Church and State

Why we should repeal the Marriage Act


Obviously Australia’s favourite backbencher hasn’t, of late, been getting the attention he deserves. Either that or he has realised that in the history of politics there has never been a better time to stand for party leadership. How else to explain the ubiquitous Kevin Rudd’s controversial U-turn on same-sex marriage, despite his professed Christianity?

In between boasts about what took place ‘under my prime ministership’ and his gratuitous citation of psychology journals, he asserts that ‘the state should be free to perform marriage services for both heterosexual and same-sex couples’. The headline of that controversial op-ed is that marriage is ‘a matter for the state, not church’. But he also tells us that marriage is all about love, commitment, children and families. That is to say, four things best not left to the state.

But in any case, when did the boisterous, flamboyant, rebellious homosexuals of the Castro, Stonewall and the 1978 Mardi Gras become so desirous of the government’s imprimatur? Why is it important for them to now receive a pat on the head from the state in vindication of a relationship that, we are told, is already so widely accepted?

And perhaps the same question could be asked of the Christian church. At various times governments have persecuted — even unto death — homosexuals and Christians, and for the most part it was received as a badge of honour and as vindication in itself.

Now, I’m opposed to same-sex marriage — in fact, I don’t think it’s marriage at all. And yes, it’s mostly my conservative religious belief that fuels that opposition. But I would argue that Christians, and other religious conservatives, are lobbying and campaigning in quite the wrong direction, and should change course before it’s too late.

Instead of arguing for the Marriage Act to remain unchanged, we should be arguing for it to be repealed completely. There’s something utterly disingenuous about Christians appealing to a biblical definition of marriage, only to then call for its enforcement by the secular state. Some things in this world belong to God, and some to Caesar, but when it’s Commonwealth legislation that we rely on for our definition of marriage we have confused and conflated the categories.

Regardless of what parliament legislates, the definition of marriage is settled in my mind. Regardless of what the shrill comedienne on Q&A comes up with, regardless of what I’m told by university professors or Greens senators, my understanding remains that marriage is between one man and one woman. Nothing will alter that. Nothing will preclude me from teaching it to my kids or, I pray, change it in the minds of my church leaders.

But if two men want to get married under the watchful gaze of a smug lady JP in a pant suit, in a ceremony replete with Welcome to Country and a reflective reading of a Leunig cartoon, who am I to stop them? Or, more to the point: why should the government stop them?

Despite Gillard’s curious stance on same-sex marriage, it is highly likely to become law (cue the omnipresent punchline: ‘As long as it doesn’t become compulsory!’) in the not too distant future. So it makes sense for Christians to stop spending their time, effort and millions of dollars on a losing battle, and instead work for the removal of Caesar from that which is God’s.

Even heterosexual marriages are subject to unnecessary state interference regarding notice of the intended marriage, the wording that must be used by the celebrant (who, by the way, must be authorised by the state), the subsequent registration of the marriage and that, of course, now being a separate transaction (and indeed a financial one) to the changing of a wife’s surname.

So now would be an ideal time for Christians to start working to free the biblical and traditional definition of marriage from the grip of the state. If marriage really is a biblical command, a Christian ordinance and an institution given by God, then it is Christian freedom and obedience that require us to act. Let’s thank the state for hitherto administering marriage (perhaps simultaneously rebuking it for the foul mess that resulted), assure it that as congregations, denominations and individuals we are quite capable of defining marriage, and decline further kind offers of governmental regulation.

Of course, Anglicans such as Kevin could regulate marriage among their members by way of the Prayer Book. Roman Catholics have a whole corpus of canon law. Not to be outdone, my own denomination could regulate it by way of the ominously named ‘Code’ of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. And civil celebrants would be free to marry anyone mad enough to permit an eccentric in a silly hat to have control of the microphone on their special day.

Recently the Prime Minister became something of a global YouTube sensation when she frenziedly changed the definition of ‘misogynist’ to mean ‘someone who would rather not talk to Nicola Roxon at a cocktail party’. I’m happy to join Tony Abbott in that category — and now I have a name for it.

But the point is that the redefinition occurred during an impassioned parliamentary speech. Now consider the possibilities of redefinition by actual laws — not just concerning marriage, but the whole gamut of moral and cultural issues — and don’t imagine for a second that they will accord with tradition or actual meaning, let alone with biblical Christianity.

It’s time for Christians to put a stop to this, even at the expense of what is evidently a much-cherished Marriage Act. Perhaps it means lobbying for the act’s repeal; perhaps it means clergy handing in their marriage licences and engaging in some mild civil disobedience. They may be hard and counter-intuitive decisions, but they will be easy compared with those we would be forced to make down the track. People will disagree on whether marriage is a matter for churches, but whatever they decide, and contrary to St Kevin, it should never be a matter for the state.

This article first published in the Spectator Australia magazine on 1 June 2013.