Defining Marriage: Does it matter anymore?
John Sandeman at the ACL Webcast.
Tuesday night’s Defining Marriage: Does it Matter Any More webcast was like the ABC’s QandA but for a Christian audience. Inside the cavernous auditorium at Inaburra School deep in “the Shire” (the south-Sydney region Channel Ten is trying to make a reality TV series about), the audience faced a horseshoe-shaped desk on stage.
Behind the desk — very QandA—were John Anderson (former deputy PM), Professor Patrick Parkinson (a Professor of Law at Sydney University), Patricia Weerakoon (sexologist), Allan Meyer (pastor) and Helen Meyer (counsellor) together with the moderator Pastor Karl Faase.
The Webcast, organised by the Australian Christian Lobby, was shown live at about 500 churches nationwide from Broome in Western Australia to Emerald, Queensland – except that WA got a delayed telecast.
The Australian’s columnist Christopher Pearson was a last minute no-show due to illness.
Here are my condensed notes of what the panel discussed:
The host Karl Faase came straight to the point with the question: Why does marriage matter?
Allan Meyer: As a pastor, marriage is foundational – it is a universal human institution, with prevalence of it across culture and history.
The problem in the West? It’s struggling for a meta-story to found life on.
The Bible has a meta-story. Gender matters— in the simple description of creation in the Bible, gender is seen to be designed. The purpose of gender is marriage.
My issue as a Christian is to follow Jesus. In Matt 19, Jesus was asked about divorces: “Have not you read that at the beginning the creator made them male and female. For that reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife. “Jesus’ view on sex was that it was not a matter of personal fulfilment. Marriage is foundational, chastity for everyone else.
Patrick Parkinson: Marriage is the glue that holds society together. It is a social union with companionship at its heart.
Families are efficient economically, and a family is a caring unit as well.
The union of a man and a woman for life is crucial.
Women take all sorts of risks. When a woman has a child she takes a risk, she becomes economically vulnerable.
As we have lost the relevance of marriage we have had social problems.
John Anderson: I believe marriage is important because I am a Christian. But in a pluralist society we cannot impose our will. But we can put our worldview forward and seek to be respectfully heard.
There are reasons other than our belief to defend marriage.
It is only in the West that a few isolated communities at a particular point in time – in the West which is a culture that has lost its way— want to go down this road [of same sex marriage].
Marriage is not purely private. If marriages do not function well, society pays an enormous price.
It is good to have a debate about marriage. I welcome it. It is good to defend the good marriage brings.
Studio question from Garry Franks: As a medical practitioner can I ask Patricia: can she elaborate on biological reasons not to meddle [with the concept of marriage]?
Patricia Weerakoon: The male and female bodies are similar, both are beautiful, but one difference is our genitalia. I am a sexologist – when you look at the male and female genitalia they are a beautiful fit.
There is a complimentary fit between male and female sexual response.
Karl Faase: Which is very encouraging for all of us.
Faase played a comment by gay activist Denis Altman at the Sydney Writers Festival: “Now I am going to speak now as a gay man: one of the things about gay male culture is that it is not a monogamous culture. All the evidence we have suggests that monogamy is a myth. There are many longstanding gay relationships. There are virtually no longstanding monogamous gay relationships.”
Helen Meyer: Monogamy is important in investing in each other’s lives. It takes energy to work through our struggles as a family. The intimacy you get with working through monogamy is not possible without it.
Patricia Weerakoon: There is a brain bonding in sexual intercourse. The more sexual intercourse you have the more you have sex. God says, “Do it” and he gives you the brain mechanism to make it easy.
Patrick Parkinson: Do male homosexuals really want marriage, as we know it? We have already lost the concept that marriage is for life… if we lose marriage as between a man and a women what will we have left?
Email Question: I am often called homophobic. How can we include the suffering individual in our message?
Helen Meyer: My closest friends in primary school were homosexuals.
I hope we have enough compassion so that we can have the debate without being hostile.
We have same sex couples come to our church, who felt safe enough to be in our environment. That speaks volumes.
John Anderson: Regrettably the word is used to intimidate. Sometimes Christians have been homophobic. But progressives do go overboard. Christians living true to their beliefs are people who love regardless of people’s activities.
I am concerned that in our society we are losing stability. I hope I can put my beliefs in a calm, non-homophobic way.
I hope the Australian people through their parliament will be able to make their decision in a considered way. We need to calm this thing down.
Allan Meyer: The issue of homophobia does not enter into my thinking. Everyone struggles with sex. The issue is how are we supposed to handle it.
I am fortunate to behave an appropriate place to handle that. I have felt the pressure of my own sexuality, attracted to women other than my wife.
It has required significant self-control. So if I see others struggling… who is going to throw a stone?
Audience question from Jess Shirley: What is the churches teaching on homosexual relationships?
Allan Meyer: My question as a follower of Jesus is “what did Jesus say?”
“I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it” – he went back to the centre of Gods heart in the law in the Old Testament. I do not think the New Testament contemplates homosexual marriage. The New Testament approach is that sex and gender were invented for marriage and others are called to chastity.
The core blessing of the New Testament is for sinful people to be viewed not only as forgiven, but also as righteous as Jesus is.
A person may be struggling with all sorts of things. If Jesus Christ is the one in which you put your trust, heaven is your home. But you need to be following him.
Question from audience member Patrick: There are two arguments put forward for same sex marriage: one is that the cool people and celebrities are in favour. Another argument is that it is inevitable. Is it really the case that the majority support gay marriage?
John Anderson: I do not believe it is inevitable. The longer the debate runs, the majority of the Australian people who are not the celebrities or the media, will see what marriage is.
The progressives when I was a student thirty years ago were against marriage— it was “legalised prostitution”. Now they think it is so wonderful so everyone must have access to it. There’s a contradiction there.
Same sex marriage means same sex parenting. Children will be denied access to their biological parents. A biological parent’s name can be struck off the birth register- it is a failure of human rights.
If the law says same-sex marriage is exactly the same as heterosexual marriage the state will have to defend that view. We may not be allowed to put to our kids the way we want them to handle their sexuality. That will be a denial of our human rights.
It [same-sex marriage] is not inevitable.
Patrick Parkinson: In Australia we have had forty years of walking away from marriage. 35 per cent of babies are born outside marriage. Deep down Australians know we are reaping the whirlwind.
This might be a time to turn back that tide.
I am a family lawyer. I have supported same-sex rights on a whole lot of issues. But marriage has always meant throughout history the union of a man and a woman.
Marriage and same-sex relationships are like a rose and a carnation. They are different. I am not saying one is better than the other.
There is virtually no part of Federal and State law where same sex couples do not have the same rights.
Patricia Weerakoon: I have to look at the plethora of sexual practice…this year at a conference the topic was polyamory, a number of people living in a de facto relationship. We are also talking about genetic attraction, separated siblings who meet and fall in love.
Karl Faase: Do your colleagues think of you as homophobic?
Patricia Weerakoon: Oh no… no they don’t. I don’t have my identity as a heterosexual. But my identity is in Christ. The church has fallen down there. We need to have our identity in Christ so that we can call out to homosexuals.
Patricia Weerakoon: The age that young people are having sex is dropping. They are not seeing that role model of marriage…of love, of giving and sharing that is so much beyond sex.
Karl Faase: Is a child better or worse off in a same sex marriage?
Patrick Parkinson: That is a very controversial question right now. There has been research but the problem is that the sample sizes are just so small. The other issue is, who do you compare them with?
There has been a recent study that has shown that on 25 out of 40 indicators children in a same sex family were doing worse than children with two parents [man and woman]. They were doing about the same as children of a single parent.
It’s not rocket science that kids will do well when there is stability and proper role models.
John Anderson: If we are talking about kids growing up in a same sex marriage— the state – that is us— is saying that kids are growing up without a biological parent, no access to them, that is a human rights issue.
Once the state legislates for that sort of outcome, it will have to back it and say you cannot speak more favourably about some form of relationship than another.
In the United States, parents have been told they cannot impose their view of marriage on their children (in Massachusetts).
Patrick Parkinson: In the UK, people have lost their jobs because they have an objection to same sex marriage. One man lost his job because of a Facebook comment. It is happening right across the western world.
Karl Faase: What about the idea of marriage being about kids?
John Anderson: You can’t privatise marriage: it is a public issue. We all pay costs when families go wrong.
We all know marriage can be hard. We all know it can go wrong. But we should continue to set the gold standard.
We are wired for commitment. The making of a public declaration that you matter so much to me that I will give you the piece of paper is powerful in itself.
Everyone is important. That is the answer to homophobia. But some people cannot speak for themselves. We should not commodotise our children
Our children have no voice. We need to speak for them.
Allan Meyer: Our church grew in our importance when we went beyond ourselves and started to help people do marriage better.
We need to do marriage better. We need to do discipleship in marriage.
You have to fight for marriage. It is not enough to have a night like this. We need to do hard work in the community.
Let’s do the job we were given to do of discipleship.
Karl Faase: If same-sex marriage is legal, what’s to stop polygamy?
Patrick Parkinson: Once you move away from the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman there is nothing to stop it. I have just come back from a conference. Guess what we were talking about? Polygamy. There are consenting relationships that will want to be recognised as marriage.
Allan Meyer: What vision are we giving to the next generation? I have four children and ten grandchildren I want to give them a vision of a great nation.
Karl Faase: Is there a way for the churches and Christians to influence the media?
John Anderson: The history of our culture, our freedoms, are based in the Christian worldview that says everyone matters. We have turned on its head the normal view that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, or belongs to the richest person. It was the Christians who led the greatest human rights movement of all time (against slavery).
Without being proud, be secure. Know your stuff, and then build constructive relationships with your local Member of Parliament. Do something the media never does, and recognise that most of them are well motivated.
Turn the other cheek when people are rude in response.
Patrick Parkinson: You would not believe the impact a small number of people can have on public policy. That is what is happening now (with same-sex marriage).
God calls us into the public square.
Photo by Ramon Williams