The Marriage Survey

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will soon be mailing a survey to citizens eligible to vote in federal elections. The survey will contain just one question: Should the law be changed to allow same sex couples to marry? Voters will be asked to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. I have given considerable thought to this blog because I, like many of us, love people who are in same sex relationships. There is a risk that they will be hurt to discover that I am opposed to any definition of marriage other than that currently contained in s5 of the Marriage Act 1961 which says, 'Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. This definition was passed as an amendment to the Act in 2004.

As Campus Pastor of IgniteLife Church, Gold Coast, I desire to honour the national leadership of Australian Christian Churches who have respectfully asked Pastors to encourage their people to vote ‘No’. The leadership of other Pentecostal movements and most mainline denominations have made similar requests of their pastors, ministers and priests. At Sunday Connect today, I shared with our congregation the reasons why I will vote 'No' in the survey. I have four reasons, namely natural law, biblical principles, my objection to the 'adults only' world, and the uncertainty surrounding what a 'Yes' vote will actually turn out to mean.

First, natural law contends that only a man and woman together can commit to a loving, exclusive union that is inherently oriented towards family life and appropriate to being the father and mother of their children. In plain language this means that only a man and a woman committed to each other exclusively and until death can procreate. I referred to a thoughtful and forceful blog by Prof Robert George of Princeton University and quoted from an Australian court case, Russell v Russell, 1976, in which Justice Kenneth Jacobs ordered a father to provide financial support for children of a dissolved marriage on the basis of what appears to be natural law. Although natural law is often associated with Catholic theology, it does not depend on biblical principles of Catholic teaching.

Second, the biblical basis for traditional marriage is built on creation theology (Genesis 1 and 2). God created humans with binary sex, male or female.  He created men (male) and woman (female) as equals (in His image) but not the same. They were to complement one another in procreation (forming families) and co-creation (tending and keeping the garden), both of which are foundations of God's covenantal relationship with humankind. Man was formed out of the dust as an eternal reminder of his reliance on God’s covenantal provision (the 'dust' is the basis of human flourishing). Woman was formed out of man as an eternal reminder of their complementarity (equal, but not the same). That a man and woman are to become ‘one flesh’ is a reflection of their perfect physical design for the sexual act and, therefore, procreation. 'One flesh' is also a reflection of their perfect unity as co-creators with God in the garden. Furthermore, the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23, with its emphasis on ‘being one’, illustrates why traditional marriage is used as a metaphor throughout the Bible for the covenantal one-ness of God with His people. For these reasons, the Bible does not countenance any kind of marriage other than that between a man and woman to the exclusion of all others for life. The Bible treats marriage as a covenant, a mirror-image of God's covenant with humankind. The sexual act in the security and potential new-life producing relationship of marriage is an affirmation of God's covenantal nature. 

Third, much of the public discussion on same sex marriage assumes that it is an ‘adults only’ world. It is often argued that if two people of the same sex love one another they should be allowed to be married and form a family. Yet, there has been considerable social science research in the last 40 years that supports the idea that children thrive better when they are brought up by their married, biological mum and dad. Granted, there are some significant, recent studies that conclude that children in families of same sex couples fare better or no worse that those in traditional families. It is important to note that most studies rely on what are referred to as convenience samples that are not necessarily representative of the whole population. A definitive study would require a very large sample (thousands), would need to be conducted over a very long time (30-50 years), and should be repeated in multiple countries. Neither side of the argument should place too much weight on the results of existing research. I believe that lack of convincing evidence should lead to great caution when considering a change to marriage law because, once changed, it will be a difficult task indeed to retreat legislatively.

Finally, much uncertainty surrounds what might happen if there is a ‘Yes’ majority. The survey question asks about ‘same sex marriage’, yet it appears that a bill brought into the parliament is likely to use the term ‘two persons’. This opens up the possibility that the focus will shift from biological sex to socially constructed gender, of which there are many. The Australian Sex Survey (2016) listed over 30 non-binary genders. Another issue with the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey is that it does not mention the right of children of same sex couples to form a relationship with their biological ‘missing’ parent (as in open adoption). This is a major issue that should be widely debated before any change to the law is contemplated. Yet another element of uncertainty is that we simply do not know at this time what might be the implications of a change in the Marriage Act for antidiscrimination law. Very limited protections for ministers of religion performing the sacrament of marriage have been mooted at this time, but there is no provision for a general kind of conscientious objection (for example, on grounds of natural law, religious belief, or research results). I believe it is dangerous to vote ‘Yes’ when there is so much uncertainty about what ‘Yes’ means.

Having summarised my reasons for voting 'No', I hasten to emphasise that none of the above means that a man and a man or a woman and a woman cannot love each other or children. But, love, is by no means the only, or most important, issue to be considered.

Questions for discussion

1. 'Love' is hardly mentioned in this blog. Do you agree that love is not the only, or most important, issue to be considered in the context of changes in the Marriage Act?

2. Reflecting on what you know of the debate on same sex marriage, in both Australia and overseas, do you agree that it tends to focus on an 'adults only' world?

3. Most jurisdictions now provide for so-called open adoption. Consider the points made in the article at Do you think that similar provisions should be made for children of same sex couples?

4. Important principles in policy, based on certain approaches to what we call 'welfare theory' include, 'Do no harm' and 'Avoid making irreversible decisions'. Applying these principles to the vote, how would you vote? Explain your choice.



Rod St Hill