Please treasure marriage



Getting married last year was one of the most significant things I have done in my life. I had found someone who I loved, and who loved me, and who I wanted to start a family with.

WeddingIt could have ended with that — an agreement to live our lives together. But when we exchanged vows, in church, in front of our family and friends, it felt like we were giving birth to something that had been slowly growing inside us since we'd first found a partner in the other. The marriage gave life to the deep loving connection that we had — one we both understood as a blessing from God.

Australians are now being asked whether marriage should be made available to same sex couples who want to make the same, in name if not in belief, deep commitment that my wife and I made.

There are many people in our society for whom marriage is extremely important, whether we come from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other religious or non-religious backgrounds. One of the main issues with the current politicising of marriage is that it risks devaluing deeply-held understandings of marriage in the same way that other understandings have already been devalued in the modern world.

Our modern, secularised society has a tendency to take institutions that have a deep, spiritual meaning to religious people, and transform them into things that — stripped of much of their meaning — are more acceptable to the masses.

For example, Christmas — once a celebration centred around religious ceremonies — has become for many a day where they gather with family and share gifts. Easter sees stores filled with chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies, but few images reminding people of Christ's death and resurrection.

In a Christian sense, marriage has been about bringing a couple together for life according to the teachings of Jesus. While there might be ups and downs, and even breakdowns, there's still a Christian ideal to aspire to. Similar ideals exist in other religions, and as noted, even people without a particular religious belief can still find beauty and purpose in the idea of a life-long loving commitment to another person.


"My hope is that those who are voting 'yes' see marriage as more than a commodity which same sex attracted people are excluded from."


However, that ideal is often far from evident in today's society. Shows like Married at First Sight,Wife Swap and The Bachelor(ette) turn married relationships into a form of entertainment. Gossip magazines turn relationships into sports — sharing updates each month about which celebrities are getting together or breaking up. Apps like Tinder and OKCupid sell themselves on the chance to experience more relationships, rather than deeper ones. TV shows focus on the dysfunctional, and find little drama in couples getting along. As we look around us, there are few examples of people seeking, let alone finding, relationships that they can see themselves in for the rest of their lives.

On the one hand, one could look at the campaign for marriage equality and feel that it's refreshing that a section of society wants marriage to be affirmed and made more available. But what are people really going to be voting on when they make their decision in the postal survey?

My hope is that those who are voting 'yes' see marriage as more than a commodity which same sex attracted people are excluded from. By voting yes they are saying that they trust same sex couples when they tell them that the love they feel for each other is just as deep, just as enriching and life-giving, as any love that men and women who get married can feel for each other. Their vote says that calling that bond anything but 'marriage' would be a lie.

In the same way, my hope is that those voting 'no' to same sex marriage are doing so out of a deep love for humanity, and only after listening to the experiences of same sex attracted people. If Christians choose to exclude same sex couples from even a secular, non-religious understanding of marriage, it should only be after the sort of passionate engagement with human experience that Jesus modelled in his own life. This is a question of love, and our loving hearts need to be fully engaged in answering it.

Marriage is more than a political and social battleground. One real danger of politicising the definition of marriage isn't so much that people with different belief systems might embrace the beautiful institution of marriage, but that the institution might be further taken away from those who most value it, stripped of its beauty, and sold back to our children as something smaller and less significant.

That would be a tragedy for anyone who treasures the institution of marriage.



Michael McVeighMichael McVeigh is the editor of Australian Catholics magazine and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, marriage equality



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Existing comments

How on earth can allowing gays and lesbians to marry in any way diminish the value of that challenging, rewarding state of lifelong fidelity which straight couples already experience? Programmes like Married at First Sight seem to me to be too shallow to bother with, but married couples who watch them still find their own relationships unchanged. It seems sometimes that all opponents of gay marriage need to shift the ground of debate in one way or another, whether by suggesting that straight marriages will be diminished by a Yes vote, or that Safe Schools programmes will find themselves strengthened and begin to take over the world. Could we please keep our mind on this single issue: Should gays and lesbians be allowed to marry?
Anna Summerfield | 05 October 2017

Indeed. Every one of us has a longing for the spiritual values of love, fidelity, unity and commitment. These are values revealed to us by God as being part of the way to life and happiness. No-one, gay or straight, believers or not, would deny the goodness of this way, and hope to make it part of their union. But is civil marriage able to support and promote these values? Love, fidelity, commitment - these aren't even mentioned in the civil ceremony unless the couple write them in themselves. Some couples don't choose the Sacrament, because they are no longer religious, but does the civil ceremony really take its place? My hope would be - and I'm not holding my breath - that the Church will make the Sacrament available to all who believe, so that their marriage ceremony will reflect their desire for commitment and fidelity and love. Gay or straight. Then perhaps those couples who have only their civil ceremony will look at those who have received the Sacrament and say 'See how these Christians love one another' and ask why.
Joan Seymour | 05 October 2017

When civil marriage and divorce came in they changed the ground rules irretrievably. I am not sure that was a bad thing as there were people who saw both as civil transactions.They needed to be catered for. Theologically I believe it is the two people getting married who really perform the ceremony. Seeing the priest as the primary actor in this is a ghastly clericalist view which, sadly, is well and truly alive today. Marriage existed long before Christianity, as evidenced by Jesus' presence at the Marriage Feast at Cana. I am unsure whether Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or Hindu marriages would be considered less 'sacred' by the Almighty because the story of Adam and Eve is so archetypal. God is seen as ever present by all the world's great theistic religions. Some Hindu traditions on marriage and the colour and liveliness of the traditional Hindu wedding have a life that most Australian Christian weddings don't. But you could say the same about a Hassidic Jewish wedding or one in a Lebanese village, whether Christian, Muslim or Druse. Most marriages start with great expectations. Romance fades but hopefully something deeper develops.
Edward Fido | 05 October 2017

"... when we exchanged vows, in church, in front of our family and friends, it felt like we were giving birth to something that had been slowly growing inside us since we'd first found a partner in the other. The marriage gave life to the deep loving connection that we had — one we both understood as a blessing from God...." __ "...My hope is that those who are voting 'yes' see marriage as more than a commodity which same sex attracted people are excluded from..." __ What a sad, sad reflection that anyone could even think that same sex attracted couples - and their straight supporters - might only see marriage as a commodity, that our LGBTI brothers, sisters, children, friends are incapable of feeling and thinking as McVeigh did on his marriage, whether they have a religious faith or not. Surely Jesus is weeping over our tiny frozen hearts.
Margaret Callinan | 05 October 2017

You write, Michael: “In a Christian sense, marriage has been about bringing a couple together for life according to the teachings of Jesus”. While this in indeed an ideal to cherish, an important question is how does the Church responds to those who don’t live up to this teaching? * It is remarkable that Pope Francis, possessing a pastoral concern for divorcees excluded from the sacraments, is accused of heresy. * It is arguable that the Catholic hierarchy in Australia are more united in their opposition to same-sex marriage than they were in in their condemnation of sexual abuse of children by religious. * One third of Australian marriages end in divorce - Catholic break-up patterns similar to the national patterns - so does the Church respond to these people with the same deep sense of compassion and sensitivity with Jesus displayed to the woman at the well? * It’s also arguable that with Annulments the Catholic Church processes seek to wash over, or reverse a commitment that was generally made in good faith and that this generates incredulity and false notes with many people. * A majority of young couples ‘live together’ before being marriage these days but does the Church condemn this as sinful and shameful as it did in former years? The plebiscite which is being conducted now does not threaten our Christian ideals but presents an opportunity to be respectful to same sex couples who also wish to commit their relationship as a couple for life.
Peter | 05 October 2017

Anna Summerfield: “Could we please keep our mind on this single issue:….” But SSM isn’t a single issue. It’s a stalking horse for other social engineering issues because GLBTI* doesn’t stand for gays and lesbians only. Having given gays and lesbians (conditions which are claimed to be fixed from birth and therefore not gender-fluid) what they seek, on what grounds can these gays and lesbians deny the other members of the GLBTI* coalition what they seek?
Roy Chen Yee | 05 October 2017

Precisely Anna, this survey has nothing to do with commodifying marriage, nor about degrading religious marriage, nor any 'Safe Schools' program, nor about 'political correctness', nor any of the other red herrings that the organised 'no' campaigners have tried to introduce including unspecified 'threats to religious freedom'. Let's focus on the actual question being asked. in the survey. Should the civil marriage law be amended to allow same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage? This who want to vote 'no' should ask themselves what right they have to deny such couples the right to a civil marriage.
Ginger Meggs | 05 October 2017

A.S. It depends on what you mean by "marry". If you mean something like "promise to live together for the rest of their lives", then yes, same-sex couples could call themselves married. But then so could threesomes, siblings, convents of celibate nuns, and so on. On the other hand, if you mean what Western society, for one, has always meant by marriage: a man and a woman uniting exclusively for life in order to procreate and raise children together, then obviously no. If the "Yes" vote gets up, and the law is changed, all that happens in effect is that the legal definition of marriage has been bumped up from the latter specific denotation to the former generic one under which will fall all manner of life-long unions. It won't change the underlying reality as to what same-sex couples can or can't do together: so, yes, they'll be able to "marry"; but they still won't be able to do what different-sex couples can characteristically do. And at least for the sake of taxonomy, we'll have to go once more around the daisies and come up with a new term to distinguish the species currently called "married" from all the others in the newly-named genus "married", including same-sex couples.
HH | 06 October 2017

Your description of your marriage was beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you. Congratulations and I wish you well. I also wish all those in committed, loving relationships who wishes to marry to be able to share in that joy. To me, this is the central aim of voting yes - to acknowledge that we all deserve the right to make this commitment and have it legally recognized by the state.
Liz | 06 October 2017

Thank you to both these authors. Excellent commentary, thoughtful and compassionate.
Dalma | 06 October 2017

Thank you, Michael Mc Veigh. Thank you, ES, for finally publishing something that really addresses the real issue of marriage rather than kowtows to popularism, societal guilt for the approach of our predecessors to homosexuality and the unacceptance of Christianity, the philosophical underwriter of our society, in the name of the created, nebulous human rights and equally nebulous social justice.
john frawley | 06 October 2017

One of the things that shone through your article was the sheer joy that you had in finding someone you cared enough for to marry. The picture was a very nice personal touch and I should like to thank you for sharing it. Congratulations and every happiness to you both. It is quite possible to vote Yes in the current SSM referendum and still want to keep Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and other traditional forms of marriage intact. Indeed, having already voted Yes on the grounds of civil liberties and bringing Civil Law up to current belief and practice in 21st Century Australia, I now see the need for a Bill of Rights protecting religious freedom as proposed by Frank Brennan SJ and Greg Sheridan. In Sweden, where the Lutheran Church is the official state church, the current Prime Minister has said that those Swedish pastors who do not wish to celebrate SSM should leave the Church. Roy Chen Yee and John Frawley are very politely stating the traditional Catholic position on marriage. They have every right to do so. SSM has split the Anglican Communion. It is still a hot topic and I don't think it can be 'solved' to everyone's satisfaction.
Edward Fido | 06 October 2017

This is a thoughtful piece for all that many of its concepts are recent: I am inclined to think that for most of human history" marriage has, fundamentally, been about social stability -- rather than theological. Yes, and when lives were far shorter and more risky, about creating children and trying to achieve stability for their (short) lives. Whatever one's view of marriage -- spiritual or secular, children or personal growth -- the horse of the current Australian postal survey has bolted. The various figures which have been published -- in particular that, as of last Friday, the ABS had received over 9 million of the 16 million distributed forms -- and what innumerable polls have told us (not just of voting INTENTIONS but also how people HAVE VOTED), the arithmetic is irresistible. It is over and the "NO" case cannot win. This is a numerically unavoidable conclusion. It leaves no room for emotion or hopes.
John Carmody | 06 October 2017

As a 67yo lesbian and Catholic this issue impacts both myself and my friends. I will never marry until or unless the church solemnized the sacrement. That said I have voted YES because I do not believe I have the right to force my personal beliefs on others. This is a rights issue, why should some Australians be prevented from partaking the social institutions of our society. There is and should be a separation of church and state in this country.
Liz Munro | 06 October 2017

Thanks Michael. In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius speaks of giving a good interpretation on another's statement rather than condemn it as false. Then as you say, let us hope that those who vote 'no' listen to the experiences of same-sex couples. I didn't understand the word 'commodity'. Marriage is a public institution, things are commodities. The issue for me has always been about acceptance...and an historical memory: it is not so long ago that same-sex love was a criminal offence and still is in many countries.
Steve Sinn | 06 October 2017

When I was at a Catholic school (I was born in 1934) I learnt that Marriage was a sacrament administered, not by a priest, but by the couple to each other. It was to provide grace to help them to help each other and to remain faithful. At that time it was believed/understood that everyone was born heterosexual and so the couple would be a man and a women. Nowadays, science tells us that that is not so. At this time, when science reliably tells us that it is normal that some people are homosexual or lesbian, When Jesus saw that community beliefs and practices were not helpful he would preach against those beliefs and practices. I believe that the Catholic Church should reconsider the definition of marriage. It should not deny God’s grace from people because of how God ‘made them’.
Clare Flanagan | 06 October 2017

Anne Summerfield hit the nail on the head. Despite the red herrings and irrelevancies thrown up by the naysayers, the postal survey is precisely a single-issue question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” That’s it. Leave out all the nonsense about “social engineering” (it isn’t), or marriage being exclusively about procreation and raising children (it’s not), or school anti-bullying programs (nothing to do with it) or about restricting religious freedom (it won’t), or even taxonomy (as if we need to redefine differences). The question is just about recognising the relationship of love between two mutually consenting adults on the same terms as any other two mutually consenting adults. Why would anyone deny GLBTQI couples the opportunity to share the joy of their relationship in the way Michael has so movingly described his marriage? For me, the “no” case is all about highlighting differences. “You’re not the same as us, so you can’t have what we have”. Surely we can do better than that.
Brett | 06 October 2017

Roy, you seem to have made a category error by stating that sexual orientation isn't gender fluid. With all due respect, and without claiming to be an expert on the challenges faced by transgender people - your mixing of the two has left me confused. Perhaps this is because there is a disparity between the LGBs and the TIs, and I don't see it as a coalition as you described. It would be my simple understanding that a marriage between someone who's transitioned from male to female, and wished to marry a man, would not be SSM, but a traditional heterosexual one. And on your statement about the "claim" that sexual orientation is fixed from birth - I can't see the point of needing to draw a conclusion, given that scientists and psychologists haven't even done so yet - and that reality that everyone has there own very personal story to tell about their experience. In short - if it's a fixed thing, great! If it's a choice, or fluid - why can't that also be great? It's about respecting people's journeys - not about politics.
AURELIUS | 06 October 2017

When I ticked my box I was very conscious that I was voting for a verb, not a noun: 'To allow same sex couples to MARRY' (verb), not 'same-sex MARRIAGE' (noun). When any pair of people commit themselves to lifelong fidelity, support and love they 'marry' each other. They are not 'getting married' as in common but incorrect parlance. It is not the presiding cleric or celebrant who 'marries' them; they marry each other. What we who vote yes are supporting is the recognition in law of such a commitment between two people of the same sex - who belong to a non-pathological, minority variant of human beings. The noun describing the recognition of such a commitment is 'marriage', which attaches logically to their action. When Jesus said 'What God has joined...' he was not referring to some words spoken on God's behalf by some minister or official, but to the joining commitment of two who have discerned this as a major part of God's gift of the mutual love of the two parties who now wish to marry each other and have their union recognised by society. God joins them in loving commitment. If they have that, they marry. Is not this a step forward in our slow, but sure understanding of the way God's love is expressed? Perhaps one day we will also gain insights into the meaning of Christmas and Easter too.
John O'Donnell | 06 October 2017

It seems arrogant to me, to query whether same sex couples can make the same commitment to sacred vows, as the writer did. I am affirmed and supported in my marriage by the 30year marriage of my American cousin and his husband.
Pauline Small | 06 October 2017

Thank you, Michael, for a respectful discussion of both sides of the debate, with touching insight to the core of the issue: the nature of marriage. This debate can be very polarizing; it’s refreshing to see this balanced approach.
Kate | 27 October 2017


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