We need to pause and ask: “What is marriage?”

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Home > Archbishop > Frontpage Message > We need to pause and ask: “What is marriage?”

Our society is engaged in a public debate on whether the current legal definition of marriage should be changed.

We will soon have the opportunity to cast our vote on this question. Yet I do not believe that we have really stopped to consider what marriage is, and why government takes an interest in it, and what the consequences of changing the legal definition of marriage might be for our society.

Marriage is a natural institution.  Properly understood the term marriage refers to a particular type of relationship, that of an exclusive lifelong commitment between one man and one woman oriented towards the generation and raising of children. This relationship is grounded in a completely unique and natural sexual biological complementarity between a man and a woman. It is only through this one man one woman relationship that a child can come naturally into existence. This relationship we know as marriage was not created and instituted by the state, but in the course of history the state has recognised that communities and societies do best when this particular natural institution is given official recognition and protection.

The state has a compelling interest in the marriage relationship because it involves the possibility of generating children. Children are important to the state because in a very basic sense they are necessary for the continuation of the society.

It also recognises that human beings have an innate desire to know their history, where they came from. Legal recognition of marriage provides this knowledge. The children born within this relationship have clear and immediate knowledge of their history and identity. They know that they have a dad and a mum, and they are the fruit of each of them. They know not only their biological parents, but their genealogical line. They know that who they are has a history and they can situate themselves within a clear lineage. Their identity is secure.

With regard to equality, the state’s recognition of the marriage relationship does not involve the promotion of inequality in relation to other relationships which involve a lifelong commitment. There is simply no other relationship equivalent to the one man one woman relationship we refer to as marriage. This relationship is unique on all levels, biologically, emotionally and psychologically. It is the only type of relationship that is capable of generating new life.

This postal vote is not about love or equality as those promoting change are claiming. While marriages should be based on mutual love this has never been the concern of the state, only the free consent of the parties. The current Marriage Act contains nothing about love and there is no proposal to include the concept of love if the act is changed. Our term ‘love’ is used to capture a range of different realities. Many cultures both ancient and modern have multiple terms to express what we refer to as a love. The state did not seek to legally recognise marriage because it was a loving relationship. The state does not have any compelling reason to regulate the relationship between any two people as such, whether these are loving and committed relationships or not.

Finally, I believe the crucial issue of this postal vote concerns the consequences of removing gender from the Marriage Act. All good legislators know that in seeking to amend existing laws one must carefully consider the possible unintended consequences and flow on effects.

Overseas we have seen where the legal recognition of marriage has been replaced in law with genderless relationships legislation there have been profound consequences for freedom of speech, conscience and religious freedom. Religious schools have been threatened with loss of registration for not teaching radical LGBTQI sex education. Individuals have lost their jobs for conscientious objection to involvement in LGBTQI events or activities. Indeed already in Tasmania I have been cited for possibly being in breach of the Anti-discrimination Act for merely promoting Christian teaching on marriage to my Christian community. And this is when the legal definition of marriage remains consistent with the Christian understanding. What will happen if the law changes and this Christian understanding conflicts with the law?

This postal vote is not about love and equality, rather it is about ending the legal recognition of marriage and replacing it with recognition of a new type of genderless relationship. Not only does government have no compelling interest to regulate genderless relationships between any two persons, the consequences of such a change would be a significant loss of freedoms we currently enjoy.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
14 September 2017