Pere has given us a rundown of the situation re gay marriage in other parts of the world.Interesting,but irrelevant to this discussion.What is relevant is the history of similar social change and experimentation in this country-
      ABORTION-Over 40 years has gone from allowing rape victims to abort to a situation where a perfectly viable foetus can be aborted right up to full term.
      IVF-Originally for the benefit of infertile hetero-sexual couples.Now available to lesbians and single women.
      STEM CELL RESEARCH-Experimentation on unwanted embryos quickly moved to therapeutic cloning.

      Anyone who thinks this issue will be any different is in need of a reality transplant.

      Pere,you have failed to address the issue of the rights of children in this area.
      They are already being routinely trampled on in existing gay relationships by virtue of denial of knowledge and access to biological parents.

      Exy,your assessment of the Watermelons (aka the Greens) is 100% correct.
      They are what former PM Paul Keating once described as un-representative swill.They are a rag-bag of totalitarian grubs with the intellectual depth of rice puddings.Their social and economic policies are poison and a massive threat to democracy,prosperity,freedom of speech,and freedom of religion in this country.They should be treated as political road-kill,driven through the floor
      and out of public life.

      • Exy says:

        Thank you Peter for your reply to my post.

        Generally I am amazed that people cannot see that what is happening re gay “marriage” is totally wrong and changes and degrades the Institution of Marriage and the social fabric of society, the repercussions of which we have no idea.

        Your points hit the nail on the head in particular the threat to religious freedom and the denial of basic human rights for children of such arrangements. Some of our erudite pals here have decided to overlook those “minor” issues it appears.

        Pere’s very interesting observations re British Rule in Islamic countries were irrelevant and he shot himself in the foot with his remarks about respecting the dominant culture argument.

        Hey Pere what do we have in Aussie mate?


  13. An Liaig says:

    Dear Pere, Exy and all,

    The Greens are a distraction, as a political party they do what they think will win votes. They are currently supporting Gay marriage because they think it will win them inner city Labour seats. The real issue is that the understanding of marriage in Australian society (and western society more generally) has become so debased that it is effectively meaningless. Is it a lifelong commitment? No. Is it for the establishment of a family and the raising of children? Only if that’s your choice. Is it an exclusive relationship? Not necessarily. In fact, according to the popular press affairs can be good for a marriage! None of the traditional characteristics of marriage hold and none of them are protected or supported by Australian marriage law. This law has become a meaning less set of words, not because it is out of step with society but because it no longer supports the basic foundations of that society. This doesn’t stop people getting married and entering into lifelong (remember most first time marriages still succeed), exclusive, committed relationships for the raising and protection of children. It’s just that Australian society no longer supports them to do that. The law has not just been reactive in this. It has been leading the way and pushing social change – consider how the easy divorce laws were introduced. I am not worried about the Greens (I think they are at the apogee of their political influence) but I am worried about Australian society.

    • Exy says:

      Dear AnLiaig

      Your POV is very interesting especially on the degrading of the Institution of Marriage over the last 40 years and I can only hope what you say about the Greens will eventuate.


  14. Stephen K says:

    I have a wonderful little book by a Robert Thouless called “Straight and Crooked Thinking” in which he sets out delightfully the ways in which we can often commit errors in our attempts to articulate what we think or persuade. Rhetorical leaps, leading terminology and hyperbolic flourishes feature, and the extract from Paul Kelly and Peter’s post illustrates all three. Is Paul Kelly really “Australia’s leading commentator”? What Peter means to imply here of course is that his commentary should be preferred, authoritatively, over all others, and, by association, that Peter’s own comments are well-grounded. Do both these hold? Do the merits of what either say stand up to these propositions? What does Paul Kelly, for example, say?

    He says the “new ideology of marriage is about rights and expanding the rights agenda”. Now this is curious, because we have here a discussion about whether the proposals to introduce same-sex marriage will impinge or remove other rights, such as those of the churches or their ministers or their congregations who disagree with the notion. Hardly an expansion then! And when so many seem to be asserting contrary or different rights, what exactly is this “rights agenda”?

    And does this issue really “penetrate to the heart of religious freedom”? Does Paul Kelly really believe that any Australian government, made up the way it is and has been, would contemplate as a viable political starter indicting priests and ministers because they did not bless or witness same-sex ceremonies? And will or would same-sex couples, as a rule, want to be blessed or witnessed – on their special day – by reluctant religious ministers?

    I don’t doubt that Paul Kelly may well believe in his own presentation of the matter but I also note that he works for the Murdoch press which consistently editorialises against the Labor party and that he has for a long time articulated a politically conservative standpoint. This has to be factored in to any consideration of his opinion.

    And then we have Peter’s own alarums regarding the routine trampling of children’s rights by “denial of knowledge and access to biological parents”. This too needs some scrutiny. Peter, are you suggesting the present system restrains children from their biological parents for reasons other than court-assessed risk or against the consent of the child? And at what age or stage does “access” to a non-sociological parent become a matter of harm to a child if he or she is being loved and cared for? When does a child even care or consider the issue? I’m just asking.

    When Paul Keating described the Senate as “unrepresentative swill” he was engaging in frustration that he could not get his own political way easily. In truth, all Senators and MHRs represent some constituency, and our democratic arrangements ensure that this is so. The other truth appears to be that anyone and everyone – including the Greens – is secretly applauded when they block or amend legislation with which one disagrees. Besides, I suggest no single official political platform perfectly and exactly corresponds to each person’s own opinions.

    In a discussion of this kind, there are going to be different starting and ending points. But I do think that we have to be brave enough to unpack some of our received or customary turns of phrase and ideas, to see what exactly we can really say reliably, to attempt, so to speak, to ‘falsify’ our beliefs as Karl Popper would put it, in the interests of advancing more surely what we think we know.

    Incidentally, the thought struck me that in fact priests and ministers do not celebrate marriages, but merely witness and bless them. They may are required by church regulation for sacramental licitness, but not essential to the substance of the contract, and not even essential for the conferring of a sacrament. I think this surely must temper some of the angst about civil recognition – after all, registrars are only official witnesses too. What does the panel think about this angle?

  15. Shan says:

    Honestly, who cares?

    Whether such laws are morally wrong or right, their observance remains voluntary. It seems to me that if Christians want to win support for their position then the slippery slope objections need to be quietly set aside and more substantial matters raised.

    After all, the impetus behind gay marriage is a drive for equality. Rather than debate marriage terminology why not engage that issue?

  16. Alex Caughey says:

    The prime directive of Christ’s message is that we love one another. There are no qualifications to this admonition.

    Canada’s ten year experience with marriage rights for same gender couples has not created the doomsday scenario that the scare mongers are promising for Australia, a country which shares much in common with Canada.

    The end of the world is nigh scenario speaks more to fear of the unknown than trust that love is the antidote to all our fears.

    It is said that fear of the unknown is a dark room where negative thoughts develop that special picture hidden in our attic where our true face conceals itself in fear of facing up to the truth.

    “You are a wonderful creation. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.”~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

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