“It’s OK to vote NO” I’m told by some of my friends’ Facebook profile pics. But as the same-sex marriage (SSM) postal survey gets mailed out this week, we also need to ask: is it really OK to vote YES?
When I ask, this question – I’m primarily concerned with Christians who may be entertaining the possibility of responding in this way. I’m not asking whether Christians have the right as democratic citizens to express a YES to the question being put to Australia. We do.
I’m asking whether it’s OK to vote YES if we’re seeking to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus, witnesses to His gospel and loving neighbours?
I’m asking whether the reasons a Christian may think justify saying YES to SSM make it OK to invite the Australian government to alter a fundamental, divinely-sanctioned human institution so that it includes an expression of sexuality abhorred by God?
In short I’m asking whether God will be OK with Christians saying YES to SSM?
I’ve identified 3 main motivations that might lead Australians who identify as Christians to support a change to the law to allow SSM.
- A sincere belief that the current Marriage Act enshrines discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians and denies them one of their human rights.
- A sincere belief that Christians should promote a vision of society where people are free to pursue whatever they understand to be necessary to living “the good life,” without being constrained, compelled or coerced by Christian beliefs about virtue and morality.
- A sincere belief that SSM is an inevitability and that voting YES now would enable better legislated protections and exemptions for conscientious objectors to SSM (including Christians), because the current government is more sympathetic and responsible in this regard than the opposition would be.
I will attempt to deal with each of these possible justifications for a Christian to vote YES. Because a detailed response is necessary, I’ve tackled the first one below and will follow up with a response to the others in the near future.
- The current Marriage Act enshrines discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians and denies them one of their human rights.
This has the potential to be a powerful justification. Denying people their human rights is a serious matter that fair-minded people are naturally inclined to avoid. But the fact is, the Marriage Act doesn’t discriminate unfairly against homosexual couples. And calls for “marriage equality” are more demands for social recognition than they are claims of a genuine human right.
The Marriage Act defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act simply clarified what marriage had meant in Australian law and society since the time of federation (and for a much longer time in the British legal tradition from which the legal and social frameworks of modern Australia are derived).
This does prevent gay and lesbian unions from being interpreted by Australian law as “marriages,” but it equally precludes bigamy, polygamy, forced marriages and marital unions where one or more parties are incapable of legally giving consent. It’s all there in that definition. No unfair discrimination exists, because all Australians have the same right and freedom to marry under the law. Any adult can marry a consenting, non-married adult of the opposite sex who isn’t a close biological relative.
The fact that some citizens of homosexual orientation choose to seek fulfilment in committed relationships with members of the same sex and can’t legally call that relationship a marriage is not unfair discrimination. It’s simply the case that they’ve chosen to pursue a relationship that has never fit the definition of marriage in this country.
Denying people their human rights?
But that brings us to the human rights claim. We often hear that being able to marry the person you love is a basic human right that needs to be enshrined in Australian law.
But is that really the case?
As I’ve argued elsewhere, what is really being claimed – even demanded – by SSM advocates, is that all Australians be compelled to legally and socially recognise committed homosexual relationships as marriages: even if they don’t personally believe them to be so.
International law has refused to recognise same-sex marriage as a genuine human right or hold nations accountable for human rights violations if they fail to legislate SSM. The courts in Northern Ireland – where SSM remains illegal – recently found that a gay complainant had no claim to his human rights being abused by the government’s refusal to recognise gay partnerships as marriages.
“Marriage equality” may feel like a right to those who are passionately fighting for a change to the law. But it just isn’t a right the way that our rights to life, political and religious liberty and basic essential provisions are true, universal human rights.
Everyone has the right to marry. But no one has an innate right to redefine what marriage means and compel their fellow citizens to accept the new definition.
So if a Christian is inclined to tick YES in the postal survey, because they believe they need to support gay and lesbian couples in their struggle for freedom of discrimination and enjoyment of human rights – that’s unfortunate. Because our laws do not unfairly discriminate, nor deny anyone their human rights.
POSTSCRIPT: When “Christians” adopt this position because they affirm homosexuality as good in and of itself…
There’s actually a more serious issue that could be at play for some who identify as Christians and want to say YES for the above reason – which I’ll attempt to deal with briefly in closing.
It may be that someone who adopts the anti-discrimination/human rights rationale does so because their underlying view of homosexual relationships is that they’re good for those who are involved in them and that homosexuality is a neutral or positive – rather than negative – expression of human sexuality.
This is a serious problem, because if someone calls themselves a Christian but affirms homosexual relationships as good, they are giving support to a change in the law due to a completely unbiblical understanding of human sexuality and marriage.
Australian Marriage law corresponds with the biblical vision of marriage as affirmed by the creation account of Genesis, Jesus Himself, the apostles and the climactic vision of the Book of Revelation. To want the law in Australia changed because you believe the Bible gets it wrong on marriage and sexuality is an untenable position for a Christian to hold.
While I believe that other reasons a Christian might have for voting YES are mistaken and misguided, actual in-principle affirmation of homosexuality as good and acceptable is of more serious concern than all other motivations. Because when someone adopts such a position it is no longer a case of a difference in opinion over political and personal engagement with this issue and those affected by it.
Affirmation of homosexuality is nothing other than a step on the path of apostasy. If you hear someone who’s supposed to be a Christian leader doing this, beware of them. They don’t speak with God’s authority behind them. If you know a Christian who’s thinking this way – it’s much more important that you seek to win them back to the biblical truth than it is to convince someone to vote NO in a survey…