By Kyran O’Dwyer
The question asked of Australians in the recent survey was; “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
If you wished to participate, the survey required a response. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
All of the noise, all of the fearmongering, all of the othering, all of the distractions offered in response to this very basic question did nought to change the question. It was, and remained, a most simple proposition.
“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
79.5% of eligible Australian voters participated in the survey, of which 61.6% responded in the Affirmative. A device invented to sharpen division and hate became a devise that underscored inclusion and acceptance. As noted on a social media post, had this been a Federal election, ‘Yes’ would have 133 seats and ‘No’ would have 17 in the House of Representatives. 100% of the Senate would likely be ‘Yes’.
Notwithstanding the fine work of Mr Smith, with bi-partisan cross bench support, it seems odd that this very simple question doesn’t just require a reversal of the amendments made in 2004. That was when the Howard/Ruddock changes went through.
How hard can that be?
Marriage is, after all, a legal construct, most easily defined as a union between two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. As per the original Marriage Act in 1961.
In terms of relevance, the Family Law Act of 1975 is far more reflective of changing societal norms, as it does not lend undue influence to a ‘marriage’, as opposed to an ‘informal’ union between two people. That, however, is a different conversation.
Now that religious extremists have derailed the issue, it seems only fair to look at marriage, this concept that causes extremists so much concern. The ABS have a report from 2015, which will suffice as there does not appear to be any material change since then.
To start with, we are talking about a ‘ceremony’ that only effects a relatively small part of the population. The ‘crude marriage rate’ (the number of marriages registered during a calendar year per 1,000 estimated resident population at 30 June of the same year) is about 5%. There were 113,595 marriages in 2015.
Couples who lived together prior to marriage accounted for 81.0% of all marriages registered in 2015, an increase from the 75.9% recorded in 2005.
Of the 113,595 couples that wed, 85,115 (or 74.9%) utilised a civil celebrant. Ministers of Religion performed 28,419 (or 25%) of the ceremonies. Of significance, in 2005, a mere ten years before, Ministers of Religion accounted for 40% of the ceremonies.
The divorce rate is worth a mention. Its trajectory is downwards since 1995. Whilst a generalisation of numerous statistics, about 45% of marriages end in divorce.
All of this long-winded explanation is to demonstrate two things.
Firstly, the incredible prominence being given to a ceremony that only effects about 5% of us. It will be interesting to note if there are any significant changes to this number as a result of equality.
Secondly, the extraordinary prominence being given to religious institutions whose influence and relevance is noticeably and demonstrably in decline, to the point of decay.
These institutions are seriously out of step with any notion of a modern society’s needs, let alone wants.
For the sake of discussion, let’s lump all of the religious institutions together. My reasoning is basic. The figures from the 2016 Census report that 30% of Australians say they have ‘no religion’ (up from 22.3% in 2011). 52% of Australians identify as Christian (down from 88% in 1966, a mere 50 years ago), and the balance identify as non-Christian.
Most of the religious institutions are now in lock step. Many of their fundamental doctrines are similar in their opposition to same sex unions. For any one religious institution to assume primacy over another, they would have to do what none of them can do. Produce their god. Until such time as that happens, it would be unreasonable to give one religious institution any significance over another. Hence, lump them all together.
The reason for the boring statistics is to underscore the increasing irrelevance of these religious institutions and the religious extremists currently representing them in our Parliament. Whilst 70% of Australians may identify as religious, one cannot help but notice that not a lot of them use a Minister of Religion for their marriage. It is also notable that a lot of them are either not ‘devout’ or are woefully ignorant of their own religious teachings. Of the 28, 419 that utilised a Minister of Religion, how many cohabited prior to their wedding? How many of those unions will end in divorce? How many of those unions will be impacted by infidelity? How many of those unions will use birth control?
There are numerous transgressions of religious teaching practised every day which, ultimately, are on the conscience of the transgressors. For the religious extremists in Parliament to not only hide behind that hypocrisy, but to use it as a clarion call to other extremists is breathtaking in its gall.
The religious extremists in our Parliament say this is the reason to enshrine discrimination in our legislation. To protect religious institutions. To ignore Sect 116.
Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia precludes the Commonwealth of Australia (i.e., the federal parliament) from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion.
At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, the state makes laws for all of us, whether we like them or not. Our government has been handed a decisive survey to warrant that simple, fundamental change, back to the future, in 2004. Religions can only make rules for their followers, an addition to state laws, presumably in the justification that their followers adhere to higher standards.
This was never a question about religion. It was about the right of two people to marry. It was about equality.
By way of declaration, I have availed myself of the institution of marriage twice, both of which ended in divorce. I have, therefore, excelled. Statistically. I can think of no reason to deprive others of the opportunity to experience such misery and trauma simply because of their sexuality.
Also by way of declaration, I was born into the Catholic church, resplendent in nothing other than my ‘original sin’. I lost faith in the institution in my mid teens, and in the notion of an omnipotent, omnipresent deity not long after. My ‘original sin’ has had numerous replacements. I know several people who are religious by practice and many who identify as religious without practicing. I mean no disrespect to anyone who is consoled by their religious belief. Most of the ones I know have long since made the distinction between their beliefs and the institutional abuse of their beliefs. None of the ‘religious’ people I know believe they have any right, whatsoever, to lecture me on my morality, or lack thereof. Goodness knows, I’ve given them enough ammunition. Something about ‘stones’ and ‘glass houses’ seems to preclude comment by most of them.
It seems only fair to point out where this charade is now going. Phillip Ruddock, the fellow who facilitated Howard’s changes in 2004, is now ‘the man’ to oversee the reversal!
“A statement from the prime minister’s office said Mr Ruddock would conduct a “timely expert stocktake” that would determine whether there was any need to change the law to enshrine religious freedoms.”
In the off chance you missed the significance, our PM has just lobbed a hand grenade into his own agenda, like the Republic referendum, the NBN, and everything else he has touched. Ruddock’s review is not due till March, 2018. Turnbull has promised change by Christmas. Once again, our government has made incompetence the high bar for their ‘achievements’.
So, to finish my sermon, this was never about religion. It was about equality. However the institution of marriage is viewed by you, your family, your friends, the Australian people have said it’s fair enough that everyone has the same right of access to that institution.
Our government, held hostage by religious extremists, wants to make this about religious institutions and their freedoms. If Ruddock calls for submissions on what protections our ‘religions’ need, can we start with tax? Can we start with mandatory reporting of all abuse, absent any protection of a confessional? Can we start with unequivocal statements by all of these religious institutions that they accept the equality of all females, and will reflect that in their practice, not just their platitudes?
These religious extremists want to know what freedoms they should be entitled to. It is incumbent on all of us to let the government know what we think of that.
The government conducted a survey, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” to which the Australian people said “Yes”.
Now the government wants to discuss religious freedom. Perhaps they could consider a survey …
“Should the laws be changed to ensure that all religious bodies comply with all of the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia?”
“Yes” or “No”.