We’re Not Debating Same-Sex Marriage—We Just Think We Are

Part 3 of 3

It’s still a fortnight until Australia votes, but the topic is already hot and has been for weeks. Who said Australians don’t care about politics?

Both sides have offered compelling arguments. In a recent blog, I tried to navigate these and champion a response that looks like Jesus, where principles are valued, and people are too. (Have a read of it here).

I received many warm words of feedback, from both sides. And I had to trash a lot of scathing remarks, also from both sides.

“Who said Australians don’t care about politics?”

In the end, I advocated for marriage as Jesus defines it, so naturally my harshest critics were on the yes side. And their words continue to ring in my ears.

So I’ve done some digging, and underneath their assumptions I made a surprising discovery. The debate we’re having isn’t really about same-sex marriage. It’s about other things entirely. Most surprising of all is that no one seems to notice.

“People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, sexuality.”

It’s not that the debate has gone off-topic. These other conversations need to be had. In fact they’re so important that if you can sway me on these, I’ll vote yes too.

So what is Australia really debating behind the same-sex marriage question? What would I need to be convinced of to throw my weight behind the yes campaign?

1. A person’s sexuality is their identity

Headlines collect like dark clouds on the horizon. Tyrants, riots, terrorism. The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans, lost and scrambling for identity.

People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, and sexuality. All of these contribute to our sense of self—but to build an entire identity on any of them is to seal the fate of our own disillusionment.

“The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans.”

The reason is simple. You can’t know who you are until you know whose you are. I am deeply known and loved by the One who created me. I don’t know a more solid ground where I camp my worth, and even begin to work out who I am.

I get it. Voting no can seem like a frontal assault on someone’s identity. But to any who feel that way, I want to plead with you that you are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.

2. This vote is a referendum on people’s humanity

It’s for the same reason that I refuse to see a no vote as a statement that anyone is subhuman. Framing the debate this way helps the yes cause—but it does terrible damage to those it’s trying to protect.

To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offered a caring, if complex, response: safety from her would-be executioners, and a life-changing commission. Go and sin no more.

“You are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.”

God knows, the church has a long way to go before it looks like Jesus in this scene. Still, the Saviour’s point is clear: someone’s lifestyle isn’t to be confused with their humanity.

Vote yes or no this September, but remember the vote is about marriage, not people’s status as human beings. We’re all made in the image of God, and that’s a truth no survey can change.

3. Religion should stay out of politics

If religion should stay out of politics, then as a Christian, I should abstain from this vote altogether. But then so should everyone else.

To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity. Everyone’s beliefs influence their political views—this is just as true for the secular humanist as for the devoutly religious.

“To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity.”

Separation of church and state is about letting the government and the church both influence society for good, without either thinking they are the other. It’s not about a religion-free society. (A few communist states tried that last century and it didn’t turn out so well).

If you’re a Christian and you feel terrible about imposing your view on the rest of society—in this or any other vote—take comfort. If you don’t like the result of the postal vote, the rest of society will have imposed its view on you.

4. Less Christian influence in society is a good thing

The inquisition, the crusades and priestly abuses shock us all. The church has many apologies to make and a lot of trust to regain.

But for decades now this narrative has drowned out all else. You wouldn’t know it, but the role of Christianity in shaping our science, medicine, education, technology, democracy, reason and yes, equality, was nothing short of monumental.

“The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage.”

If all the church did through history was interrogate, kill and abuse, I’d be the first to jump ship. But I’ve done my homework. If the West divorces itself from the legacy of Jesus, we’ll only know what we had once it’s gone.

Even atheist Richard Dawkins has his reservations. This avowed critic of the church has “mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage. But most of us don’t even know what that is. And we abandon it at our peril.

5. Marriage is just about love between two people

I’ve heard that this vote is just about two people who love each other—it’s not about kids or broader society. But if this vote is about marriage, then by definition it’s about both kids and society, because all three are unbreakably linked.

Not all married couples have children. But marriage has and always will play a crucial role in raising the next generation. That’s why the government has such a vested interest in it.

Can any combination of genders parent? I’ll leave that to the experts. But to isolate marriage from all other relationships is to misunderstand it completely.

6. Ultimate fulfilment is found in sex

It’s not just porn saying that a life without sex isn’t worth living. The entertainment industry has preached that sermon for a hundred years, and no one questions it.

But we should. Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable. And many who are celibate are more than satisfied. Jesus was. (And yes, he was a flesh and blood human).

“Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable.”

Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but like all of his good gifts, we tend to carve an idol out of it. The thing with idols is they promise you the world, taking you to the highest of heights, only to push you off the edge and let you plummet.

Jesus will never do that. He came to give life, and life abundant. What can’t truly be said of sex can always be said of him. In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11).

I will vote yes next month if anyone can convince me these six points are true. Until then, let’s keep not debating same-sex marriage.

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Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

10 comments

  1. Pingback: The Compelling Case For and Against Same-Sex Marriage | Culture, Worldview and Life with Jesus
  2. Pingback: Same-Sex Marriage Might Set the Church Straight | Culture, Worldview and Life with Jesus
  3. Peter B · August 31, 2017

    On point 2, your response seems to be “you are no less valuable, but I still want to deny you the rights I have”. I hope you can see how wrong that sounds.
    On point 5, as I and others pointed out in response to your first post, SSM has no effect on children’s rights.
    You don’t need to believe points 1, 3, 4 or 6 to vote “yes”.

    Like

    • kmahlburg · September 23, 2017

      Hi Peter, thanks for your reply.

      I understand that for the “yes” camp, this is an issue of rights. I think you’ll find that for the “no” camp, it’s an issue of definitions. I’m yet to meet anyone who believes same-sex couples deserve to be discriminated against before the law. Some 80+ laws were changed last decade to remove discrimination against same-sex couples, and what discrimination remains would be best dealt with, I believe, in a similar way.

      Changing the Marriage Act, however, is a question of definitions. For those who hold the traditional or classical view of marriage, same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, like a square circle or a married bachelor. I can understand how that might be perceived as offensive or discriminatory, but I don’t believe it’s intended that way: there are all sorts of people that marriage currently and always will discriminate against: siblings, those under age, more than two people, and people already married.

      The language of “rights” certainly sounds like a cause for us to all get behind, but in fact the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have both found that there is no inequality of rights where states hold a traditional definition of marriage, so long as provisions like civil partnerships are made for same-sex couples.

      Ironically, it is also the UN that has found that children have the right to be known and raised by their own parents where possible, so same-sex marriages that bear children will deny that right by design. I am yet to hear an answer to this very serious outcome of legalising SSM.

      You might not need to believe 1, 3, 4 or 6 to vote “yes” and that’s fine. Whether stated or assumed, I think all four of these help form the bedrock thinking of a great many who will vote yes, which is why I included them here.

      Like

  4. James McLean · September 4, 2017

    1. A person’s sexuality is their identity

    Not sure what kind of a point you were trying to make with orphans here, but sure. Go for it.

    I agree that a person’s sexuality does not make up their entire identity. But I would suggest that for homosexuals and other members of the LGBTQIA community, it can be a much more powerful and personal aspect of their identity. If you have grown up as a heterosexual person, as I have (and I assume you as well) then we’ve never been subject to any indication from society that our sexual orientation is anything other than normal; we grew up assuming we’d be attracted to girls, that’s how it all turned out, yippee.

    But consider people who may well have assumed they would be attracted to the opposite sex, and found as they grew up that this wasn’t the case. I have several friends who are gay, and I know that for some of them it took a long time for them to feel confident and comfortable with their own sexuality. That these sorts of journeys often take place during high school years when kids pick on one another for being different makes it even harder. How many times during your schooling did you hear students accusing others of being gay like it was a terrible insult? I know I heard it a lot.

    Not to mention society generally regarding “straight” and heterosexual as “normal”. Being able to embrace your sexuality as anything other than this requires a courage and strength that people like you and I can’t possibly relate to.

    Imagine growing up in a society where homosexuality is the norm, and you start feeling attracted to women. Wouldn’t coming to terms with that take some serious self-discovery and effort to feel comfortable in yourself, after years of being teased by bullies at school? Having to come out to your dads as “straight” and feeling scared they may not love you as much or at all after finding out? Going through things like that, don’t you think your sexuality would inevitably become a bigger part of who you are than if you’d grown up “gay” like your friends in this hypothetical scenario?

    So no, no-one’s sexuality is their whole identity, but there are sure people in our community for whom it is a more defining and important quality. And to your pleading eyes, they already know they’re more than their sexuality. But thanks.

    2. This vote is a referendum on people’s humanity

    The only people whose humanity has really been thrown into question so far are the people in the “no” camp putting up hateful posters declaring “stop the fags” full of invented statistics. Or the Coalition for Marriage with their mind-boggling television ad trying to prove that it’s not just old white dudes who can be homophobic.
    If we’re all humans and all equal, we all deserve equal rights. Right?

    3. Religion should stay out of politics
    4. Less Christian influence in society is a good thing

    These two are kind of related.

    There are a lot of good bits and pieces in the Christian faith, which admittedly much of Western society was built upon. As far as morals and loving each other, I can’t disagree with those sorts of things; they’re objectively good ideas as far as having a sustainable society.

    In the 2016 census, barely half the country (just around 52% which, yes is technically a majority, but not by much) listed themselves as Christian. This is the lowest number to date, and is a sign that Christianity has no more or less place than any other way of thinking within politics and society. It’s definitely not a sign that we should adhere to what people say is the “traditional” idea of marriage as interpreted from the Bible. There’s no such controversy over a Buddhist or Hindu couple getting married within their beliefs; how is the belief that people should be free to marry a member of their own sex any different? If the bill is passed, heterosexuals aren’t going to need to enter into a marriage with a member of the same sex. It simply doesn’t affect us.

    You might argue that this opens the door to all kinds of “terrible” things, like fluid gender identity, or boys wanting to wear dresses, or a general open-mindedness within our schooling system. But a freedom of self-expression has never done anyone any harm. It’s not dangerous to allow children the freedom to find themselves and feel they’re being true to who they want to be. Far from it. Don’t’ you think if kids were allowed to just be themselves without judgement, they’d be happier with themselves?

    People’s beliefs, whether Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, atheist or anything else, are going to affect their views and their vote. There are Christians who will vote “yes” and there are non-Christians who will vote “no”. But if a “Christian influence on society” is going to prevent something as simple as equal rights for all Australians then yes, it should be lessened.

    5. Marriage is just about love between two people

    Marriage is largely about love between two people though. And there are no laws existing barring same sex couples from raising kids, so surely allowing the parents of these children to marry is doing nothing aside from giving them a more solid foundation for them to grow up in.

    A strong argument coming from the “no” side is that children need both a mother and a father to develop properly. I’d argue that’s not the case. Yes, the experience for a child growing up with two mums or two dads would be different but “different” does not equal “worse”. A same sex couple are also never ever going to have a child or children unless they both really want one. You don’t just accidentally go through an IVF treatment, or an entire adoption process.

    6. Ultimate fulfilment is found in sex

    This is totally not what is being argued here at all.

    Like

    • kmahlburg · September 23, 2017

      Hi James, thanks for your comments and for your patience with my slow reply.

      Regarding the orphans comment, it’s a biblical analogy. The way Christians often put this is that all of us are born as spiritual orphans until we’re adopted into God’s family.

      1. I’m glad you agree that we as humans are more than our sexuality. And while I see your point that people in the LGBTQIA community feel it’s more powerful and personal than other aspects of their personhood that’s precisely what I’m encouraging such people to rethink. I think it’s incredibly unfair that anyone would endure bullying for who they find themselves attracted to. While I don’t argue that this aspect of their experience should be ignored, I believe that the healthiest way to navigate life is for all people to see their sexuality, whatever it is, as just one small (though not insignificant) part of who they are, not our primary identity. This was the point I was making, and of course, others are free to disagree.

      2. I made the case for everyone’s equal humanity, and you seemed to agree with this in your rhetorical questions. But then in the same breath, you called into question the humanity of people who don’t happen to share your political viewpoint. There seems to be some irony in that. I’m not particularly interested in defending the “no” campaign (though I do note that the poster you refer to was a media beat-up from a private message most likely originating in the USA). But either way, the “yes” campaign is running itself aground on this kind of lopsided logic, which many everyday Australians are beginning to perceive as intolerant.

      3/4. Great to hear you concede the good that Christianity has contributed to the West. I also agree with you that many of the good morals in the Christian faith also find resonance in human experience more broadly.

      Christianity is certainly on the decline statistically, but “barely half the country” still puts it far ahead of the nearest bloc (“no religion”), which is just under 30%. These numbers certainly shouldn’t be what determines public policy, but I would simply say that if Christianity is still looked to by half the population as providing helpful guiding principles for our lives and our democracy, then people shouldn’t be ashamed of letting those principles shape the way they vote on this and other issues.

      It’s hand-waving to suggest that this vote only affects the LGBTQIA community. The very fact that there is a public conversation about it attests to the fact that the institution of marriage matters to a great many Australians. Reimagining our society’s bedrock institution without gender can’t help but reshape our nation’s language, education, rights and freedoms, even if the voting slip doesn’t ask those questions.

      Your comment about kids being happier if they can just be themselves seems to make the assumption that everything a child wants to do is best for them. Parenting is necessary for the simple fact that this isn’t always true, and I’m convinced parents are better placed than the state to provide the best guidance for their children on these issues.

      5. As it happens, I’m a big fan of adoption and I believe that same-sex couples raising adopted children is far better than those same kids not being given a future at all, or enduring unstable and dysfunctional state systems of care. My point wasn’t which kind of family unit is best for kids (I’ll let the experts argue that)—my point is simply that to isolate the discussion of marriage from childrearing is disingenuous, since it’s this very connection that makes marriage relevant to the state.

      6. I agree—no one has articulated this argument. But it seems to be an unspoken assumption underlying the entire debate, and I’m yet to hear it addressed.

      Like

  5. Oliver Kerr · September 14, 2017

    Hey Kurt,
    Thankyou for writing about this issue, I appreciate your opinions and that you have taken the time to consider both sides of the argument. However, I think that you are over complicating the issue. Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbour. Not to judge them or weigh their sins against ours, not to do anything which chases them away from Him. When you go to vote, please stop and ask yourself, is my answer the most loving answer that I can give? Jesus told us to pull the plank out of our own eye first, to not cast the first stone until we are perfect. Whether or not you consider gay marriage a sin, it is not our responsibility to force our opinions on others. If this vote fails because the church was against it, how many souls will we have lost because we did not love unconditionally? If even one person turns away, we as the church have failed again. Your opinion holds a lot of weight, consider it wisely.
    God bless, Olly

    Like

    • kmahlburg · September 23, 2017

      Hey Olly, no worries and thanks for your comments. Couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said about love for God and neighbour and how important it is that we don’t stand in judgment over others or throw stones – I’ve actually blogged quite a bit on this topic.

      As a follower of Jesus, love is absolutely a guiding principle for me. And truth is as well. After all, we’re called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). I don’t think truth and love need to compete, I think it is possible to walk in both, which is what I’ve attempted to do in this series of blogs.

      About forcing my opinion on others, I would simply point you to what I wrote originally:

      “If religion should stay out of politics, then as a Christian, I should abstain from this vote altogether. But then so should everyone else. To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity. Everyone’s beliefs influence their political views—this is just as true for the secular humanist as for the devoutly religious. Separation of church and state is about letting the government and the church both influence society for good, without either thinking they are the other. It’s not about a religion-free society. If you’re a Christian and you feel terrible about imposing your view on the rest of society—in this or any other vote—take comfort. If you don’t like the result of the postal vote, the rest of society will have imposed its view on you.”

      If by “souls being lost” you mean people eternally separated from God then I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m beholden to what God has said in his word and I make it my effort to warn people away from the sin that leads there and instead point them to the saving work of Jesus that brings eternal life.

      If, on the other hand, by “souls being lost” you mean that people might feel offended and dislike the church even more because of our beliefs, then I believe the best course isn’t to abandon what God has always said about human sexuality, but to humbly and graciously portray God’s alternative path that leads to life.

      I have spent a lot of time considering my view on this and while I’m certainly open to correction, I believe that I hold the view I do precisely because I have considered it wisely. Thanks again Olly, look forward to seeing you soon 😉

      Like

  6. Jeffrey Liakos · December 1

    We should not be debating an issue that should be seen as a civil rights issue. People who claim that gays and lesbians choose to be that way have no understanding of biology.

    Like

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