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Bob Carr's 'overlap of cultures' and the Victorian bishops on gay marriage

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Bob Carr's maiden speechIn his maiden speech last month, Australia's new foreign minister Bob Carr articulated his vision for people of different cultures living together. Rather than multiculturalism, he spoke of the 'overlap of cultures', a phrase first used by King Abdullah of Jordan at a Davos conference in 2004.

'That notion of an overlap of cultures, I think, is inspiring, especially compared to the alternative notion of monochrome monoliths destroying one another's statuary, smashing one another's grave sites and burning one another's books.'

He went on to invite the Senate to 'dwell' on some of the 'marvellous cultures of tolerance' in the world's history. His primary example was medieval Andalusia in southern Spain, where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together and the Muslim ruler appointed a Jewish scholar as his foreign minister.

Last week Bishop Pat Power referred to Carr's historical examples of tolerance in an opinion article in the Canberra Times. The article was based on a paper Bishop Power gave at an International Conference on Jerusalem, convened by the United Arab League and held in Doha at the end of February. 

His context was the perceived need for federal parliamentarians to understand the injustices being suffered by the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel. He writes: 'I tire of seeing our parliamentarians of all political persuasions unquestioningly supporting Israel's usurping of fundamental Palestinian rights.'

The overlap of cultures Carr refers to shows itself in a lack of tolerance for particular practices linked to religious belief such as the wearing of the burqa. Another current and pressing example is the push to change the legal definition of marriage to a form that is incompatible with the teaching of certain religious authorities.

Victoria's six Catholic bishops have just issued a pastoral letter insisting that parliamentarians respect the Catholic doctrine that 'the natural institution of marriage [is] a union between a man and a woman'. 

The bishops should be entitled to expect that the Australian Government will not legislate to 'smash' the sacrament and religious institution of marriage. In the past, civil authorities have generally respected other elements of Catholic faith such as the seal of the confessional, even though it encroaches upon transparency and other values normally regarded as non-negotiable in a secular democratic society.

Of course it goes without saying that Christians in a secular society cannot expect non-believers to live according to the teachings of their Christian religious faith. This is despite the fact that many of our laws are based historically on values that derive from Judaeo-Christian religious teaching, and radical changes to particular laws that jettison universal principles based on nature could diminish and even derail the value system as a whole.

But tolerance of other cultures and faiths must be reciprocal, and the bishops know this. The tone of the Victorian Bishops' pastoral letter suggests they will studiously avoid hostile interaction with gay marriage advocates and politicians with whom they disagree. They will have learned a lesson from the UK experience, where the Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien was roundly criticised for his intolerant labelling of same-sex marriage as 'madness'. By contrast his London counterpart Archbishop Vincent Nichols was temperate and respectful in his warning that it would be a 'profoundly radical step'. 

We should take heart that Bob Carr's overarching vision of 'marvellous cultures of tolerance' is close to reality in Australia, even if it is threatened by the passion associated with debate over issues such as gay marriage. Implicitly he's encouraging us to celebrate the overlap of cultures in our society and not let our differences defeat us.

Harmoniously working through such issues will provide us with a template to help all Australians, particularly our parliamentarians, toward a constructive rather than ham-fisted role in promoting peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.


Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Bob Carr, Bishop Pat Power, middle East, Palestinians, Israel, gay marriage

 

 

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Existing comments

In most of the comments I have made in opposing same-sex marriage I have not mentioned religion.

The current activist propelled campaign for same-sex marriage tries desperately to silence the voices of the non-religious opponents because it is far easier to use the current anti-religious sentiments of culture to promote support for their cause.
This issue is but one example of elitist and minority manipulation of the culture, not of genuine cultural development.
Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 02 April 2012


Although I don't always agree with the silver-tongued bushwalking bookworm he's right on the money this time. Carr's 'overlap of cultures' is the right fit for Australia (and elsewhere).

Re: gay marriage. Parliamentarians are elected by the people of Australia to represent them - religious believers have every right to express their views, and be granted the freedom to live out their faith. But ultimately where one group perceives itself, or is perceived by others (including some believers), as being 'disadvantaged' then they also have the right to expect to be heard.
Pam | 02 April 2012


Since pre-history, marriage has been the exclusive union of one man and one woman. Granted, in some societies polygamy is allowed, but the underlying intention and purpose of marriage is to result in the stability of society.

Many seen to have the idea that opposition to same-sex marriage is purely a Christian thing. Not so. It pre-dates Christianity by at least 4000 years, almost certainly more. It is also not an "anti-gay" thing. No-one is opposed to the idea of a couple in a sincere homosexual relationship formalising it with a contract. But you can't call it marriage, because it is plainly not.

There are a great many people - the "silent majority" in fact - who oppose this measure but simply don't know it is being seriously proposed.

The International Court has recently passed judgement against the proposition that denial of same-sex marriage is denial of a human right.

I'm not saying that a measure such as same-sex marriage will result in the immediate breakdown of society. That will take time. What it does do is remove the special status of marriage and reduce it to a legal contract. Please don't underestimate the extreme sorrow this will bring to the vast majority of society who are married people.
ian | 02 April 2012


Catholic priests will be allowed to continue to marry same-sex couples if they wish. It is embarrassing and deeply shameful that Victoria's Catholic Bishops should so proudly endorse discrimination within our pluralist and secular society. It is completely risible that they continue to presume they still hold some moral authority over human sexual morality, and are entitled to make pronuoncements and give directives upon a fundamental aspect of humanity they have deliberately chosen to forgo - the responsibilities of genuine spiritual, emotional, sexual partnership with another human being and parenthood.
Michelle Goldsmith | 02 April 2012


Let's start with a definition.
Marriage is a socially sanctioned sex relationship involving two (or more) people of the opposite sex, whose relationship is expected to endure and which may produce offspring who are to be cared for by the progenitors.
I've included "or more" to cover polyandry and polygyny.
The Hebrew scriptures (cf. Leviticus) make it clear that for reasons of social cohesion and survival the sexual instinct for copulation had to be circumscribed. The matrimonial contract made good social sense, even if the tribal leaders were able to have concubines and sometimes more than one wife.
However "if a man has sexual relations with another man he has done a disgusting thing and both shall be put to death." Leviticus 20:13.
Christianity over time came to recognise marriage between Christians as a sacrament.
But also over time Christianity came to recognise capital punishment as barbaric.
So that is one reason not to follow Leviticus 20:13.
But also in more recent times the medical sciences of the mind - pychology and psychiatry - have reached the conclusion that it is natural for many men and women to have an exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex.
Uncle Pat | 02 April 2012


The Catholic Church's current catechism on homosexuality is currently untenable and leads to despair and frustration for homosexual people. The Church has finally acknowledges that homosexual people exist from birth and there is no moral judgment on that, but then it tells them that if they become emotionally attached to a person, don't expect to ever be able to develop any permanent/exclusive/intimate/sexual relationship with anyone because the church (ie representing the will of God who created all) will not accept your relationship as valid.

This situation results in the current despair, frustration, superficiality and promiscuity that exists in gay culture.
Homosexuals are condemned to a life of fleeting hopes in finding security, to being able to loved and be loved.
AURELIUS | 02 April 2012


I may perhaps choose to remain blind to the fact that transparency in democratic societies, such as our own, may be a bit less that hoped for. And so any case built on "such values" should be inherently aware that limitations exist and are not going to be buried soon.
Tony | 02 April 2012


In response to Ian below, what could same-sex couples who marry possibly do to the institution of marriage that heterosexual couples have not already done?

The sacredness (or even deep cultural respect) of marriage is long gone. We now have reality TV shows where marriage is the prize, celebrities (aka "role models" for far too many) getting divorced within days and even hours of their wedding, an insane amount of domestic violence even now, etc.
Justin | 02 April 2012


Michelle, on your claims the bishops are endorsing discrimination...

To say that marriage is between a man and a woman is merely stating a fact. To claim this is discrimination is akin to claiming the definition of 'mother' should be changed because it discriminates against men.

You talk about "the responsibilities of genuine spiritual, emotional, sexual partnership with another human being and parenthood" that Bishops have "chosen to forgo".

But biology tells us that same-sex parenthood is an impossibility.

And even when a child is created through outside help or technological intervention, there is always one parent missing in a same-sex family.

To support a family model that DELIBERATELY cuts either a father or mother out of the life of a child goes against the ordinary right of a child to know and love - and be known and loved by - his or her biological parents.

It's one thing when a parent dies, or abandons their child. It's another to take that sad situation - where a child does not know the love of both parents - and declare it's not sad at all, because we did it on purpose.
Meg | 02 April 2012


Marriage has been defined for centuries as the union of a man and a woman, a carrot has also had its own name.. Why not call the union of two males by a new name as this is also obviously not a marriage and we would not give a carrot another name.
Peter | 02 April 2012


Well said, Michael!!
Brian Haill - Melbourne | 02 April 2012


The Catholic Church is fearful of same-sex marriage because, for many priests, the validity of their vocation to celibacy will be threatened. The divine call to be be celibate for some mysterious, esoteric meaning will cease to exist.
AURELIUS | 02 April 2012


Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale and his five Victorian mates vigorously oppose same sex marriages. Yesterday, his pastoral letter was distributed at Lumen Christi Sunday Mass.

They tried to persuade 26 % of the community who are census Catholics and graduates of catholic schools to write to our Local Federal Member. Only 14% of the flock was at church.

Why are celibate bishops fascinated with sex - contraception, stem cell research, abortion and same sex marriages?

The arguments against gay and lesbian unions were tenuous, based on a questionable biological model and lacking in good sociological research

For all its faults, the ‘Birth Control’ Humanae Vitae says “a right conscience is the true interpreter” in the exercise of sexual responsibilities ‘towards God, themselves, their families and human society’.

Joseph Ratzinger, now B16, in 1968 at Tübingen University: "Above the Pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority stands one's own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority."

Bishops, let us decide whether to support same sex marriages. Let us choose to rejoice with Ms Penny Wong our Minister of Finance and her partner as they await the birth of their child.

Let bishops look to the clergy sexual abuse and church cover up scandal and welcome a Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry similar to the Irish that exposed the depth of sexual scandals in its own ranks.
Michael Parer | 02 April 2012


To MEG: Parenthood is not simply a biological function - and I think most homosexual couples realise they cannot biologically reproduce!

But a homosexual couple would NOT deny a child of the love of both parents, as you have stated. It just happens that both parents are of the same gender. They are just as capable of rendering the love and nurture of parents of opposite sex.
AURELIUS | 02 April 2012


I was doing fine with this article until I reached the sentence:

"The overlap of cultures Carr refers to shows itself in a lack of tolerance for particular practices linked to religious belief such as the wearing of the burqa."

Intolerance? In Australia? Australian governments have honourably resisted calls by right-wing Christian groups http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/an-open-society-has-no-place-for-the-burqa-20100519-vezj.html to ban the burqa http://www.smh.com.au/national/bernardi-backing-for-burqa-ban-reflects-rightwing-influence-20100506-uh2f.html, and where it's necessary for identification purposes to remove a face covering, regulations such as those governing how NSW Justices of the Peace identify individuals making oaths or declarations http://www.jp.nsw.gov.au/agdbasev7wr/_assets/jp/m407351l411352/ruling_003.pdf are quite accommodating.

Then came this:

"The bishops should be entitled to expect that the Australian Government will not legislate to 'smash' the sacrament and religious institution of marriage."

Smash the definition of marriage? Not sure (a) what place such violent language has in this debate, or (b) how extending marriage rights to more Australians damages the institution in the manner described. There are no proposals before Parliament to change religious concepts of marriage - indeed two of the three Bills under consideration provide extra (and in my view unnecessary) protections for ministers of religion who wish to refuse any particular groups for any reason at all. Considerable efforts are being made to ensure that the "sacrament" of marriage remains completely untouched by the extension of civil marriage rights to a wider group.

The overlap of cultures is an engaging concept that helps to describe the increased diversity in today's human societies. Pundits would do well to remember that most of the changes it describes have already taken place: we already live in a rich, diverse society, and this insistence that particular groups have special entitlements is nothing more than futile resistance to the extension of equal participation to all human groups.
Jim Woulfe | 02 April 2012


There are some comments here that are a bit behind the times. Michael Parer, Penny Wong and her partner have their baby. To Meg - "To say that marriage is between a man and a woman is merely stating a fact." - I would advise a visit to Wikipedia to check her facts. There are more and more places where marriages are between same-sex partners.
Russell | 02 April 2012


When I officiate at weddings, I usually ask the prospective bride and groom about their present marital status.They often say something like "we are only de facto".I ask them if they know what "de facto" means and then tell them that it means "real". Their marriage relationships are in fact real without any wedding or legal documents.

When I was a parish priest, I would visit parish members who lived at the same address. They could both be members of parish council, organisers of parish fetes and retreats, leaders in parish liturgies. It was not right for me to to ask whether they shared the same bedroom.
And I have attended a wedding ceremony for two men who were both very active laymen in their diocese. The ceremony was lead by a senior priest of the diocese.Many priests were in the congregation.
Church authorities know that thus people are voting with their feet.

And historically, many people who have lived together as husbands and wives, have done so without any church blessings-- for example in India or China.

Church intrusion in the marriage field is a post-Constantine matter.

I prefer the situation in, e.g. France, where couples have a civil wedding and later have a church service.

I believe the church celebrations should be kept quite separate from the civil celebrations.

We live in a post Constantine era.

The church should not any more dictate to the state what it should do, for example, to marriage legislation.
Gerry Costigan | 02 April 2012


The proposed law will mean those who make their living from the wedding business (eg photographers) will be forced to participate in gay weddings or face prosecution for discrimination - this has already happened elsewhere (eg New Mexico).
Kenneth | 02 April 2012


I have seen reports of surveys which purport to show that children growing up with a father and a mother are better off than those without. What they actually show is that children do better when brought up by two people who love one another. The love they share and show gives their children an anchor in life. There is no evidence that the benefit of this love requires the loving couple to be of other sexes.

For the children the worst case, perhaps, is when the parents are of opposite sex but one of them is homosexual. If homosexual pairing were to become fully recognised and respected, there would be less of this unhappy compromise.
Michael Grounds | 02 April 2012


'Marriage has been defined for centuries as the union of a man and a woman, a carrot has also had its own name.. Why not call the union of two males by a new name as this is also obviously not a marriage and we would not give a carrot another name.' (Peter) I look forward to the day when whether one is gay or lesbian or heterosexual is as significant to the issues of love and marriage as whether one prefers carrots or potato salad. I have always preferred carrots, which makes me unfairly privileged in the current salad bowl of society, regardless of the theological dressing applied to make it all taste nice. Personally, I think that a preference for avocado is always Satanic.
Penelope | 02 April 2012


For me, the two key lines in Michael's article are 'the bishops should be entitled to expect that the Australian Government will not legislate to 'smash' the sacrament and religious institution of marriage' and 'it goes without saying that Christians in a secular society cannot expect non-believers to live according to the teachings of their Christian religious faith'.

The logical solution is, as Gerry Costigan suggests, the French model where civil marriage is a civil matter and religious marriage a religious matter. There is no reason why both should not be called 'marriage' but the nature of and conditions surrounding civil marriage could then be determined according to civil arguments and be free of religious significance. Religious marriage would be determined solely by religious principles and have no civil status.
Ginger Meggs | 02 April 2012


The definition of marriage has changed over time. It has changed in many countries to include same sex marriage and it will change here in the very near future. Nothing is going to change. Lets hose down all the hysteria - all that will happen is that some gay couples who are already together will choose to call their relationship a marriage - thats a great thing - more committed couples in society. What's the problem?
Nathan | 02 April 2012


To KENNETH: I can't understand the point you are trying to make. Are you saying it's a good thing that photographers would be prosecuted for refusing to work at a same-sex wedding? I guess it would be the same if a Nazi photographer refused to take photos at a Jewish wedding. I can't think for a moment why a gay couple would choose a homophobic photographer! Or why a Jewish couple would choose a Nazi photographer! (Or do you really believe that the photographer has a deep spiritual conviction that gay weddings offend God?) Come on! It's just blatant bigotry.
AURELIUS | 03 April 2012


The Bishops' letter asserts that 'the Government cannot redefine the natural institution of marriage, a union between a man and a woman' [because] 'this natural institution existed long before there were any governments. It cannot be changed at will'. They might have just as inaccurately asserted that 'the Government cannot redefine the natural institution of marriage, a union between a man and several women' [because] 'this natural institution existed long before there were any governments. It cannot be changed at will'. The point is that marriage, in most of the west, has been 'changed at will', in this case to exclude polygamous marriage despite that institution having long existed and been practiced by biblical heroes. It follows that it can be changed at will again, this time to include same-sex marriage. No matter how hard the Bishops try, their arguments are theological, and therefore irrelevant in matters of secular government.
Ginger Meggs | 03 April 2012


Bob Carr is on the right track with this issue of cultural diversity in contemporary societies. Those who are interested may be interested in a book which I recently co=editied Leadership and Intercultural Dynamics Information Age Publishing, Charlotte North Carolina, 2009)> It is based on 35 years of exoerience working directly with indigenous, multi-cultural, and international settings. In that we dispute the adequacy of past conceptions of Anglo-American paternalism, multi-cultural and cross cultural theory and practice in leadership in The 21st Century.We then advance a praxis based on active intercultual dynamics.which is consistent with Christian ethical standpoints. The book is used extensively throughout the world in graduate leadership courses and The Obama Administration bought copies too. The Foreward is by Judith Chapman AM (ACU). It can be . purchase online from IAP
John Collard | 05 April 2012


Great to get my hands on The Bishops' Post. I thought Christina Keneally put the point well on ABC television. It's ethical and theological standpoints constitute a complete disregard for The Teachings of Vatican 11. The Church moved into the modern world when it acknowledged the role of freedom of conscience for the individuals on matters as yet unpronounced as infallible. Judaic-Christian traditions do not have such a status. The writings of Leviticus (Moses?) were more about idolatry than sexuality. They are also remarkably ambiguous and inconsistent. I hope all committed Christians (including progressive Catholics) will respond to the Bishops' appeal by letting them know they support abolition of discrimination in marriage, a position which is consistent with church traditions which sanctify marriage as a stabilising pillar of society.
Professor John Collard | 05 April 2012


"... many of our laws are based historically on values that derive from Judaeo-Christian religious teaching ...". Perhaps.

There's little unique about these Judaeo-Christian teachings: strictures against killing, lying, stealing and engaging in sexual misconduct are common across most human civilisations.

Could it be that the Judaeo-Christian teaching on which our legal system is based was not received from the Divinity, but developed in pre-Judaic societies? Humans have always been social creatures - there must always have been some social code.

The "legal basis" claim of Christianity to some privileged position is a handy catchcry with little anthropological veracity.
David Arthur | 05 April 2012


I would like to know why "The bishops should be entitled to expect that the Australian Government will not legislate to 'smash' the sacrament and religious institution of marriage." What gives them the right to this entitlement ? It has been shown in other Catholic countries (like Spain) that allowing Gay Marriage has not 'smashed the sacrament ... of marriage' at all. Shame on you to think that Australia cannot be at least as respectful of the Human Right of ALL people to marry whom they wish. Jesus must be turning in his grave at the intolerance and bigotry show by his so-called followers.
Stephen Couling | 05 April 2012


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