Bottom Drawer

Bottom Drawer

Divorce as a protest to gay marriage is brave. But why not divorce now? Or better still, not at all.

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

Nick Jensen threatens to divorce in protest of gay marriage in Canberra CityNews article – headline

Nick Jensen’s op-ed must have done wonders for the Canberra CityNews (I know, me neither), as thousands linked to his article and the mainstream media reports of it. It’s fair to say that most who engaged with it were unimpressed, to say the least.

Jensen, who works for the Australian Christian Lobby, wrote that he would legally divorce his beloved wife Sarah (although still live with her in what would be a de facto relationship) if the legal definition of marriage was altered. Back in 2013 I wrote in The Spectator Australia that Christian pastors and churches should withdraw from the provisions of the Marriage Act for precisely the same reason. If the definition of marriage changes, then surely everyone who is captured by that category ought to reconsider their involvement in it?

Now at this point I should perhaps be thankful for the Speccie’s elite and exclusive readership. Yes, I had a couple of people – probably dour civil marriage celebrants – accuse me of mocking their profession with my comment: ‘…if two men want to get married under the watchful gaze of a smug lady JP in a pant suit, in a ceremony replete with Welcome to Country and a reflective reading of a Leunig cartoon, who am I to stop them?’

But I didn’t receive anything that could legitimately be called hate mail. I didn’t have parody articles (about me killing my kids, no less) go viral on social media. And, to my knowledge, I didn’t become an object of derision among the ever-tolerant left.

Like Jensen, I’m opposed to same-sex marriage. I don’t think the lexical definition of ‘marriage’ extends to that, and I have millennia of meaning on my side.

But again like Jensen, that is not my point. The issue here is about what happens if, and when, the law changes. I am pleased that when it meets this week, the NSW General Assembly of my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church, will be discussing withdrawing from the Marriage Act if the word is redefined. I hope it’s a robust discussion about the theological aspects of the debate – and not just about homosexuality, but also about whether God intends for the state to have, as Jensen puts it, ‘power over words’ – and about what the pastoral, practical, and legal implications of withdrawing might be.

Given their insistence that no churches should be forced to conduct same-sex weddings, I assume the marriage equality lobby won’t object to the Presbyterian debates and decisions in this regard. But surely, if any religious institution withdraws from the Marriage Act, it begs the question of those previously married under it: what about my marriage? Legally, of course, there will be no issue, but what about ethically, and theologically? If it’s right and proper for the denomination to withdraw, shouldn’t individual adherents withdraw as well? Shouldn’t it at least be an option?

Which brings us back to the brave (speaking of which, are any churches or Christian leaders brave enough to support him? Or to at least call attention to the left’s hypocritical hate?) – if ill-advised stand taken by Nick and Sarah Jensen. But I would say to them that the state already has power over words for things that it regulates, such as marriage. It’s why I plan on moving an amendment to the Presbyterian Church’s motion, in order to facilitate an immediate withdrawal from the Marriage Act; not one conditional upon the parliament redefining the common meaning of a word.

Presbyterians, and Christians generally, would do well to get away from any notion of the state defining words that matter to them. Do we need the water board’s authority to conduct a baptism? Of course not. Should the NSW Food Authority enter the debate on precisely what happens to the bread and wine in the eucharist? Good luck to them! Just as the courts have consistently stayed out of theological debates, so too Christians should immediately stop appealing to the government to give its semantic imprimatur on marriage.

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