The discussion on how to define marriage in Australia has stirred our hearts, forced many of us to take sides, refined our debating skills, raised awareness about the stakes, and spurred us on to unprecedented levels of activism and advocacy.
Most importantly, the marriage debate has brought to light the fact that, underlying the discussion and the debates, there is a serious degree of misinformation—misinformation about the notion of “equality”, about how to ask the right questions, about human rights and where they come from, about how to define marriage, about how to understand human nature. And, finally, who is to decide?
Is it a matter of faith? Or is it a matter of reason? Can we afford to throw out both one and the other?
Some Christians are quick to point out that homosexual acts are offensive to God, that God made man for woman, and woman for man, and that this is the essence of marriage. Other Christians are equally quick to point out that God is merciful and desires the salvation of every soul. Perhaps these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. After all, a true parent is both loving and firm, merciful and just.
But again, what if society decides to do away with the “faith” dimension? And, moreover, to ignore the obvious truth that traditional marriage is founded on the natural complementarity of male and female which, in turn, is ordered to procreation, the preservation of the human race? Then we shall have to bear the consequences, all of us without exception, knowing that past civilisations have risen and fallen with the ebb and flow of their moral integrity.
It’s not merely that we’re debating who can marry whom. It’s that we are questioning the very foundations of thought and liberty. In such an atmosphere, where the debate ranges from civil discussion to open hostility, the realisation that we are no longer certain about the basics of human nature has slowly, eerily dawned upon us.
Whether or not you agree with the traditional definition of marriage, whether or not you think we can ignore this question, whether or not we arrive at a resolution, one thing is certain: there is a sense that something has gone wrong, that the foundations of human existence have been shaken and disturbed.
Like the Hobbits in “Lord of the Rings” who were persuasively removed from their beloved Shire, we feel as though we have been robbed of our true culture. Nothing will be right for the Hobbits until they can return safely home, even if in the meantime they must confront the darkest forces in the world. Nothing will be right for us until we can return to the truth about human nature, even if in the meantime we must confront competing ideologies and various humanisms and half-truths.
If a nation throws out both “faith” and “reason” then it is already in grave danger.
Nevertheless, the Lord revealed to Saint Faustina that “Mercy is God’s greatest attribute.” (Diary 301). This means, of course, that sometimes mercy triumphs over justice, which is what happened on the Cross when Christ freely poured out His Blood for us. God’s real desire is to save our souls, no matter how much we deceive ourselves, no matter how much we resist His calls and inspirations, no matter how much we despise His words and commandments.
While some accept some religious authority on the question of marriage, others do not.
Be that as it may, the homosexual question has been so politicised that it has created problems and misconceptions on many levels. The only way forward is a dispassionate presentation of the truths which to a great extent have remained unknown, truths such as: (1) preserving traditional marriage and maintaining respect for homosexual persons are not mutually exclusive; (2) affirming the dignity and worth of a human being does not entail agreeing with their opinions; (3) homosexual persons in Australia are no longer discriminated against (see the Same Sex Relationships Act of 2008); (4) changing the Marriage Act could potentially rob all Australians of the freedoms of speech, association, conscience, and education; (5) human rights do not come out of nowhere—they have a foundation in reality, in human nature, in our capacities, in our real purpose.
But while you might proclaim such truths and meet with varying degrees of success, there is another, more subtle, more dangerous consequence to the idea of a “vote” on marriage. Think about this for a moment. If the majority voted in favour of telling lies or stealing goods or killing an innocent human being, would that suddenly make it “lawful” to commit such acts? Which, of course, begs the question: What is the “good”? Surely, the good has to be good for everyone.
But let’s put such philosophical considerations aside, shall we? The realists in our society, those who courageously confront this grave moment in Australia’s march through history, are quick to remind us that our fundamental freedoms are now up for grabs. Right now in the hallowed halls of the Australian parliament. The freedoms and rights which we have long enjoyed in Australia are no longer guaranteed for us. The Australian people are on the threshold of a profound cultural and political turning point. This will make or break our long standing traditions and rights and freedoms.
So what good is it to bring to people’s attention the religious or philosophical foundations of the marriage debate? The point is that, win or lose, ideas have consequences in real life. The point is that our senators are currently positioning themselves in a vote for or against the rights and freedoms of Australians.
What are the possible outcomes? At best, changes to the Marriage Act could be reconciled with the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Australians. At worst, we could lose the foundations of a liberal democracy as we know it.
But who cares, you might ask? That’s the real the question.
And even if the Australian government were to pass an unjust or inappropriate or inconvenient law tomorrow—that would not stop us from being genuine activists, would it? It would not stop us from fighting for human dignity, on one level or another. You can’t legislate against the creative power of the human spirit; you can’t legislate against love; you can’t stop the human spirit from rising above the limitations of the prevailing culture. There will always be room for the creative freedom of men and women of good will to recreate culture, and to recreate the world.
Is this marriage debate really about equality or about pointing the finger at homosexual persons? And if not, then what really is the nature of this present moment that we face as Australians?
Janet Albrechtsen gave a succinct answer in The Australian (15 November 2017, ‘Forget Hurt Feelings, Free Speech is a Birthright’): “The outcome of this contest is not just a matter for gay people and religious people. It’s a matter for all of us in a liberal democracy. It will settle, one way or another, whether the country can finally confront and reconcile a 30-year project aimed at the sustained corruption of classical liberal ideas of universal human rights.”
Such universal human rights are what we are now having to fight for in Australia when these rights ought to be unconditionally protected and preserved by our politicians.
What good is it to remind the world that God punishes a nation for its sins when Christians themselves fail in their Christian duty? What good is it for a minority group to cry for equality when obvious features of our human nature are wilfully denied? Can we really solve this problem by fuelling a minor social conflict into a nationwide debate without careful consideration of all the relevant questions?
I don’t think so.
There are philosophical presuppositions in the debate which need to be corrected. There are false dichotomies which need to be resolved. There are social ills and misconceptions which need to be healed with love and truth, not merely legislated. The greater responsibility lies with us who believe in Jesus Christ, not with those who do not yet know the Lord.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
As Pope Saint Pius V said: “All the evils in the world are due to lukewarm Catholics.” And in the words of Khalil Gibran: “The true wealth of a nation lies not in its gold or silver but in its learning, wisdom and in the uprightness of its sons.”
Perhaps it’s time that Christians took the Lord’s words seriously: “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Those who are friends of the Lord are in a position to call down blessings on an entire nation, to intercede to God for the outpouring of His mercy, and to raise up a new generation of sanctified souls in the service of the well-being of the whole nation.