We can’t ‘move on’

With news today that the High Court of Australia has overturned the ACT’s marriage equality laws, Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby says that we should now ‘move on.’ He keeps saying it. It’s his line. He said it again on the news tonight: ‘It’s time to move on!’

In Shelton’s logic, with ‘nine parliamentary attempts’ (and 30+ weddings) behind us, any further agitation is stirring a pot that should no longer be stirred. To proponents of marriage equality, his advice is clear: take off your aprons and put down your wooden spoons. The stew is cooked.

To be blunt, it’s a silly thing to say. More than that, it’s insulting. Whatever we judge to be the rights or wrongs of a particular issue, suggesting that citizens of this country who feel passionately about that issue should just give up and give over after a few rounds in the political arena is extraordinary. Sadly, it betrays just how little Shelton and his lobby group understand what motivates those who fight for this issue or how deeply it touches their lives.

For me and others, this is an issue of justice. It speaks to the most fundamental values of cultural belonging and inclusion. I stand publicly for marriage equality because it flows directly from my commitment to the integrity of human relationships and to the sacred connections between love and fidelity. Agree with me or don’t, but surely you can’t wish me to just ‘move on.’

Imagine for a moment the issues that would never have been brought to resolution if courageous people just gave up and moved on. In his fight to end the slave trade, Wilberforce took his bills before the British parliament more than twenty times over as many years before he found success. The story is similar with women’s suffrage, Indigenous land rights, the end to the death penalty and so much more.

It seems especially odd to me that a lobby group like the ACL should propose a ‘move on’ approach to social issues.  Their continuing agitation around the legalities of abortion, for example, is surely testament to their resolve to remain actively engaged even when the movement of legislation is against them.

Truthfully, I don’t care much for the ACL and what it stands for, but I am glad it’s there. As a political voice, it operates out of conviction and represents the views of its constituency (however large or small) with energy and resolve.  I would only hope that Shelton and others will acknowledge those who support marriage equality as more than a marginal nuisance group that can simply ‘move on’, as though its concerns are of no lasting consequence.

11 thoughts on “We can’t ‘move on’

  • Simon, I think that if I were in your position and was having to deal with the pastoral issues it presents I might be forced to get clearer quicker on what I think about this whole matter, however I am not in that position.

    I think I must be out on my own on this issue. I can’t get passionate either pro or con because I think am operating with a different set of assumptions about marriage and the state to those that seem to underpin the current controversy. I might be wrong and would be happy to be convinced that my position is wrong because it would be more comfortable not to be in a minority. I feel like the Irishman when asked for directions, said if I were going there I wouldn’t be starting from here. I think that I am in something like that position about the current debate but there you are …

    I start with the assumption is that marriage is about the commitment that two people make to each other in the context of the community that will recognise and sustain that commitment. The state only gets into the act at a later date to ensure that the interaction of that couple with wider social policy concerns is regularised.

    My suspicion is that we are left here curiously enough with another fallout, long delayed from Christendom, combined with a mentality that looks to the state as the key authoriser of anything significant to do with human life – a position I am increasingly passionate about opposing. The christendom connection is a long story but it can be seen in the sorts of arguments against marriage equality produced by conservative Christians such as ACL. They actually share much in their view of the role of the state with those they are vociferously opposing. It’s a pity no one has pointed this set of shared assumptions – but probably only someone who leans to a position like mine would be able to point that out.

    I don’t think the government (the state) should be in the “marriage” business whether it be for heterosexuals or same sex couples. The state has an interest in ensuring justice in dealing with the issues that come out of people’s relationships. My preferred stance is that the state manage a process for registering civil unions and let people and communities (including churches) get on with the process of celebration and sustaining of faithful committed partnerships.

    • You’re taking much the same line as C.S.Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity’ which is my position. He’s writing about divorce but the principle is the same:

      “Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

  • Simon

    I can see and agree with your argument that it is difficult for people who care passionately about a cause, in this case same sex marriage, (as much as the ACL do for traditional marriage) to simply ‘move on’.

    However, it seems like you’ve taken aim at one ‘phrase’ but then not engaged with the broader argument, philosophically or theologically.

    From watching Lyle’s appearance on several electronic media, including the ABC’s The Drum, it sounds like the ACL has argued that Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation because Marriage is primarily about the next generation – not merely adult’s love interests or sexual desires. All the social science academic research (http://bit.ly/1e9ky2T) shows that it is best for a child, where possible, to be raised by their biological father and mother in a stable marriage relationship.

    • Thanks for your comments, Dean. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your time to engage.

      I suppose I have ‘taken aim’ at that one phrase, ‘move on’, only because that’s the phrase Shelton has used over and over again in his media responses to the High Court decision. Indeed, in the official ACL press release there is no engagement with the ‘philosophical and theological’ perspectives that surround an issue like this. So my words in this instance was in response to that fact.

      You are right in wanting a more thorough engagement with the complex issues involved. While one can’t do this in every instance, I have done this in a number of contexts and have welcomed efforts from others, both pro and con same-sex unions. I am not at all shy of debate on this issue, and I know too that I hold a minority view when it comes to the Christian community. My plea is simply that we respect the passion and conviction on both sides of the debate and listen well to each other. ‘Move on’ is not helpful.

      One other point. I do encourage you to take another look at the ‘social science academic research’ you mention when it comes to optimum conditions for the welfare and wellbeing of children. I think the conclusion that ‘all the social science research’ points to one conclusion is misguided.

      Regardless, thank you again for your comments. Every blessing.


  • Simon, I have said before that I believe we are all the children of God. How we go through life is not a matter of judgement by anybody where “marriage” is concerned, or anything else, for that matter; whether this be a homosexual or heterosexual union
    God has laid down the laws. He made man and woman to come together to procreate children. Holy Matrimony is the result and it is called Marriage and it is sacred. This is the ideal to strive for. But we know that homosexual relationships too are as deep and meaningful as any other marriage and in my view, deserving of the same respect, because it is an expression of deep love and of total commitment to one aother for life, if they want to get married. It took me a while to get my head around this, and I would like tell you about two of my personal friends who have had experiences that involved marrying a homosexual man.

    Both ladies were married for many years; both had children, one had three and the other four. The scenario for both almost unbelievably was the same. Husband came home one night and announced he had fallen in love with someone else and after the initial shock and being asked who “she” was…..and well you can guess the rest. Yes, it was a “he” but both stated that they didn’t want to leave the familty home because they still loved their wives and kids, but wanted PERMISSION to bring HIM into the family home to live! It didn’t happen of course, but the hurt for these women was indescribable. And you can imagine the consequences all round.

    Reason for telling you this is that these two stories have compounded in my mind how many other women are out there, suffering the humiliation of being a wife to a homosexual or bisexual man who “needed” the “front” of a conventional marriage to get ahead in his job, or to fool his relatives, friends and onlookers that he was a regular guy with a family. Same of course goes for women of this inclination. And my point is, that if homosexuality, including same sex marriage were to become the norm and nobody “looks down” on it anymore, there would be so many men and women out there who would not be caught up in a “sham” of a marriage. For it is indeed (to my way of thinking) a fraudulent act to commit someone virtually to a sexual “crucifixion” inside such a marriage; i.e. no not tonight dear, I have a headache……for the rest of my life!!!! I think you get my drift. Sorry if I’m too explicit, but I do know what I’m talking about here. And legally, there isn’t a thing you can do about it. So, why, and I STRESS why, would the Government want to involve themselves in gay marriage issues??? They won’t want to involve themselves in the consequences of the stories I’ve just related.

  • ……..and perhaps to ‘move on’ could be construed as… ‘ regroup, re-strategise, and reorganise within the ACL, be less conservative and more confronting. Ask people to come forward and give their stories of how a “sham” marriage can destroy lives. In this day and age, homosexuality is a reality and must be accepted as a norm, it keeps things “in the right order” and not “all muddled up”. Gather up your true stories ACL, turn yourselves into a Royal Commission on same sex marriage issues, re-present, re-present and re-present. That is what perhaps ‘to move on’ should mean., In the end, SOMEONE TO WHOM THE REST WILL LISTEN, will put through the legislation.

    • Regina, I sense that coming to the conclusion that you’ve identified here has been a painful path for you. Thank you for sharing from your own experience and out of concern for those you’ve walked through the years. Indeed, issues like these are deeply personal for so many people. Debating the pros and cons of marriage equality from a completely theoretical position is, to my mind, a dishonest approach. Beginning with the stories of real people seems like the only truly valid and humane place to begin.

      • Thanks Simon. I do believe Australian laws will “fall into line” with the rest of the world on this issue…eventually. The wellbeing of children is always connected to loving parent(s) whatever gender they are.

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