Dear fellow citizens,
I am writing to you to address perhaps the most vexed societal issue in Australia in 2016. That is the question of whether the Australian Marriage Act should be changed to allow two people of the same sex to have their relationship legally and socially recognised as a marriage.
I understand that you may feel strongly about this issue. I also recognise that your support for this cause is probably based on a strong desire to see the values of equality, fairness and non-discrimination prevail in our society.
Furthermore, I acknowledge – not least because of my own views on other important matters of social justice (eg; infanticide) – that it can be difficult to have a civil and respectful discussion about an issue like this with people you perceive to be advocates of oppression, discrimination, bigotry or hatred.
When I see people whose desire is for justice, fairness and dignity in our nation, these are qualities and values I wish to affirm. I too want to live in a land where the law reflects what is good and right, where people do not suffer unfair discrimination and where every human being and citizen is treated with the appropriate respect and courtesy.
While for many of us today, our inclination might be to promote such values by allowing people the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they choose to (so long as it does not have a significantly detrimental impact on the lives of others), when it comes to changing the legal definition of marriage in Australia we’re actually inescapably delving into deeper issues of what we fundamentally regard as right or wrong.
For many Australians, one of the most problematic instances of wrongdoing in our society today is when someone attempts to restrict someone else’s self-expression by suggesting their behaviour is unacceptable or wrong. In some areas of life this simply is not an issue.
For instance we do not tolerate the abusive man’s violence towards his partner and his children as freedom of expression. We vocally condemn the drunken antics of rugby league players as unacceptable and even disgraceful behaviour. We decry broadcasters when they make racially insensitive comments on air. We applaud when people such as these are penalised for their socially unacceptable behaviour. It’s not only fine, but easy to tell them that what they did is morally wrong.
But increasingly, speaking publicly about certain issues – notably those involving human sexuality and relationships – as anything but morally positive or neutral, has become something many regard far more wrong than the matter being called into question.
Every Australian would instinctively know in 2016 that to place the sexual activities of two consenting adults in a similar moral category to any of the above examples would be a grave cause of offence to many people.
That’s because for the most part, our society accepts that violence, drunken public indecency or nuisance and racism are either objectively wrong or at least condemned by societal consensus. Because consensual sexual acts and relationships seem to have limited detrimental impact on third parties, many Australians are willing to adopt an each-to-their own approach. This is why many (perhaps most if certain polling is correct) Australians would reject the idea that a certain variety of sexuality or a loving relationship between two adults can be considered morally wrong to the point that they should be restricted by the law.
However, there are some Australians, myself included, that do believe in an objective standard of right or wrong when it comes to sexual behaviour and a predetermined definition of marriage. The difficulty we find ourselves in when publicly discussing an issue such as same-sex marriage with a passionate advocate for full relational equality (such as yourself) is not so much that people are now unwilling to accept our position that certain consensual expressions of sexuality may be morally problematic and socially undesirable. It’s actually more so the fact that many see it as their moral and social duty to prevent us from expressing the alternative view on sexuality.
Some of us believe it’s wrong to practice and promote homosexual activities. Many of us have stopped saying that publicly, because the tide of public opinion has turned against us. It seems the view that once enjoyed a clear societal consensus has recently become something of a minority report. And so now in the present debate on whether to legally redefine marriage, you’ll hear virtual silence on the morality or desirability of particular sexual lifestyles and more focus on other matters. Certain lobby groups oppose same-sex marriage by appealing to the impact on children, the potential of further redefinitions of marriage or the potential for punitive legal actions against groups who do not openly endorse the LGBT movement’s philosophies and recognise lawfully wedded gay couples as “married.” Because they’re afraid of being labelled homophobic and run out of town by a mob with torches and pitchforks, they remain silent on the actual issue of homosexuality, but instead point out how successive state and federal governments have removed all forms of legal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.
My friends, I share your noble desire to protect homosexual people from violence, vilification and unnecessary, unfair discrimination. I don’t believe that my beliefs regarding sexuality and marriage automatically promote any of those things. And while you might disagree even on that point, I am nevertheless writing to you to ask you not to support the suppression of people’s voices who believe that this type of sexual expression is wrong and that celebrating it in marriage is unhelpful to all involved.
I ask this because you like me hold the belief that certain expressions of sexuality are indeed wrong. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I know that LGBT people get very upset when their sexuality and relationships are compared to forms of sexual deviancy that are uniformly condemned by most sections of society. I am not equating homosexual relationships with other acts you and I would agree are grotesque and have no place in society: such as bestiality, incest and paedophilia. I am saying that in a pluralistic society, there needs to be freedom for people to define the rightness and wrongness of human sexuality differently. For you, consensuality and privacy may determine the vindication or condemnation of a sexual act. But surely it is unhelpful to attempt to silence or legally suppress those whose understanding of divine; cultural; or natural laws requires them to use a different criteria in evaluating the legitimacy of a relationship or sexual activity?
I respect your right as a citizen in this country to hold your own personal beliefs about this issue and others and to advocate for what you believe to be the best social outcome for all Australians. But I’m asking first of all that you would not join in the attempts of certain forces in the media and the political arena to prevent those who sincerely believe differently from openly expressing what they belief to be true. It is not helpful for social goodwill and does not promote the freedom of speech that is essential to our society; the freedom of expression that many would cite in support of same-sex marriage; nor the freedom of religion that has been a cornerstone of the best societies for many years.
But I don’t want to write to you about this issue without making it clear why I won’t support any changes to the Marriage Act in Australia as it currently stands. I am a Christian and while I don’t wish to force my views onto others through coercion, revolution or heavy-handed legislation, I find myself in a democratic, pluralistic society where – at least theoretically – my vote, voice and opinions are of equal standing to those of each of the 16.5 million citizens who are eligible to vote in state and federal elections. In cases where a large majority of Australians do not hold my particular views on any given issue, I am content in most instances not to attempt to force radical change on them through legislation that many would find completely unpalatable. However, I will not support any changes to the status quo that I believe would be detrimental or unbeneficial to the health of Australian society.
I have sincerely held views concerning sexuality, which I don’t see as any less valid than many other areas of conviction that are held by voters and people holding public office.
My sincerely held view about homosexual sex is that it does not promote a healthy, natural or commendable view of human sexuality; nor is it beneficial for those involved; nor does it have a positive impact on our society. There is one authentic, natural, God-ordained expression of human sexuality, which takes place in the context of marriage as it is presently defined in Federal law, through sexual intimacy between one man and one woman who are exclusively committed to each other “as long as they both shall live.”
I have no plans to push for the recriminalisation of sodomy or to attempt to make life more difficult for LGBT people. My agenda as a Christian is not to implement policy and legislation in Australia that are based solely on religious convictions. While I believe some sexual acts are sinful and express a rejection of God’s will for human sexuality – I hold the sober belief that each man and woman (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or other) will have to give a personal account for how they’ve used their bodies to glorify or dishonour God while on earth and to benefit or negatively impact others. Ultimately these questions will be resolved in a higher court than those available within the Australian justice system and evaluated by a higher standard than the laws enacted by our Federal Parliament.
Instead of pouring my energy into some kind of heterosexual activism, I’d much rather my fellow Australians know that heterosexual members of society are just as guilty of rebellion against God as their homosexual neighbours are. Whether it’s how we’ve expressed our sexual desires or how we’ve spoken to others, used our money, respected others’ property, treated the poor or expressed ourselves in relation to the God who graciously gave us life – we’ll all have a case to answer before God when we come before Him in His glory.
The God I strive to honour with my life does not accept me because of some claim I have to sexual purity, superior morality, or ethical perfection. I deserve immediate relegation to the eternal scrap-heap – the place that burns hot with God’s wrath against all kinds of evil – including the evil found deep within my heart. The reason I have something to celebrate today is because God is gracious and provided a way for people who have rebelled against Him to be forgiven. While the good news of Jesus has become increasingly less understood in our society, His death on the cross was a sacrificial act of love and He became a substitute for sinners – willingly enduring our punishment as though He was us, so that we might receive mercy instead of judgement.
Out of my love for God and for my neighbours, I want everyone to hear that message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Jesus. I want every Australian to have the opportunity to enjoy God and the eternal life He offers through the good news. And out of love for God and for my neighbours, I cannot promote any kind of sexual expression (whether heterosexual, homosexual or other) that constitutes an act of rebellion against God. An act that Jesus had to die for, in order for people to have any hope of life with God.
I understand that in the sphere of politics, many people would wish I would keep these views to myself. That I would live and let live. I acknowledge that many Christians and non-Christians might feel that the message of Jesus is less attractive when those who promote it also publicly confront issues of sexuality and that this often leads to offense and derision. But love means I must speak – even when the truth is unpopular. And while I refuse to coerce others into accepting my position on sexuality, I feel that love compels me to use my voice and my vote to promote the view of sexuality and marriage I believe is most beneficial to individual people and wider society.
I often hear it said that this issue is all about love. And I have come to understand that you and I probably have different understandings of what love is. For many Australians “love” – defined as affection for another person, that leads to a desire for private intimacy and public expression of permanent commitment – is the main factor that should determine whether consenting adults should be able to have their relationship recognised as a marriage. This affection and consequent desire for intimacy and commitment is real and I don’t deny for a moment that it exists in non-marital and non-heterosexual contexts.
But “love” as I and others like me understand it is not primarily romantic or sexual nor necessarily marital. Love is a genuine concern for the well-being and best interests of others that translates into concrete expressions like how we act, speak and use our time and energy in the pursuit of the welfare of others. Christian love is defined in relation to Jesus’ own sacrificial expression of love and therefore, my expressions of love must be prepared for the possibility of sacrifice or suffering when promoting the good of others.
To believe what I believe about sexuality and affirm same-sex marriage as good, acceptable or even morally neutral would simply be unloving towards everyone involved. I earnestly don’t believe it’s helpful to individual gay and lesbian people to encourage them to think of themselves as married or to believe that homosexual sex is morally innocuous or even healthy and positive. I know that when I say my opposition to this issue is consistent with a view of love that seeks what is best for the people who are the object of that love that LGBT people may find this attitude condescending. That is not my intention. You must make your own decisions about your life and what you promote in seeking the good of others. I have done and will do nothing to restrict your ability to make your own sexual choices and hold your own beliefs about what marriage should be. I simply won’t encourage you to take any course of action I don’t believe will benefit you or others.
On another note, yes there are religious bigots who vilify LGBT out of hatred, rather than seeking their interests in love. Let me take this opportunity to repudiate them and ask that you do not mistake every opponent of same-sex marriage for the worst examples of self-righteous prejudice. I am sorry that people in religious communities, including my own, have made their opposition to homosexuality heard much more loudly than their love for all people created in the image of God – irrespective of sexuality.
So as we head toward a probable plebiscite on this issue in 2017, I want to be encouraging my Christian brothers and sisters to be getting on with our primary business of sharing the love, grace and forgiveness available in Christ with all members of our community. But when I’m asked about issues of marriage and sexuality or there’s a particular time that seems appropriate to say more – I will endeavour to “speak the truth in love” as our Scriptures require and promote what I sincerely believe is the best understanding of these issues.
I’d love it if you’d give consideration to what I’ve said above and what I might say in those future moments. And I want to be willing to listen and participate in civil discussion with you when you share your perspective on these issues with me. Thank you for being willing to read such a long letter – especially one that is written by someone who many suggest you shouldn’t waste any of your time listening to on these issues.