Here is an abstract conundrum to consider. At what point is an issue we consider to be right worth fighting a war over? Of course we want what is right for our society, our nation, even our world. But when we engage in war over an issue, how much damage is done? How many lives are injured or lost. War itself is a bad thing. It hurts. Yet humanity has been resorting to it for thousands of years to sort out its disagreements.
It is certainly my belief that every individual, community and nation that has engaged in war has not done so to be evil to their opponent. They have gone to war to defend what they believe in, what they believe they must preserve. Their disagreement, anger and hatred of their enemy arises from their difference of conscience about what must be defended and preserved.
Such historical horrors as the Holocaust, Apartheid, the Irish ‘Troubles’, today’s terrorism movements and even the Crusades of the 11th to the 13th centuries all grew out of nations or religions or races developing beliefs so extreme and entrenched that to those who held them. They grossly outweighed the prospect of death and destruction that fighting a war would involve. In the minds of those who committed these gargantuan acts of violence, they were defending the right. In every war, both sides believe themselves to be the defending party.
Now this is pretty heavy stuff to be opening with, considering that what I want to write about is the recent movement towards Marriage Equality in our nation. I am not inferring that I expect we will end up at war on this issue. However, in the conflict arising in promotion of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases in the recent mail poll, many of the processes I described above have slipped out into the arena. All the arguments have been about “I hold a belief (about human rights, moral values, human traditions, etc), and your different beliefs threaten mine, so you must be wrong, so I must fight to defend mine.”
The question I have wanted to ask throughout the debate, and ask of both sides, is this: Does somebody holding a different view to yours threaten the views you hold? Because if you think they do, you need to ask if you looked in a mirror, whether your views equally threaten theirs? Are we opposed, or are we just different?
In my time as an ordained minister in the Anglican Church, I have had people refuse to take Communion from me because I have long hair. They believed that only a man can take up the priestly office of the church, and objected to and refused to accept the ordination of women. A significant minority of Anglicans worldwide still hold this view. The people I encountered, however, believed that because I had long hair, I was identifying as a woman and thus making myself unfit to hold the order of Priest. Was I angry? To me it hardly seemed worth it. I found their view to be incorrect to the point of the bizarre. I do not for a minute think I need to give physical proof of my gender, nor do I accept their argument that if I were a woman, I could not minister as a Priest, anyway. But since I believed they held their beliefs in all sincerity, so I could respect that, move on, and give Communion to the next person.
The points of difference in the Marriage Equality debate seem to me to arise from the definition of marriage. My personal views about this really revolve around the fact that most of the definitions I have heard put forward have been phrased to suit one view or the other, and neither side’s are fully water-tight.
Here are some examples:
Marriage has always been the ultimate commitment of love between two people. Actually, if you look at most weddings in the Bible, and in the ancient world, and even in many societies around the world today, couples are married who had no choice in it all. In most biblical weddings, the couple met at the wedding ceremony. Their fathers, the Patriarchs, contracted with each other to marry their offspring for socio-political purposes. Slaves and servants are told who their spouses would be. Have a look at 1 Kings 11:1-6. King Solomon sealed every international treaty or deal he made by marrying one of his counterpart’s daughters.
A marriage is solely about having children. Every family needs a mother and a father. So let me ask you this: If I, as a marriage celebrant, know a couple to be infertile, or even simply do not plan to have children, or are elderly and clearly past childbearing, should I refuse to marry them? If a father or mother walks out on their family, leaving the
other to parent alone, should those children then be removed from the single parent? Since social research has shown that children of same sex couples do not measure less than any other children on all developmental or emotional scales, I feel this argument falls before it even gets out of the stalls.
If marriage is redefined, our children will lose any sense of their sexual identity. This is the “my son was told he could wear a dress to school” argument that graced our TV screens over the debate. Putting aside the fact that it was shown that this never actually happened, there have been people who are same sex attracted, or have questioned their gender identity throughout human history. Even the Bible attests to this. We are back at the question, does somebody being different to me constitute an attack on me? Like the me/hair/woman/priest story I told earlier, if I am confident in my own identity, then no, anybody else’s identity, no matter how divergent, different or remote from mine, has no affect on my own. Children have growing up fine in a myriad of diverse social settings and assumptions for centuries, within every society.
All I hope for is that this humanity of which I am a member, and which I actually think is a pretty amazing thing, realise that no matter how different we might be, we are all in it together. Our existence is a shared existence. By respecting one another, by listening to the views and beliefs of each other, by striving to understand each other, we could make that existence a fabulous thing!
The Venerable Bill Beagley
Ven Bill Beagley
reflections and occasional thoughts (appearing in the Parish newsletter)