Should marriage be available to everyone? Or are some people (homosexuals) outside of marriage eligibility criteria? These questions have been drawing a lot of heat recently as several countries and numerous US states legalise marriage between same sex partners. Here in Melbourne the arrival of the world’s first and only gay married Anglican Bishop – the New Hampshire based Gene Robinson – has been met with equal doses of celebration and fear. Celebration because he heralds the approach of legalised gay marriage and fear for exactly the same reason.
I wanted to understand why people from both sides get so heated. To this end I invited an opponent of gay marriage to Gene’s public pep-talk. This was the Vicar of St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton, a man by the name of Richard Condie. Afterwards, me and Richard drank beer and discussed the pros and cons of gay marriage. To start us off here are some quotes from Gene Robinson’s talk:
“This afternoon I was asked why aren’t civil unions good enough? I’ll tell you. When your partner is bleeding to death in the emergency room and you’ll have no time to explain to the nurse the intricacies of some domestic civil relationship. You tell them you’re married. You say that’s my husband in there. And then you know the importance of marriage.”
“Let’s take a look at how Jesus arranged his own life. He was unmarried, in a culture that virtually demanded marriage for men. We know that he spent a lot of time with his 12 male disciples and according to the gospel of John, there is one disciple who is four times is referred to as “the one who Jesus loved”. I’m just saying. And that’s all I’m saying.”
“A lot of people will tell you we’re trying to change the definition of marriage. And that’s just not true. And there have been many different definitions of marriage even in biblical times. Throughout history it has been about polygamy, polygamy and property. I would say this is not about changing the definition of marriage. It’s just another revision.”
VICE: So Richard, did you agree with any of that?
Reverend Richard Condie: Look, one of the things that ran thing tonight is the idea that God loves everybody. And that’s absolutely right but I think it’s a mistake to say that just because he loves you, whatever you want goes. I’m sure they wouldn’t say it like that, but something the Bible teaches is that Jesus was able to love while putting limits on behaviour.
So legalising gay marriage is a bad idea?
Well I understand that committed gay couples want a label; they want acknowledgment of their relationship and I think they deserve it. But I just think there is something lost in the beauty of marriage to expand it to include something else. Marriage is a unique, beautiful, designed expression of commitment between a man and a woman and it leads to the establishment of family. Yes, it is about love but it’s also about much more. It’s about the possibility of family and that’s the definition. I just don’t buy the whole equality argument. It’s not about that.
So children are integral to marriage?
Yes, it’s part of the beauty I was talking about— the complimentary physicality. The birds and the bees are the basic building blocks of society and that’s why it is what it is. For me it’s a definitional thing. If you add something to that definition then it’s not what it is.
But as Gene pointed out marriage comes in so many different formats anyway. What about couples without children? What about polyamorous marriages? It seems the definition is already flexible.
Well, I think polygamy under any heading is a hideous aberration of marriage. And look, every definition of marriage is discriminatory. This is not the slippery slope argument but if we widen the definition to include gay couples then you still discriminate against polyamorous couples and so on.
What about the idea legalised gay marriage is inevitable. Do you believe that?
Yes, I think we’ll have it before too long. People are saying the Liberal Party will get in, have two terms and gay marriage will be introduced either during or after. My world is not going to cave in but I think that will cheapen what I have. I think Australian society will be poorer for it.
What did you think of Gene’s insinuation that Jesus was gay?
I found it quite offensive to be honest. My conviction is that Jesus was the son of God. He was the most glorious image of God becoming human, the most perfect person that ever lived. To imply that he was not the most perfect expression of God is a poor understanding of the Bible’s presentation of him.
So there’s something wrong with being gay?
Oh no, I don’t think being gay is wrong, I just happen to think that homosexuality is not what God intended. And there are lots of things in me that I don’t think are what God intended either. I’m not sure if God designed me to have white hair but I do and there’s nothing I can do about it. I think there’s just this view that if I have a sexual urge I have to meet it and it’s my right to act on it but that’s not what the Bible teaches. I might have a sexual urge for a woman who walks past me but I can’t act on it because I’m married.
So people should suppress their sexuality?
Well, I know people who are gay Christians and they’re trying to live as God wants them to. They acknowledge they struggle with same sex attraction so they live celibately because they think just pursuing their sexual desire is not what God wants. They say “I’m not attracted to a woman so I don’t get to do that”. And that’s not the end of the world, for goodness sake. There are plenty of celibate people who haven’t died from not having sex.
OK, honestly, in my view people attracted to the same sex should just do what they want. You’re saying that it’s against God’s will but how does that tangibly affect anyone other than the individual?
Well it’s not about the individual, it’s about society. It’s about what holds us together and what society will be like in 20 years time. It’s not who I am as a married person, it’s about who we are as people. I guess that’s why I’m passionate about this.
But are your views outdated?
No. My view of the Bible is that there are some eternal truths in there. They start in the first Testament and make their way through to the teaching of Jesus and I happen to believe that they are our ultimate reality. Although Australia is based on Christian values we’re not a Christian society so Christians don’t have any right in dictating the law. We do want to persuade people but we can’t force our view. And my view is that society will function regardless but I don’t think we should change the definition of marriage.
So what would you say to Gene Robinson?
I’d say that his presentation reminded me again of the need for the church to apologise for all the hurt it has caused to gay and lesbian people. I for one am sorry for that. Let's find a way to acknowledge both marriage and gay relationships that respect them both, without diminishing either.
Follow Julian on Twitter: @MorganJulian
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