As Australians return their ballots for a poll that could aid the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages, the Archbishop of Sydney called for Christian charity in clearly explaining the importance of marriage as the union of man and woman. “However the marriage debate pans out, I pray people will be able to say of us that we maintained clarity about real marriage while demonstrating charity towards all. God bless our country and its voters with such clarity and charity,” said Archbishop Anthony Fisher in his Sunday homily Oct. 15.
Australia is currently conducting a voluntary postal survey as a plebiscite, a non-binding process to gauge public opinion. The survey closes Nov. 7. Results will be announced Nov. 15. Only the federal government has the power to change Australian marriage law, the Australian high court has ruled. A “yes” vote would allow a bill to be introduced into Parliament, but would not guarantee its passage.
According to Archbishop Fisher, clarity had been lacking in the discussion. “Sadly our marriage ‘debate’ has rarely touched on what marriage is, what it’s for,” he said. “We’ve had slogans like ‘love is love’ but not every kind of love is marriage. Nor, if we are honest, is every marriage especially loving, at least all of the time.” The archbishop stressed the uniqueness of marriage as an institution that joins man and woman and that has the unique potential for the begetting of children.
Unlike normal elections, the current Australia survey is voluntary. The country often has legal penalties for non-voters. However, the survey costs about $96 million. At least 10 million survey forms have been returned, the Australian website News.com.au reports. Various surveys indicate over 60 percent of Australians favor the legal recognition of “gay marriage.”
Archbishop Fisher also voiced concerns about threats to religious freedom that the redefinition of civil marriage could pose. “If overseas experience is anything to go by, if marriage is redefined it will be very hard to speak up for real marriage anymore — in schools, at work, socially,” he said, citing discrimination and “other kinds of bullying” against those who cannot accept the new definition. “Some may lose their jobs, promotions, businesses, political careers,” said Fisher.
Heterosexual marriage is the only kind of friendship properly recognized by the state because it leads to new citizens, namely children, and gives them “the best start in life,” he added. At the same time, the archbishop noted the difficulty of presenting the gospel in a changing culture that increasingly sees Christian views on many things, including sexuality, marriage, and reverence for life, as “arcane, even harmful.”
“In a culture which for all its putative open-mindedness is less and less tolerant of Christianity, how will we ensure in the years ahead that people in parishes, schools and other institutions are free to speak and practice their beliefs?” he asked. “How will we maintain a sense of who we are and what matters most to us when some others barely tolerate us or even vilify and bully us?”
Fisher cited the example of the protagonist in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” where pacifist Desmond Doss supports soldiers on the battlefield as a medic even though he himself refuses to kill. “Desmond Doss had to make some hard choices, between worldly regard and godliness, between sticking to his principles and selling out to go with the flow,” the archbishop said. “He found a way to be true to his beliefs without being bigoted or bitter; indeed, being true to his ideals drove him to heroic compassion towards others and self-sacrifice on their behalf.”