This week I wrote to my congregation explaining to them that I uphold the doctrine of the church and believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I also explained that holding this view does not mean that I hate homosexual couples, it does not mean that I am opposed to them having equal rights under civil law - it simply means that I and those who share my view believe that the term marriage can only ever apply to the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Some I know will label me a 'homophobe' for expressing this view. Some will say I am being hateful. The truth is though, that I do not hate anyone - not even those who have done me direct emotional and physical harm - so why would I hate homosexuals?
The idea that to disagree with someone over marriage is hateful, is being used as a weapon in the debate by those who support changing the definition to include same sex couples. The argument goes that if you oppose same sex marriage then you are clearly against equal rights for gay people - which means you clearly are a bigot that hates gay people...
Of course saying that we believe that marriage should stay between a man and a woman actually in no way restricts the rights of homosexual couples to enter into lifelong committed and monogamous relationships if they wish to do so. It in no way restricts the ability of government to ensure that gay couples are treated equally under the law - in fact the previous Labor Government already passed legislation at the Commonwealth level to ensure this! That there are still some inequalities being experienced at the State/Territory Level simply means that those jurisdictions should be called upon to enact similar legislation. If this was done then gay couples would be treated 100% equally under the law at all levels of government in Australia - and all without ever changing the fundamental meaning of societies most important institution.
What saying that we believe marriage is between a man and a woman means, is that we understand marriage to be more than simply something people do if they love each other—we understand it to be a special union, between a man and woman, especially given and sanctified by God for the forming of a new family unit and the raising of children. There is no hate here—there is no homophobia, and no-one is saying that homosexual couples should be discriminated against—by all means give a same sex couples equal standing under secular law— even through recognising the relationships as civil partnerships or similar. It is also not a statement about the nature or value of their relationships—Homosexual couples do love each other, they care for each other, and they value their relationships just as highly as heterosexual couples do. They must be shown our love and care and be treated with the dignity deserved by people made in the image of God.
The simple truth however is this; in Traditional Christian understanding Marriage is something that can only take place between a man and a woman, any other relationship, no matter how loving, no matter how caring and valued that relationship is, simply is not and cannot be a marriage. Whilst the secular legal definition may change (and likely will) The Christian understanding revealed through God’s word will not.
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia.