Can there ever be a political settlement on homosexual marriage?

Homosexual marriage is hitting the headlines yet again today, as MPs will debate changes today to the Marriage Act that would allow homosexuals to get married.

This debate, brought about by Adam Bandt (the Greens MP for Melbourne), has unsurprisingly stirred up anger from church leaders and family organisations; and members of the homosexual community, including Bob Katter’s homosexual brother and former AMA president Kerryn Phelps. For both sides, this issue really transcends the removal of one line from the Marriage Act – it is one front in the ongoing Culture Wars.

For many in the homosexuality community and their supporters, this is one more step to what they see as the full acceptance of homosexuals by Australia, which is why they frame this debate around ‘equality’ and human rights. They believe they are working towards ending a sexual apartheid of sorts, ending an unjust division between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Essentially, it is about further normalising homosexuality as a valid lifestyle and bringing the standards of morality to modern standards.

For many Christians, they see the issue in similar terms. It is about the normalisation of homosexuality – which is why so vigorously fight it! Particularly for many of those involved in conservative Christian politics (CCP), this is a vital stand in defending the traditional definition of marriage, with its basis in the Bible’s explanation of marriage. For those who oppose it, homosexual marriage undermines marriage as the bedrock of stable family relationships, justifies immoral behvaiour and strikes a blow against the ongoing influence of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

So with both sides standing in complete opposition to each, how on earth could there be a political settlement to the thorny issue of homosexual marriage? I was somewhat inspired by this article written by Tim Wilson, Director of Climate Change Policy and the Intellectual Property and Free Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs. In it, he identifies a truth that has barely been heard in all the heated debate:

Marriage is under threat. But it isn’t from those locked out.

Turning the tide requires government and society making marriage a preferable norm rather than unmarried alternatives.

The significant decline of marriage shouldn’t come as a surprise. The creation of legally comparable de facto relationship recognition undermined marriage’s cultural role as the determiner of an established relationship.

Although the policy of political parties like the Christian Democratic Party is to support discrimination in favour of marriage over de facto relationships, as well as being something Christian organisations survey political parties on, it is something I have very rarely heard discussed within CCP circles. There is much fury within the Christian community against homosexual marriage, and rightly so. The Bible is clear: God condemns homosexuality as being contrary to how he established sexual relationships.

However, the Bible is equally clear that anything outside of life long, monogamous heterosexual marriage is an abomination. Divorce, premarital sex, de facto marriage, polygamy, homosexuality and homosexual marriage – all of it is condemned equally. Unfortunately, many CCP commentators focus very little outside of homosexual marriage (polygamy some times comes onto their radar when it hits the news, though usually it is linked to a slippery slope argument on homosexual marriage). It could be that the debate has been lost of de facto marriage so they have moved to the new battleground but if that is true, then you have to wonder how all this heated rhetoric on the part of Christians will look if homosexual marriage is ever allowed.

As Tim points out, it is de facto marriage, not homosexual marriage, that has lead the decline of marriage in the West. It is the rot that has undermined family life in Australia and has destroyed countless lives. It should be opposed with as much force and consistency, even if the battle over legal discrimination in favour of marriage has been lost. As Phillip Jensen points out in his book Prodigal World (Matthias Media, 2003 – buy the PDF here):

“For centuries, a marital pattern was taught [life long, monogamous, heterosexual marriage], legislated and upheld by the social conventions of the day. Now, thanks to the 1960s sexual revolution and 1970s enactment of it through legislation, we have 25 years of experimentation with a new way of family living…. At every point we can measure so far, the experiment has been a disaster for the well-being and happiness of the community.” (p. 105)

It is here that I think a political settlement over homosexual marriage can be had that results in a win for both sides of the debate and a win overall for Australia and her families. I personally think homosexual marriage is wrong but if we are honest, it would hard to deny that it is worse for society than de facto marriage. I would propose that Christians seek to compromise on homosexual marriage in order to gain the preferential treatment of marriage over de facto marriage in matters of government policy.

Essentially, if you want forms of government help (family tax benefits, etc) , you would need to be married. This would need to be supplemented with reform to help couples prepare for marriage properly (as I think poor preparation leads to many, if not most, divorces). Also, you would need to make sure that this policy doesn’t distort social order in a way that leads to further injustice (unprepared, abused single mothers marrying the father of their children to ensure they receive Centrelink money, for example).

Yes, this approach is a purely pragmatic one and Christians would have to swallow an outcome they don’t like (legalised homosexual marriage). But this is like losing the Queen in a game of Chess to secure checkmate – no one wants to lose something so important but the overall goal is the objective, not keeping every piece. All politics is always about compromise and picking the best of two bad outcomes – a compromise on homosexual marriage is no different. To quote Fredrick II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (1194-1250):

He who defends everything defends nothing.

Christians can hold out against homosexual marriage and we might even win. But wouldn’t it be better to try to secure the support of our natural enemies (the secular Left) for a proposition they would normally reject (preferential treatment of marriage over de facto marriage) through a compromise on homosexual marriage that leads to an overall betterment of society, rather than standing our ground and possibly gaining nothing?

Surely, if are serious about the state of families and marriage, we should consider such radical proposals, for if we don’t take our responsibility seriously, who will?

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