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Like many people, I’ve had more than a passing interest in the public dialogue on same-sex marriage as it has increased in the last few months. Most of us will have at least a few family members, friends or colleagues who feel differently, and the attempt to keep the conversation moderate and respectful is a noble one. But I’m yet to hear an argument from those opposed to same-sex marriage that doesn’t begin in ignorance or paranoia, and some of their rhetoric of late has been unbelievably insulting, so I think I’d rather call it for the nonsense it is.

Marriage now looks nothing like marriage as it was first instituted. Original rules as follows: wealthy tribal leader paid so many camels for pretty daughter of other wealthy guy of approved tribe. In fact, wealthy guy had loads of wives. Wives he could treat like hell, because they were considered property, like the family slaves and the tent by the fire. Over the centuries we’ve drastically changed the definition of marriage as we’ve woken up to how extraordinarily bad that was for everyone involved. You want traditional marriage in Australia? Then bring back the following ‘traditions’: whites cannot marry blacks, wives have no right to financial independence, but their husbands can legally beat/rape them, children born outside of wedlock have no right to inherit, divorce is not allowed. Sounds like a dream, right? Not so much. It’s a pretty sorry state of things if we don’t want something a whole lot better than that for each other.

An obvious caveat before I go any further – I’m not married, but I have taken more than a few weddings, so I’m going to start there. It’s an extraordinary privilege to share such a significant occasion with two people who are so in love. Weddings are every kind of wonderfulness – a celebration of having found what is for many people the greatest search of their lifetime – the match to their own self. Human beings are designed for this – we are supposed to love. It’s innate – from the day we are born we come to know ourselves only by who we are in relation to other people – in fact, we have no other way of knowing. We inherit some of the people we love and choose others… And among all of the people we elect to surround ourselves with, for many of us there will be one, above all the others, who captures our whole heart. It is lovely and terrifying and risky and entirely beyond reason, but it has ever been thus. Having found it, we want it to last forever, hence why weddings involve vows – promises made with a lifetime in mind. Vows are the intrinsic protection of that depth of love. It is not a piece of paper that makes a marriage – it is those words. They carry so much weight that they create a centre of gravity which pulls that couple together. I promise you, the biology of the two people involved doesn’t matter. And that’s all we are trifling over here.

If you think that finding the sort of love that lasts forever has anything to do with X/Y chromosomes, I feel really, really, sorry for you. You cannot possibly have found your soul mate, because if you had, you would understand that other things matter far more… You will notice whether their smile reaches their eyes when they laugh, you will never run out of things to talk about, you will share the same plans for old age. They will be your first thought in the morning and the last before you fall asleep; their happiness will mean far more to you than your own. You do not know yet that the simple act of holding hands can turn more than one world upside down. These are not gender-exclusive experiences.

So back to that piece of paper… Who is it for? I think it’s mostly for the rest of us. It’s the mechanism we have as a society for honouring the deep and enduring nature of that commitment. We are compelled to cherish and safeguard it within something – hence we have developed the legal institution of marriage. It is the extrinsic protection that we as a community add to the intrinsic protection of the vows made by a couple on their wedding day. It’s our way of saying, ‘We are with you, we value what you are together, we will support you through whatever is ahead of you’. Allowing same-sex couples to marry isn’t a revolution that will tear apart the very fabric of society, it’s an affirmation that their love is not inferior, that it is equal in quality. It’s as simple and significant as that. So just to be very clear – opposing same-sex marriage doesn’t alter the nature of that relationship – it is unchanged by prejudice. It loses none of its loveliness through the stubborn refusal of acceptance from anyone else, it just makes them ignorant. It’s about as useful as looking at a northern constellation and suggesting that it is not made of stars, just because it is not the same as the ones in the south.

Love is an art. Very unfortunately, we aren’t born knowing how to do it perfectly. We have to practice and make mistakes and learn from others. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have among my friends some truly wonderful couples, some of whom are same-sex partners who have committed their lives to one another. They have taught me things about love, perseverance, graciousness and generosity that I could not have hoped to understand without them. I am a slow learner, but I am made better just by knowing them.

Some final words on a few of the more ridiculous arguments that have surfaced lately. A postscript of sorts, because that is all they deserve.

‘Someone think of the children.’ There are very few things making me so angry in this whole debate as the suggestion that the children of same-sex marriages are somehow at a disadvantage. It’s incredibly offensive. Children need love, security, boundaries, affection, education, space to make mistakes, someone to pick them back up when they do. They do not need a mother and father at home, mostly because that idea assumes a bunch of gender stereotypes that I hope we’ve long since given up on. When I was growing up, the workbench in our shed was my mum’s, not my dad’s. Mum is also pretty good in the kitchen. Dad helped with homework, taught me to iron, gave me my first driving lesson. The lines in our family tree don’t all meet where the first did, but we get on ok. I didn’t go without strong male role models when I lived with my mum, or female ones when I lived with my dad. Plenty of single parents have done a wonderful job of raising fantastic kids. It also bears pointing out that heterosexuality is no guarantee of parenting ability. Again, let’s not get so caught up on X/Y and focus on being worthy adult role models. This is the 21st century. Honestly.

‘We can’t because no other Asian country has.’ This one smells strongly of picking battles of convenience. Not so long ago, when there were Australians on Death Row in Indonesia, we heard strong moral opposition to the death penalty from every level of our elected representation, and they are our closest neighbour. No individual, much less a free society, should base their ethical framework on what is ok with the guys next door. We’d normally call that schoolyard peer pressure, and encourage a bit more maturity and integrity.

(This last one is aimed specifically at the church…) ‘Same-sex marriage is unbiblical.’

If you are a Christian who is opposed to same-sex marriage, at least have the good grace to acknowledge that your view is based at least a bit on fear of change and a bit on your own self-righteousness, and not on any ancient and unchanging commandment. Don’t you dare defend your prejudice on the basis of a ‘biblical’ sexual ethic that ‘unites one man and one woman for life’. It’s crap, and you know it. Read it again. Polygamy and the keeping of concubines was a societal norm. Lot’s answer to the abomination of sodomy was to offer his daughter for pack rape. David declared Jonathan’s love for him as ‘more wonderful than that of a woman’. Jesus said plenty about divorce. Nothing about same-sex marriage. Any right-thinking person of faith in this day and age is sensible to the fact that our understanding of the world around us is drastically different to that of our biblical forebears. Of course they didn’t imagine marriage equality for same-sex couples – they didn’t imagine an equal partnership between a woman and a man either. Context is not just significant, it’s central to identifying the true intention of the Scriptures. Pretending otherwise is beneath the intelligence with which you have been gifted, so for God’s sake, wise up.

Marriage in a Christian context cannot be defined by the biological facts of the people entering into it, but by the character of the relationship – if it is a relationship that is shaped in relation to God and which seeks in vowed commitment to continue in that life, then it is ‘the thing that is marriage’. People in same-sex relationships who seek to belong to the community of faith can most certainly be damaged by the rejection of the church, but the church is as much, if not more damaged, by that act of rejection. Wherever a boundary is drawn by the church, and blessing is offered to those ‘in’, and withheld from those ‘out’, the blessing that rests on the ‘in’ is also diminished. We do violence to the very nature of a sacrament when we use it as a tool of exclusion. So ironically, a Christian heterosexual married couple who enjoy the gifts of married life but choose to withhold recognition and celebration from loving, committed, gracious homosexual relationships and judge them as invalid are threatening the sacramental foundation of their own relationship all by themselves, they don’t need any help from anyone else.

To those Christians, especially those in positions of leadership, who have done your theological and pastoral homework and are actively supporting some-sex marriage – thank you. Those who aren’t yet – get off the damn fence. If the church you belong to does not affirm same-sex couples and intend to recognise their right to marry as soon as it is legally possible, but you do, then say so. Have the courage to engage in difficult conversations. The pathological niceness that avoids the issue for fear of conflict is completely inexcusable in any community that should be defined by the pursuit of truth. The ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ approach to LGBTI people in your midst is almost worst than outright condemnation – secrets have never led us anywhere good.

Read 1 Corinthians 13 again:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It is not male or female. It is just love.

Understandably, there is a lot of commentary at the moment on the very sad news of  the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse at King Edward VII Hospital who answered the prank call made by two DJs from 2DayFM radio station this week. On most levels, I really don’t want to add to the commentary, because I don’t much about what happened, except from what I’ve read and heard from the media. And since the responsible conduct of the media is a key issue here, writing blog posts does seem to touch on hypocrisy, at least to me. But I’m bothered by what I’m hearing, so I’m putting my two cents in.

I have to say that when I first heard about this prank call, I was furious – as a member of the community, but particularly as someone who used to be a nurse. The relationship between a nurse and their patient is very particular. It requires an extremely high degree of trust to care well for people at the most susceptible times in their lives. And yes, there are times when your patient is someone high-profile and you know a bit about them, even if it is only by public reputation (however reliable). They are just as vulnerable, maybe more so, than any other patient, because their privacy is so limited. In my brief experience, that dynamic elicits a certain protectiveness for one’s patient and a genuine effort to give them a safe space which is confidential and discreet. The ideal is to provide an environment that frees the patient to be vulnerable at a basic human level, while at the same time maintaining their dignity. It can be very difficult to do, largely because too many reporters seem to be of the view that public figures are never entitled to be left alone, even when they are in hospital. I would say that the Duchess of Cambridge is absolutely entitled to her privacy, not because of her title, but because she is a human being whose medical treatment is, frankly, none of anyone else’s business. Jacintha Saldanha was also entitled to respect. Interfering with that nurse-patient relationship (which I can only imagine was a little daunting) for the sake of cheap laughs was an incredibly poor move, in my opinion.

That said, I don’t think the two DJs involved are solely to blame, either. Plenty of other people have pointed out that no-one can know what exactly lead to Jacintha Saldanha’s death. But they made that prank call and they will live with that. Partly, I feel incredibly sorry for them. But as has also been pointed out, they don’t run the whole show, as it were – there are lawyers and producers and managers that apparently all thought this was a great idea. As the radio station have said, they could never have predicted such an outcome. But honestly, when will we learn to be more careful? Have we really not figured out that entertaining ourselves at the expense of others does have consequences? I guess disrespecting the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge wasn’t seen as an issue. A bit of a giggle. Aussie humour at its larrikin best. Whether that’s the case or not, it was someone else they professionally humiliated – not a member of the Royal Family, who (sadly) are more than accustomed to such behaviour, just a regular member of the public doing her job. And for what?

Apparently, for ratings among people who actually think such things are riotously funny. If the Australian public didn’t love those socially awkward and embarrassing prank calls, no one would make them. As Clementine Ford suggested in the comment that got me writing this, let’s look at our own complicity. The media are only a reflection of the values (or lack thereof) of the community at large. So, a final question: Why is it that we find someone else’s embarrassment funny? Honestly, I don’t get it.

Martin Niemoller:

‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
for I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak for me.’

Archbishop Rowan Williams’ excellent reflections on this quote and speaking for the stranger on Holocaust Memorial Day:

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

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