Marriage Legalised | One Commonwealth | Now to reclaim the word tradition

The Commonwealth Parliament was finally legalised same-sex marriage, or perhaps more precisely, ‘marriage between two people’.  The Royal Assent has been given.  What seems to have been a long, long march for LGBTIQA Australians might have reached a destination.  But, I wonder.

The black-letter wording of the postal survey and the legislative reforms have been about marriage, but the sub-text, the real meaning of it all, has been the question of whether LGBTIQA people are truly equal citizens with other Australians, whether we too are part of the histories, the present and the futures of our commonwealth.  That two-thirds of Australians said yes, that parliament has finally said yes, that the Crown has assented – I’m still not sure whether I believe this, or will suddenly wake-up and find it was all a dream.  I still fear pinching myself.

The prime minister has made jubilant claims to ‘his’ reform, parliamentarians have suddenly embraced and appropriated the outcome en-masse.  But really, these are the very people who spent years and years prevaricating and obfuscating and throwing obstacles at every turn.  This is a victory for the citizenry who voted and accepted us, for our common weal, not a trophy for the political class.  I don’t believe any party will gain any advantage from the outcome, and neither should they.  I have yet to meet a single person who thanks the prime minister, despite his ebullient claims to paternity.  Success, as always, is claimed by many parents and I nominate Australians everywhere.

The survey form, by which the people instructed the parliament to act

I do make an honourable exception for the small group of LGBTIQA parliamentarians, and especially Senator for Western Australia, Dean Smith.  Amongst all his hard work in achieving this historic outcome, Senator Smith still found time to arrange for royal and vice-regal greetings to be sent to my parents when they recently marked their 60th wedding anniversary.  That is the mark of a man who truly respects and values tradition (and I mean an actual real man, not the fake men who even on the last day still tried to damn us all as AIDS-infested paedophiles[1]).  Respect, Senator Dean Smith, Respect.

Senator Dean Smith, Western Australia

But, I remain wary, uncertain.  The Murdoch press overflows with lengthy opinion pieces that read like a call to arms, a crusade under the banner of ‘religious freedom’[2].  It is difficult to read and be blind to an insidious theme running through these pieces: same-sex marriage, and by implication every LGBTIQA person, inherently represses, simply by their existence, every person of faith and every religious institution.  This terrible oppression can only be relieved by somehow containing and controlling LGBTIQA people.  On the other hand, the Fairfax press rather blithely editorialise “The gay and lesbian community … have survived [the survey] unscathed … In six months, once the euphoria dies down, few outside the gay and lesbian communities will notice anything has changed”.[3]  More wish than analysis, I suspect.  So much opposition has been uttered in the name of religion, views that have truly surprised, worried, shocked and indeed ‘scathed’ many people.  However, I think two contending positions are now evident among religious Australians.

One the one hand, there have been many, many good people of faith who openly supported LGBTIQA people, who continue to do so, and realise that now is a moment to be heard.  The Anglican Archdeacon of Albury and The Hume, in the Diocese of Wangaratta, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says:

“It would [now] be right for the people of Australia to anticipate an apology for faith based discrimination, and a migration away from churches that continue to discriminate and towards institutions and communities that support traditional values of respect, compassion and equality.”[4]

The Diocese of Wangaratta is roughly contiguous with the rural seat of Indi, which voted 63.1% Yes[5].  Similarly, the ex-Anglican and gay minister of Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney has argued:

“The church has been appalling to LGBTIQ people telling them there’s no place for them … that they are sinful … I am certainly hoping the inclusion of LGBTIQ couples into the institution of marriage with God’s blessing will occur.”[6]

Paddington is in the wealthy inner-Sydney seat of Wentworth, which recorded an 80.8% Yes vote.  These are arguments from within the churches, and they suggest there is a more expansive common ground between us all that was somehow hidden during the survey debates.

One the other hand, some No campaigners derive strength from their claimed repression.  I had held some hope that perhaps I might marry my partner of 19 years in the same church my parents and grand-parents were married, in which several generations have been baptised (including me) and buried.  But, alas, such traditions are of No value to the Anglican Bishop of North West Australia who, having campaigned for a No vote, has been very quick to pronounce:

…he would not deviate from God’s word … it would seem a terrible imposition to have that freedom taken away from us when it’s our property … gay people, like adulterers, should be encouraged to repent.[7]

The Bishop “…has firmly declared he will not allow same-sex couples to marry inside his churches”.[8]

His stance was well-known before the survey, when he threatened, in the case of a Yes result,

“… we might just withdraw all [marriage] approvals for everyone”, and polemically demanded “…[if] a same-sex couple came in saying ‘We want to use your building’ and we said ‘no’, will be have a right to say no to a use of our building?”[9]

The Lord Bishop sounds overly-conscious of ‘his’ ecclesiastical estate, which is already well-known for its ‘buildings’, which women are forbidden to ‘use’ for preaching.  The huge electorate roughly contiguous with the Diocese of North West Australia, the mining and pastoral seat of Durack, recorded a 59.2% Yes, 13th highest in WA, 98th highest nationally, higher than the State of New South Wales.  Clearly, the Anglicans of North West Australia did not succumb to threats.

1937

1957

2017

I fear the religious freedom crusade will take some unfortunate twists and turns, and LGBTIQA people will once again find ourselves targets.  The Ruddock religious freedoms committee appointed by the prime minister already sounds McCarthyist.

One place to find some common ground between LGBTIQA and good religious people is to

reclaim the word tradition.  The No reactionaries have tried to hijack and steal this word, to make it their own.  Well, it isn’t theirs.  It does not belong to them.  It never did and never will.  We should all work now to reclaim this word and what it represents.

The Lord Bishop’s denials in North West Australia are not tradition, they’re anti-tradition.  They’re just plain nasty.  We don’t have to take that anymore.  But exclusion always benefits someone, and so will always have its defenders.  The law is already clear that the Lord Bishop can arbitrarily ban and exclude us from ‘his buildings’ (a.k.a. traditional parish churches and church halls) at will.  He can erect a ‘rainbow bar’ with complete impunity at any time.  He can deny deep, traditional, personal links between any LGBTIQA person and any church within his vast domains upon a whim.  He can drape his ‘buildings’ with all manner of signs that demean unrepentant LGBTIQA people whenever he wants.  It’s his private (tax-free) property, after all.  Too bad for us, we just have to accept that.  But we don’t have to accept, for a moment, people like the Lord Bishop traducing the word tradition or arrogating it to their campaign for a ‘new segregation’ under the banner of religious freedom.

Priorities of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney: ironfistvelvetglove

Priorities of other Anglicans: Bendigo Advertiser 28 August 2017

Ruddock’s religious freedom committee looms in 2018.  LGBTIQA people have a long, long history of being on the receiving end of such ‘freedoms’.  It is hard to ignore the history of the No case’s principal mouthpiece, the ACL, which grew out of an organisation based in Toowoomba (in the electorate of Groom, 50.8% No vote) dedicated to re-criminalising homosexuality and restoring the death penalty[10].  Vigilance is a tradition we must continue to maintain.

Reclaiming the word tradition is an act every person can do.  At least it might begin to assuage the uneasiness I can’t quite shake, the nagging doubt in the back of my mind, despite the euphoria of the moment.


[1] Jacqueline Maley, ‘Same sex marriage legalised: now let’s hunt crocs’, Sydney Morning Herald News Review, 9 December 2017: 33; for an example of international coverage see ‘Gay people ‘Have only existed for 60 years’ MP claims’, The Metro, 8 December 2017

[2] Paul Kelly, ‘Amid jubilation and history lie deep divisions’: 15; Cameron Stewart, ‘Love, Constitutionally’: 19; letters under ‘Parliament rejoiced imposing a new belief system’: 21; Weekend Australian, 9 December 2017

[3] editorial, ‘Turn of fortune? Gold at the end of rainbow week’, Sydney Morning Herald News Review, 9 December 2017: 30

[4] ‘Unchanged marriage bill relief’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2017: 19

[5] All survey figures are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey Results

[6] ‘Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney bombarded with same-sex wedding bookings – but there’s a catch’, ABC News online, 8 December 2017

[7] ‘Bishop ‘no’ to church weddings’, West Australian, 16 November 2017: 14

[8] ‘Dean seeks OK over gay rites’, West Australian, 25 November 2017: 20

[9] ‘Anglican bishop threatens over Australian same-sex marriages’, La Croix International: The world’s premier independent Catholic daily, 12 October 2017

[10] Logos Foundation (Australia), Wikipedia, accessed 10 December 2017

2 comments on “Marriage Legalised | One Commonwealth | Now to reclaim the word tradition

  1. I have been going to ‘Leave a Reply’ ever since this entry was posted. I felt happy and sad. I have same-sex friends who were delighted and others who were saddened by the survey. Those happy, because they can now marry, if they wish and those saddened by the whole process, wondering why it was necessary for the survey in the first place and for them to be treated differently. As you say, marriage is now between two people. I feel extremely sad that you are unable to marry in the church of your choice, the church where your great grandparents and parents were married and where you were baptised. However, there have always been rejections, for one reason or another by persons of ‘the cloth’. I would rather marry where I was welcomed, which is something I am sure you will consider. Best wishes.

  2. I think that feeling revulsion for the process, especially some of the things said and printed, but at the same time happiness at the outcome, is fairly common. However there are very complex emotions and consequences at work, and that is why I think it is probably a mistake for campaigners for other causes to read too much into the outcome alone, and apply it uncritically to their own issues.
    As for the church, the bishop’s prohibition just struck me as so hard-hearted and insensitive, especially when announced at that time. I’m in no rush to get married, if at all, but facing that sort of segregation, all legally allowable, is nevertheless a shock and generates its own backlash. Interestingly, around the very same village, I have ancestors who had a ‘mixed marriage’, as they were called then (Anglican/Catholic), for which their son was deemed illegitimate and he in turn had to marry in the school room. The building of this ‘new’ church in 1912 was a turning point in that story as it came with more socially-liberal ‘High Churchmen’. It now feels as though the wheel has turned full-circle back to pre-1912. It raises a question of which is the local tradition – exclusion or inclusion?
    Of course, the bishop can legally do whatever he likes with his property and his buildings, I know that, and as you say, I wouldn’t want to be married (should I ever desire that) by someone who would regard me and my partner as inherently sinful and polluting of his property and buildings.
    Nevertheless, I remain apprehensive of the price yet to be paid for the postal survey outcome, and the views of people like the bishop won’t be assuaged by merely being allowed to build, and flaunt, a rainbow bar around their properties. That price will become more evident through the workings of the Ruddock Committee as they unfold this year, which I will follow with great interest.

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