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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bmag July 24th 2012 - Marriage feedback

Last issue, I suggested a possible compromise and way forward on the stalemate that is same-sex marriage, namely having two different types of marriage – a church marriage and civil marriage. The latter would allow for same-sex couples to be married and to use the word “married”, which I argue is not owned by the church. I’m enjoying reading all your emails and tweets on the subject, which continue to fill my inbox. I’ve decided to devote this issue’s column to a cross-section of responses.

Pose Tafa writes: “I agree we need two types of marriage. The church does not have sole rights to marriage.” Florence Day says: “What a sane, practical and non-confrontational concept. The only downside is – when have we ever managed to convince our government to do anything sane or practical?” And from Kerry Read: “At last! Someone else shares my view on the marriage debate. The dual marriage idea sounds like a good compromise although I would call it a faith marriage to encompass all faiths and denominations. Let each religion determine their requirements for a faith marriage.” Chris Hassall agrees: “Up there for thinking, you! All couples should be able to say ‘we’re getting married’”. Harriett Russ says it’s “a great and fair idea”, Kathryn Britt, Laurence Barber and Natalie Bochenski all use the word “sensible”, Dale Napier says “this is the best outcome”, Carmen Anderson “would vote for this option” and Sal Piracha applauds “someone looking for a solution, not just hating the problem”. Kathy Schirmer says “I congratulate you for your suggestion to have church marriage and civil marriage. Seems so logical and I hope the community supports this too.” Matthew Orbit likes it but fears “further dividing Christian homosexuals from the church when there is a support/family there” and says “the zealots on both sides won’t go for it”.

That’s the trouble with compromise. No-one gets everything they want. Everyone has to give a little. But there are bmag readers not willing to budge, like Nathan Thomas who argues that “the church fights all kinds of social change – the right to vote for women, for example. They just need to adapt and learn to accept gay people as equal citizens”. Also not willing to compromise is Rob Roy: “If you accept same-sex unions as ‘marriage’, I assume you accept the manifesto that marriage can be defined as polygamy, polyandry and even bestiality as long as the animal is not harmed. The proposed brave new world interfering with the basis of our society is far from brave. Indeed it is very foolish and shortsighted.” Bill McCormack goes further, cautioning: “Unbelievers have their worldly opinion and that is OK but one day you will have to take account. Once you have been warned you have no excuse. At the day of judgement you won’t be able to call on theory, logic, mates’ views, etc. You are on your own.” Allan Templeton tells me his “ideal solution” bears similarities to my own and that “many of my Christian friends disagree with me, thinking I am a bit too liberal”. The only trouble is, Bill then goes on to argue that while he supports same-sex “civil unions”, only church marriages can truly be “marriages” because “the oldest recorded mention of ‘marriage’ is in the book of Genesis where it reports that marriage was instituted by God”. And there you have the church’s claim on the word “marriage” yet again. Echoing my words in the last issue of bmag, Maria Frangos writes: “The church should not force its beliefs on people who are not members.” That said, many will agree with Heath Goddard when he says: “I do not like the aggression that I observe in the stridency of the gay community in foisting their preferences on the majority.”

Mel Kettle points out that “in France, only the civil marriage ceremony is legal. Any religious ceremony must be after the civil and is not legally recognised”. So there is a precedent. I’ll leave the final word to Paul Rigby, who writes: “I suspect that in 50 years, people will look back at this debate and wonder what the fuss was all about.” Wouldn’t we all love to travel into the future to find out?!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bmag July 10th 2012 - Definition of marriage

What I don’t understand about the gay marriage debate is the claim the church has on the concept of marriage.

When Nikki and I were planning our 1996 wedding, there appeared to be two clear choices – a religion-free declaration of love and commitment before a celebrant, or a wedding under God in a place of worship. We opted for the former and were married at Mt Coot-tha Lookout, witnessed by friends and family and, to add to the atmosphere and our memories, a dozen or so happy-snapping tourists!

I’ve never considered that our marriage has anything to do with God. It’s a contract between Nikki, me and the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Yet, those in the church who are arguing against same-sex marriage insist that marriage is and must remain between a man and a woman because the Bible says so. In other words, whether you choose a church wedding or not, you are still agreeing to religious terms and conditions.

This fundamental point has been going round and round in my head for months, driving me to come up with a new way forward on the issue of same-sex marriage. My first idea was to get rid of marriage completely. We would just have civil partnerships or registered relationships, whatever you want to call them. No religion, no arguments. Man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, everyone could enter a legal partnership with whomever they loved. We would no longer have to agree or disagree with the church-argued concept of ‘the devaluing of marriage’ because there would be no more ‘marriage’.

However, I can see how it wouldn’t exactly be a compromise. If the church feels such a strong connection to marriage, it’s not something that can be just taken away from it. So here’s what I’ve come up with. We need two different types of marriage, to be known as a Church Marriage and a Civil Marriage. A Church Marriage would remain between a man and a woman – unless religious leaders one day decided otherwise. A Civil Marriage would include same-sex couples.

If we’d had the option back in 1996, Nikki and I would have chosen a Civil Marriage. Simple as that. The wedding would still have taken place atop Mt Coot-tha, the tourists would still have snapped photographs of our happy day, and we would still have been happily married for 16 years and counting. Admittedly, there is a non-religious option available to couples, both gay and straight. And I hear that scores of heterosexual couples have indeed entered these civil partnerships (recently renamed registered relationships) since their introduction this year. But I think most couples would still rather be ‘married’ and I don’t see how the church can continue to claim exclusive ownership of that seven-letter word.

Of course, this would still leave out gay couples hoping for a church-sanctioned marriage. But you have to concede that membership of a club – and that’s what church is – means adhering to the rules of that club. And, for now at least, church leaders seem quite happy with the ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ rule. What do you think of my idea of having Church Marriage and Civil Marriage? What other way forward can you see? I’ll include some of your suggestions in my next column in a fortnight.

As a nation, we have to find the answer because the question isn’t going away. The ABC’s Head of Religion and Ethics, Scott Stephens, recently told my 612 ABC Brisbane Breakfast audience: “Increasingly you’re hearing political leaders being addressed quite forthrightly with ‘Where do you stand on gay marriage?’. For many people this is a political and even moral litmus test.” Even businesses are being forced to take sides, as we saw with the boycott of Gloria Jeans over its links to the Hillsong Church and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Says Scott Stephens: “Because of the feverishness of the debate, because there’s so much moral and political investment in it, it does mean there’s going to be collateral damage and anybody who’s associated with whichever is regarded as being the wrong side of the debate can get so easily caught up within it.” Email me your comments about the marriage debate at the address below.