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A third way in the marriage equality debate (2015)

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A recent episode of Doctor Who contained a fascinating scene. Two parties in conflict with each other - in this case humans and an alien race called the Zygons - were each given access to a box with two buttons. One of those buttons would give them everything they wanted, the other would result in catastrophic consequences for their own side.

To proceed with the conflict they just had to push one of those buttons. But they could not know the consequences of the button they pushed, until they pushed it.

This story comes to mind as the conflict between advocates for marriage equality and the defenders of traditional marriage moves to the courtroom.

The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission recently found the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has a case to answer for its distribution of the 'Don't Mess With Marriage' booklet in the state's schools.

A process of arbitration will decide if the distribution of the book was 'conduct that is offensive, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing of Ms Delaney and the class of same sex attracted people'. These legal cases will mirror similar actions in the United States and elsewhere, where opponents of same sex marriage have been taken to court for actions seen to discriminate against the rights of LGBTI people.

Some might feel that court actions are inevitable. But the Doctor Who experiment provokes us to look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in such a polarised conflict.

Let's say those opposed to same-sex marriage are overwhelmingly successful in their defence of their teachings and institutions, and are able to maintain the distinct privilege of heterosexual marriage in the country's legislative structure.

In this outcome, adoption, reproductive health and nursing home providers will be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples in their provision of services. Private schools will be allowed to teach to traditional models of marriage and sexuality, and to discriminate in their hiring practises on the basis of orientation. All of this will reduce the options available to LGBTI people.

The majority of people will maintain, as they currently do, that same sex couples should not be marginalised or demonised. But those moved to vilify and target same-attracted people will only be encouraged. Same-sex couples will likely also continue to have difficulties with everyday activities such as dealing with utility companies, and they'll be more vulnerable when one of them gets sick or passes away and next-of-kin is being determined.

From a LGBTI perspective, such an outcome would represent a catastrophic blow to their aspirations of inclusion. Their hopes of acceptance would be hemmed in by a series of legal decisions that only confirm their marginalisation. The battle for recognition among those who are same sex attracted would of course continue, and their animosity towards Christians would only get deeper.

Now let's say, instead, that the proponents of marriage equality are overwhelmingly successful in their efforts. Marriage is redefined at a federal level so that it becomes any lifelong union entered into by two parties regardless of gender. Those who deny marriage equality would be considered in the same way as those who deny racial or gender equality.

If Christians propagate teachings or act in any way that is seen to deny marriage equality they could be treated in the same way as those who propagate racist or sexist views.

In this world, it would be easier for same-sex attracted couples to sign up for bank accounts and utilities, and work through legal issues around power of attorney and next-of-kin. Young people would be taught that same-sex attraction is no different to heterosexual attraction, so their teenage years will become more about discerning rather than fearfully reconciling their orientation.

Christian welfare, health and nursing home providers could be forced to provide services to same-sex couples or be closed. Christian schools could also be forced to teach to the new models of marriage and sexuality, and not discriminate against staff who reject Church teaching on those issues in their hiring.

Some of these institutions could choose to remain open, but it's easy to imagine many religious leaders staying true to traditional Christian teachings on these issues and choosing to close them instead. In jeopardy will be health and welfare institutions that serve hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention an education sector that provides for a quarter of the country's students.

What will be left in this scenario are more introverted, isolated and fundamentalist religious communities - places increasingly hostile to the rest of contemporary society.

There is another way. People on both sides still have an option to work together to build a lasting peace.

The argument of both marriage equality and traditional marriage advocates is that their way of life is one that best leads to a flourishing society. The proof in both cases is not something to be established in a courtroom or parliamentary debate, but in everyday life.

A negotiated path would see both marriage equality and traditional marriage advocates work together to remove the barriers that get in the way of the other's flourishing.

This process was modelled recently in the Victorian Parliament, where same-sex couples won the right to access adoption services, while religious organisations won the right to restrict access to their own adoption services to heterosexual couples.

Those on the extremes on both sides were unhappy with the result, but as a negotiated outcome it allows both same-sex couples and religious organisations to continue to pursue what they consider as their best interests unimpeded.

At the moment, the conversation on marriage equality vs traditional marriage is being driven by extremists on both sides, people who see the struggle as a polarised conflict with the goal of overwhelming victory. But most of us would find that victory unattractive no matter which side is triumphant. Instead, we can choose not to press the button, and to work together to allow both same-sex couples and practising Christians to live their beliefs faithfully, to the fullest of their flourishing.

Michael McVeigh is the editor of Australian Catholics magazine and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: McVeigh, Michael (2015-12-06). A third way in the marriage equality debate. Eureka Street p. 71.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McVeigh, Michael. "A third way in the marriage equality debate." Eureka Street [add city] 2015-12-06, 71. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McVeigh, Michael. "A third way in the marriage equality debate." Eureka Street, edition, sec., 2015-12-06
  • Turabian: McVeigh, Michael. "A third way in the marriage equality debate." Eureka Street, 2015-12-06, section, 71 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A third way in the marriage equality debate | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/A_third_way_in_the_marriage_equality_debate | work=Eureka Street | pages=71 | date=2015-12-06 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 December 2018 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=A third way in the marriage equality debate | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/A_third_way_in_the_marriage_equality_debate | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 December 2018}}</ref>