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Four preconditions for supporting marriage equality


Gay couple silhouetted on rainbow flagA committed Catholic gay man, whose integrity I admire and whose hurt from ongoing homophobia I feel, recently asked me to sign a letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott urging that Coalition members be granted a conscience vote and that the Commonwealth Marriage Act be amended promptly to include same sex marriage. He assured me that any change to the law would accommodate religious celebrants who would not celebrate gay weddings, and for religious reasons.

I declined his request, assuring him my prayers and a commitment to ongoing dialogue.

I have long claimed that our federal politicians should have a conscience vote on same sex marriage. The Labor Party muddied the waters at their national conference last month by cobbling together a compromise motion allowing a conscience vote only until 2019, with members then being bound to support same sex marriage after the election after next.

Given Labor's abandonment of a conscience vote until the matter is finally resolved on the floor of the Parliament, the Coalition is now more free to make its own political calculations about the utility of a conscience vote on its side of the chamber.

Given developments in countries like Ireland and the USA, I have accepted the inevitability that civil marriage in Australia will ultimately be redefined to include same sex couples. But advocates for change need to concede the point made by church leaders in their own letter to Abbott on 5 June 2015:

Far from being unusual in the international community for not supporting 'same-sex marriage', Australia's definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman is consistent with that of the vast majority of world nations, who represent over 91 per cent of the global population.

To date, only 21 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have changed their legal definition of marriage to incorporate same-sex unions.

Given the increasing number of children being brought up by same sex couples, it is desirable that the state take away any social stigma against same sex parents. Given the ageing population, the state has an interest in recognising and protecting long term relationships of same sex couples who care for each other. Given the harmful effects of homophobia, it has an interest in encouraging broad community acceptance of those members who are homosexual. Laws and policies can help in this regard.

It is one thing for Commonwealth law to recognise same sex unions as marriages. It is another thing to require all persons, regardless of their religious beliefs, to treat same sex couples even in the life and activities of a church as if they were married in the eyes of their church.

The religious freedom issues involved in the same sex marriage debate are about more than making space for religious celebrants determining who they will or will not marry. Though the issues would not necessarily be covered by amendments to the Commonwealth Marriage Act, the passage of those amendments will be the trigger for revisiting and redefining these issues.

At the moment, some religious institutions restrict facilities such as shared accommodation on a church site to married couples. Would the maintenance of that restriction to couples in a traditional marriage be judged discriminatory and unlawful? Some religious schools limit employment to teachers who follow the church teaching on sexual relations. Would the exclusion of a homosexual teacher be prohibited once the teacher had entered into a state recognised same sex marriage?

Faith based adoption agencies tend to have a preference for placing a child who is not related to any prospective adoptive parent with a family unit including an adult male and an adult female thinking that is in the best interests of the child. Would that now be judged discriminatory? 

In the future, some religious groups will assert that reproductive technology should be limited so that any child will be assured a known biological mother and a known biological father regardless of whether the child is to be raised by a heterosexual couple, a homosexual couple or a single parent. Will that be judged bigoted discrimination, especially if homosexual couples are the ones most likely to want to use such developing technology to create their own children?

These questions require answers, and without claims of homophobia and simple reassurances that there is 'nothing to fear from equality'.

The unfortunate effect of the US Supreme Court decision was that all these issues were put off to another day without discussion and with the imputation that they are the concerns only of bigots or old fashioned religious zealots. Many citizens, myself included, support the state recognition of both same sex marriage AND religious freedom exercised in speech, actions and institutional arrangements.

I readily accept that the Commonwealth Parliament will legislate for same sex marriage in the foreseeable future. When Parliament does, I will be fully accepting of that decision. I won't lose any sleep over it, and I will be happy for people like the man who asked me to sign a letter to Abbott, hoping that it helps put an end to homophobia, especially in religious communities.

If asked by politicians how they should exercise their conscience vote, there is no way that I would say that they should not support civil recognition of same sex marriage. But neither would I say that they must support it NOW. If I were a member of parliament, I would want four assurances before I voted for same sex marriage: 

1. The assurance that religious groups could continue to order their religious and church affairs consistent with their teaching on marriage.

2. The assurance that adoption authorities could always make decisions in the best interests of the child.

3. The assurance that state authorised/funded assisted reproduction services would not be expanded to allow the creation of a child without just one known biological mother and just one known biological father.

4. The assurance that those who had religious objections to same sex marriage would not be required by law to violate their own consciences in the performance of professional or artistic services (as distinct from the simple sale of goods or provision of other services) when that performance is usually enhanced by the person believing in the relationship that is being celebrated or sustained.

If those four assurances were given and if I were a member of parliament, I would vote in favour of a bill granting civil recognition to same sex marriage. It is important to emphasise that these assurances would not be contained in the amended Commonwealth Marriage Act. For example, adoption is more a matter for the states than the Commonwealth. But now is the time for the Australian community to work out the broad contours of these assurances.

Once the Marriage Act is amended, should a church school be able to decline to offer married quarters to a teacher in a same sex marriage? I would answer 'yes', though I would hope a church school would be open to the employment of a gay teacher living in a committed relationship. Equally I would continue to allow a church school to make a free choice as to who best to employ as a teacher.

Given the lamentable history of homophobia, I would think a good church school would be pleased to employ an openly gay teacher who respects and espouses the school's ethos. Free choice is often better than legal prescription when trying to educate in the ways of truth and love.

Should a church aged care facility be able to decline to offer married quarters to a couple who had contracted a same sex marriage? I would answer 'yes', though I would hope a church facility would be open to providing such accommodation in Christian charity if it could be done in a way not to cause upset to other residents. After all, same sex marriage is a very modern phenomenon and I would favour ongoing tolerance of the residents in aged care facilities wanting to live out their last days with individuals and couples in relationships such as they have long known them.

However, even in Catholic aged care facilities, we need to admit that not all couples are living in a church recognised marriage, and it is no business of other residents to know if they are. We need to allow everyone time to adapt with good grace, provided only that we can be certain that appropriate services are available elsewhere if a church feels unable to oblige on religious grounds.

The four assurances I have listed as preconditions for signing up to civil recognition of same sex marriage will not be given by advocates at this time. If they are given, they will result from horse trading in the political process, and for that reason I don't think it appropriate that I now simply urge the passage of a law recognising same sex marriage.

I know the delay will upset and hurt some good people who have waited too long to be rid of the curse of homophobia, but the delay could be avoided at this time if the assurances were given, or at least if the validity of the concerns was acknowledged. Some advocates will continue to fight hard claiming that no such assurances need be given, and they may well win. That's politics.

While we wait for our politicians to decide, let's all recommit ourselves to respectful conversation acknowledging the yearning of those who crave benign acceptance of their most loving commitments and of those who cherish religious freedom so that all citizens might live according to good conscience.

Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, same sex marriage, marriage equality



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Existing comments

"While we wait for our politicians to decide, let's all recommit ourselves to respectful conversation acknowledging the yearning of those who crave benign acceptance of their most loving commitments and of those who cherish religious freedom so that all citizens might live according to good conscience". Yes, indeed, and while we're doing that, politicians should be doing the same thing. This article should be required reading for Federal politicians before they vote. There's a lot still to be clarified before they make their decision.

Joan Seymour | 10 August 2015  

Father Frank, I fear the fourth assurance you seek is both vague and arbitrary. I think the phrase "when that performance is usually enhanced by the person believing in the relationship" is amorphous and subjective. I find it hard to think of how it could be realistically determined and then enforced. I also do not understand why a singer should be exempt from participating in a same-sex reception any more than the caterers. Where lies the distinction? Why should a caterer or reception centre be forced to provide their services to a same-sex reception whilst a singer is given an exemption? Why are artistic services seen as different from any other services? I think you are creating distinctions without differences. Services are services. Full stop. Nobody should be forced to do anything against their will. If one service provider does not want to deal with same-sex marriages, it opens up a business opportunity for those that do.

Marg | 10 August 2015  

Thank you Fr Brennan! At long last I see a glimmer of hope that the debate in Australia may rise above each side standing on their soap box and yelliing slogans.Though sadly this has become the model for political discussion in Australia.

Margaret | 11 August 2015  

There is no need to delay legislating for same-sex marriage. None of the prior assurances that Frank raises are necessary precursors. They are not about same-sex marriage per se but rather about securing even more exemptions to discriminate on religious grounds.

Ginger Meggs | 11 August 2015  

'Nobody should be forced to do anything against their will', Marg? Does that mean you'd be happy with taxi operators being allowed to refuse to carry people on the grounds of sexual orientation, or skin colour, or gender, or head covering?

Ginger Meggs | 11 August 2015  

May I offer responses to each of the 4 ‘assurances’ proposed by Frank? 1. There is no suggestion that this might be otherwise. The objection arises when religious groups seek to extend their definition of ‘religious and church affairs’ to other areas and other people. 2. It is already the case that adoption agencies MUST make decisions in the best interests of the child. The problems arise when religious organisations seek to apply religious tests not sanctioned by State law in deterring what are those ‘best interests‘. 3. This has absolutely nothing to do with same sex marriage. It is simply an attempt to lever the enforcement of a religiously determined position on reproductive technology as a quid pro quo for support for something that is inevitable anyway. Shades of Brian Harradine. 4. As Marg has already noted, this requirement is ‘vague and arbitrary’. No one is suggesting that religious celebrants will be required to perform civil marriages. But if ‘professional or artistic services’ are to be withheld on the basis of the relationship being a same-sex one, why not also on the basis of a religious objection to mixed race relationships?

Ginger Meggs | 11 August 2015  

Thank you for that thought provoking article and its comprehensive reasoning. I must admit in the interests of justice and cohesion your four points need to be discussed and included.

Marie Ryan | 11 August 2015  

@Ginger Meggs. I would come at the issue from another angle. I am not happy with the state telling private individuals what they may or may not do with their own property. As far as I am concerned the state should not stick its nose where it does not belong. If taxi operators, or any other service providers, want to discriminate in favour of or against any group, then that is their business. If we cede to the state the power to dictate to private individuals what they can or cannot do with their own property, we will inevitably end up with the biases of the state making exceptions for their favoured groups. Discrimination happens all the time already. There are gyms for women only, gay only cruises, Christian only events, pool sessions where it’s Muslim dress only. The list goes on. As long as it is not a public owned service, the owners can set the rules to suit themselves.

Marg | 11 August 2015  

Thanks Fr Frank; that is the best treatise of the debate I have read or heard of. Every parliamentarian should read this with an open mind. Then she/he can have an informed conscious vote if and when the bill comes up.

Murray J Greene | 12 August 2015  

I don't see how any of these 4 concerns are related to the debate around marriage equality. None of the existing anti-discrimination exemptions are part of the Marriage Act, so changing that Act would have no bearing on those exemptions.

Justin Whelan | 12 August 2015  

Isn't marriage a civil union, not a religious one? Isn't the ceremony condoned by the state. Religion is a ceremony, not a legally binding document.

Geri Spieler | 12 August 2015  

All your comments were reasonable; however, a plebiscite would involve all Australians and not just a few. If that occurred, nobody could complain about the result; the other thing I am concerned about is the use of the word "marriage". I have no objection to giving equality to same-sex unions - which is what their living state is. What I do object to is the changing of the meaning of the word "marriage". If we are now to say marriage is no longer recognisable as being a union between a male and a female, then maybe we should change the meaning of "white" to include "black", so that all black people can now be referred to as white. And if we object to things being hot, why not just use the one word "cold"? By all means, give gay couples legal rights, but let's call it a "union" because it is certainly not a marriage in the defined and acceptable and recognisable use use of the word.

shirley McHugh | 12 August 2015  

If the Marriage Act is changed, there will be a need to consider and resolve the four issues I have raised. Even though most of the resolution of these issues would not be included in amendments to the Marriage Act, it is still essential that these issues be considered BEFORE the Marriage Act is amended. Some advocates for same sex marriage say there is no need to consider these issues at all, or only AFTER the Marriage Act has been amended. They are entitled to their view, as am I. I think it would be very prudent to have these four issues thoroughly discussed before any amendment is made to the Marriage Act. I think it is the only way to ensure appropriate consideration of the issues of religious freedom (rather than just religious claims). I think it would also enhance the prospects of broad community acceptance of same sex marriage were it to be enacted. The effects of further splintering the civil and religious understanding of marriage are such that the issues need to be well canvassed before any change is made. Advocates for same sex marriage who say that these matters are not appropriate for discussion at this time will need to make their own prudential decisions, knowing that some will think this is merely a device for trying to shut down debate. The result could then be a national plebiscite, with a lot of nasty debate (including gratuitous innuendo, like 'shades of Brian Harradine', and false claims like the 'attempt to lever the enforcement of a religiously determined position on reproductive technology as a quid pro quo for support for something that is inevitable anyway') a course which I do not favour.

Frank Brennan SJ | 12 August 2015  

"It is one thing for Commonwealth law to recognise same sex unions as marriages. It is another thing to require all persons, regardless of their religious beliefs, to treat same sex couples even in the life and activities of a church as if they were married in the eyes of their church". Quite so, but we have lived for the last 40 years with a civil definition of marriage dissoluble at the will of either party for any reason or none, and that has done nothing to harm the churches' definition of what they consider to be a sacramental marriage. If making the civil definition of marriage cover same-sex unions as well as opposite-sex ones is a moral imperative to achieve justice, why hedge your support around with demands for a lot of concessions on the side?

oldG | 12 August 2015  

Hi Father Frank, For you to" be fully accepting of that decision" ie. to legalize same sex marriage is disappointing as I would have hoped that you would have defended traditional marriage. Traditional marriage of a man and a woman is obviously totally different to the relationship between two men or two women. It is because of this intrinsic difference that there exists no inequality or discrimination in the matter. They are so different that they can fairly be treated differently.The present situation should be preserved in the best interests of our society.

Tom Fallon | 12 August 2015  

The concept of marriage in Western civilisation, like it or not - agree or not, is based entirely on the Christian dictum, upheld in civil law, that marriage is between a man and a woman. The basis of this is that marriage is a covenant between a man, a woman and God in the creation of human life. Everyone would surely agree that no man or woman alone can create another human life. Not to concede that fact is indeed a grand delusion.Heterosexual intercourse is the only means of propagation of human life (new technologies simply bring the propagating cells together, both requiring a man and a woman). Thus there is no such thing as marriage remotely possible between same sex couples. Your four assurances, Fr Frank, will never be conceded in the Godless society that has over-run Western Christianity. Why not simply recognise the de facto nature of same sex living together in a sexual relationship, as already recognised in unmarried heterosexual relationships. No amount of legislation can change truth - unless we rewrite the fairy tale of the emperor and his new clothes as the new truth.

john frawley | 12 August 2015  

If given these four assurances, I would vote in favour of civil recognition of same sex marriage. If not given these assurances, I would vote in favour of civil unions for same sex couples but would not extend the definition of marriage to include same sex couples because such an extension would most probably adversely and inappropriately interfere with the four matters on which I am seeking assurance. The corresponding benefit for same sex couples (and the flow-on benefit to their children) being able to ‘marry’ rather than entering into a civil union would, in my opinion, be outweighed by the detriment caused to others wanting to exercise religious freedom and to children whose best interests were not being considered. In my opinion, the benefits of everyone including same sex couples and their children can be enhanced by addressing the four issues I have raised.

Frank Brennan SJ | 12 August 2015  

I'm sorry. I don't understand. The state can regulate marriage, but how can it define it? Nature defines marriage. It's a matter of the anatomical differences between the sexes. The state is no more competent to legislate that away than it is to pass laws about the number of legs we have.

Gavan Breen | 12 August 2015  

I was reading and thinking about a reply - a deconstruction, but, you know, after ten years of it I think we can stop - most of the population now agrees with marriage equality, the trend is unmistakeable, and some people will never give up their homophobia. Realising that their homophobia has become an untenable position in society they say that they have changed their mind, but oh, wait there's just four conditions. Apart from the fact that it's been just too long and I can't care anymore about anyone' conditions, it seems obvious to me, reading this piece, that underlying it is an inability to accept homosexuality. So, conditions. Conditions that will allow Catholics not to be contaminated by homosexuality. Actually, it appears to me that what Frank Brennan is saying really is that these are the conditions on which Christian love can be shown to homosexuals. But Christian love doesn't have conditions. I read the piece and thought "Such an un-Christian attitude". These conditions are Catholicism, not Christianity.

Russell | 12 August 2015  

Thanks for your reply Frank, but you still have not given any reason why you think these questions of anti-discrimination exemptions are linked to changes in the Marriage Act (other than the question about married same-sex couples in church-run aged care centres). Given there is a blanket exemption from anti-discrimination law for religious organisations on all of the above matters, which will be explicitly extended to rites of marriage under the proposed legislation (i.e. such that clergy can refuse to marry same-sex couples), I see no logical reason why changes to the Marriage Act would 'trigger' different outcomes. If you can demonstrate such a logical connection, please do so. Otherwise, with respect it just comes across as (very politely posed) scaremongering.

Justin Whelan | 12 August 2015  

Fr Frank, Dare I suggest that your last post today wherein you say if the four assurances were in place you would support same sex marriage, and if not, you would support same sex civil union, is indeed a logical fallacy. The four assurances are not the premise. The premise is marriage. It is difficult to identify the precise error of logic here but there are a number of possibilities - erroneous premise, undistributed terms, non-sequitur, and perhaps at a stretch, ad hoc ergo propter hoc in that the conclusion is different based on the acceptance of the four reassurances having two different applications to the one clearly defined event , ie, marriage. Clearly an impossible conclusion. homosexual union can never be equated with marriage regardless of any repeated mantra or rhetoric but deserves to be recognised as a civil arrangement with all those civil benefits that apply to the genuinely married. You have much to offer - please don't confuse us !!! Still love ya !!!

john frawley | 12 August 2015  

Dear Fr Frank, I can see your reasoning and certainly support the religious freedom concept, and I have a gay nephew and lesbian niece, and I do want them to feel fulfilled in life, but they cannot conceive children without third party involvement, so I am of the view that their relationships, however loving, are not of themselves intrinsically fertile in the sense heterosexual relationships are. Hence, I do not think they are in a position to claim 'equality' with heterosexual relationships, let alone marriage as the Church understands it. Also, it does seem to me the push for equality is not about removing discrimination, but rather about passing legislation that draws society as a whole into the process of validating same-sex relationships beyond that social acceptance already existing, regards, Paul Burt

Paul Burt | 12 August 2015  

VIVA PM The Government voted against gay marriage-Carnival is over!

Father John George | 12 August 2015  

Thank you Frank for you clarity of thought. I often thought the problem lies in the word "marriage". The idea of "commitment" might take out the ambiguity in the word "marriage" which was once regarded as "sacrament"which included "civil union".

John Bradley | 12 August 2015  

Frank has argued his case well and clearly. He quotes from the Australian Bishops in saying. to date, only 21 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have changed their legal definition of marriage to incorporate same-sex unions. I am left to wonder if Frank here is talking for the bishops? I suspect he isn't. I also find it ironic that the Australian bishops, in this case closely aligned with the Christian lobby groups, tend to say that the western Christian tradition has led us to where we are today and yet to support their position they argue against this. The Australian Christian lobby is prominent is saying that our Asian neighbours are not allowing same sex marriages. They together with the Australian catholic bishops, it seems to me, cannot say we owe so much in this country to our Christian heritage, as they seem to say on most occasions, and then to support this anti-same sex marriage point to non western Christian countries as leading the way. Either our western Christian tradition, as found in the USA, ;England, Ireland and the like has led us to this or our tradition is wrong in this case, and consequently, dare I say it, in all/many others?

Tom | 12 August 2015  

Plebiscite a predetermined conclusion, given PM poll ratification at voting booths already, with open opposition to gay marriage presaged to supporters

Father John George | 12 August 2015  

Today I wrote to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, thanking and congratulated him for showing true leadership. Yesterday by calling a special coalition meeting of all MPs to decide if the coalition will keep the current policy on marriage between one man and one woman or change to same sex-marriage? The meeting lasted 6 hours. Retaining natural marriage ? The meeting lasted 6 hours. Retaining natural marriage won. So millions of Australian families, Dad, Mum and children can enjoy peace till next year when we will have a Referendum or a Plebiscite. Pro same-sex marriage want Parliament to make the change, relying on the Labor Party, The Greens, Socialists, Left wings, small "L'' Liberals. The people should decide the outcome, not politicians.

Ron Cini | 12 August 2015  

If churches referred to their wedding services as "holy matrimony", the term "marriage" could be reserved for relationships sanctioned by the State. Church weddings would have this additional title, which they have always had, reinforcing the difference between church and state in what is essentially a personal matter for each couple and would avoid any confusion or religious objection. There you go, problem solved.

Brett | 12 August 2015  

120 years ago this week The Importance of Being Earnest played in the colony of NSW. First shown in London on Valentine's Day in1895, the play is witty and pointedly humorous about superficial conceits (such as fancies and Class) which reduced the social convention of marriage to farce. This relates to my experience of being mocked at a party by a brazenly camp man. However as one now in a sacramental marriage, I perceive that it is one of the jewels of the specifically Catholic Church's armoury against the evil one. (My use of the metaphor or war is simply a reference to 'the fight" St Paul speaks about). Justin Whelan your polemic which cautions against fear might be denying an important natural component of the spiritual battle of discerning moral truths? It's sad to read about how Wilde wrote that due to being given legal guilt and social rejection he lost his joy for writing after this play. Oscar Wilde also wrote a very beautiful children's story 'The Selfish Giant'. It has recently been published in a dechristianised "abridged" version, without The Christ child to anchor the meaning in the ending.

Louise O'Brien-Jeffree | 12 August 2015  

I am opposed to a plebiscite on same sex marriage. And the idea of a constitutional referendum is truly ridiculous. The High Court has ruled that the Commonwealth Parliament's power to make laws with respect to marriage includes the power to make laws with respect to same sex marriage. Surely no one is suggesting a referendum to limit the power of the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws only with respect to heterosexual marriage. If such a referendum were successful, it would simply result in the states and territories having the power to make laws with respect to same sex marriage. It's time for some of our politicians to take a deep breath.

Frank Brennan SJ | 12 August 2015  

So many issues raised here that don't know where to start, and like Russell, just want this to move on. The four assurances all seem fine at face value and in keeping with church teachings, but the tone and emphasis they set trouble me - as they seem to suggest that a person's worth, goodness, worthiness is defined by what their sexuality and - to be more brunt - what they do with their genitals. They also suggest a lack of faith in the good will of traditional couples accepting change and adapting. And also seem to ignore that reality that gay people/couples would be unlikely to want to associate with a religious community, aged care home, caterer or artist/musician who disapproved of their orientation or relationship. Seems more Roman than Catholic and while Fr Brennan denies it's bigotted or homophobic, I'm not convinced. A person could be a scoundrel, mafia boss or bikie gang member and the wedding singer would be expected to provide their services, but somehow they can reject to help out a loving gay couple. Ditto to Russell's last point.

AURELIUS | 13 August 2015  

To Shirley McHugh, forgive me if I seem to be pointing out that obvious, but the new same sex marriage act won't change the definition of marriage to exclude m/f couples! Tradition marriages will still be valid! And to the issue of caterers/singers etc right to decline service, would they do they same thing in the case of a wedding reception for a civil marriage of divorcees?

AURELIUS | 13 August 2015  

Equality is possible only between things different. If things are different, they need to be treated accordingly, where each is given what is its due. Human relationships are of equal importance because they are relationships between people who are equal. But they are not the same. Same-sex relationships will never be the same as heterosexual relationships, and marriage will never be the same as same-sex unions. Marriage is not a universal human right and as such it is inherently discriminative.

newsreader | 13 August 2015  

I think a referendum which amended the constitution giving the commonwealth the power to make laws with respect to marriage traditionally defined, including laws which protect traditional marriage from usurpation, would be fine. But in the end, what's the problem with the states making laws with respect to arrangements which aren't traditional marriage but purport to be Fr F? I mean, criminal codes vary between states, and we live with it. Of course, if states tried to privilege these arrangements alongside traditional marriage, they would be acting beyond power; such attempts should be found unconstitutional under their own state constitutions. The states have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of their citizens. Attempts to undermine the natural law institution of marriage clearly do not promote peace, order, and good government but threaten society at its very foundations.

HH | 13 August 2015  

I'm proud to be a faithful Catholic person living in a secular, pluralistic, democratic, multicultural, multi&non-religious Australian society. The legal provision for marriage in Australia is a civil, secular provision. We need to defend the secular nature of our civil laws. These secular laws that provides for religious freedoms and freedom from religion for the individual to exercise their freedom of conscience- these secular laws protects us from some of our fellow Catholics, Atheist, Jews, Buddhist, Muslims and Scientologists, etc, who seek to overpower us with their beliefs. Imagine having a different religious canon dictating and defining the acceptability of your lives, beliefs and the validity (or the lack of validity) of your relationship contrary to your beliefs, belief that is often fluid and complex. I keep hearing some ‘defending Traditional Marriage’? The one that is based on pagan traditions before the establish church sacramentalised marriage in the 1200s? Or that traditional version where women were the slave of men and misogynistic patriarchy? Or the traditional marriage where women had no rights, were often raped and was treated as baby-producing machines? Or traditional marriage where child brides were a norm? or previously banned interracial and interfaith marriages? Let's be sensible.

B | 13 August 2015  

With an 18 month lead up to a plebiscite, I suppose I will just have to get used to people like Aurelius publicly stating that they are unconvinced that I am not a homophobic bigot. But I really do wonder what is the point of such gratuitous ad hominem observations. It’s as useful and virtuous as my saying, ‘While X denies that he is an anti-Catholic bigot, I am unconvinced.’ I would urge a more civic discourse in the months ahead. As the footballers would say, let’s play the ball, not the man.

Frank Brennan SJ | 13 August 2015  

John Bradley points out that marriage "was once regarded as 'sacrament ' ". Might I suggest that marriage is indeed still a sacrament and will forever be so. As a sacrament marriage represents a contract or covenant with a creator God in the creation of human life - in Catholic parlance an outward sign of God present in humanity in a cooperative partnership. That is marriage in Christian Western society, like it or not. In its wisdom, the civil law of Western civilisation as part of its essential role in the ordering of society formally recognised marriage in civil law for a number of reasons - the responsibility for children, inheritance, joint civil responsibility and prevention of genetically dangerous inbreeding being perhaps the most important examples of this wisdom. Equally wise, civil law also recognised the "common law" spouse in a non-sacramental union and attached similar responsibilities to such unions. We call these de facto relationships and in recent civil law also recognise similar civil rights for these relationships. This is exactly how the homosexual unions should also be recognised as they are currently recognised in civil law. It is an inanity for the homosexual community to demand the sacrament of marriage when they have no idea what that means (and that is exactly what the campaign for acceptance of same sex marriage aspires to - an inanity). As a member of the 97% global hetero-sexual community (global census 2007) I am becoming more than a little bored by the ignorance of the minority 3% hetero-phobic community and feel great sadness for the similar ignorance that has crept into the heterosexual community, seduced by the incessant ranting of an uninformed miniscule minority group and believed by such deluded souls to be evidence of "Christian charity" and respect for "human dignity". The emperor is indeed naked with his genitals on full display in the name of high fashion !!!!!

john frawley | 13 August 2015  

Frank Brennan, with his legalistic reasoning and his compassion, highlight some difficulties that should be addressed by all, politicians, voters and church leaders. Tony Abbott, however, has very rigid beliefs and assumes he is both correct and a devout Catholic. Where is his compassion?

Anna | 13 August 2015  

"With an 18 month lead up to a plebiscite, I suppose I will just have to get used to people publicly stating that they are unconvinced that I am not a homophobic bigot. But I really do wonder what is the point of such gratuitous ad hominem observations". The point is stating the truth as one sees it. If people write homophobic things on blogs I think it's very useful that they be called out for it. Did you see that wonderful video clip of Army chief Morrison on unacceptable behaviour? He says something like "The situation you're prepared to just walk by is the situation you're prepared to accept". .

Russell | 13 August 2015  

In case anyone didn't see that speech by Morrison, it's well worth a look .... not a man you'd want to cross! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaqpoeVgr8U

Russell | 13 August 2015  

Fr Brennan, in no way did I intend to suggest that you are bigotted or homophobic, but I was reflecting on why there's still something missing that I'm not getting - which is why I'm not convinced (but maybe sitting on the fence). It is becoming increasingly obvious that the public perception of morality is based on seeing this as a justice/equality issue – and I'm starting to see why. Obviously if we create these four new counter legislation measures to protect religious freedoms, there is an expectation that the laws must be upheld and implemented, and this could have the unintended purposes of a witchhunt mentality where everyone's focussing on the divisions rather than just accepting people which I believe most Catholics have in their good nature to do. Trying to uphold this nuanced distinction between justice/equality and Catholic teaching on sexuality morality just isn't cutting it. I understand the teachings in theory, but deep inside I still believe that there's a huge flaw in the church's understanding of sexuality. The publicly pretended code of morals, our social organisations, our marriage customs, our sex laws, and our educational and religious systems are based on the assumption that individuals are much alike sexually, and that it is an equally simple matter for all of them to confine their behaviour to the single pattern which the mores dictate. I don't have the answer, but the only thing I am certain of is that "Some people are gay." God created them. Unless we are prepared to go back to the bad ol' days of criminalising homosexuality, then I think it's all or nothing as far as the law - and in my view morality, ethics - is concerned.

AURELIUS | 13 August 2015  

These four points might be seen as cynically using the legal tactics of Big Tobacco and Big Asbestos to delay, delay, delay and obfuscate until the plaintiffs go to meet their maker. Seems Big Religion wants to do the same thing. Well, same sex couples are not going away. None of the four points are specifically about marriage equality and we don’t ask them for any other marriage but hey, lets have the discussion even if most people have already made up their minds. I can’t see the point of spending millions for a plebiscite or referendum. We aren’t talking Constitutional change here and the Commonwealth already has the power to make it happen. A cynic might think it is all about delaying the inevitable and creating fear where none should exist, but surely Tony Abbott would never do that. Happy to discuss.

Brett | 13 August 2015  

Hi Frank, This is a little off topic but something I feel has not been answered by the Catholic Church to the best of my knowledge. Who can people born with both female and male reproductive organs marry? Also, I found some of your points to be a bit precious. Especially the point about people in aged-care facilities being confronted by same sex couples. I can see you care about eradicating homophobia but I also get the feeling you care about offending conservatives within the Church. Catholic teachings on marriage will have to change or it will continue to be a symbol of homophobia.

Leigh | 13 August 2015  

Frank, your statement that you "have accepted the inevitability that civil marriage in Australia will ultimately be redefined to include same sex couples", whilst gracious, seems to be somewhat inadequate in circumstances where people of different sexuality given them by God merely want the sort of acceptance given to others in society. The question that I think needs to be faced very directly is whether people of different sexuality should be included in the love that Jesus told us to have for everyone. Personally, I feel an obligation not to discriminate in this matter. You seem to be reversing the discrimination argument to worry about people who reject same sex civil marriage being disadvantaged/discriminated against? I certainly agree with you about the need for "respectful conversation acknowledging the yearning of those who crave benign acceptance of their most loving commitments and of those who cherish religious freedom", but I don't think religious freedom should extend to discrimination against people who have been born sexually different.

Peter Johnstone | 13 August 2015  

Aurelius.' "Some people are gay." God created them.' True. All people are, however, flawed in some way which might suggest that God somehow made a mess of things. We do know, however, that many imperfections such as mental retardation or cerebral palsy in a child is acquired through identifiable disease in the foetus. God did not create that child's imperfection. We also know that imperfections of various dimensions are acquired through environmental influences particularly in the disorders associated with psychological development. The available evidence, based on volumes of ongoing research, indicates that people are not born gay but acquire their genuine sexual orientation through external, not inherent, factors. There has never been an identifiable, inherent determinator of homosexual preference or orientation. Some external agent, not God, is responsible, just as God is not responsible for the death of an innocent, run down and killed by a dangerous drunken driver. I know I'm in trouble now, Aurelius, after this little bit of scientific truth !!!!

john frawley | 13 August 2015  

You’re obviously a bit sensitive, Frank, to criticism that you perceive to be ‘gratuitous’ and ‘ad hominen’. Well so be it. Your proposal to make the removal of discrimination conditional on your four unrelated points is just as offensive to many of us as the proposal by Abbott’s et al to ‘put it to the people’. While your proposal is couched in careful argument, and Abbott’s is just plain political bastardry, the objectives and the outcomes would be no different. You opine that ‘the benefits of [I think you meant to] everyone including same sex couples and their children can be enhanced by addressing the four issues I have raised’. Do you realise how gratuitous and condescending that sounds to people who have been accused (not by you, but by others in the Church and on this discussion) of everything from being sinners to physically and mentally disordered, especially when that comes from a person who has renounced any sort of committed inter-dependent sexual relationship? Have you considered that many of us are sick and tired of being told what’s good for us, sick and tired of being treated as children?

Ginger Meggs | 13 August 2015  

Part I: F.B.: “Given the increasing number of children being brought up by same sex couples, it is desirable that the state take away any social stigma against same sex parents.” H.H.: Given the increasing number of children being deprived of their in-principle right to be brought up by their biological parents (by same sex couples and others), and conversely the shirking in increasing numbers by biological parents of their obligations to their offspring, it is desirable that the state reverse the avenues to this attack on children, by, inter alia, criminalizing donor conception and surrogacy. F.B.:“Given the ageing population, the state has an interest in recognising and protecting long term relationships of same sex couples who care for each other.” H.H.: Given the ageing population, the state has a huge interest in addressing the root causes of this disastrous and totally self-inflicted trend. This would entail: 1. Repealing no-fault divorce legislation, and re-establishing adultery and infidelity as serious breaches of a solemn contract, with appropriate penalties. 2. Recognising the dignity of human life from the moment of its conception. Thus: outlawing direct abortion for any reason whatsoever, including abortifacient contraceptives (This includes IVF, which routinely involves killing small vulnerable humans); nudging the community away from artificial contraception - E.g., removing non-medically-indicated contraceptive drugs from state funding. 3. Nudging the community away from all extra-marital sex and fornication, a key factor in the rise of STDs and consequent infertility. (So eliminating pornographic material, at least from government-owned media.) 4. Reinforcing the ancient but intuitively sound concept that, just as parents have serious obligations to raise and care for their offspring, children in turn have obligations to care for those who brought them into the world and raised them. So, phasing out state activities and subsidies which effectively discourage or crowd out this mutuality. 5. Dispelling any idea that usurping the traditional notion of marriage and the family through the normalization of rival models will somehow solve the ageing population problem rather than throwing petrol onto the fire.

HH | 13 August 2015  

John Frawley, your final remark that "you know are in trouble" seems to belie your true feelings on this issue. I could have said "Most people are heterosexual. God created them." And to me heterosexuality seems flawed, but I don't blame God or nature or nurture for that . I'm not quoting scientific evidence because I have over four decades of lived experience that is quite a good "experiement in reality" at least. I'm frankly exhausted with ignorance on this issue and wish you all the best.

AURELIUS | 13 August 2015  

II F.B.:“Given the harmful effects of homophobia, it has an interest in encouraging broad community acceptance of those members who are homosexual.” Given the harmful medical effects of many unnatural sexual acts, not least those of “gays”, the state has an interest in warning of these effects and discouraging such behaviour (as it does re. smoking, gambling, hard drugs, drink driving, etc). For a start, the state should remove taxpayer-funded health insurance for all these behaviours, and any subsidies to organizations which promote them (e.g. the Mardi Gras). Of course, any attacks on the right to life or property of people due to their sexual orientation should be punished as criminal acts, regardless of the motive. Further, the state should keep a watch out for organizations within the community manifesting their homophobia by calling for or approving of the execution of homosexuals by, say, dropping them from tall buildings or hanging them from cranes. Naturally, applications from prospective immigrants manifesting such attitudes should be summarily rejected.

HH | 13 August 2015  

I feel sad to have to say on reading the above, that if I simply insert, for example, "mixed race marriage" where I read " same sex marriage", discrimination whilst denied, to me becomes very clear; All people are equal under God, full stop! No special requirements/ treatment by church or law based on gender, race or sexuality, The End!

Nicki | 13 August 2015  

Nicki All people equal! How about differences in intelligence;physical prowess etc? Pedophiles are not equal to sexually mature.

Father John George | 13 August 2015  

John Frawley, you are not in trouble. You speak the truth, people are not born homosexual. It is the new slogan that homosexual use today. Prior to 1978 the slogan was, it is our right to be homosexuals. Then homosexuals in San Francisco organised an International Conference around 1978, to promote and expand the homosexual life style, and invited the media to attend the Conference. English speaking and some northern European homosexuals attended the International Conference. None from Africa, Asia, Southern Europe, and South America. The Leaders at the Conference strongly supported the Slogan (It is our right). As the media was present, they allowed free speech, to express their views or move a motion. Well a quiet spoken doctor moved a motion to change their slogan and replace it with (people are born homosexuals). He explained that the previous slogan did not work as very rich families disown their children, there is no sympathy for them, and the churches had no compassion for them. But if they are born like that, mothers would wonder if it was their fault when they were pregnant, fathers would stop disowning the children. John Frawley you are right, they are not born homosexuals.

Ron Cini | 14 August 2015  

Reading the comments on this article shows me how bitterly divided we are as a nation on this issue. I have a feeling, whatever eventuates, there will be winners and losers and great residual bitterness. I wish we, as a nation, could decide these matters the way Quakers do. Sadly, this is not going to be the case.

Edward Fido | 14 August 2015  

With the plethora of comments about marriage equality I am surprised that no one has questioned the institution of marriage itself. These days, in Australia at least, it seems that getting married or not is a matter of personal choice whether there are children involved or not. If one kept this in mind various problems would disappear. I am not convinced 'morality' comes into it.

rosemary west | 14 August 2015  

Seems to me from this discussion (or reinforcement of existing views) there can be absolutely no objection to the state sanctioned marriage of an atheistic or even agnostic same sex couple that wants nothing to do with religious groups, does not want to raise children and doesn't want to use the services of a bigoted baker, florist, wedding singer or hire car company. Well, that's a starting point of sorts I suppose. Happy to discuss.

Brett | 14 August 2015  

What do the children of gay couples think? http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-12/interview-katy-faust-who-serves-on-the-academic/6693296

Katy | 14 August 2015  

Why does it matter to you Ron Cini whether another person was 'born homosexual' or 'chose homosexuality'? What are you frightened of? That it might be catching? Or that you might not be able to cope with his or her 'otherness'? There are far greater threats to the health and well-being of our society than same-sex marriage about.

Ginger Meggs | 14 August 2015  

The real issue with same-sex parenting from a child's perspective. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-12/interview-katy-faust-who-serves-on-the-academic/6693296

Millie | 14 August 2015  

Another year or more of this on the blogosphere and in the media as the country prepares for a plebiscite, as well as an election, as well as a referendum on Indigenous recognition. Surely it would be better for all of us if there were to be a free vote on the issue in Parliament.

Frank Brennan SJ | 14 August 2015  

Father Frank, I could not disagree with you more strongly. I cannot speak for others but I did not vote for my member of parliament based on what his conscience dictated to him with regard to same-sex marriage. This issue is a very specific issue that looks to fundamentally alter our understanding of one of the bedrocks of our society. As such, it should not be left to the consciences of parliamentarians. There is no guarantee whatsoever that the majority of their consciences would accurately represent the majority of the rest of the population. This should be decided by a means that is as close to a direct vote of the Australian people as possible. If that's by a plebiscite, then so be it.

Vincent Wilde | 14 August 2015  

On the matter of the care and nurturing of children by adults who are not the genetic parents of a child, this debate must concede that, quite apart from the sexual practices of those nurturing adults, many unmarried persons in civil relationships and married adoptive parents who can't conceive a child who raise children do a magnificent job, and some married persons do a disastrous job. The very nature of sexuality in procreating human life, however, is such that children who develop in a bisexual nurturing environment will be exposed to those environmental factors which acquaint them with both sexes and their differences (genetically determined and called gender) and a clearly defined orientation of what gender means. This is not the case for the vast majority of children gaining the environmental impact on their psychological sexual development in a same sex nurturing life style which openly expresses antagonism to the true nature of gender and its male/female essential differences or promotes homosexuality as a norm of human development. We have yet to see the definitive studies of the eventual outcome for such children despite the promoted, unproved opinions from the pro-homosexual lobbies. To those homosexual political activists and lobbyists who promote the mantra of genetic normality for homosexuality, created by God, (as in PJ' s post above) I suggest that their daily prayer should be that a genetic mutation (which is the accepted likelihood for any genetic determination of sexual preference amongst the scientists researching this vexing question) is never discovered for sexual orientation since if that does happen, homosexuality will be classified as an aberration or abnormality requiring correction if possible. And that would really upset the apple cart !!

john frawley | 14 August 2015  

Interesting comment John Frawley and if we are yet to see definitive studies of the type you refer to, then it would also be too soon to draw the conclusions you are drawing. I agree the quality of parenting depends on the quality of parents, which includes everything in their makeup. I would hate to see children of same-sex parents grow up with antagonism towards heterosexuality, just as I would hate to see the children of heterosexual parents grow up with homophobic antagonisms gained from their parents. The best interests of the child should always come first and society has to trust all parents to be responsible in the raising of their children to the point where they can make their own decisions in life, and even after that as they morph into grandparenthood. Some do it better than others and that has always been the case. You don’t seem to have these concerns about natural parents, adoptive heterosexual parents or single parents but for some reason you don’t trust same-sex parents with this responsibility. I should add this discussion is not really relevant to marriage equality as same-sex couples can already raise children, but it would be nice for the kids if their parents could marry.

Brett | 14 August 2015  

Hi Brett, happy to discuss, but first I note you've yet to supply the argument that, because someone takes an opposing stance to you on same sex marriage, they’re not only in error: they must ipso facto be bigoted as well. Now to your case. A question: of what relevance is the couple being atheistic or agnostic? The Church recognizes the validity of a marriage between atheists, agnostics, communists, whatever, as long as the conditions for marriage are met. Sure, they wouldn’t be sacramental marriages, but they’re valid natural law marriages. No, the impediments in this proposed case are the couple’s manifest refusal to beget children, and the fact that they’re same-sex – which as it were doubles down on that refusal. The state has an interest in marriage because the state has an interest in society regenerating itself. Traditional marriage and the family it is ordered to (via natural sexual intercourse) is the natural institution ordained to procreation, and thus the continued existence of society. When I say “natural” I mean something the state can’t intefere with without going beyond power. Cf the natural right to life and property, or the natural right of a child to be brought up by her biological parents and the natural obligation of parents to raise their children. That is why on many statute books even today sexual impotence (inability to perform the marital act) renders a marriage void or voidable. Now look at this sentence: “The state has an interest in marriage being understood to including the union of a couple who vow never to have children and who can’t perform the reproductive act together anyway, because the state has an interest in society regenerating itself.” Does that even begin to make sense? (N.B. This is one more reason Fr Frank’s argument above about old people looking after each other justifies calling same sex unions “marriage” is wrong: EVEN IF the state had an interest in old same sex couples looking after each other rather than being alone, this is NOT the reason why the state has an interest in traditional marriage – which is, the propagation of society into the future.) Once the traditional definition of marriage is abandoned, there’s nothing to stop marriage being defined in any way society chooses – threesomes, incestuous relations, open marriages, temporary affiliations, polygamy, polyandry, or the stick of chewing gum I have in my right pocket. So over to you: why the “2” fetish? Why a “couple”? Why are you such a bigot against threesomes? Is there some hangover from the “2” in traditional marriage which you’re not yet liberated from? And why not, say, brother – sister of father daughter couples where there's genuine love? I mean, we have contraception and abortion if conception occurs, no? Or, better, we could slightly delay the abortion and give their offspring a chance and let it live to be born; if it turned out a bit deformed or unpleasant to the eye, we could kill it after birth and maybe even as a bonus, take up the example of our Planned Parenthood friends and profit from the harvest of any useful organs. Winners all round, I say.

HH | 14 August 2015  

Thanks for the reply Double H and I’m glad the 200 word limit is flexible! I do think people who don’t agree with me on this issue are in error. I’m sure others feel the same about me. But I’ve checked my other posts and I have not called them bigots, ipso facto or otherwise, or any other derogatory name. My reference to bigoted florists et al did not include all florists et al who opposed marriage equality, but you are welcome to read it that way unless you are saying none of them are bigots (yes, I know, one extreme or the other). The only relevance of atheist-agnostic is to have someone less likely to be married in a church, but I take your point that it is discriminatory and open it out to include any same-sex couple not wanting a church wedding, regardless of their beliefs (or lack of). I didn’t mention refusal to beget children – they are your words. My same-sex couple simply did not want children. Kids don’t come into the equation for them but there are plenty of heterosexual marriages without children.

Brett | 14 August 2015  

Part 2. Double H, I'm not sure about your problem with “old people” getting married. I think it’s great if two seniors find happiness together later in life and want to tie the knot. Good on them, even if they are past having kids. If the institution of marriage cannot contemplate people getting married for companionship then that is another reason for the institution of marriage to change, n’est pas? Now, to your flight of fancy about my bigotry against other relationships not currently under discussion. My interest is with equality for mature adult couples in a loving, faithful, mutually supportive relationship who want to be married, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation and who are doing no harm to other people. Some of your examples do not concern me – live and let live as the libertarians say; others are just ridiculous. But I will leave it to others to argue the case for or against them. Does that make me a bigot? Maybe in some eyes but I hope not. I think my modified point still stands – if none of Frank’s four points apply to a same-sex couple wanting to marry, there should be no opposition to that marriage happening. Still happy to discuss. PS sorry for the “n’est pas” – ipso facto too pretentious for my own good.

Brett | 14 August 2015  

Frank Brennan's argument is far too nuanced. Either the church fully accepts gays and lesbians or it does not. At the moment it does not. To argue over the circumstances in which gays and lesbians might be partially accepted (I.e those who don't marry) is quite pointless - like trying to work out how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin. I hope that one day the church might accept gays and lesbians as fully human and fully part of the church, although I doubt if this will happen any time soon.

Gavin Pilz | 14 August 2015  

Will the site administrator allow me to say that this is the most unpleasant discussion I've ever seen on Eureka Street? A civil, nuanced and respectful opinion was expressed in the original article - after that it was mainly downhill. Anger, contempt and sheer inability to listen to each other - surely we don't have to go the way of other Catholic discussion boards (that shall be nameless because I wouldn't get away with naming them)?

Joan Seymour | 14 August 2015  

"Once the traditional definition of marriage is abandoned, there’s nothing to stop marriage being defined in any way society chooses ". How else should the laws of the country be made? Are you suggesting a theocracy might be better than democracy?

Russell | 14 August 2015  

Fr Brennan, it appears you are engaging in the same "ad hominem" tactic you accused me of with your comment about the blogosphere. I'm not sure what the latin term would be for an "ad-blogosphere" argument. We could all make the same complaint about the tomfoolery and Dorothy Dixery in our federal parliament, I guess, but some of us have to be content with blogging.

AURELIUS | 14 August 2015  

John Frawley, I have never seen or read any reference to a "genetic" proof of homosexuality in what you refer to as the homosexual lobby/community. If homosexuality were genetic, then the human race would be extinct by now. But the scientists now regard homosexual as a "normal variant" minority. Throughout history this "variation" has been interpreted the same you have described in your previous comments as a "flaw" or "mental illness" in the same way Sigmund Freud did (who ironically also regarded religious belief as a symptom of mental illness).

AURELIUS | 14 August 2015  

HH writes: “The Church recognizes the validity of a marriage between atheists, agnostics, communists, whatever…….. they wouldn’t be sacramental marriages, but they’re valid natural law marriages.” A. Here is the first inconsistency in Church teaching on marriage, for if marriage is a sacrament (aka instrument of grace by action of the ministers, the bride and groom), then all natural marriages must be, whether witnessed by a Church or not. Sitting awkwardly alongside the second inconsistency in Church politics on the same sex marriage controversy, for if only Church-witnessed marriage ceremonies establish sacramental marriage, then it can have no jurisdiction or coherent interest in non-sacramental ceremonies. “The state has an interest in marriage because the state has an interest in society regenerating itself.” [HH again] A. Yes, but this does not exhaust the state’s interest because regenerating society is not possible in every marriage. Thus marriage is not identical with regenerative unions. “Once the traditional definition of marriage is abandoned, there’s nothing to stop marriage being defined in any way society chooses – threesomes, incestuous relations, open marriages, temporary affiliations, polygamy, polyandry, or the stick of chewing gum I have in my right pocket.” [HH again] A. Yes - barring the silly remark about chewing gum – that is correct. The civil law can define marriage in many ways.

SMK | 14 August 2015  

I have listened to the anguish of both sides of this debate. There is deep antagonistic belief on both sides and we have to navigate our way through that. A satisfactory outcome cannot be totally satisfactory for everyone, but must address the deepest concerns of both. On one side I see a desire for same sex union to be given equal status to heterosexual union, on the other I see recognition that the two are are different and there must be some ability to treat them differently where this difference matters. There is real concern that marriage equality will attract 'discrimination ' accusation when discussion or action is taken because of these differences. A possible framework for progress is to do away with the Marriage Act altogether, and replace it with an Arriage act in which reference to male and female are replaced by reference to two people. A preamble would then define marriage as being Arriage between male and female, and same sex Arriage(perhaps Ssarriage) as being Arriage between two people of the same sex. Thus Marriage and Sarriage are given equal status, but adoption agencies can still consider this in assessing potential parents and people can be protected from having to do things they don't believe in.

John | 15 August 2015  

Why support a conscience vote, Frank? Wouldn't Democracy be better served by each Parliamentarian's vote being an attempt to represent the majority position of their electorate, rather than their own personal view?

Cameron Gaffney | 15 August 2015  

I always take great interest in your views because for most part they are reasoned, intelligent and beyond reproach. In this instance you failed (in my opinion) to answer a fundamental question. Is a same sex relationship / marriage in the eyes of the church sinful or isn't it? If the Church considers it sinful then it shouldn't be supporting the consolation prize of civil recognition of such unions. Period. But if, as Pope Francis says "who am I to judge?" then we owe our gay brothers and sisters as significant an apology for diminishing their humanity in much the same way as we did the stolen generations.

James | 15 August 2015  

Sorry, but the assurances will be ignored and even if given they will soon be ignored! You advocate discriminating against classes of 'married' persons ... can't see you winning that argument. Result: Religious clergy will be prosecuted to the hilt for discrimination!!!! Solution, clergy resign from being marriage celebrants and only perform religious weddings! And society is turned on it's head for what good purpose???

Peter M | 15 August 2015  

"There is deep antagonistic belief on both sides and we have to navigate our way through that". Not necessarily, we can just wait and change will happen. The Catholic Church will lose. They've been losing this particular battle for a long time. People my age can remember when homosexuality was being decriminalised - how the Church howled about that. The people now arguing against marriage equality are the same ones who wanted homosexuals in gaol. Homosexuals beaten up, sacked from jobs, driven to suicide. But the Church lost that battle and they will lose the war. Progress doesn't happen all at once. They got rid of slavery in the U.S. but it took some states another hundred years to allow blacks to marry whites -- but it did happen. I don't feel like giving any ground to the opponents of marriage equality, and after so many years/centuries of abuse from them, I will only have to wait a little longer to see progress take another step.

Russell | 15 August 2015  

James, In your question "Is the same sex relationship sinful or not?", you have had the courage to hit the nail on the head. It is not very trendy to talk of wrongdoing or sin anymore and in posing the question you run the risk of being classified as some sort of misguided God botherer or intellectually bereft poor soul. The answer to your question is, however, very simple. Any use of the instrument of creation of human life, sexual intercourse, outside the sacramental institution of marriage is immoral (read sinful) in Catholic teaching. Such is not a discriminatory teaching since it includes the immorality of sexual intercourse outside marriage regardless of whether the act is between hetero- or homosexual adults, adults and innocent children or indeed between a human being and any other species. Now such virtue can never be accepted in this progressive self-indulgent world - to accept that teaching would be retrogressive in the view of so many and tramples on the "right" to whatever indulgence a person might choose to entertain. And we wonder why the world is so messed up and treats so many human beings so appallingly !!!! I find myself these days wondering what on Earth is wrong with virtue and goodness compared with the human distress we live with in this society every day because of a profligate self-indulgent lifestyle. After this post, James, I will now almost certainly be classified as some sad, intellectually bereft poor soul - I thankfully, however, know what my various bits are for and recognise why the Catholic Church defines marriage as it does !!!!

john frawley | 16 August 2015  

Hey Russel, you're right: ""Once the traditional definition of marriage is abandoned, there’s nothing to stop marriage being defined in any way society chooses ". I suggest an end all marriage discrimination and being consistent with your rationality may I suggest the following definition: "Marriage can be between one consenting person to any number of other persons." Have I covered the field??? However I was 'married' under the traditional definition and if that definition was changed then I would feel that I could not be married under such definition and would in all good conscience seek a civil divorce! I guess that is called progress.

Peter M | 16 August 2015  

To Russell and other advocates to change the traditional definition of marriage, I hope you every success your aspirations. There would be no stigma is getting a civil divorce under a definition of marriage that I would find offensive and guess what? The Aged Pension for a Married Couple is just $648.40 each but for Singles it's $860.20. When you change the definition of marriage I can, in good conscience, get a divorce and be single once more and get a pay increase thanks to the tax payers who voted for this change! Role on progress!!!! There really is a silver lining in every dark cloud!!! Russ and Co, you have changed my mind, I'm voting the change!!!

Peter RJ | 16 August 2015  

Russell: “How else should the laws of the country be made? Are you suggesting a theocracy might be better than democracy?” Well, those are two different questions, Russell. The second question – what regime is best to make the laws, democracy, theocracy, etc ? – was not what I was addressing above; you could substitute for “society” in my sentence above words such as “the lawmakers, whoever they are” and what I meant would be retained. To the first question – “How, or, by what means, should any given regime use to make good laws about marriage for a country?” – I was implicitly answering: “reason”, because law is “an ordering of reason for the common good”. Thus: each of the elements (man & woman, exclusive, for life etc) of traditional marriage are essential to its end, which is the procreation and raising of a flourishing natural family. Abandon any given element and the end cannot be reached, and thus the rationale for the lawmakers (theocrats, democrats, lone dictators, whoever) retaining any or all the other elements is also lost. Any ensuing marriage-defining law will be arbitrary, unreasonable, a bad law, not conducive to the common good. To those above who judge it “ridiculous” or “silly” to argue that, absent the complete traditional concept of marriage, marriage could be defined as the stick of gum in my pocket, I say, “Prove it: Provide a rational – non-arbitrary – account of the institution of marriage which includes abandons the opposite sex element of the traditional account but retains some or all of the others.” Over to you, Russell, Brett, SMK, et al.

HH | 17 August 2015  

Spot on, John Frawley and James. Homosexual acts, like all completed sexual acts beyond natural sexual intercourse between married couples are, as the Church teaches, seriously disordered, and do not lead to human flourishing in this life or the next. This means that for a Catholic, to support same-sex marriage is itself either a homophobic act, or at least an act inimical to the flourishing of those with homosexual inclinations. Fr Frank wants to counter homophobia. Yet, 1. Fr Frank is a professed Catholic and 2. Fr Frank supports same sex marriage. Square that circle.

HH | 17 August 2015  

John Frawley, you have hit the nail on the head. But I would like to know why the Catholic Church still allows heterosexual couple to marry who have engaged in pre-marital intercourse. Surely if their relationship is already tainted by immoral acts, and may even have used contraception, why are they eligible to then consecrate their sinful relationship?

AURELIUS | 17 August 2015  

"Provide a rational – non-arbitrary – account of the institution of marriage ..." Yes, you can find it in the Marriage Act and the Amendment Bill presented in Parliament today - the Amendment says marriage "means the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life" ... ". Omit “a husband and wife”, substitute “2 people”." That's it - otherwise pretty much the same as it was. And, by the way, referring to your remark: "the state should keep a watch out for organizations within the community manifesting their homophobia by calling for or approving of the execution of homosexuals by, say, dropping them from tall buildings or hanging them from cranes". you might consider how witty that would sound if we were commenting on Frank Brennan's article about the constitutional recognition of Indigenous people and someone had commented: "the state should keep a watch out for organizations within the community manifesting their racism by calling for or approving of the execution of Aborigines by, say, dropping them from tall buildings or hanging them from cranes"

Russell | 17 August 2015  

Peter RJ - you might need to be better informed if you think that you could live with your ex-wife and both of you claim a single pension. You will be a de facto couple and getting the married rate. Peter M the current definition of marriage lets 98% of the population marry, the change will allow 100%, if that doesn't suit you, by all means get a divorce - if you don't want it, it isn't for you. Do you think many people will join you?

Russell | 17 August 2015  

Aurelius, I have one explanation. It's the same reason "single" teachers at Catholic schools can go on teaching there, and sleep with whoever they like. You can do what you like, as long as you say what they want you to say. It's a power thing - you acknowledge their authority to sanction your marriage or decide your sexual activity. It generates a whole lot of hypocrisy, and kids see through it quite early on. Another reason so many people leave the Church.

Russell | 17 August 2015  

To the two Peters, M and RJ, leaving aside any thought you may both be tongue-in-cheek, I’ll take your comments at face value. You both make the point that when marriage equality is legislated you will, in good conscience in both cases (funny that), get a divorce. It’s your right to do that if it is what you really want, but it speaks volumes for your love and respect for your wife if you are so willing to end what should be a permanent, loving, mature, mutually supportive relationship that you presumably entered into freely, for a reason that has no impact at all on your own personal relationships. It is your right to divorce your wives, it just seems strange to me that you would treat your marriages and your wives in such a bizarre, disrespectful way, while at the same time denying same sex couples to whom marriage means so much the right or opportunity to have their relationships recognised as marriage.

Brett | 17 August 2015  

Russell, 1. Right, so the best reasoned defence you can mount as to why the marriage definition should be expanded to include same sex unions but should be limited to couples is: that someone else thinks the same way and has introduced a Bill to that effect? 2. I've no idea what you're talking about re. calls for executing indigenous people. I damn well hope the state would jump on that, as I hope it would jump on those calling for the execution of those with same-sex attractions.

HH | 17 August 2015  

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-17/gay-couple-want-right-to-marry-before-they-die/6703756 Seems cruel not to let it happen.

Brett | 17 August 2015  

I liked the Traditional Catholic game of Marriage so much that I decided some 40 years ago to play the game and joined the Catholic Marriage Club. In those days when you joined the Catholic Marriage Club there was complimentary membership to a less significant and superfluous Civil Marriage Club which was an optional extra.

Over those 40 years I have had no reason to question membership rules to either club. However, just recently, those who are ineligible to play the Traditional Marriage game are agitating to change the Civil Marriage Club rules because they don't like those rules and seek to change the rules with the intent to destroy the Traditional Marriage game. If such Civil Marriage game rules change as proposed then I no longer wish be a part of that Civil Marriage club and play under those rules. I think I have a right to do that.

But unlike most sports clubs, civil membership is not renewed each year as such membership is on going with just one membership application and fee.

No harm done as I can still play the Traditional Marriage game as a member of the Catholic Marriage Club and merely resign (aka get a civil divorce) from the ('no longer' Traditional) Civil Marriage Club.

Surely membership to the proposed new Civil Marriage Club is not compulsory to those who wish to play the Traditional Marriage game?

How illogical is it to conclude that I don't like and disrespect my Traditional Marriage spouse if I remain a member of the Catholic Marriage Club, which was my original commitment, and merely resign from the inferior none binding Membership to the (no longer Traditional) Civil Marriage Club?

Peter RJ | 18 August 2015  

OK, I challenged ssm defenders here to argue rationally for a definition of marriage which non-arbitrarily includes ss couples, yet excludes other non-traditional arrangements (polyamory, incest relationships, etc). One of my frequent sparring partners on this blog has chosen to "leave it to others", while another has stepped up to provide a definition but, erhem, no actual reasoned defence whatsoever. Are we to conclude that, despite all the accusations and moralisings of its advocates, there is in fact no robust, rationally defensible account of couple-only ssm out there? That ssm advocacy is a faith-based enterprise?

HH | 18 August 2015  

"someone else thinks the same way " - no, not someone, but most people think that way. Just like we changed family law to have no-fault divorce - no longer does someone have to be to blame. As a community most people have changed their minds about marriage and so the law is going to be changed, in a small way, to reflect that. I don't know what marriage will be in 100 years but I guess it will be whatever suits people at that time. I doubt that it will include people marrying a stick of chewing gum, or four other people because that would be a very, very big change to our present legal concept of marriage and all the precedent law that's been built up over the years. But who knows? we won't.

Russell | 18 August 2015  

" the intent to destroy the Traditional Marriage game". On the contrary gay people want to join the traditional marriage game. No one is arguing that you should stay married if you want to divorce - go ahead - but please think of the children. Will they be happy with unmarried parents? Are you sure you'll feel comfortable when the respectably married gay couple next door refer to you as their de-facto neighbours?

Russell | 18 August 2015  

Logic might be on your side Peter RJ if your comment was accurate. Your civil marriage club is the legally binding marriage and the required marriage. Whatever religious arrangement you have is between you, your wife, the church and God. Regardless of how you regard your religious marriage, if you and your wife end your traditional legal marriage you will both be in the divorce club. Your marriage will be over in the eyes of the state notwithstanding what the church might think. Last I heard the Catholic church does not exactly smile on divorce, although churches I know are more accepting these days so you and your ex-wife probably won’t get as hard a time as you would have a few decades ago. You and your ex, if still living together will also be in the “de-facto” club, what the church used to call the “living in sin” club. But don’t let that stop you, go do it, I’ve said twice it’s your right to divorce if you want. It’s just a shame you don’t want same-sex couples to have what you’re prepared to give up.

Brett | 18 August 2015  

"On the contrary gay people want to join the traditional marriage game." Russell, are you fair dinkum? Gay people, if they want to join the traditional marriage game then they have to marry a person of the opposite sex! I am sure that you don't advocate that do you? No, you want to destroy the grund rules of a traditional marriage and redefine marriage to mean something else other than it's traditional meaning. When you are successful then I want to opt out of that institution.

Peter RJ | 18 August 2015  

HH writes: all completed sexual acts beyond natural sexual intercourse between married couples are, as the Church teaches, seriously disordered, and do not lead to human flourishing in this life or the next. [A. An assertion. A use of code words. What do you mean by flourishing? - Note, there may be reasons why homosexual acts are less good than heterosexual acts, or unmarried acts less good than married acts, but this does not demonstrate either.] HH writes: law is “an ordering of reason for the common good”. [A. An obscure abstraction.] HH writes: Thus: each of the elements …. of traditional marriage are essential to its end, ….. the procreation and raising of a flourishing natural family.[ A. First error is to equate “traditional” marriage with this definition. “Traditional” marriage is code for one model of marriage. Others achieve these ends. ] HH writes: Abandon any given element and the end cannot be reached [A. Not empirically true, see above] and thus the rationale for the lawmakers …….retaining any or all the other elements is also lost. [A. clearly not, given the preceding]. Any ensuing marriage-defining law will be arbitrary, unreasonable, a bad law, not conducive to the common good. [A. An assertion, not proven]. HH writes: Provide a rational – non-arbitrary – account of the institution of marriage which includes abandons the opposite sex element of the traditional account but retains some or all of the others.” [A. Marriage is the act and social fact of a committed person-to-person relationship, publically acclaimed, creating a stable environment for the nurturing of the young abandoned or needful of such environment not otherwise obtainable.]. I do not say, necessarily, that a law permitting same-sex marriage would be a good thing for society, but you, HH, have failed so far to show that it would not.

SMK | 19 August 2015  

“... most people think that way.” [pro-ssm: HH] Some, most, all … forget the bean-counting, Russell. Most U.S. Southern State whites held black slavery to be fine once. Does it follow that the rights of their negro slaves weren’t being ignored then? History shows that majorities and indeed whole cultures can get important things seriously wrong. The only way we can lift ourselves above the herd to see things as they really are is to use our power of reason. So, are you and the current majority right on ssm, or, like those Southern whites, are you labouring under error? You and your colleagues have provided no rationally defensible concept of marriage in support of your position. The signs are not good.

HH | 20 August 2015  

No, not comparable with majority support for slavery. The issue of homosexuality has, like the position of many other minorities, been constantly reconsidered these last 50 years (decriminalisation, anti-discrimination, age of consent, adoption, same-sex marriage) with most of the population changing its mind / attitude as they are forced to think about the issue and confront the reality of homosexual lives. The principles they are being asked to consider are equality, fairness, justice, compassion - these are driving progress. The support for SSM is based on reason - that people decide what a fair and just marriage contract is, for individuals and for all of the community, and who it applies to. The other position is based on prejudice or faith, not reason.

Russell | 20 August 2015  

Twisted analogy Double H but since you raised it, the abolition of slavery gave legal freedom to the ex-slaves to live on the same terms as others in society. The community got it seriously wrong with slavery. The community got it seriously wrong when gays could be arrested or worse. The de-criminalisation of homosexuality is more in line with the abolition of slavery, although I’m sure nitpickers will find fault with the analogy. Slaves could not marry without the permission of their owners. Emancipation meant ex-slaves could marry freely. Same sex couples are seeking no more than what is already available to heterosexual couples in the community – the opportunity to marry. It is not an unreasonable objective.

Brett | 20 August 2015  

Russell, I'll say it again: If you can't reasonably defend a concept of marriage, you can't can't say why ssm is justified under that definition. You also can't demonstrate that the current majority's concept of marriage is reasonable or that previous majority concepts were unreasonable. You have nothing reasonable to appeal to. It's just a leap of faith.

HH | 20 August 2015  

Shirley 12. August. Love your train of thought. All we need to do is redefined the word 'black' to mean "white" then discrimination based upon the colour of a person's skin would cease overnight!!!! Who in their right mind would oppose the ending of discrimination by the colour of a person's skin. And what's wrong with redefining marriage to mean, "The Union of one person with others"???? A lot I would think?

Peter RJ | 20 August 2015  

The (now) majority view of what marriage is, is perfectly reasonable. But the reason is founded on values - Christian and Enlightenment values: equality, justice, fairness. I'm not sure what values your reasonable concept of marriage is built on.

Russell | 21 August 2015  

I had a debate in a newspaper comments section about same-sex marriage where I proposed seven questions to understand the views of proponents of the change to the definition of marriage. All questions were in regards to the meaning of the terms "to the exclusion of all others" and "for life" as contained in the Marriage Act. It was clear from their answers that neither or these terms had any true or permanent meaning. The "exclusion of all others" was up for negotiation, as was "for life" if it was trumped by something deemed more important to future happiness. To want to hold people to such conditions was just my religious bigotry and heterosexual hypocrisy. So all of this huge effort is focussed on making marriage simply refer to "the voluntary union of a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman". Yeah sure, the other parts are in the definition too, but we know they are just for show, like the white wedding dress. Concern anyone? Rather than focus on Fr Brennan's four conditions, shouldn't we be trying to address this fundamental and complete ignorance of the full meaning as set down in Law?

Andrew | 21 August 2015  

So, Russell, your concept of marriage is reasonable because ... it just is. No explanation necessary. "But why does it exclude threesomes? Isn't that unfair?" No, because limiting it to two is reasonable and fair. It just is. Well, as of 21 August 2015, anyway. Threesome marriages might be fair and reasonable a few years down the track. And then limiting it to two will be unjust and indeed seriously polyphobic. Christianity, enlightenment values, blah blah blah. (Watch this space.) But certainly not today! Out of the question!

HH | 21 August 2015  

Andrew, I’m interested in your seven questions for the proponents of marriage equality. Did you also ask the same questions to those who oppose marriage equality? Seems to me they should apply to any couple wanting to be married under the provisions of the Marriage Act, as amended. I’m not accusing you of bigotry or hypocrisy by any means but it does seem you are interpreting the answers to your questions from a status quo perspective. Nothing wrong with that as long as we are aware of it. Your point seems to be that gay marriages are unlikely to last or less likely to last than heterosexual marriages. Leaving aside questions about the size of your survey sample or methodology, it is likely that same sex couples, having gone through so much to be married, will have a very strong commitment to the institution of marriage. Divorces will happen of course; they already do and marriage equality will allow for divorce equality. We should not hide from that fact. But I don’t think you can make a case against marriage equality based on some marriages not going the distance.

Brett | 21 August 2015  

Peter (and Shirley), I don’t see the connection to the black/white analogy or the hot/cold comparison. It doesn’t make sense. Marriage equality is about changing a human-made definition in an Act of Parliament to reflect what is now generally acceptable in the community. It is not about misrepresenting something that occurs naturally. And Peter, the definition of marriage in the Act would change from “a man and a woman” to “two people”. Don’t know where you picked up “the Union of one person with others” idea unless you were confused by some of Double H’s irrelevant arguments. But that is definitely misrepresenting the marriage equality proposal.

Brett | 21 August 2015  

Brett, why should I ask those questions to those who oppose marriage equality? They aren't asking to change the Marriage Act. My point has nothing to do with how long gay marriages last or whether they last longer or shorter than straight marriages. The point is whether they even understand what marriage is and why these things are important, this thing they are so eager to redefine, or are they just up for a fight? My point is that an exclusive commitment "for life" with a get out clause is no commitment at all. It is what the Catholic Church rightly calls a Nullity. It never existed in the first place. It's like giving all your money to a poor person but telling them as you walk away that you might ask for it back later. You take away the certainty and the whole gesture falls apart. That goes for straight people just as much as gay people "Divorces will happen of course" you say but that is not what Jesus says. So who is wrong? I call on the Catholic Church to remove itself from secular marriage if the Bishops have the courage(should probably have done it a long time ago). Bishops and priests seem happy to "live with it" but I can't stand the hypocrisy of them wanting to protect themselves from solemnising such relationships. Sure, let the government walk all over Holy Matrimony but don't touch Holy Orders. I'm happy to be Holy Matrimonied and not "married" in any legal sense. You can have legal "marriage" which in todays terms is more appropriately called a civil union.

Andrew | 21 August 2015  

Hey Brett, what, you don't get the 'black/white' analogy? It doesn't make sense?? LOL. Neither does 'marriage equality' as you express it!

Let's review 'marriage equality':

'Marriage is committment between a male and a female.' Sorry, that's the law as it now stands.

'Equality' ... That both members of marriage, ie. the male and the female, are treated and are valued as equals in marriage.

There is no other logical conclusion is there?

Unless, of course, you adopt the Shirley 'black is white' approach ... Which you say 'does not make any sense'!

Peter RJ | 23 August 2015  

"Christianity, enlightenment values, blah blah blah". Really? They mean something to most thinking people. You're only right about one thing - indeed I don't know what marriage will be in 100 or 200 years time. Climate disaster may have reduced us to roving bands, or the second coming may have come. The reason, yes it's a reason, I don't expect marriage to involve 3 or more people, is that studies have shown too many bad effects of such arrangements, particularly for the women involved. Equality isn't furthered by such arrangements. And, as you know, people want to be married so that there is a trusted other who can speak for them if they're unable - that might be difficult if 2 partners say one thing and two something else. So, more than two people is not such a marriage-like arrangement. But, down the track, given the increasing inequality and difficulties young people are facing, I wouldn't be surprised if more commune-like arrangements spring up and that may lead to some sort of formal recognition of relationships. Who knows? Let's just take one step towards progress when we can - now.

Russell | 23 August 2015  

Russell, 'I don't know what marriage will be in 100 years but I guess it will be whatever suits people at that time.' That's right, down grade marriage like a pair of shoes to be changed depending what suits your mood. Your concept Russell not mine!

Peter RJ | 23 August 2015  

Brett, if as you insist the essence of marriage is just a matter of convention, rather something that occurs naturally, it follows that no one – same sex couples or otherwise – has a natural right to marriage, any more than we have a natural right to drive on the left-hand side of the road in Australia. Which rather takes the teeth out of the ‘marriage equality’ campaign. Moreover, it makes a nonsense of your comparison above between “marriage equality” and the liberation of slaves in the U.S. – unless of course you’re asserting that there’s no natural injustice in slavery, and that it too is merely a matter of convention.

HH | 24 August 2015  

I misunderstood you Andrew. I thought your questions were intended to gauge the views of marriage equality proponents to particular aspects of the institution of marriage. If so, it would be more informative to reference them against the views of opponents of marriage equality, just to get a clearer picture of what everyone thinks of these particular parts of marriage – how far apart or possibly how close they are. If you are interested in “to the exclusion of all others” and “for life” then your lack of interest in how the opponents view these things is baffling. Or perhaps you aren’t interested in what the opponents think. Clearly you aren’t coming from a position of seeking more information to build understanding, which would be helpful, but of confirming your opposition to marriage equality. I’m not trying to pick a fight with Jesus when I say divorces will happen, just recognising the legal reality. The discussion is about the legal definition of marriage after all. I would like to ask you just one question Andrew – how will marriage equality personally affect you or the loving three-way (you, your wife and God) relationship of your own marriage?

Brett | 24 August 2015  

Glad you can LOL Peter – the world needs more laughter. If marriage equality as I express it doesn’t make sense to you, let me try to be clearer. The current definition in the Marriage Act refers to a man and a woman. Acts of Parliament are not stone tablets given from on high. The law as it now stands can be changed or removed completely and definitions are what Parliament decides. “Marriage equality” is a phrase of two words supporting a change of the Marriage Act definition to “two people”. It is not saying black is white or hot is cold – only that two people can get married and have their love and commitment to each other publicly and legally recognised on the same basis as other marriages. That’s all it does. I can’t see how it affects any other marriage.

Brett | 24 August 2015  

I didn’t raise the slave analogy HH, I just added some sense to the initial strange comparison with marriage equality. To answer your latest point, of course there is a natural injustice in slavery unless you think it is okay for one person to own another. I never said otherwise but slavery was around for thousands of years so it must have had some degree of acceptance, slaves aside. At one time marriage gave a husband a right over the property of his wife. Times change and society moves on. What was acceptable or unacceptable once is no longer so. Let’s bring it to 2015 Australia. A same-sex relationship is no longer a criminal act. Same-sex couples can legally raise children and are treated equally with other couples under our welfare and pension provisions. They can have their relationships recognised as “civil unions”. That’s good as far as it goes, but it can go further. Marriage equality recognises that the relationship of a same-sex couple is no less worthy of the dignity, recognition and respect bestowed through marriage than the relationship of a heterosexual couple. For all your opposition Double H, you have not shown otherwise.

Brett | 24 August 2015  

"if as you insist the essence of marriage is just a matter of convention, rather something that occurs naturally". The thing that occurs naturally is sometimes called "falling in love" - can happen to anybody.

Russell | 24 August 2015  

"The point is whether they (same-sex couples) even understand what marriage is and why these things are important, this thing they are so eager to redefine, or are they just up for a fight?" Isn't that just a bit condescending Andrew? I'm sure same-sex couples have a very good understanding of marriage after all the efforts and struggles they are going through to receive equality under the law. It is far more important than just being "up for a fight".

Brett | 24 August 2015  

Meanwhile, from the "Same Sex Marriage won't affect you in any way" Department: Denver City Council is stalling approval of a Chick-fil-A franchise at Denver International Airport (DIA), because of "concerns" over the owners' support for natural marriage. Chick-fil-A serves everyone without distinction. So they're not even in the league of florists who conscientiously refuse to do flowers for a ssm wedding. It's just that the franchise owners believe in the traditional view of marriage! 'Tolerance' with fangs. Coming soon to a regime near you.

HH | 24 August 2015  

"down grade marriage like a pair of shoes to be changed depending what suits your mood". No that's incorrect - this issue had been debated for the last 30 years - that's over a whole generation in time. Started off with almost everyone against, but now, after decades of discussion, has reached 70% in favor. That's not a quick change of mood.

Russell | 24 August 2015  

And another thing PeterRJ - I was just watching Geraldine Doogue's program on iView, from which I learn that limbo has been abolished! When I was being taught by the nuns and brothers, limbo was a thing. Now I find that this bit of theological real estate has been removed faster than a mining company can get a sacred site listing abolished. It reminds one of the disconcerting fate of Pluto (the planet, not the Disney character) - we all learnt of Pluto at school only to find it has been now scratched as a planet. Clearly we all just need to learn to go with the flow a bit here, or go mad.

Russell | 24 August 2015  

To those who use the mantra "marriage equality" ... sorry, but it is totally meaningless unless you mean that both the male and the female should be equals in marriage. Same sex marriages do not exist. However, you will reply blah blah blah (which is meaningless) that the definition of marriage should be changed to allow marriage between same sex couples. If that is what you want then why not say it? If you really did mean equality for all in marriage then you would have to include polygamy as it is practiced in many countries including Sri Lanka. Islam also allows Polygamy, "In Islam, a man may marry up to four women, but only if he is sure that he will treat all his wives equally." (Now there's marriage equality. No?) I won't labor the point, and nor do I advocate Polygamy, but merely raise it to demonstrate that those who advocate 'marriage equality' are two faced and selfish if they don't also advocate Polygamy, they want equality for them but not others in marriage! Many of the so called 'boat people' come from cultures that permit Polygamy ... will you be happy to discriminate against those refugees living in Australia and deny them your mantra 'marriage equality'?

Peter RJ | 25 August 2015  

Hey Russell, I love my dog .... so what's your point?

Peter RJ | 25 August 2015  

So we’re back on this one Double H, we can’t have marriage equality because there are some people opposed to it who would refuse to do business with same-sex couples living legally and who would then want to be protected from the consequences of their discrimination. Because that’s what you are describing – discrimination. Are we going to put all of our legislation changes before your service providers to see if they agree with it? I seriously doubt it. But think about this. Same-sex couples already have legal civil unions, which opponents of marriage equality tell me is marriage in everything except name (which begs another question). So Double H, where are the masses of your service providers who refuse to do business with same-sex couples in a civil union? Where are the court cases, the arrests and the fines? Funny, we don’t seem to hear about them, and you can be sure we would hear about them if they were happening. In the real world the sky has not fallen on your service providers. It will be the same when marriage equality finally happens.

Brett | 25 August 2015  

Gee Peter, if we support A, B and C, then we are “two faced and selfish” if we don’t also support X, Y and Z further along the spectrum. I’m sure you’re just stirring, but let’s look at it sensibly. I can’t see that polygamy would affect me personally, so I don’t really have a good reason to oppose it (although I could come up with a whole lot of nonsense if I wanted to oppose it). Live and let live. Maybe marriage will include polygamy one day if there is ever sufficient community acceptance, but it isn’t on the table now and I am not pushing for it. The real world proposal right now is for marriage equality for two adults. That’s it, that’s all. Talk of polygamy, marrying your dog or a stick of gum is just muddying the issue with irrelevancy.

Brett | 25 August 2015  

I take it from this Brett that you have no objections to to the state discriminating against a business, not because it refuses service to anyone, but because of the personal opinions of its owners concerning same sex marriage. Because that's what I reported above concerning Chick Fil-A.

HH | 25 August 2015  

A few facts, Double H. In the American case you mention, it was the company President who chose to have the business linked to his personal opinions, something he now regrets. I understand the city council will take two weeks to consider whether or not to approve the franchise, based among other things on the company President’s previous anti-gay support. The Council is seeking assurances among other things that hiring practices won’t be discriminatory. That sounds reasonable and is hardly discrimination against the business and in any case is not really relevant to Australia. Back to my point, businesses in Australia seem to cope quite well with civil unions. There is nothing to suggest it won’t be the same with marriage equality. Any thoughts?

Brett | 25 August 2015  

More facts, Brett. Robyn Kneich, the one openly homosexual member of the Denver council said Chick-fil-A's support of traditional marriage was "discrimination," and she didn't want "corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination." Kniech commented that Chick-fil-A was on the wrong side of "a national debate about depriving people and their families of rights." Nothing about documented discriminatory employment practices. Merely being on the "wrong side of a debate" is what is stalling Chick Fil-A's application (as it has elsewhere), not a proven record of discriminatory hiring. But you're right, Brett - that's what they will always say: "concerns" about possible discriminatory hiring. Which is an extremely convenient, vague, non-falsifiable handle for the state to turn back EVERY SINGLE organization/business which professes a belief in traditional marriage, morality, Catholicism, whatever: "Concerns that you might" ... blah blah blah. So you see, merely having beliefs will be enough for the state-controlled machine to drive us out of business and public life. Tolerance with fangs.

HH | 25 August 2015  

Thanks for your opinion Double H, but I’ll stand by the facts. I did write “businesses in Australia seem to cope quite well with civil unions. There is nothing to suggest it won’t be the same with marriage equality.”

Brett | 25 August 2015  

There is so much vehemence about same-sex marriage. I’ve been following the exchanges between Brett and HH, just to mention one dialogue. I myself don’t have much time for campy queens who in their idiosyncratic mimicry appear to show – in my view - a disrespect or disdain for women. My advice for all on this subject: read Germaine Greer. But sexuality appears to be a very immanent – psychologically speaking – thing: those of us who think we are heterosexuals have no more experiential basis for thinking so than those who think they are homosexual. So the flaw in the so-called “traditional” position is that no-one is psychologically different..or different, period. The thing that seems incomprehensible is why therefore two males, or two females, cannot be recognised as “married” if they commit to each other for life, which I believe is the sine qua non of “traditional marriage”. Forget regenerativeness, fertility or children – they are rationales for marriage, not essential characteristics of it. Please explain.

smk | 25 August 2015  

"merely having beliefs will be enough for the state-controlled machine to drive us out of business and public life" Any examples? It's hardly enough to cite the case of one of the biggest American companies, which has had an application to open a branch temporarily held up by a subcommittee of the Denver City Council. "Evidence" isn't a one off example - a case I can't find any support for even in the gay press. Come back to us when you have a pattern of discrimination against businesses who oppose marriage equality.

Russell | 26 August 2015  

Given some of the obsessive comments, it would help to clarify things. Marriage equality seeks to amend the Marriage Act definition of who can marry from “a man and a woman” to “a union of two people”. Gender does not come into the definition, nor does any relationship arrangement beyond two people. Two bills from Mr Shorten and Mr Entsch to amend the Act have been tabled in Parliament. The Commonwealth has the power to amend the Act but for its own reasons the Government is thinking of holding a national plebiscite on the question at some unspecified date. Quoting Warren Entsch’s Second Reading Speech in Parliament on 17 August 2015, “It (the Bill) provides absolute protection of religious freedoms not just in observance of section 116 of the Constitution but because you cannot replace one form of prejudice and discrimination with another”. Mr Shorten’s Bill has a similar protection. Same-sex relationships in Australia have been legally recognised through civil unions for some years. There is no body of evidence to suggest that Australian businesses have problems based on sexuality in their dealings with same-sex couples in civil unions as suppliers, customers or clients. Still happy to discuss.

Brett | 26 August 2015  

Dear Prof. Fr. Brennan, thank you so much for your thoughtful article! I agree wholeheartedly. To paraphrase Sir Thomas Moore in the movie 'A Man For All Seasons': a parliament may make a law, but that doesn't make it true. I have recently read D. A. Carson's book 'The Intolerance of Tolerance' - which sets out the present, and a possible future, in which people who are decreed to be 'intolerant' - read: 'will not agree' - are abused, and are being & will be taken before the courts... So much for the 'new' tolerance. For those who don't think safeguards are needed because 'she'll be right' - perhaps they could promise to pay everyone's fines if it ever came to it... Otherwise, we'll just have to cop it on the chin - like Sir Thomas More all those years ago under Henry V111.

Rev Paul Cohen | 26 August 2015  

Enough already with the martyr and victim claims! Homosexuals were persecuted - really persecuted - for centuries. When the advocates of 'traditional' marriage are driven, by discrimination, to suicide at the rates gay people are/have, you just let us know and we'll see what we can do. Until then .....

Russell | 27 August 2015  

A postscript on the Chik-fil-A diversion for anyone who may be interested. The Denver Post reports (1 September) the airport franchise application was unanimously approved by the Council Committee’s. Council members were satisfied with the answers and assurances they received to their concerns about possible discrimination and the franchise is expected to go ahead at the airport. Seems the fears and hype about the state controlled machine ending free-enterprise as we know it were a bit OTT, but let’s not let reality get in the way of a good scare.

Brett | 02 September 2015  

In reply to the question posed as to why an argument for SSM couldn't similarly be extended to polyamorous marriages - it's simple - heterosexuals and homosexuals may all desire to to be polyamorous (it's called adultery/promiscuity/cheating). Polyamory is an activity, but hetero/homosexuality is a state. Even the church recognises that homosexuality, despite being "intrinsically disordered", it's regarded as being a deep element of a person's consciousness/identity, to the extent that heterosexuality is for the majority of people. Polyamory is not. And incest? Well, maybe we should talk about marrying a stick of chewing gum as well.

AURELIUS | 02 September 2015  

SSM, nope, nothing to fear ... 'A county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds has been held in contempt by a US federal judge and sent to jail.'

Peter RJ | 04 September 2015  

And if she refused to issue a marriage licence to a multi-racial or Jewish couple she'd be breaking the law too. What's your fear, Peter RJ? Her Christian bible also recognised slavery.

AURELIUS | 04 September 2015  

Well that's good news, Brett. But what about the costs to Chick Fil-A already, including time and legal fees, to handle this issue? Who do you suppose bore those? And, sure, Chick Fil-A is a big business. What about small businesses who can't afford to tough it out? What options do they have? Here's a clue: "The owners of a Christian family run business is being forced to shut their doors after being charged with discrimination against a homosexual couple. Betty Odgaard and her husband, Richard, have been the owners of Görtz Haus Gallery since 2002, when they purchased a 77-year-old stone church and transformed it into a bistro, flower shop, art gallery and wedding venue. On August 3, 2013, a homosexual couple from Des Moines asked to rent Görtz Haus for their wedding, and because of their Mennonite faith, the Odgaards told the couple they couldn’t host their wedding. The couple immediately filed a discrimination complaint through the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and knowing their business was going to be in trouble, the Odgaards ended their wedding business in order to avoid the probability of another complaint and the associated fines and penalties. After leaving the wedding business, Görtz Haus struggled to survive, but the Odgaards felt they had no choice. The risks were simply too great." And again: "Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer sued Aaron and Melissa Klein of Sweet Cakes Bakery, forcing it to close its doors and won damages which will bankrupt the family. The Bowman-Cryers claimed they felt “mentally raped” in a list of 88 symptoms of emotional distress at being refused a cake. Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer were awarded $135,000 for damages." In Australia we have our own examples of persecution: for example the Christian Youth Camps case last year. Fined $5000 (as well as the huge legal expenses) for refusing hire of its premises to a group promoting (inter alia) gay sex amongst teenagers. Check out Bill Muehlenberg's "Dangerous Relations" for the tip of the iceberg: 165 examples over 34 months from Australia and abroad of tolerance with fangs.

HH | 05 September 2015  

Aurelius, a clarification: 'polyamorous' nowadays can and is deployed in the context of polygamous and polyandrous unions; it does not refer exclusively to one or more party in a given union having 'affairs' with one or more people outside that union. So the question being asked is using the term 'polyamorous' in the latter sense: i.e., Why can't the justification of ssm be used to justify polygamous and polyandrous unions (or a combination of the same)? To clarify further in the light of your remarks: the validity of a given marriage has absolutely nothing to do with the sexual orientations of the people involved: it's to do with the nature of that union: so, is it, for starters, a one man one woman union, or otherwise? For the record: the natural law/Catholic teaching both fails to recognise same-sex 'marriage' between heterosexuals OR homosexuals (or a mixture of the two), and just as clearly as it recognises marriages between opposite sex couples, whether one or both of the partners are heterosexual OR homosexual ... or 'bi', or whatever.

HH | 05 September 2015  

Come on HH, two weeks to review a franchise application based on a history of anti-gay positions by the president of the chain is fair enough. How would you feel if his views were anti-Semitic or anti-Christian? Would you want some reassurances then? According to the Denver Post the president of the chain himself regrets linking his business with his personal views. Assurances were given and accepted about non-discrimination and the franchise received the unanimous approval of the Council committee. It is an example of diligence by elected officials doing their jobs. Strange in a blog thread based on four unnecessary preconditions for marriage equality (remember them?) there is an objection to someone else having a precondition. Now, anything from the Australian experience with civil unions over recent years? Surely the religious principle is the same for people who don’t approve of same-sex couples living in a relationship regardless of what it is called.

Brett | 07 September 2015  

1. “How would you feel if his views were anti-Semitic or anti-Christian?” I couldn’t care less, Brett: I’m sure there are many anti-Christians out there in business-land, but who, exactly like Dan Cathie, have absolutely no history of discrimination in their employment or other dealings on this ground. Moreover I’m unaware of any such whose applications - in stark contrast to that of Dan Cathie's business - have been stayed or blocked by councils merely on their professed anti-Christian attitudes. On the other hand, I know of many people who disagree with Dan Cathie on same-sex marriage and who have blatantly discriminated in their dealings on the very ground that issue: namely, the hundreds of thousands who boycotted Chick Fil-A in the U.S. a couple of years back, and their supporters here in Australia. Now, following your logic, were any of these people to apply for a franchise in the analogous situation, a council should deny them on the basis of their historical business activity, yes? Because – in stark contrast to Dan Cathie – they have a documented recent history of allowing their personal beliefs to determine who they do business with. Or is there one rule for one side of this issue but not for the other? 2. I’m curious as to your insisted line about civil unions, Brett. Suppose that to date there have been no prosecutions of businesses in Australia for refusing business on the grounds of objecting to same sex union. What exactly would that prove? Let me put it to you another way. I imagine that so far this year there have been no arrests of citizens for protesting in front of the Peoples’ Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea. Does that dearth of arrests prove that justice happily prevails in North Korea with respect to freedom of expression?

HH | 10 September 2015  

Couldn’t care less? That’s good. Tolerance up to a point. The point should be to show the problem in Australia from marriage equality because for the life of me, the extreme comparisons are tenuous and don’t prove anything. Civil unions are the only bases for determining business responses to cohabiting same-sex couples. There doesn’t seem to be a backlash at all, regardless of what the relationship is called. Hard to see marriage equality changing it. I think most Australians are not really interested in prying into someone else’s relationship. I contend that marriage equality recognises that the relationship of a same-sex couple is no less worthy of the dignity, respect and recognition bestowed through marriage than the relationship of a heterosexual couple. For all your opposition HH, you have failed to show otherwise.

Brett | 10 September 2015  

The 2017 Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill unanimously reported at p. 68: ‘Overall the evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced. This would most appropriately be achieved through the inclusion of “religious belief” in federal anti-discrimination law.’

Frank Brennan SJ | 14 August 2017  

The Australian Law Reform Commission in its report on ‘Traditional Rights and Freedoms—Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws’ stated at para5.154: ‘There is no obvious evidence that Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws significantly encroach on freedom of religion in Australia, especially given the existing exemptions for religious organisations. Nevertheless, concerns about freedom of religion should be considered in future initiatives directed towards the consolidation of Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, or harmonisation of Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws. In particular, further consideration should be given to whether freedom of religion should be protected through a general limitations clause rather than exemptions.’

Frank Brennan SJ | 14 August 2017  

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