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June 10th 2015 print

Peter Smith

The Missionary Position on Gay Marriage

As a Christian, I don’t believe it is safe to conclude that homosexual relations are necessarily sinful. What I do know, and I speak from an entirely personal perspective, is that I cannot raise a toast to unions whose parties' limitations preclude what once was coyly known as 'the marriage act'

peg holeI do not agree that a man should be able to “marry” a man; or a woman, a woman. Even though the tide of opinion in favour of what is called marriage equality is unstoppable, I doubt I will ever change my mind. And, I reject any suggestion that my views on the matter became firmer once I heard that the Irish had voted in the opposite direction.

It is just too damn awkward in my view for a man to introduce his husband; or a woman, her wife (if, in fact, that’s the way it works and, in any event, there is no less-awkward alternative). But that is not my main objection. Nor, as I will explain, is my objection based on social custom or on religion. Why talk about it at all, you might say, as all the words on the subject mount? The only reason I can think of is that my objection might resonate with others or cause reflection.

Social customs have predominantly favoured marriage between a man and a woman. But the operate word is ‘predominantly’. It hasn’t always and everywhere been the case.

The definition and expectations around marriage have differed across time and cultures. So defining marriage to be between one man and one woman, as does the 2004 amendment to the Australian Marriage Act (see below), is not imbued with timeless cross-cultural exclusivity. An objection to marriage equality based purely on the prevailing custom is therefore a variant of being a stick in the mud. And who wants to be a sick in the mud?

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Moreover, it is not as certain as would be thought that Christianity abhors same-sex relationships (read the full Monty into the word ‘relationships’). Of course some Christians do but that is not the point. It is worth reading Jack Rogers’ Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality to get a nuanced view of the relatively few passages in the Bible which are taken to be critical of homosexual relationships.

According to Rogers, translations and context serve to blur the specific intent of these passages. He makes a fair case in my view, though undoubtedly other biblical scholars will have challenged him. C’est la vie.

I find it instructive that Jesus says nothing about homosexuality. Of course, this might mean little. He didn’t go around listing specific sins. He did however refer to marriage.

…that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female…For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall be one flesh. (KJV, Matthew 19, 4-5)

Interestingly, He goes on to relieve ‘eunuchs’ of any presumption of marriage (19, 12). According to Rogers, ‘eunuchs’ is capable of different meanings; including, perhaps, those not inclined to desire the opposite sex. Who knows? It’s a theory and I, for one, am open to it.

In sum, my own evolved position is that I don’t believe it is safe to think, as a Christian, that homosexual relations are sinful. When there is doubt we should leave it to the Man Upstairs and not presume to know His mind. I have never accepted the view that this is a fallen world. Surely He knew what He was doing.

This brings me to my main objection to marriage equality; which, in my view, is far more basic than are customary or religious taboos. When a man marries a woman we understand they will share physical intimacy. If they are young we further understand that this may result in children who we believe, on solid grounds, will have the best opportunity in life by being brought up by their mother and father.

However, marriage is not just for procreation. Older people marry. No, I think, the defining characteristic of marriage is the expressed intention of those marrying to share physical intimacy. We all celebrate marriage (bottoms up, as it were) in the full knowledge and understanding of what the people marrying will get up to.

The design of our bodies is consistent with this activity. It is not something that we dwell on of course. And I realise that married couples might get up to all kinds of things better kept out of sight and mind — purely, you understand, through reading about it. Nevertheless, the principal expression of sexual relations has received an enormous tick. Even the missionaries approved of it apparently.

I don’t want to get into tacky areas but there are forms of sexual expression which have not received a tick. When two men marry each other, or two women, they cannot engage in the only full-blown sexual activity which has received ‘the tick’. It’s fine if they do whatever it is they do. But, to have us lift our glasses in equal measure; to give the promised same-sex fulfilment of intimacy exactly the same recognition and celebration we give to heterosexual unions is, I am afraid, a bridge too far (for me).

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [10]

  1. wisernow says:

    and me irrespective of my Irish heritage

  2. pgang says:

    I don’t know which Bible you base your Christian judgments upon Peter, but it’s clearly not the same one I’ve been reading for the past 40 years or so. In my Bible God declares marriage specifically for a man and a woman around about chapter 3. Why you don’t make that your foundational argument as a Christian I don’t know.
    Further into, and replete throughout the Bible I’ve read in both the New and Old Testament, is God’s rejection of all forms of adultery, specifically highlighting homosexuality as being well outside of His intentions for creation. There are no ifs or buts about this matter, no matter how much you might wistfully desire to conform to contemporary sentiment. Sexual immorality in any form is well outside of the boundaries of living according to God’s will. That is the Biblical truth, and as a truth it is intrinsically good for all humankind. Don’t lose sight of that fundamental aspect of God’s will just because some people declare it to be against their own will.
    Roger’s work itself is a post modern contextual aberration of a clear reading of the text as part of a logical (and frankly, a clearly obvious) biblical hermeneutic. There is nothing nuanced about it.

  3. Homer Sapien says:

    I notice that the term “sodomy” is avoided like the pest in all articles I read about this issue. But the core of the problem is that once you classify “homosexuality” as normal everything goes.

  4. Bill Martin says:

    Just as you, Peter, l have no objection to homosexuality, pet se, although I do find the sight of two men sensually kissing each other confronting, to say the least. I also fully subscribe pretty well to everything else in your article and would like to add a couple thoughts of my own.

    Prominent members of the gay community often emphasise some sort of exceptionalism of homosexuality, stressing that they are markedly different from heterosexuals. The rather trite and empty slogan “I am gay and proud of it” is oft repeated. Given that attitude, warranted or not, why then do they want to be “married” in the same fashion as heterosexuals? Is not that contradictory to their claim of exceptionalism? You would epect them to come up with some alternative, both in terms of process and terminology.

    The other point I’d make is why not put the matter to a referendum, as they did in Ireland? Is it because they fear that it would be defeted?

    And finally, with all the vitally important matters at hand, both domestic and international, is it not bizzare that an issue which is of significance to only a tiny minority of society, is taking up so much of the time and effort of polititians and the media?

    Bill Martin.

  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.

  6. a propos says:

    Indeed, why? So much anguish, emotional distress and investment for so little , numerically, an issue? The answer, I think , lies in the significance of the range of possible outcome/s. Consider this: leaving the theological, moral and legal implications of the proposed reform, we are faced with the radical change of an existential paradigm – societal, demographic and perceptual. The Western cultural and life style patterns are likely to be transformed into a more hedonistic , self centred and feminine as a result. These changes are likely to be perceived as an evidence of the inherent weakness and the corrupt nature of the Western society by those, wishing to do us harm. That is likely to be an end result of this reformative process. Fearing this outcome, the discussion about this reform is so , instinctively, heated.

  7. Geoffrey Luck says:

    The current campaign is, as so many serious topics now, mounted in purely emotional terms – Discrimination, equality, inevitability. The proponents of SSM avoid, as pestifiliferous, the issue of the commodification of children, while the more sinister elements – at least in the U.S. – seek to destroy marriage as a step in re-making society. I canvassed these points in The Marriage Wars; see Quadrant December 2013: http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2013/12/marriage-wars/

    • gardner.peter.d says:

      Geoffrey Luck is right to point to the effect on children. Put bluntly, if same-sex couples have a right to marry they would then soon have a right to children. They can adopt children. They can buy children. Do we want targets to be set for adoption rates in order to meet demand from same sex couples? How would we regulate a market in children?

      There is little doubt, if the experience of other countries is anything to go by, that legal same-sex marriage leads to increased divorce rates among all marriages and that expansion of marriage soon follows to include multiple partners at which point marriage, already diminished in meaning to include same sex couples, diminishes rapidly to worthlessness. In some countries it has progressed to campaigns to include animals in the arrangement as well. Not to everyone’s taste but think of the legislative implications!

  8. Jody says:

    Terrific, thought-provoking article and equally interesting responses.

    For me, the SSM ‘debate’/push represents the apotheosis of minority/identity politics; the power of the pressure group and the unwillingness of a ‘liberal’ democracy to draw a line and say unequivocally “enough is enough”. The SSM agenda is also, patently, the final nail in the coffin of Christianity and its tenets and values – it’s stranglehold, if you will, on social mores. The Christian Church, having lost its moral authority in the post-war years, has been comprehensively trashed as an idea. SSM will provide the formal seal to that trashing.

    I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I mourn the rapid de-Christianization of western society through hedonistic principles that, finally, it’s “all about me”. This is the slippery slope to decadence, decline and danger. The one consolation is that I’ll be dead and buried and won’t have to endure the inevitable consequences – which may be more tangential and subtle than many people would think.

  9. gardner.peter.d says:

    I haven’t done extensive research on the subject but I understand that marriage for social, procreative and nurturing purposes has been around a good while longer around the world than Christianity. Christianity has incorporated it into its moral code for obvious and good reasons. For those reasons marriage is a unique and wonderful institution that is worth special recognition and celebration. Redefining it to include same sex relationships destroys that meaning and greatly diminishes its special place in society.

    There is much to be said for encouraging long term stable relationships between couples of the same sex and for removing legal discrimination against same sex couples. However that does not mean such relationships would be marriage. But why should they not have their own celebrations among their friends and families. Let’s celebrate the love and commitment any two people have for each other. There is no need to diminish heterosexual marriage in order to achieve that. Call same sex partnerships whatever you want but not marriage. Think of a more accurate term instead of stealing one that already has a well established meaning and is cherished in communities other than lesbians, gays and trans-sexuals.

    Finally, as my young but wise niece pointed out Churches are for sinners. Therefore however strongly Christianity condemns sodomy – not homosexuality but sodomy (check with Stephen Fry who is quite clear he is homosexual but not a sodomist) – sodomists, homosexuals, lesbians and trans-sexuals should all be made as welcome as anyone else.