Editors’ note: 

Laws sghape society. It’s not irrational to conclude that de-gendering marriage will advance ideologies and programs that promote a de-gendered view of humanity

Christians should be known as people who say ‘yes’.

Yes to human rights. Yes to love. Yes to freedom.

And yes, to marriage.

And that’s what we’re being asked to do when it comes to this postal vote. A gay acquaintance wrote to me publicly, saying:

I would ask you and your readership to understand that you are to be given a vote on the private lives of people like me…Were I already to be married to my partner of ten years, what harm would have been done to you or to the society we form together?’

It’s an impassioned plea, and one that pulls at the heartstrings of Christians.

And so, from what I’ve seen, increasing numbers of Christians are beginning to wonder: what is the problem with the government allowing Jean and Rosie to marry? Why should that be opposed? Why not just change the law, and be done with it?

It’s an important question. And as I’ve talked to people about it, it’s obvious that it’s not a straightforward issue. We need to think deeply, and carefully.

And so, as I’ve reflected on SSM, I had one of those ‘aha’ moments when the fog clears, and the issue starts making (more) sense.

I’ve come to understand that the SSM debate is like a puzzle. And like any puzzle, we need to get the pieces in place before it makes sense.

Otherwise, the whole issue remains somewhat confusing.

So let’s start with a key piece of the SSM puzzle –a piece that helps make sense of all the others.

This piece doesn’t get much airtime – in fact it’s undervalued or ignored by those pushing for change. But it helps us understand why we should be hesitant in changing the Marriage Act:


Puzzle Piece #1 – The ‘Undervalued’ Piece In This Debate: The Power of Government Laws To Shape Society

Laws shape society by empowering and enabling the underlying worldviews.

Proponents of change seem to think that nothing will change by legally redefining marriage, apart from a few LGBTI people getting married. And so, they claim, what’s the big deal – why oppose such a change?

But here’s the problem: they undervalue the power of the law to shape society. 

As I wrote in my previous piece,  laws aren’t ‘value neutral’, nor morally neutral. 

This is because all laws are undergirded by a particular view of morality (and indeed a worldview). Laws are thus  ‘morality with teeth’, enforcing a certain morality onto society, as well as instructing society as to what is acceptable, and what is not.

And so laws can shape society as a whole in profound ways.  That’s just the way laws work.

A redefined marriage law, then, will empower the underlying morality – and the underlying ideology, and advance its imposition on society. Society will not – and by nature cannot – remain unaffected by such a change.

As Christian scholar Andrew T. Walker points out:

[T]he law is an almost-unrivalled force for shaping cultural opinion.’[1]

Of course, whether you think the consequences of such shaping is good or bad will depend on what you think about the ideology underlying same-sex marriage. 

And so, what is the ideology that undergirds the push for SSM?

There are many parts, but one key component is a different view of marriage – a different understanding of what marriage actually is. And so we come to the second piece of the SSM puzzle:

Puzzle Piece #2 – The Two Competing Visions of Marriage 

The ‘conjugal’ view vs. the ‘partnership’ view

What I’m about to say might sound surprising, but it’s true: both sides in this debate believe in ‘marriage equality’. They just differ on what marriage is.

That’s because there are two different visions – or versions – of marriage in this debate. The ‘conjugal’ view, and the ‘partnership’ view.

Those who want to uphold traditional marriage believe that marriage is a gendered institution, marked by promises of exclusive lifelong commitment, with a clear connection to children – as known across almost all cultures down through the ages. This is often known as the ‘conjugal’ view.[2]

Those advocating for change see marriage merely as a ‘partnership’: it’s a romantic connection leading to a more or less contractual approach to mutual care, that may or may not be oriented toward child-rearing, permanence, monogamy, or exclusivity.[3]

In other words, both sides have the same vocabulary but are using different dictionaries. (This can also make for a very frustrating discussion!)

Christian scholar David T. Koyzis nails this dilemma when he writes:

Many of the battles in the political realm are shaped, not simply by refusal of one side or another to “face facts” or “be reasonable,” as one typically hears, but by differing views of reality rooted in alternative paradigms.’[4]

Thus there are two different views of marriage ‘reality’ in the current cultural conversation.

And so, given that laws shape society, and the proposed law is undergirded by the ‘partnership’ view of marriage, we’re now in a position to understand the third important piece of the SSM puzzle: 

Puzzle Piece #3 – Saying ‘Yes’ to a New (redefined) Law is Saying ‘Yes’ to the (often) Unintended Consequences of Such a Law. 

One prominent LGBTI advocate,  Russian-American Masha Gessen, made this point candidly at the Sydney writers festival in 2012:

Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we’re going to do with marriage when we get therebecause we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie.
The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change, and again, I don’t think it should exist.’

Gessen understands that redefining marriage will impact the institution of marriage across society.

UPDATE (3rd September 2017): Pro-SSM Fairfax columnist Aubrey Perry agrees that the consequences of redefining marriage will be wider than merely allowing LGBTI people to marry. In his column, ‘This Survey Is About Much More Than Same-Sex Marriage‘, he writes:

[T]here’s a lot riding on this [postal survey]. More than we realise. It’s a civil rights issue, yes. It’s an expression for or against gay marriage, yes. But it’s also, and maybe most importantly to the shaping of our country and future freedoms, an acceptance or denial of religion steering our public policymaking and governing our legislative body. [Emphasis added.]

In particular, Perry understands that changing the Marriage Act will change the Churches (and Christians) relationship to the state. (For a theological view of Church and State, see my previous post.)

And so, we need to be clear about what some of the (unintended) consequences might be, before we say ‘yes’ to such a change:

Puzzle Piece #4 – Some Likely (but Unintended) Consequences of Redefining Marriage 

If laws are powerful instruments in shaping culture, how might redefining marriage shape Australian culture into the future?

Here are some possible consequences of redefining marriage:

a) Changing the Marriage Act implicitly tells kids they don’t have a right to grow up with their own biological father and mother (where possible).

Daughter of loving same-sex parents and child-rights advocate Katy Faust makes this point as follows:

When a child is placed in a same-sex-headed household, she will miss out on at least one critical parental relationship and a vital dual-gender influence. The nature of the adults’ union guarantees this. Whether by adoption, divorce, or third-party reproduction, the adults in this scenario satisfy their heart’s desires, while the child bears the most significant cost: missing out on one or more of her biological parents. ‘

She concludes:

Making policy that intentionally deprives children of their fundamental rights is something that we should not endorse, incentivize, or promote.’

(It should be noted Article 9 of the UN charter on Children’s Rights declares governments should “ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will” unless it “is necessary for the best interests of the child”.)

Now, I have yet to hear any proponent of the ‘yes’ vote say that we should intentionally deprive children of their rights to their biological parents. But such depriving is what redefining marriage law implicitly approves, as an unintended consequence.

And so we come to the next unintended consequence:

b) Ideological programs like ‘Safe Schools’ will be further empowered. 

Tony Abbott has been criticised for drawing a link between SSM and programs like Safe Schools:

Img 2554

But since a law shapes society according to its underlying ideology, it’s not irrational to conclude that de-gendering marriage will advance ideologies and programs that promote a de-gendered view of humanity.

This is increasingly the case in places like the US, and the UK, where governments are telling schools they must teach this ideology, often without requiring parents to be notified.

But there are more unintended consequences:

c) The ‘partnership’ view of marriage becomes further embedded in our cultural beliefs and practice, thus destabilising many marriages throughout society. 

One report puts it this way: 

Even though same sex couples will be a small proportion of married couples, a new legal definition will reinforce current social practices which view marriage as a relationship of two adults which is all about their preferences and feelings.’

It continues:

That view of marriage and relationships is already bringing significant harm to society. It undermines commitment to marriage and encourages a view that sexual relationships are temporary and disposable. So redefining marriage will further cement that direction.[5]

Elsewhere, Oxford Philosopher Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond write:

The outcome of [marriage redefinition] is a passive, unregulated heterosexual reality and multiple failed relationships and millions of fatherless children.’[6]

The sexual revolution has already advanced this ‘partnership’ view of marriage and relationships, but changing the marriage act will effectively shape society further in this direction. 

(You might be thinking – ‘that horse has already bolted in secular society – people already view marriage as merely a partnership’. Maybe. But considering the damage that marital breakup causes people, especially children – not to mention society as a whole, why would we want to further cement this practice through our laws?)

Another unintended consequence involves the erosion of freedom of religion:

d) Freedom of religion, as understood by Article 18 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, will be eroded. 

Freedom of religion – like many freedoms – is a fragile freedom, but one that should be upheld for the good of all people – regardless of their religion.

However, the track record of Same Sex Marriage proponents on respecting the religious liberty of others (as defined by Article 18 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) [7] is not an encouraging one, both overseas where SSM has become legal, and here in Australia.

Christian commentator Albert Mohler sums up this situation:

Already, religious liberty is threatened by a new moral regime that exalts erotic liberty and personal autonomy and openly argues that religious liberties must give way to the new [sexual] morality, its redefinition of marriage, and its demand for coercive moral, cultural, and legal sovereignty.’[8]

In our Australian context, even though SSM is not currently law, we’re already seeing increased pressure on religious freedom:

  • The Tasmanian Human Rights Commission recently supported a complaint against the Catholic Church, for promoting its long-held teaching on marriage;[9]
  • A social media campaign was launched against Coopers Brewery, because one of their beers appeared in a Bible Society video promoting friendly discussion on the topic of SSM; [10]
  • Many churches are going ‘radio silent’ in response to these pressures, and no longer preach the Bible’s view of marriage from the pulpit.[11]

In my previous role as a campus Chaplain, I felt the pressure to go ‘radio silent’ on parts of the Bible that spoke about marriage and human sexuality. (I was even attacked on campus by an LGBTI activist for merely saying I hold to the Bible’s view on marriage– but that’s another story.) I was concerned that our Christian group would be kicked off campus for our views. But that pressure is only likely to increase if marriage law is redefined – to the detriment of campus ministries across Australia.

When campus Christian groups are marginalised, when churches stop preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), this will have gospel implications: redefining marriage law will affect the work of God’s kingdom.

Of course, the gospel can and does grow in spite of opposition, but government policy canhelp or hinder it. Which is why the Apostle Paul commands us to pray for our governments, ‘that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1 Tim 2:1-2).

And a final (often) unintended consequence has to do with redefining the family:

e) Redefining Marriage will lead to the redefining of family within Australian law, and thus Australian culture.

An article reviewing same sex couples in Australian law comments that:

[T]he Australian family law system remains mired in a two-parent model of legal parentage, a paradigm that does not always reflect the reality and diversity of same-sex families.’

It suggests the law needs to move beyond this mother and father model of family life.[12]

Thus changing the definition of marriage will push both the law – and society – further in that direction.

So, how should Christians respond to the SSM puzzle?

We should say ‘Yes!’ to God’s good order in creation. Even though it may sadly mean saying ‘no’ to those who oppose it.

The (often) unintended negative consequences of redefining marriage happen because such redefinition is at odds with God’s good order in creation. And ‘conjugal’ marriage is an intrinsic part of God’s order (Gen 1:272:24.; Matt 19:4-6)

As discussed in my previous post, governments are put here by God to uphold justice and public order, and they do this when they recognise God’s good order in creation.

And Christians can help governments do this by being a ‘significant influence’ on government policy.

Drawing on Jeremiah 29, theologian Wayne Grudem makes the following point:

The true “welfare” of such a city will be advanced through governmental laws and policies that are consistent with God’s teaching in the Bible, not by those that are contrary to the Bible’s teachings.’[13]

Which means Christians should be known as people who say ‘yes’: Yes to God’s good order. Yes to the rights of the most vulnerable (children). Yes to a Biblical view of gender. Yes to stable marriages across society, and yes to religious freedom for all.

This means that we have to say ‘no’ – no to anything that weakens God’s good design of marriage.

So What Do we do about the Postal Vote? 

If we’re to use our God-given political voice to influence government for good, then won’t that lead us to say ‘no’ on the postal vote – even though it might put us on the opposite end of the political divide to so many friends and family?

As Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies said recently:

Marriage is not…for God’s people only, it is for the world. And that’s why we have a particular part to play in this survey…We’re expressing what we believe to be…best for society.’

And express we should.

(In the next post, we’ll think about how to have a meaningful – and winsome – conversation on the topic of SSM). 

Photos: (head)ArielG!, Flickr; (body) DollarPhotoClub


[1] Jason G. Duesing et al., First Freedom – The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty (2d ed.; Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016), 128. In the first half of his quote, Walker points out that culture also affects law.

[2] Sandy Grant, ‘Defining and Defending Marriage’, Centre for Christian Living, October 10th, 2016 (viewed 28th August 2017)https://ccl.moore.edu.au/2016/…

[3] Sandy Grant, Defining and Defending Marriage.

[4] David T. Koyzis, Political Visions And Illusions – A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 8.

[5] Gospel Society and Culture Committee of PCNSW, Engaging The Marriage Debate, Resource Paper 10, 2016, page 5. (Accessed 28th August 2017). Source:  http://gsandc.org.au/wp-conten…

[6]  R Scruton & P Blond, ‘Marriage equality or the destruction of difference?’, ABC Religion and Ethics, 4 February 2013 (viewed 28th August 2017): http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/02/04/3682721.htm

[7] UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999, p. 171, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/… [accessed 29th Aug 2017]

[8] Jason G. Duesing et al., First Freedom – The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty (2d ed.; Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016), 170.

[9] Michael Kellahan, ‘Can we talk publicly about Same Sex Marriage?’, Centre For Christian Living, 21st Feb 017 (viewed 28th August 2017): https://ccl.moore.edu.au/2017/…

[10] Akos Balogh, ‘Would The Beer Drinking Chrisitans Just Shut Up!’, The Gospel Coalition Australia, 15th March 2017 (viewed 28th August 2017).  https://australia.thegospelcoa…

[11] Kellahan, ‘Can we talk publicly about Same Sex Marriage?’.

[12] A. Sifris “Gay and lesbian parenting The Legislative response”, Families, policy and law: Selected essays on contemporary issues for Australia  A. Hayes & D. Higgins, eds. (Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014), 98. Quoted in GS&C, Engaging the Marriage Debate, 5.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Politics According To the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 59.