By David Ayliffe
Tony Abbott needs Marriage Equality, even though he doesn’t know it. So does Corey Bernardi and so too Pauline Hanson and, believe it or not, the Australian Christian(?) Lobby. They and we need it to become a nation of greater humanity, if not a more Christian nation too.
To be clear, I’m writing this as a 63 year old eligible voter, a husband of 41 years, father, grandfather and Christian. I write appealing to the common sense of my fellow citizens, those who have not yet decided yet whether they will vote, or what they will vote in the Plebiscite that will soon arrive in our mailboxes.
Typically, Aussies pride ourselves as being “a fair go” country. Often that is true, but on a number of issues we have to recognise that we have failed miserably in giving a fair go to all and increasingly this is recognised throughout the world to our shame.
Much of the argument against Marriage Equality has come from conservative elements within Christian churches. The Australian Christian Lobby has almost exclusively campaigned on issues relating to the LGBTIQ community since its inception, and blatantly ignored other issues that demanded a Christian response. We know those issues well; consider asylum seekers, offshore detention, homelessness, and the cover up of sexual abuse of children in churches and religious institutions. Consider equal pay for women.
Their silence in these areas completely discredits the “Christian” aspect of their name for me and therefore what motivates their words and actions.
My understanding of the historical Jesus was that he was about a fair go. His treatment of women in the Gospels – at the time a whole gender that were second class citizens with no rights in marriage, divorce or survival after widowhood. A woman without a man had little opportunity to support herself other than by becoming part of what some call “the oldest profession”.
Children in that society were the same – no rights, no voice to speak up for themselves, and if their father the breadwinner left them either by death or desertion there was no provision generally for their care except where another man stepped in, be it an uncle, grandfather or older brother. Without this the child was left begging on the streets.
Jesus treatment of lepers – cast out of the village to live ostracised from family and friends for the rest of their lives has quite a message for us. In the Gospels Jesus does the worst thing imaginable – he touches a leper. He treats him as a fellow human being. That was unthinkable.
The most Christian lives that I respect have always been those who have aligned themselves with outcasts – those wrongly judged by society as not being equal to the rest of “us”. The Salvation Army was started to do just that and at its best continues to do so. The same can be said of other churches and denominations as they have provided for the poor and included the refuse of society as part of their own.
Churches and Christians are at their worst when they stand in judgement on society, when people moralise sitting as it were on high and looking down on those around them.
Yesterday I met an elderly man Jim, in a nursing home. Jim is in his 80s and is still grieving the passing of his lifelong male partner Stephen. As Jim talks about life with Stephen I can’t help comparing his relationship to that of my 41 year marriage to my wife Meg. There are so many similarities and all of them centre around two words “love” and “commitment”.
There are also, little differences. The difficulties and joys of sharing lives together. The fact that you each get to know the other so intimately and yet still never completely. His love and his grief no different to that of other male friends of mine who have recently lost their wives. Love is love is love.
There is a big difference though. As valuable as the relationship between Jim and Stephen remained over 50 years, it was never recognised by society in the way that my relationship with that of my wife Meg.
In our society for all those 50 years Jim and Stephen were second class citizens. Modern day lepers, their relationship never legally acknowledged or to be touched by the official world around them.
“So what,” you say? I hope you don’t.
A Christian – or rather truly human – response in a secular society of people with many faiths and no faith at all, would be to secure equality before the law for all. That would be a fair go.
Consider Jim and Stephen’s situation as compared to married couples.
I am a Marriage Celebrant, so yes I stand to benefit if there is a change in the law but that is not why I’m for Marriage Equality. I support it because it is the right thing to do and in my view, clearly a Christian response.
Many years before I decided to become a celebrant I started campaigning for marriage equality.
When Meg and I married in St Michael’s Anglican Church Surry Hills Sydney on July 31 1976 our union was immediately recognised under Australian law.
As you read the following please remember Jim and Stephen enjoyed none of the following that Meg and I enjoyed, with serious consequences.
The moment the Minister pronounced us Man and Wife we enjoyed:
- Equal protection under law
- Next-of-kin status – should either of us have ended up on life support that afternoon after being run over by a bus, the spouse would have had the determining right as to what would happen in treatment of the other to the point of termination
- Immediate property and inheritance rights – should I have suddenly that day inherited a $1,000,000 my wife would have immediate property and inheritance rights
- Benefits and Insurances (and today, Superannuation rights as well in the event of death)
- Our legal marriage could not be denied by our blood relations
- Our Marriage was a sworn, binding contract that could only be broken in a court of Family Law
- Our Marriage was instantly understood in every country of the world.
The legal protective aspects of marriage are not achieved through the religious ceremony but through the secular aspects of the ceremony affirmed by Act of Parliament. Changing the law is about that secular legally binding ceremony. If some religions decide to change their definition of marriage, so be it. If they don’t, more’s the pity, but it is their right.
Denying Jim and Stephen legal recognition of their union in marriage meant that they had to every three years confirm their wish that superannuation be inherited by their life partner. Had that been overlooked nearest of kin would have inherited. It meant that should they not have applicable Power of Attorney that estranged family members had a right over the life partner in determining medical treatment in hospital including when to turn off life support. It meant that the life partner could even be denied access to the bedside vigil should a close family member determine so, and so on.
In short, Australia’s lack of legal recognition of loving and committed relationships that were not heterosexual marriage has treated a whole section of our society as lepers not worthy of being included by the rest of us and second class citizens.
When you receive your postal vote please don’t disregard it, but Vote Yes for a change in the Act. It is not only the right thing to do but in my view it is the Christian thing to do.
It’s too late for Jim, but not for many others who continue to suffer because we, as a nation, cast them out.