Where Wong gets it Wrong: The Nature of Marriage, ‘Rights’ & Australian Society

This week, Australia’s most prominent homosexual politician, ALP Senator Penny Wong, gave a lecture promoting the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in Australia. While endless ink has been spilled and air expired concerning this ongoing social debate, it is important that Australian Christians listen, consider and respond to the latest arguments being made by perhaps the most significant proponent of same-sex ‘marriage’ in federal politics.

[1]

Senator Wong makes a sweep of assumptions and assertions in this speech that must not escape our notice. I will not deal with each point individually, but have provided a summarised list of these below:

1) Legal Marriage is a ‘right’ for all loving relationships, irrespective of sexuality.

2) “At the centre of the opposition to equality of marriage rights for gay & lesbian members of the community is the conflation of religious concepts of marriage with secular concepts of marriage.”

3) Social conservatives “remove from marriage the idea of love, companionship, common enterprise and the creation of family” and make it about ‘utilitarian’ child-rearing

4) a. Australia is a secular society and religious belief has no part in law-making
b.
“Liberal democracy isn’t compatible with fundamentalism of any description, whether ideological or spiritual.”

5) “Discrimination against people on the basis of an innate characteristic, like sexual orientation, is anti-liberal and anti-democratic.”

6) “Religious freedom means being free to worship and to follow your faith without suffering persecution or discrimination for your beliefs. It does not mean imposing your beliefs on everyone else.”

7) Safe Schools style education programs are “essential” for Australian society

8) Why “should the gay and lesbian community be merely ‘tolerated’ when the heterosexual community takes for granted ‘acceptance’ and recognition of their sexual preference as ‘the norm’?”

9) A secular society is the creation of its own freedom, which is itself a consequence of the basic equality of human beings.

10) “the strongest argument for equality by lesbians and gay men rests on the assertion that . . . respect for natural rights depends on a foundational commitment to equality as the first moral good and a defining feature of our political and legal traditions”.

That’s way too many to tackle in a blog post, but the core of Senator Wong’s lecture boils down to two main assertions.

1) Same-sex marriage is a legal right being denied to homosexual couples (mainly) at the behest of religious opposition.

2) Australia is a secular society in which personal religious beliefs and convictions have no place in forming public policy or legislation that affects the wider community.

Or we could distill this further to problem and proposed solution.


Problem:
Same-sex couples in Australia are being denied a basic right: the right to marry. The law must change.
Solution: The Marriage Act can easily be changed if religious-based objections to change are discredited and dismissed as irrelevant in a secular society.

I will deal with these fundamental assertions that lie behind the rest of Senator Wong’s arguments, by arguing two counterpoints.

1) We should reject the idea that Same-sex marriage is a genuine legal right.
2) We should reject the suggestion that Australia is a “secular” society – to the extent that this means silencing religious viewpoints in the public sphere.

Same-sex marriage is a claimed and invented (human/legal) right, not a genuine, fundamental right

In opening her speech, Senator Wong sends a signal to “those who deny marriage rights to gay and lesbian Australians.” In doing so, she assumes a point that is in fact at the very centre of the same-sex marriage debate.
Is it actually a “legal right” (or even a “human right”) for two gay men or two lesbian women to have their relationship recognised by the rest of society as a “marriage”?

Homosexual individuals have real human and legal rights that must not be encroached upon. But the right to redefine the legal and social meaning of marriage to suit their own preferences and desires is not one of them.
No one in this debate is trying to deprive homosexual people of their basic rights to life, food, shelter, welfare, health care, political representation, free speech, religious freedom and protection under the law from violence, deprivation of liberty and discrimination in the workplace.

Homosexual citizens enjoy the same rights and freedoms in these areas as heterosexual ones do. And in fact, it is not facetious to say that they enjoy the same marital rights under Australian law as well.

The Marriage Act of Australia’s definition of marriage reflects the reality of a unique kind of human relationship.
An exclusive social, sexual, economic, domestic and legal union between a man and a woman for life is qualitatively different to any other kind of relationship – romantic or otherwise. That’s what marriage is and every Australian adult – even gay or lesbian ones – could legally enter into such a union, irrespective of their race, language, skin colour or religion.

The fact that most people who are not sexually or romantically interested in members of the opposite sex would not wish to make use of this right – and prefer an alternative arrangement under the law – does not mean they are being denied a right. Their quest to have marriage redefined – according to their idea of what it should be – is an option they can pursue in a democracy. But it is in no sense a human or legal right.

But even if the gay lobby succeeds in changing the legal definition of marriage (as has happened in other countries) – it does not change what marriage is. Homosexual relationships are inherently incapable of becoming marriages, because marriage is by definition a lifelong union between two members of the opposite sex. Changing the Marriage Act so it no longer reflects this reality is simply misdefining a different kind of relationship as though it is the same as marriage, when it isn’t

You can’t be entitled to a right where the thing being claimed doesn’t actually exist. Nor is it reasonable to seek such a redefinition as a legal right, when this novel view will then be imposed upon every member of society. There is no right to “forced recognition” of homosexual unions as marriages. To dress up such an incursion on other people’s liberties as a core right is dangerous sophistry that must be rejected.

Regrettably, we already see an analogous example of this at work in our society. The ability of a woman to wantonly engage in whatever sexual activity she wishes and then avoid the natural biological outcome of sexual intercourse by contracting the murder of her child is constantly defended as her fundamental “right to choose.” In this case, the freedom to behave promiscuously and then avoid the consequences of sex is dressed up as a fundamental right of bodily autonomy. But this supposed “right” requires the negation of another human being’s essential right to life, if it is to be exercised.

In the SSM debate, the purported right “to redefine marriage so that other people have to recognise my homosexual relationship as completely equivalent to a heterosexual marriage” is dressed up as a fundamental issue of people being free to marry the person they love. But like the abortion issue, this concocted right comes at the expense of a more fundamental right held by others. Freedom of speech and religion will be curtailed to force people to recognise homosexual relationships as something they aren’t. Members of society who sincerely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman will suffer – legally and socially – for maintaining this stance.

Senator Wong is wrong to suggest that there are religious people in Australia trying to deny a basic right to others. There is no genuine right being denied to homosexual people under the legal status quo. But can the Senator explain how people’s genuine, fundamental rights to religion and free speech will be protected if marriage is redefined by Parliament and the new definition is enforced with legal penalties?

I’ll address the question of whether Australia should be understood as a “secular society” in the next post…

 

[1] Kate Lundy “Penny Wong May 2012” wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

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