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Best of 2011: Why I support gay marriage


'Gay marriage' by Chris JohnstonI didn't hear the word lesbian until I went to university. In my childhood, homosexuality was not discussed: not at home, not at church, not at school.

I'm sure there were homosexual people in my classroom or community. Possibly even in my extended family. But they were not 'out'. Even the prevailing culture did not engage with homosexuality: growing up in middle America in the '70s and '80s was still far more Happy Days than Glee.

To say I grew up in a Catholic enclave wouldn't be far wrong. I went to Catholic primary school, where my mother also taught. My dad was a Eucharistic minister in our parish. After attending an all-girls Catholic high school, I earned a BA in political science at a Catholic university, then spent a gap year teaching at a Catholic primary school.

I met my husband at World Youth Day '91. Before we married, I headed back to university for a masters degree in theology and got my first proper job working as the NSW state youth coordinator for the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

As a legislator, I have voted for and promoted legislation that accords rights, such as adoption, to homosexual people. I have publicly stated that I don't agree with the Church's teaching on homosexuality. How did such a good Catholic girl arrive at what appears to be a non-Catholic position on this issue?

The first people I knew who acknowledged their homosexuality were fellow Catholics at university, living away from home for the first time, struggling with a very real question of who they were and how they should live.

My lack of knowledge about homosexuality meant I had very few presuppositions to confront. I came to the questions of how to respond to homosexual people armed not with Vatican teachings and cultural assumptions, but simply with the Gospel message of 'love one another as I have loved you'.

What I witnessed were people who suffered greatly because of the judgement of their family and community; friends who were more acquainted with loneliness than with romantic relationships; devout Catholics, some with a true call to vocation, grieving because their own church had no place for them. I realised no one would choose an orientation that brought such misery.

In time I came to ask what the Church taught on homosexuality, and why. Richard P. McBrien's seminal tome, Catholicism, explained the Vatican teachings acknowledging the validity of homosexual orientation while condemning homosexual activity.

McBrien also outlined other theological points of view, including the argument that homosexual acts are morally neutral, because the morality of a sexual act depends on the quality of the relationship of the people involved; or that homosexual acts are preferable to living a life where one can never give expression to one's sexuality.

Another significant influence on my thinking also came from my studies of Catholic doctrine: the inviolability of conscience.

Conscience is a tricky area when one wants to claim it as a basis for disagreeing with the Church's official teaching. It often leads to accusations of being a 'cafeteria Catholic', choosing only the parts of Church teaching you want to agree with.

(I find this ironic, given that the Church has never explicitly claimed infallibility on a moral teaching, and has altered its own views over the years in response to cultural changes, e.g., on usury.)

The Second Vatican Council declares we are bound to follow our conscience faithfully; that one cannot be forced to act in a manner contrary to their conscience. But a conscience must be properly formed. Conscience is not a feeling; it is a decision to act based on thorough consideration.

A Catholic conscience must give attention and respect to Church teachings, but is also bound to consider science, reason, human experience, scripture and other theological reflection.

This is how I came to the views I have espoused in the Parliament and in public debate: by thoroughly forming my conscience.

Science affirms the Church's view that homosexual orientation is genuine, but if we are all made in the likeness of God, how can that natural orientation turn sinful when it is given expression through physical acts of love?

If we accept that heterosexual people who are physically unable to have children are able to express themselves in physical acts, why then aren't people who God created with a homosexual orientation able to do the same?

Scripture isn't a great deal of help in this area, though perhaps its relative silence is instructive. As the American Jim Wallis points out, there are 3000 references in the Bible to alleviating poverty, but very few on homosexuality. The Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace acknowledges there is no place where Jesus taught one way or another about same sex marriage.

But Jesus did have a lot to say about self-sacrifice, laying down one's life for another, and loving one another as he loved us. When I see homosexual couples in mutually loving relationships, or giving self-sacrificing love to a child, how can I not but see a mirror of Jesus' love for us?

Taking a contrary view to Church teaching is not a position I come to lightly. It is formed by prayer, reading, and reflection. It gives me no relish to be at odds with my Church. But it also gives me no joy to see people who are created in God's image unable to fully express their humanity, or live with the rights and dignity that heterosexual people are afforded.

I act in good conscience — as a Catholic, I can do nothing else. 


Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally is a member of the NSW Labor Party. She was the 42nd Premier of New South Wales. 

Topic tags: Kristina Keneally, Second Vatican Council, Gay marriage



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Existing comments

Goodonyer Kristina.......you represent the views of so many conscientious Catholics Goodonyer Eureka for publishing letters that allow challenge to our Rome dominated church that is controlling and I would suggest alienating most of our Australian bishops and priests and laity. What is happening to a " sense of the faithful" in English speaking countries where the laity have no say and can't but conform to the new translation except by quietly saying the prayerful old form at Mass

leo kane | 02 January 2012  

Onya Kristina! You've had a good journey!

Jan Forrester | 02 January 2012  

Wow! Thank you Kristina. You strike an accord with my thinking too. After a long lifetime of sorrow, loneliness, misunderstanding, misjudgment, accusations and false denials, at last I see people like you seeing our side of the equation. Maybe one day - long after I've gone though - our Dear Mother the Church will eventually see us as valid members of the Body of Christ on Earth and we're not just the warts either. Only then will the youth be spared living in the loneliness and shadows and emptiness of unfulfilled lives. Thank you for taking the stand.

Murray J Greene | 02 January 2012  

Life is so natural that the worst mistake man can do is to attempt social engineering; once said a philosopher. In this regard I find gay marriage a classical case of attempting social engineering. Look at it this way, girls have life time female friends while boys have life long male friends. So dear and natural are these friendships that they share dreams, ideas, joy and sadness. At times it is more closer than with brothers and sisters. However, when a same sex relationship degenerates into intimacy, that now becomes social engineering or social deviancy if you like. It can not be justified under any given dimension you name it; natural, biological or otherwise.

Hillan Nzioka | 03 January 2012  

Kristina. I also did the Mth. I anguished when I was encouraged to do a unit of women in the bible, at ACU, which ended up being the most enlightening subject of the degree, and changed my understanding as an ordained minister of the Catholic church. I have anguished over this topic you raised for years, and hoped it might go away, like the womens issue.....looking at the published picture of Penny Wong and her partner and their little one has challenged me again. Thank you for stimulating my theological conscience.

Mick | 03 January 2012  

Hopefully Mrs Keneally will have read the comments last time this piece was posted, in the ongoing effort to inform her conscience. So she will have learned of the many fallacies she committed - a surprising number, given that she holds a masters in theology. Here's a couple of the really big ones: 1. She states the Church has never "explicitly claimed infallibility on a moral teaching". Does that prove that there is no infallible teaching on morals? Of course not. There's the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium (Lumen Gentium Para 25) which covers a wide range of Catholic teaching in both faith and morals. Even a dissenter such as Hans Kung knows this, as he effectively points out in "Infallible?". 2. "If we accept that heterosexual people who are physically unable to have children are able to express themselves in physical acts ..." Crucially inaccurate. The Church states that married couples who are able to perform the act of natural intercourse (ie, are not impotent) are welcome to do so even if they are temporarily or permanently sterile. No-one, even married couples, may ever perform completed sexual acts which are not natural sexual intercourse. So impotent couples - heterosexual or homosexual may not engage in completed sexual acts. It doesn't take a masters degree in theology to become aware of these aspects of Church teaching. In fact, it seems unfortunate that taking a masters in theology in some institutions today may well lead to a mis-formation of conscience.

HH | 03 January 2012  

Isn’t the primary purpose of the social institution of marriage to encourage a commitment between parents that will provide a stable environment for children? Marriage is not essentially a certificate of authenticity of true love, or of entitlements between parties, or even of sexual orientation. The presumption is that a loving homosexual couple is equally capable as providing for children as a man and a woman, their natural parents. Obviously many marriages don’t work out, or a parent dies, but this will also occur with homosexuals as gay adoptions increase. I think it is a radical proposition deserving of investigation to deliberately legislate for a boy to be brought up without a father figure or a child without a mother. But commentators seem loath to question whether boys and girls, men and women are not actually equal in every way, so there is little chance of social effects of, eg, ‘fatherlessness’, getting a hearing. Homosexual relationships are already legally recognised. My disagreement with gay marriage has nothing to do with homophobia. I worry that our most fundamental social institution is a political football. And that the welfare of children is relegated behind the cries of adults with their own agendas.

David Moloney | 03 January 2012  

What a beautifully expressed article. Saw it in original publication, regretfully did not respond. Well said, Kristina.

T W Campbell BRADDON ACT | 03 January 2012  

'degenerates into intimacy' ... What an astonishing thing to say, hillan!! :o

Charles Boy | 03 January 2012  

I suspect that a majority of thinking Catholics would agree with Kristina's position. I don't see 'gay marriage' as any threat to a 'sacramental marriage'. 'Gay marriage' is a civil matter and the Church does not need to get involved. It is a quite separate issue whether the Church ought to recognise a civil 'gay marriage' as a 'sacramental marriage' or whether it ought to bless a 'gay marriage'. I congratulate Kristina on speaking out and Eureka for re-publishing this excellent article. Love will conquer all things!

Rob Brian | 03 January 2012  

I admire Kristina for the open and honest way in which she has told us of her carefully considered journey of reasoning. To my mind, however, she has confused the issue by not differentiating between religious marriage and civil marriage. The political debate is about whether the state should amend the law of civil marriage to include any couple irrespective of sexual orientation. It is not about whether churches or any other religion are to be required even to recognise, let alone, endorse or participate in marriage of which they don't approve. And it is for this reason that comments like those from HH, no matter how relevant they may or may not be to religious marriages, are irrelevant to the current political debate.

Ginger Meggs | 03 January 2012  

If Ms Kristina Keneally's article "Why I support gay-marriage" is the best of 2011, I would hate to read the worst of 2011.

Ron Cini | 04 January 2012  

GM, you appear to misunderstand the position of the Church. Marriage not a creation of the Church. Marriage is part of the natural law. It is prior to the state and Church, just as the right to life is, and indeed, the law of gravity. If this is true, then it is as absurd to propose that the state may redefine marriage at will as it is to propose that the state can legislate away the natural right of, redheaded people to life, or to legislate that the law of gravity will cease to have effect on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A state purporting to legislate these things is acting beyond power. Sure, such laws when passed will have effects: Redheads will be shot in the street, gullible people will walk off the roof of skyscrapers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and all sorts of unions will be termed "marriage" which are not in accord with the natural law. Moreover, a new class of children will be denied, not by accident, but by human fiat, the legitimate expectation of growing up in the community of their natural parents. Such laws will not actually destroy the law of gravity, or the right to life, re-engineer marriage, or take away children's rights to their natural family. Nevertheless, departure from the natural law will have grave consequences. In the end, what you’re saying is the equivalent to this: “Catholics believe abortion is killing innocent human life. Well fine. Then they shouldn’t do it. But they shouldn’t try to impose their beliefs on others and have abortion banned for everyone.” What about the fact if they're right, then abortion itself is the ultimate imposition of beliefs on others - namely, the unborn? There's no in-between solution. Ditto for marriage.

HH | 04 January 2012  

I object to the use of the word "marriage'. I do not object to the full legal recognition of homosexual partnerships.

Kevin Langley | 04 January 2012  

Congratulations Kristina, well said and presented. It is quite correct that civil marriage and sacramental marriage must be separated. In most European countries, marriages are celebrated in two parts, i.e. civilly first and then separately in the Church. This would mean in effect in the Catholic Church that such couples could not expect the blessing of the Church.

Peter M | 04 January 2012  

Sure! Let homosexual partners have a legal, binding commitment, but do not call it "marriage"! Marriage is the partnership of male and female to create family, which is the basic building block of society. We therefore simply need to find a different word to describe the gay partnership. It is this modern society that's telling everybody to "do it my way", forgetting about the interconnected web of human (even worldly) society. No giving of the self is encouraged these days. Life for each one of us is full of challenges. We all have our own crosses to carry. Our slow shedding of self in order to become the one made in the image and likeness of God takes a lifetime of struggle and sacrifice. No achievement of any sort comes to anybody without it. Yes, we need the sensitivity, love and support of each other but this does not mean we encourage anything that's not in the image and likeness of our perfect God of love. We all have our own crosses to carry which are unlike those carried by anybody else. We support each other, with no judgement, through it all but we don't try to call the cross a bouquet of flowers.

Nicole | 05 January 2012  

I am not a Catholic although my grandmothers' family was after her mother converted from Lutheran to facilitate her marraige to a Irish Australian Catholic at the turn of 20th Century. Gran converted to Salvation Army when a priest stood on the steps of a country church and declared that she was damned and would be in purgatory for eternity. I grew up in as a Methodist. I have no formal training within a church or otherwise. But I was taught by well meaning but usually older lay people. Both men and women. I also attended the Billy Graham foray at the MCG in the 50's. Over my 64 years I have seen such misery and heart ache created by the church hierarchy and small minded community individuals. Over time I have moved away from religious teachings. I went to a service where a 'respected' member of the church gave a sermon on the evils of homosexuals. I sat through that sermon with feeling of horror & pity for the man who spouted so much hate for another human he has probably never even met. I have no knowledge of theology etc, but I would have welcomed being raised by a gay couple as long as they didn't beat me every day for no other reason than I was a female. My father was a mysogynist and he beat my mother every day also. She has been left with a mental illness and is also a physical wreck. where were those 'holier than thou' people then? I go by the maxim as long as they are bring no harm to others leave them alone and mind your own business.

Kath Garraway | 05 January 2012  

A beautiful article that is just as compassionate, honest, open and wise in its second offering. It is a paradox that so many people pursue the control of other people's lives, under the name of Jesus Christ, yet fail to actually read his words and the bulk of scripture. Nor do they put it into context. I hope that the majority of Australians continue to be unafraid of giving homosexuals the same legal rights and social opportunities as heterosexuals, and that in so doing they connect with Christ's central messages: choosing not to judge, caring for others as we care for ourselves, and worshipping God (literally the 'good') in spirit and in truth. Hatred comes from fear yet we are informed by our Judeo-Christian heritage that perfect (complete) love casts out fear.

Barry G | 05 January 2012  

You act in good conscience just as most people who agree with you do so, but but you are deceived by your own misplaced compassion. Your conscience is not formed through experiencing the holy spirit but by your own reasoning. In Mathew when Jesus Declares is death to the disciples, Peter replies; “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” I think that you only have human concerns when you make this choice. Is being married to a person that is the same sex as you 'expressing humanity' to the full? Not in any way is this so in the Christian world view.

Alex | 06 January 2012  

When Kristina Keneally is handed her safe Federal Labor seat in the not-too-distant future, her position on Gay Marriage shall serve her well.

Claude Rigney | 07 January 2012  

HH you miss the point again. Your original posting was all about what the Church teaches. That's what I responded to. What the Church teaches might be the motivation of a believer, but it will never be a relevant argument in a non-religious field. Now you invoke natural law as if that was something that predates the Church. The notion of natural law is a theological concept that owes origins to theologians. Then you say that it is fixed in the same way as the law of gravity. The 'law' of gravity is not 'fixed'; it's an approximation, it doesn't work at sub-atomic levels. Then you tell me that I may as well be talking about abortion. I never mentioned abortion. That's the problem when you start arguing from a predetermined position based on religious belief - you leave yourself no room to move, no room to grow.

Ginger Meggs | 09 January 2012  

Nicole, what on earth have the 'crosses that we all have to carry' got to do with gay marriage? Are you suggesting that gays are responsible for the 'crosses they carry'?

Ginger Meggs | 09 January 2012  

Thanks, GM. I’ll take one thing at a time. The concept of natural law certainly predates Christian theology. Socrates/Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, among others, allude to it or explicitly mention it constantly. Give me an authoritative source that denies this, or recant.

HH | 09 January 2012  

I'm quite happy to take things one at a time HH, but I suggest that you start by responding to what I said in my first response to your post, viz 'Your original posting was all about what the Church teaches. That's what I responded to. What the Church teaches might be the motivation of a believer, but it will never be a relevant argument in a non-religious field'. And I'm not seeking a 'recantation', just a considered response.

Ginger Meggs | 10 January 2012  

"What the Church teaches might be the motivation of a believer, but it will never be a relevant argument in a non-religious field". But it is relevant, if what the Church teaches is strikingly reasonable, even to a non­-Catholic. To wit, if it is a particularly coherent and compelling expression of what every one who seeks the good and true is stretching out to grasp: the truths of the natural law. You may not be aware that many non­-Catholics -­ atheists, agnostics, and even many homosexuals - totally agree with Catholic teaching on the essence and ends of marriage. Just as all sorts of non-­Catholic hippie communes in the ‘70s and '80s were flogging copies of ‘Humanae vitae’ at county fair stalls across the U.S. Natural law, you see. Now: you were telling me that natural law is just an invention of Christian theologians and did not precede Christianity? Authorities, please.

HH | 11 January 2012  

Thanks HH. I'll accept that if what the Church teaches seems reasonable, then it is a valid input to the discussion. But it is it's 'reasonableness' that makes it so, not the fact that it is what the church teaches. It’s reasonableness is innate, and it does not become more persuasive by being the Church’s teaching. In fact, pushing it as the Church’s teaching might only make some listeners less ready to listen. Now to natural law. Yes, I agree that several of the ancients posited the idea of some sort of underlying universal law that we might call ‘natural law’ and theorised on what might be its basis and nature. Not surprisingly, there were different schools of thought and there was never a universally accepted version of what it meant nor, obviously, a legislated version. It was not until the Church’s theologians, Thomas Aquinas in particular, began to think about it and to define what it meant and what its implications were that what we mean today by the term ‘natural law’ began to take shape. That’s why I said that ‘the notion of natural law is a theological concept that owes origins to theologians’. But whether you accept what I say or not does not alter the fact that in appealing to 'natural law' you are once again appealing to some external authority to justify the position you hold. And that’s, I suspect, where we differ. In my view, there are no external authorities, we are on our own, and we have to accept the responsibility ourselves of using our reason to work through the difficult existential questions and then wear the consequences of those decisions. And I think that's what Kristina has done, and I applaud her for that.

Ginger Meggs | 13 January 2012  

Jesus confronted Pilate, and spoke with authority: “You would not have power if it were not given to you from above.” That is, from Him. Jesus’ claim was rejected by the rulers and politicians of His time and He was crucified. So what? His execution is not a logically successful refutation. Jesus was right to assert His authority, even if it meant He was to be executed. So is the Church right, which He founded, who claims the same authority. If the Church is indeed what she claims, then She has that authority. Many people will reject it. So what? Those with open hearts will hear Her, accept Her profound reasoning, and come to recognise that such a pure level of reasoning can only come from above. That’s how millions of converts have found their way into the Church. Man’s intuition of natural law is clouded by Original Sin. That’s why there are disputes as to the finer points. But natural law as such is acknowledged implicitly or explicitly by all the great thinkers: the Greeks, Confucius and Lao Tze, etc. It’s not an “external” law. It is written on the heart of every man coming into the world, as St John says. We are not “alone” solipsistically working through ethical questions. When we reason that it’s always wrong to directly kill an innocent human being, that’s an eternal truth about every human being we’re acknowledging, based on what human beings are. Natural law, you see.

HH | 16 January 2012  

I'll finish up, GM, by replying that the Law of Gravity is fixed in the sense I implied, though of course not in the sense you inexplicably inferred. I mean, if you want to seriously suggest that it's not fixed, in the sense that parliament indeed has the power to suspend the Law of Gravity on Tuesdays and Thursdays, go ahead and make your case. Unsuccessfully, I'll warrant. Ditto for marriage, as I said. Children have a right to be brought up in the community their natural parents, who, conversely, have a duty (and a right) in that regard. Applaud her as you will, but Keneally and other gay marriage advocates deny that right ab initio, thus creating another Stolen Generation.

HH | 17 January 2012  

Good on you Kristina my sentiments exactly and expressed beautifully.I too am a committed, practicing catholic who has studied theology and is married for 45 years. Its time we the people of God reclaimed the message of Jesus - love is what is important not rules or laws that make life difficult for the people.Why is the church garnering support by preaching in the parishes to obstruct the recognition of loving relationships. Why have we not done anything against going to war. Why don't we do something against the rampant greed and power of the miners. Bring on the palm Sunday marches to support the carbon tax and the mining tax which will enable us to take better care of God's creation and share our wealth more equitably. I am sure that's what Jesus would have said.

swinitha ferdinando | 03 April 2012  

Thank you Kristina. A considered and in good faith position that I think many Catholics would share.

Greg Wilson | 01 July 2012  

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