Marriage equality would be a victory for ordinary Christians

It's time for federal parliamentarians to listen to Christians who want their gay, lesbian and transgender friends, family, and fellow parishioners to be treated equally by the law. It's time for the reasoned, compassionate Christian majority to be heard and the fear mongering to be challenged.

Dr Margaret Mayman,
Minister, Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney
30 June 2015

The recent decision to legalise marriage for same sex couples in Ireland has been cast as a victory against the Catholic Church. What secular commentators miss is that it was a decisive victory for ordinary Christians.

The people of Ireland, who are still overwhelmingly Catholic, decided to follow their consciences. In the US, many Christians, including some evangelicals, are celebrating the Supreme Court decision to legalise marriage equality. They are faithful followers of Jesus, whose life and teaching call us to radical inclusion and hospitality, who saw sin in practices that marginalised and excluded people. The biblical call to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves provides the mandate for marriage equality.

The majority of Christians in Australia are making the same choice as the people of Ireland. We are tired of our voices and values being misrepresented by a noisy lobby group and out of touch denominational leaders. A 2014 poll found 59 per cent of Australian Christians support marriage equality. Not in spite of our faith, but because of it. The Australian Christian Lobby and Fred Nile's Christian Democrat Party do not speak for us. In fact, the CDP speaks for very few. The last census indicated that 61 per cent of Australians are Christian and only 3.24 per cent of the NSW population supported the CDP at the last state election.

It's time for federal parliamentarians to listen to Christians who want their gay, lesbian and transgender friends, family, and fellow parishioners to be treated equally by the law. It's time for the reasoned, compassionate Christian majority to be heard and the fear mongering to be challenged. The international experience disproves claims that Christians will vote for far right fringe parties if conservative governments support same-sex marriage. Prime Ministers David Cameron in Britain and John Key in NZ both supported reform and at the subsequent election their majorities increased.

Marriage has been evolving as a civil and religious institution throughout human history. It existed before either the church or the state had a role in it. While there have always been loving marriages, marriage has its origins in the more mundane realities of property, procreation and patriarchy.

All over the western world, the movement to transform marriage is underway. However, it is not gay and lesbian people who have been transforming marriage. It is heterosexuals. It is precisely because heterosexuals have changed marriage from an economic arrangement to a relationship of love and support that gay and lesbian people are seeking to join it.

Over time, changes have occurred to recognise the humanity of people and their moral and civil rights within marriage. In the past, neither the state nor religion recognised divorce and remarriage, inter-racial marriage, or gender equality in marriage. Rather than threatening marriage, the changes of the modern era have strengthened it.

For religious people marriage remains a holy covenant. Marriage has the potential to create stable, committed relationships. It enables people to share economic resources. It nurtures the couple and any children they have. Good marriages benefit the community and for many people express values of long-term commitment and faithfulness. In terms of these values, there is no difference between same sex and opposite sex marriage.

Scare-mongering about children by religious minorities is reprehensible. Thousands of Australian children are growing up with gay and lesbian parents. Diverse families are the reality and mainstream research shows that children raised in gay and lesbian families do just as well as children raised by opposite sex parents. Love is what matters and many of these children are ardent supporters of marriage equality because it means so much to their own families.

For conservative religious people who do not support same sex relationships, changes to civil marriage legislation present no threat. The best way to protect religious freedom is to ensure separation of church and state. Marriage equality legislation will allow religious groups to hold their own beliefs about marriage and to continue having the right to discern who is eligible for marriage in their own tradition. No church will have to perform a same sex marriage, but those that wish to will be free to do so.

The majority of Australians, gay and straight, people of faith and people who do not identify with a faith tradition, support equality. There is nothing to fear and so much to bless and celebrate.

This article was originally published on Sydney Morning Herald.