We shouldn’t be surprised at Frank Brennan’s announcement (made at the 2017 Lionel Bowen Lecture) that he would vote “yes” in the same-sex marriage postal survey. After all, Brennan has long been given to Left causes – former Prime Minister Paul Keating, a prominent Catholic, once referred to Brennan as a “meddling priest” for his activism on behalf of native title claims in the 1990s.
Nor should we be surprised to see the legal academic and Jesuit employ Jesuitical casuistry. I am aware of the tautology in that sentence, but Brennan seems to have taken Jesuitical slyness to a new level that justifies reiteration.
His reason for voting ‘Yes’ was that recognising same-sex marriage would be in the “common good” because:
- Civil marriage in Australia is already in a parlous state, thanks to no-fault divorce and the ability to remarry ad seriatim;
- To ensure gay couples coming to Australia from countries that allow same-sex marriage can continue to enjoy the same legal rights they did in countries that recognise “marriage equality”; and,
- The rising number of children being brought up by same-sex couples have a right to public “respect and affirmation of their family arrangements”.
Interesting arguments. Let’s look at them more closely.
It is certainly true that civil marriage is in a parlous state in Australia, as it is in many countries of the world. Couples can separate and remarry as often as they like without much forethought as to the consequences of their actions for themselves, for their children, or for society. Indeed, not even adherents of Catholicism are immune to this social epidemic. But it seems a strange argument – indeed a leap of logic — for supporting gay marriage. It amounts to Brennan throwing up his hands and saying, ‘we can’t stop slipping down the pole, so let’s just let go and see where we end up’. Where we will end up, Father, is at the bottom of the heap. Should we also legalise marriage for consenting adults in polygamous and incestuous relationships because traditional marriage is in an uncertain predicament?
The second argument, which is to allow immigrant gay couples to enjoy the same legal rights they had in their home countries, is equally absurd. Taken to its full extent we should recognise the polygamous marriages of migrants from jurisdictions that recognise polygamy. That, of course, could ease a problem for many Muslim men whose second, third and fourth wives do not enjoy the privileges of state sanctioned marriage in Australia. In fact, let’s go all-out on this one and establish an immigration programme to attract traditional Mormons and polygamous animists, not to mention China’s polyandrous Tibetans and Mosou minorities.
And then there’s that final argument about the rights of the children of same sex couples to “respect and affirmation of their family arrangements”. I would have thought that a more fundamental right is that of every child to both a mother and a father. But let’s leave that aside lest I be accused of homophobia. If we take Brennan’s argument to its logical conclusion, don’t other children have an equal right to “respect and affirmation of their family arrangements”? In fact, why not extend this right to children of polygamous relationships? And what about children of incestuous relationships? What about their rights? Don’t all children have the right to respect and affirmation of their family arrangements?
Brennan, as a professor of law, should understand that the rights of children do not stem from legal recognition of the status of their parents, otherwise we would have to legalise a range of crimes so children are not stigmatised by their parents’ actions. Rather, human rights flow to individuals because of the Judeo-Christian principle that we are all created in the image of God. On that basis, children of gay couples deserve protection from bullying and other forms of harassment (as do the children of criminals), and the right to equal opportunities that all children should enjoy regardless of who their parents are or what their parents believe or do.
It’s not about their parents; it’s about each of them as people and the concept of human dignity.
You see, Fr Brennan, once you get on that slippery pole, gravity does the rest. Ethics, morality, and law have to be based on firm, objective principles. Subjectivism and moral relativism eventually drag you down to the lowest common denominator.
Perhaps Fr Brennan should pay attention to fellow Jesuit, Pope Francis, on this important issue. In Amoris Laetitia, Francis stated “there are no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. No equivocation or compromise there, Fr Brennan. Faithful Christians and other conservatives expect the same principled stand from you, not sophistry.
Alistair Nicholas is a Sydney-based public affairs executive and a conservative writer