I never thought that I would ever marry. But to my pleasant surprise, I did. And in what would otherwise have been quite an unremarkable life, I have since married dozens of women. But not just women – I have also married dozens of men. I am a marriage celebrant and a pastor.
I know a thing or two about marriage. I have been married for nearly 30 years. I’ve been helping people to marry and I’ve been working with people who are struggling to remain married.
Marriage is not a simple exercise. Even though people may be well meaning, most of what is being proposed lately about marriage is ill informed and has more to do with myths than facts.
I work with people who have made mistakes. A large part of my working day is spent helping people recover,
restore, and rebuild. Tears come often in my job. Tears of regret. Tears of loss. Tears of shame. Tears that come from being given a second chance and finding a way out of the darkness and fog.
Sometimes these tears are my own. I see first hand the pain caused by relationships gone sour: when a husband and a wife can no longer be civil with each other; when a child becomes sullen and withdrawn after being told that Daddy no longer loves Mummy; when Mummy hasn’t come home because she now has a new home.
It takes more than initial feelings of attraction to make a marriage work. But in the midst of working with people from all walks of life and in many circumstances, it is (if you will forgive the understatement) a little offensive to be ridiculed as “uncaring”, “intolerant”, “bigoted”, simply for believing that marriage is “something” rather than “anything”.
After the decision in March by the Launceston City Council not to endorse same-sex marriage, we received posts on our Facebook wall such as: “What a hateful, nasty, narrow-minded lot you are.”
In one instance I was able to respond to the demand: “Can you please explain why your organisation has the right to decide just who can marry and who cannot?”
After explaining our views about marriage, it became clear to the questioner that we were not the bunch of intolerants that he assumed we were.
This highlighted for me both the confusion and difficulty in saying that marriage is something and not anything – and not sounding like an intolerant, homophobic, bigot. We are not – and dare I say it, neither are those aldermen who did not endorse the motion to support same-sex marriage either.
We oppose bigotry, hatred, unfairness, spiteful intolerance, oppression and inappropriate discrimination – yet we hold to marriage being something in particular that cannot be redefined to anything.
I know that many in the Church have not always presented our case politely, kindly, or reasonably. This has led to some seeing Christians as mean spirited, uncaring, ugly fundamentalists. For this I apologise.
When I say that marriage is something (not anything) what I am doing is what we all do when we describe something rather than define it. Take a circle for example. Even dictionaries end up describing circles rather than attempting to define them. It’s the same with marriage. Marriage is something not because we have defined it so, it just is.
The marriage union begins with a wedding. It’s only in fairly recent times (within the last half-dozen centuries) that the matrimonial word “wedding” has come to be exclusively thought of as a ceremony. But a “wedding” meant the union of two compositionally different things to form a new thing – such as the wedding of copper with zinc to form brass.
In human terms a wedding requires the biological union of a man and a woman so that a new life can (or can potentially) result. This is one of the two reasons why governments have any interest in regulating marriage – because the welfare of children is at stake.
But it also requires a unique commitment (called a “covenant”) between the child’s wedded parents. It is a life-long, exclusive, commitment between a man and a woman. These two factors of a marriage are intimately linked due to the overwhelming evidence that children fare best when raised in a loving home by their married biological parents.
The idea that there is no difference between a man and a woman is so patently and obviously wrong. George Orwell once famously said of certain progressive ideas: “It’s so absurd that only an intellectual could believe it!” The same can be said for the claim that there is no difference between a man and a woman and two people of the same gender. To point this out is not “hate” or “intolerance”; but it is akin to telling the king he has no clothes on.
The Commonwealth Marriage Act describes marriage for what it is. But unlike the appeal made by advocates of marriage-equality or “couple equality”, the Marriage Act does not regulate, recognise or reward couples. On the contrary, it regulates individuals and does this without exception or discrimination.
As a marriage celebrant I must have the individuals wishing to enter in marriage sign several statutory declarations declaring that they meet the five descriptive criteria for marriage.
These five criteria form the acronym GRAPE. In reverse this acronym stands for: Eligibility (the individual cannot already be married); Person (the individual must be intending to marry another person); Age (the individual must have reached the age of at least 18); Relationship (the individual must not be marrying someone they are in a prohibited relationship with – such as a sibling or parent or child); and Gender (the individual must intend to wed someone of the complementary gender to theirs – not the same as theirs). These criteria apply equally to everyone, regardless of gender or orientation.
The argument that “if two people love each other they should be allowed to marry” sounds fair – but it is a myth. It is not the reason for any marriage to be allowed to proceed. In fact, the word “love” does not appear as a prerequisite in the Marriage Act!
Just because two people love each other does not mean they have the “right” or even the “reason” to marry.
Currently any two people can partner together for whatever reason they choose – and (within reason) the government has absolutely no interest in their relationship. This applies to tennis partners, car-poolers, business partners, and even two people who choose to live together.
Two people can choose to love each and do whatever they consent to – without the need for the government’s legislative approval for their bedroom activities. The Marriage Act does not preclude any two people from either loving each other or being a couple.
It was a regrettable assertion by some persons disappointed with the Launceston council’s decision that “young gay people will now die”.
I assume this is little more than hyperbole and frustration. In jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been introduced and where similar assertions were also made, such as Massachusetts, the mental-health outcomes were not improved among the gay community and the latest research seems to indicate that it may have even worsened.
We want everyone in our society to be treated fairly, equally, and appropriately and not to be subjected to hate or spiteful intolerance. But politicising marriage and treating it as political tokenism is not the means to this end.
Andrew Corbett is Pastor of Legana Christian Church in Tasmania.