Every man and woman in Australia needs to know they’re equally valuable to God. This applies to LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex) people just as it does for everyone else. So Christians are against any law that unfairly discriminates against an LGBTI person. As Anglicans, we actively supported the Same-Sex Relationships reforms in 2008 because it provided equal treatment, such as with laws regulating superannuation. Minister Tanya Plibersek said at the time, “We removed every piece of legal discrimination against gay men, lesbians and same- sex couples on the statute books”. It was the right thing to do for individuals. Today the debate isn’t really about discrimination – as Minister Plibersek declared, the discrimination has been removed. It’s about changing the definition of marriage. And when that happens, it could actually create new forms of discrimination. That’s because marriage is a compound right: the right of two adults to commit to a binding union plus the right to found a family. The right to found a family introduces children. Is it right to deny children the opportunity to be raised by their mother and father? As you’ll see later, that’s just one kind of right that can be negatively affected by changing the definition of marriage.
We’re for equality. We believe all people are made in the image of God. But equality isn’t achieved by letting anyone marry in any circumstance. Even those pushing for same-sex marriage would not want marriage opened to children or close relatives or more than two people. The definition of marriage currently defines the kinds of relationships that are recognised as marriage. Before Australia rushes into changing the definition of marriage, the question that needs to be asked is whether same-sex relationships can have full equality by other means, which won't have the adverse consequences that will flow from redefining marriage.
Bigotry has no place in a free, liberal society. And it’s completely unacceptable for Christians to act like bigots. A bigot is a person who is “intolerant towards those who hold different opinions from oneself” (OED). But to simply hold and voice a contrary view to others is not bigotry. Christians are not bigots when we express contrary opinions because we respect other people’s views. We also want to be respected when we share ours. If you ever feel silenced by someone because of your view, it may be the other person who is being the bigot. Marriage is one of the most vital conversations we can have. So we should respectfully speak about it even if some Australians disagree with our view. That’s what being part of a healthy democracy is all about.
We are not telling people whom they can love nor with whom they can live in a de facto relationship. Marriage is not just about these 'private' matters between a couple. Because marriage also impacts the rights of children, it is important that the State takes an interest in that relationship. Marriage is a public relationship, so it’s not surprising there's a public conversation about whether there are sufficient reasons to change the definition of marriage.
What we believe about LGBTI people is what we believe about all people – that we are made in the image of God and loved by him, and are also loved by his people. We are not in this discussion because we’re anti-anybody or anything. We’re in it because we are pro-woman, pro- man, pro-marriage, pro-family and pro- the common good.
Marriage is defined by God as a lifelong, exclusive union between a man and a woman for the benefit of the natural offspring of that union and for the flourishing of human society. That’s in everyone’s interest. And it affects our common future because the sexual union of a man and a woman has the inherent capacity for children to be born and to be raised by their mother and father. Because that affects our common future, it’s something we should all be interested in.
In one way, that’s absolutely true. The question is, has it changed for the better? In 1975 the Federal Government changed the law to allow for no-fault divorce. The legal definition of marriage in Australia changed at that point and this weakened the institution of marriage, which has come at a big cost – emotional, psychological and financial. Just as we opposed those legal changes then (with good reason, as it has turned out), we also oppose the idea of “open” marriages (non-monogamous marriages), “throuples” (polyamorous marriages) and “same-sex marriages” today.
While not every marriage results in children, every child has a mother and father. Man-woman marriages have the potential for children. God’s design for marriage protects children by providing them with a mum and a dad who, in the normal course of events, will care for and nurture them.
All people are made in God’s image, and of course that includes same-sex attracted people. God welcomes all people into his family. And Christians, when they’re doing their job, welcome all people into their fellowships – straight, same-sex attracted and those who struggle with their gender identity. The conversation isn’t about God’s value for individual people and everyone’s need for love. It’s about God’s good plan for marriage. The Bible teaches it isn’t for everyone. In fact, it teaches that it’s a good thing to be single. Jesus was single; the Apostle Paul was, too. They both lived rich and significant lives. But for those who do want to get married, they need to know that God intends it to be for a man and a woman.
He really doesn’t. He does have a problem – and we see this throughout the Bible – with acts of sex outside of a man-woman marriage. In 1 Corinthians 6, homosexual sex is listed alongside adultery and sexual immorality. An adulterous relationship is not something that God blesses, and therefore is not a “marriage” recognised by him (even if it is recognised by the State). The sexually active same-sex relationship likewise involves actions that God does not bless. God does not approve of men who are “inflamed with lust for one another [and] commit indecent acts with other men” (Romans 1:27), nor of “women [who] exchange natural relations for unnatural ones” (Romans 1:26).
We should do it the way Jesus does. When he met a woman caught in adultery, Jesus neither condemns her nor condones her sin. Jesus challenged those who were about to stone the woman – “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” When all her accusers had left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you”. But he does not leave it at that. His final words to her were, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). To be true followers of Jesus we must do three things. First, we must never condemn people but instead respond with grace, just as God has shown us his amazing grace in forgiving our sin. Second, we must love people enough to warn them of the need to turn to God in repentance, because there is a coming judgment. Third, we must urge anyone who has turned to Christ to leave a life of sin and to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
Some say that the Bible has simply got it wrong, because it is an ancient text reflecting a mistaken understanding of LGBTI people. Others say that we have got the Bible wrong, and that God only disapproves of "straight people having gay sex" or that he only disapproves of promiscuous, exploitative or abusive same-sex relationships. These claims are evaluated and comprehensively rebutted here.
We certainly need to be careful about the kind of discussion we have. When Senator Penny Wong previously spoke in favour of the traditional definition of marriage (she has since changed her mind) she chose the following words: “On the issue of marriage I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that, which we have to respect”. These are calm, respectful words. They certainly aren’t homophobic, given that she is a lesbian woman herself. There is no evidence that public discussions overseas have led to an increase in LGBTI youth suicide. The Irish referendum points in the opposite direction, with the overall suicide rate falling in 2014-2015. LGBTI youth have nothing to fear from a respectful, public discussion about same- sex marriage. This is an area where Christians really need to take the lead by modelling what a respectful debate looks like.
Christians are people who care about the future, not just the here and now. There are some obvious consequences of changing the marriage laws, especially when it comes to children. For male same-sex couples, one of the main options for children is surrogacy. However, commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia and in most other developed countries, which has led to a growing commercial surrogacy market in developing countries. In 2015, India had to enact legislation to ban foreigners from using surrogate mothers in the country. The potential for pay-for-baby arrangements has implications for the objectification and enslaving of women’s bodies. Introducing laws that provide for the increased use of surrogacy will, by their nature, facilitate the intentional severing of the parent-child biological bond. That’s where the talk of consequences becomes very real. We have to ask if it is fair on the child who will never know both of his or her natural parents.
Christians have always spoken up on social issues such as slavery, sex trafficking, poverty and refugees. The issue of marriage is a social concern to which the Bible clearly speaks and out of love for people in our churches, a number of whom are same- sex attracted, and out of love for our neighbours, we need to speak up.
In the Asia-Pacific only one country (New Zealand) has introduced same-sex marriage. We’re hearing about it a lot because of the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court (Obergefell v. Hodges). That case involved legal disadvantages that same-sex couples faced in the USA, which they do not face in Australia because of reforms we made in 2008. We don’t have to go the way of America. We need to have an Australian conversation about this.
The claim that same-sex marriage is "inevitable" because it has the support of the majority of Australians is misleading. In a telling article published just after the Plebiscite Bill was blocked in the Senate, same-sex marriage advocate Samuel Leighton-Dore acknowledged that focus group research indicated that a same-sex marriage plebiscite would have been "lost" had it happened in February 2017.
The plebiscite was blocked in the hope of a free parliamentary vote on this issue. However, this outcome is looking unlikely in this parliamentary term. It's possible that a people's vote will be pursued again in time. It's noteworthy that the people's vote had earlier enjoyed strong public support (at around 70%) before the opponents of a people's vote prevailed. If there is neither a people's vote nor a free vote in the current term of the Federal Government, then same-sex marriage is likely to become a campaign issue in the next Federal election. This would be a distraction for both major political parties. Same-sex marriage advocate Rodney Croome recently outlined his strategy for a grassroots political campaign on this issue.  Those supporting the current definition of marriage will likewise need to go about a grassroots political campaign. We need to be prepared to engage in public discussion about same-sex marriage at some point over the next three years whenever and however it will ultimately be voted upon.
2. Comment made on Network Ten, July 25, 2010.