Some Australians have been playing with matches about law and religion. Our law grants privileges to people of faith. Our churches do not pay tax. That privilege of caste led to revolution in France and the lasting divorce between church and state. Our churches have another privilege. They are absolved from our laws against discrimination. They can therefore threaten to fire employees who refuse to toe their religious line on marriage; in so doing, they reinforce division by abusing their privilege.
One prelate said he would go to jail rather than obey a law about reporting sex offenders if he thought that our law conflicted with the dogma of his church about the confessional. That prelate is plainly ready to put himself and his church outside the law – and the interests of his flock. And some clergy claimed that if our law on marriage were to be changed, that change may, not must, compel them to act against the teaching of their church – and on that ground, they seek to deny to others equality before the law. The notion that the church could be above the law went out the window with Martin Luther, if not Thomas Becket.
Some religious people opposed marriage equality in our laws on the grounds that homosexuality is not natural, and that marriage between two such people is against the word of God. Is it tart to say that these arguments come from the same people who told us that it was not natural and against the word of God to say that the earth revolves around the sun?
As for the argument from nature, its inarticulate premise must be that marriage is about procreation. Why should we deny marriage equality to people who can’t have or who don’t want to have children? This argument just has to be unkind. Why punish people just because they’re different? And in some mouths, this argument sounds sickeningly like an allegation that homosexuals are somehow inferior – because, say, they cannot make their own babies. We have fallen very low if we frame our laws on the footing that people who are somehow better than others should have more rights or privileges than their inferiors. In truth, God is the only justification for the premise that legal marriage is there to promote procreation.
Well, what about God? Which one? Whose? The God that allows his clergy to support marriage equality in the press, or the God that slams that door in our faces? We may admire people for staking their lives on blind faith – but we get very angry when they try to force us to go along with them. And please don’t say that we should all be governed by unreason.
Some have a deeper objection to some Christian opponents of marriage equality. At bottom, these Christians appear to say that the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the one they call Christ, entitles them to deny legal equality to other human beings merely because those people are different. This looks to many to be a denial if not a betrayal of all that that most holy man stood for. It is a tragic reminder of how far a wholly fallible church has moved from the teaching of its wholly lovable founder. The teaching of Christ cannot allow anyone to reject the notion that everyone of us has our own dignity as a human being.
And don’t let anyone say that only a priest can make that call. If God did send Jesus, God sent him for all of us, and not just for one or another bunch of bickering clerics – each claiming to have the only true view. In the middle ages, the church played Monopoly with what we could know; later they wanted to do it with whom we may marry. Which monopoly is more offensive? We are amazed that people who enjoy privileges deny rights to those who don’t – the privileged few against the ordinary multitude. What about that kind old hymn – ‘You in your small corner and I in mine’?
These people prefer taking to giving. They’re desperate to keep their club exclusive. We should therefore look again at the privileges we gave to these people. If these people sound so hostile and partisan, should they not lose their exemption from laws against discrimination? And why should a body be exempt from paying tax if ‘charitable’ is the last epithet that you would apply to it?
What is the relevance of this after Parliament has decided the issue of marriage equality? The relevance is that some religiously driven politicians have been driving a rear guard action. They should know better, but they are bad losers.