The question to be voted on in the plebiscite in Australia on the 11th February next year appears to be this one. “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” But there is a problem with the question as I see it. It is not the right question to ask. The procedure is back to front so that it could possibly become an unhelpful “eticsibelp” and not a helpful plebiscite to conduct.
Some Comments on the question:
- The proposed question could be seen to be invalid because it contains an oxymoron. That is, two conflicting statements in the same sentence. The present MARRIAGE ACT 1961 – SECT 5 states that “marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” With that definition it is not possible to vote to “allow same-sex couples to marry” when they don’t meet the requirement for marriage as presently expressed in the Marriage Act definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
- The real situation is that the Government appears to be asking the people to vote on their willingness to change the definition of “marriage” in the Marriage Act. It is unfortunate that the wording of the question proposed for the plebiscite doesn’t spell that out more clearly. It is much, much more complicated process than just simply giving permission for same-sex couples to marry.
- A better approach would have been to have a plebiscite on changing the definition of marriage to include the marriage of same-sex couples. Then if that was approved in the plebiscite, the Parliament could pass legislation to enable that to become law. A question such as this one would have been preferable, “Should the definition of marriage be changed in the Marriage Act, to include the marriage of same-sex couples?”
- What the suggested question in the proposed plebiscite does is to make the decision very personal when it need not have been so. The phrase “… allow same-sex couples to marry” is by its very nature extremely personal. It is about people. It is about allowing or not allowing two same sex individuals to become a married couple. On the other hand changing a definition about marriage involves primarily a change in words, a broadening of the definition of marriage. It is not primarily making decisions about people as such. (Though of course there would be personal implications that would follow from any change in wording.)
The difficulty of changing the definition of marriage
- The problem with changing the definition of marriage is that in the eyes of a vast number of the population, marriage is a given that cannot be altered. Marriage for them is seen as an institution created by the Creator Himself as a gift to humankind. For such people marriage is not seen as a social construct or the result of progressive evolution. It is as declared in Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” When Jesus was asked about the nature of marriage He referred back to the beginning of marriage as He referred to the Genesis account, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, (5) … ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? (6) So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mat 19:4-6. That has been the understanding of marriage in vast parts of the world over many centuries.
6. Another difficulty is this. Many people in the LGBTI community world-wide have said that they do not want the definition of marriage to be changed. Some of them have indicated that they want to have the freedom to explore other same-sex relationships if they wish to do so, rather than being locked into a monogamous relationship.
What would a plebiscite achieve?
- The plebiscite will not “settle the matter once for all.” It would be extremely naive to think so! If the “Yes” vote wins then it may make no difference in the thinking of those who believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Such people (like the vast majority of humankind until the last few decades) will think that a wrong decision has been made by the people.
- If a “No” vote wins then it is almost certain that those arguing for same-sex marriage will not give up their fight to see it adopted. To them it is about human rights and equality and it is not easy to see many of the proponents of the “yes” vote simply acquiescing to a “No” decision.
What does the future hold if the plebiscite is held based on the proposed question?
- I cannot imagine those who vote “No” taking to the streets in violent protests if the plebiscite had a majority of people voting “Yes” to same-sex marriage. Rather I would imagine that they would seek to share where appropriate what their view of marriage was, in the hope of convincing some to see the reasons behind their views. Many of them would perhaps be bolder and would seek to warn others by sharing their view that God is opposed to homosexual behaviour and thus to same-sex marriage. However as those motivated by the love of God for their neighbour they would share their concerns in an appropriate way.
- Those who vote “Yes” and see their view prevail in the plebiscite could rejoice that same-sex marriage could now become a legal reality. But there may be others who voted “Yes” who could seek to have alternate views to theirs silenced altogether. It is happening already, in various ways, in Australia and overseas.
- There is a danger that those operating from an atheist Marxist philosophy in which there are no absolutes might be tempted to silence those who believe there are absolutes in life. Such people see those absolutes stemming from a Creator who has given His creatures instructions on how to live in a way that is beneficial to humankind and glorifying to Him. The concern is what form that silencing might take. The present indications are that many will not be motivated by tolerance and love.
What do you do when you see a problematic time on the horizon? Christian believers would say we need to pray. But what to pray? Jesus gave His followers a prayer to pray at any time. It is a prayer asking God to “do His thing” in the world and in human hearts, including our own.
When we pray “Our Father in heaven” we are recognising the immense privilege we have of belonging to the family of God through faith in Christ. And the responsibility to live as His obedient children
“Hallowed be your name” expresses our request that we and all others live in such a way that exalts Him as our Creator by not ignoring Him nor rejecting His instructions on how to live to please Him.
“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” is our way of asking Him to touch the life of every person in kingdom power so that they open up to Him. Then by His Spirit they can receive kingdom wisdom and live in kingdom righteousness and be motivated and empowered by kingdom love.
“Give us this day our daily bread” reminds us that we are totally dependent on Him for His provision for this world. He is Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe, and its Provider.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” reminds us that none of us is perfect and we all need God’s forgiveness. We have to forgive others in the same way He has forgiven us. He makes it possible for us to do so.
“Lead us not into temptation” recognises that all of can be tempted and we are asking God to direct our steps so that we are not led into tempting situation which He knows are beyond our capacity to resist apart from Him.
“But deliver us from the evil one” is a prayer asking God to set us free from the temptations, seductions and deceits of the evil one, whom Jesus called “the ruler of this world” in John 14:30.
There are those who say that homosexual practice is good and God would bless same-sex marriages. There are others who say that the Bible teaches that God sees homosexual practice as contrary to His purposes for humankind and there cannot be, in His sight, an entity known as same-sex marriage. Both can’t be right. Who might be deceived?
Blog No.194. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Wed 21st Sept 2016.