I am a Christian, a person deeply formed by the Church and its gospel. Even more, I am a Baptist minister. For the past thirty-five years I have given my life to understanding, living and proclaiming the message of Jesus. It is because of this, not in spite of it, that I’ll be voting ‘yes’ in the upcoming plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
There is nothing that goes to the heart of human identity as much as our sexuality. It is that God-given reminder, persistent and powerful, that we are made for relationship—intimate, covenant relationship. When our need for intimate communion with another human being is violated through the horrors of sexual abuse, cheapened through sexual infidelity, or invalidated through sacraments of love that exclude, it is not only our rights that are threatened, but our identity as those created in God’s image.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Saint Paul speaks of sexual failings as far more impacting than all others. “Don’t be immoral in matters of sex,” he writes, “that is a sin against your own body in a way that no other sin is.” Why? Because our sexuality takes us beyond a particular sexual act to our embodied nature, our personhood. It is certainly true that for the majority of people, sexual identity is most naturally expressed in heterosexual unions. For a small number, however, it is in same-sex relationships that they find who they are as relational beings. The truth is, those of us who are gay or lesbian are wired differently from those of us who are not. Homosexual longing is as natural to some as heterosexual longing is to others.
Of course, this is not the view of all Christians. Indeed, the majority of those within my own tradition disagree with me. Their perspective is that homosexuality is a dysfunction of identity—a failing of personhood that needs to be confessed and overcome. It follows, then, that allowing same-sex couples to marry will only legitimise a dysfunction God never intended. My experience says otherwise.
Through more than three decades of pastoral ministry, I have sat with countless men and women for whom their sexuality is most naturally expressed with persons of the same sex. Indeed, this expression of sexuality is as instinctive to them as left- or right-handedness, as given as the colour of their skin. Asking them to be other than who they are as sexual beings would be asking them to deny their very selves. Sadly, I have witnessed the denial of sexual identity lead people to dark places of despair, isolation, self-loathing and, sometimes, even death.
In much church commentary of recent days, church leaders are at pains to underline their love and respect for LGBTI people, claiming that their aversion to same-sex marriage does not equate with their denial of the integrity of same-sex persons or the worth of their families. The availability of civil unions, they will say, is an expression of this; never have the rights of the LGBTI community been more protected, they argue, and rightly so, but marriage is surely a step too far. The uncomfortable fact is, however, the churches these people represent have historically fought developments in LGBTI rights at every turn, and, despite the current tenor of conversation, the underlying belief has not changed: homosexuality is a dysfunction of personhood. Indeed, the entire argument against same-sex marriage rests on it. To claim otherwise is not only misleading; it is dishonest.
If homosexuality is not a dysfunction of personhood, but an expression of one’s being and identity in God, then withholding from the LGBTI community the most commonly accepted expression of loving, covenant relationship is wrong. We Christians fight for the sanctity of marriage precisely because we believe it is more than a legal contract between two people. It is a sacred and public bond through which two people promise fidelity to each other, to the family they form, and in the presence of the community that surrounds them. To quote advocate for same-sex marriage Rodney Croome, “The kind of choices, commitments and sacrifices marriage entails run to the core of what makes us human.” In my view, the argument to withhold these choices, commitments and sacrifices from same-sex couples in the context of marriage is not only a profound act of exclusion; it rests on dubious ground.
So, it’s a ‘yes’ from me.
Simon Carey Holt
Pastor, Collins Street Baptist Church