Marriage and family matters


The media narrative around same-sex marriage gives the impression that Catholics have only two options: stick doggedly to Church teaching while heartlessly ignoring the justice claims of same-sex couples or massage the claims of our faith into a new expression which will allow us to be more compassionate.

This, of course, is misleading oversimplification. Marriage, as many have pointed out, is a civil issue. And Catholics, as members of a civil society, must engage in contentious social issues, not just in the interests of guarding their own religious practices, but in the interests of creating the best possible society for all. This is what we have traditionally called our commitment to the ‘common good’.

What ‘the common good’ looks like is not always obvious. But living as we do in a robust democracy, Australians are blessed with the opportunity to nut it out respectfully in conversation with fellow citizens of diverse cultures and beliefs. We will never achieve perfection, but we should try to get the balance of rights as close to perfect as is democratically possible.

Many people who care deeply about justice, also believe that redefining marriage will push the balance of rights too far in one direction with devastating consequences for the rights of many to freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They believe it will not create the more open and tolerant society we are all hoping for. It may, in fact, produce the opposite.

That’s because once we say with our laws that same-sex and opposite unions are ‘the same’ it logically becomes discriminatory to do or say anything which indicates you think there is something unique and precious about the male, female, child bond which is worthy of special protections.

In countries where marriage has been legally de-gendered, parents have lost their rights to decide what their children are taught in school regarding sexuality, employees have been forced to sign up to ideologies they don’t agree with, schools have been threatened with deregistration for not teaching gender theory and charitable organisations have been told they could lose their DGR status if they exclusively promote traditional marriage.

These are significant concerns for everyone. A society in which people are not free to manifest their own beliefs in teaching and practice is not a society in which all people can flourish.

But shouldn’t we be concerned about the rights of same-sex couples? Yes, we should. And we should be heartened by the substantial progress made in Australia. A standout achievement by international standards was the removal, in 2008, of all laws which discriminated against same-sex couples in areas such as superannuation, taxation, social security, inheritance and end-of-life decisions. For 10 years, same-sex couples in Australia have enjoyed the same rights as de facto heterosexual couples and this state of affairs was achieved through democratic processes of consultation which included all mainline Australian Churches.

So is life perfect now for same-sex couples? No. But it isn’t abominable. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates Australia is a place in which same-sex couples are flourishing in terms of education levels, employment status and annual income.

Is it unreasonable, on top of these practical benefits, that some same-sex couples still deeply desire the social recognition they believe will be afforded them and their families through a redefinition of marriage? No. It is perfectly understandable and it is this issue which is vexing every Australian of good conscience.

What we need to decide as a nation is not “are hetero-sexual relationships better that same sex relationships”, but “will Australia become a better, more free and inclusive society if marriage is refined?

My answer to that question is “No”.

Right now the balance of rights is pretty good in Australia. Same-sex couples are free to live and love and believe as they choose. And the diverse range of people who believe that the male, female, child bond is something of unique value to society are still (mostly) free to say so, without fear of legal sanctions.

It is OK for a compassionate person to say No to same-sex marriage. But it isn’t OK to leave it at that. We must continue working together to create the best possible balance of rights which maximises the freedoms of all without unreasonably harming the rights of some.

Lara is the Marriage, Family and Relationships coordinator at the Archdiocese. She can be contacted by email: