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Myths and pitfalls of the
same-sex marriage debate

 SYDNEY (SE): “At a time when so many people are so confused about marriage, when many are afraid or uninspired to marry at all, or find sustaining a marriage difficult, or grow up without ever knowing a stable marriage-based family, this would be the worst time for Christians to be silent about marriage,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher told some 500 people at an address entitled, Same-Sex Marriage: Evolution or deconstruction of marriage and family, at the Cathedral Hall in Sydney, Australia, on July 23.

During an evening organised by the Order of Malta, the archbishop of Sydney said that the same-sex marriage deal in Australia is by no means done and dusted, and he questioned the balance of the media in reporting on the issue.

Archbishop Fisher pointed to five catch cries used by the pro-same-sex marriage lobby—it is all about justice, sexual difference does not matter, it is all about love, it is all about numbers and it does not affect me anyway.

But he asked, if this really is all about numbers, then why did an overwhelming vote against same-sex marriage legislation in Austria go virtually unreported, while a yes vote in Pitcairn Island, which has a population of 48 people, was big news!

Archbishop Fisher pointed out that in fact the discussion is about what marriage is and that is the one factor that often gets left out. 

He added that many laws discriminate in their application, which is quite just, because the differences on which they distinguish are reasonable.

But he pointed out that this does not mean that people of the same sex do not love each other deeply and feel that they are missing out on something precious.

He proposed that what we should want for them and what society should provide is “no more of the discriminatory or violent treatment that such people often suffered in the past and sometimes still suffer.”

The Dominican bishop added that until recently every serious culture, religion and legal system understood that marriage was a union between a man and a woman.

He pointed out that the one specific and unique aspect of such a union is that it has the potential to be life-making.

“But if marriage is a natural institution that pre-existed Church and state, why should governments get involved in it at all?” he asked.

He added that he believes that there is only one justification for outside involvement, “Because the marital acts that bring children into the world and also seal and express marital unions that provide for the long term nurture of those children… And that is why, uniquely of all human relationships, states have an interest in their success.”

However, he pointed out that the lived experience of the institution of marriage has changed radically over the past few decades, especially in the west.

“Most people of marriageable age (now) are not married: they live singly or in a series of more temporary relationships,” he said, adding that eventually one of these may settle into some sort of de facto relationship.

He also pointed to the number of marriage breakdowns, noting, “Never before in history have we been so unsuccessful in marrying.”

He said that this means that society today is at least ambivalent about defining the dimensions of marriage, leaving it a flexible institution with no intrinsic meaning.

As a result, it has become a constantly evolving union which is a matter of self-identity and social convention or, to put it another way, a marriage is what you make of it.

He then listed off a long litany of recent examples of people marrying dogs, bridges, pillows and even themselves, noting, “What most same-sex marriage advocates and opponents have in common is a view that these are not marriages.”

He concluded, “All you need is love really is not enough. And if we agree on that, then we agree that we need some concept of what a marriage is; what the ends, limits and scope are.”

In addition, Archbishop Fisher said that he does not believe that governments should encroach into the private sphere at all.

“We don’t want politicians or bureaucrats telling us who we should love or how or for how long or who we should have sex with,” he said.

“The only friendship governments and bureaucrats properly get involved in is the opposite-sex marriage, because it is the nursery of the next generation and so dramatically affects the community’s future,” the archbishop continued.

Archbishop Fisher said that he is arguing that the recognition of same-sex marriage is not a broadening of the group to whom marriage is open, but a further hollowing out of it.

It is not liberation of the institution from the confines of religion and prejudice, so much as a deconstruction of that institution.

“Ironically, in trying to widen the pool of those who have access to it civilly, we actually deny everyone a chance at the real thing,” he stated.

Archbishop Fisher said that he has great admiration for the public relations work of a small group of people who have put same-sex marriage firmly on the national and international agenda.

However, he added, “Some think the way to shore up all friendships is to treat them as marriages.”

He then noted, “Modernity struggles with any kind of love that goes beyond feelings and intimacy,” saying that the self-giving sort of love Christ showed us on the cross has lost out to the Valentine’s Day self-pleasing variety.

“I believe that the same-sex marriage debate highlights the importance of recovering healthy non-marital friendships… We must learn again the arts of loving,” he said.

Archbishop Fisher stressed that as a Catholic and a Christian community our ability to live marriage well is in itself affected by whether there is a healthy culture of marriage around us.

“As marriage has been unpicked in various ways over the past few decades, Catholics and other believers have not been immune to the effects,” the archbishop pointed out.

He said that it is important to remember that marriage really is a big deal and what is unjust and untruthful is to say in law that there is nothing distinctive about male and female, husband and wife, father and mother.

In speaking to the converted at the Cathedral Hall in Sydney, Archbishop Fisher encouraged them to spread the good news about marriage and family, and to others he simply noted, “Marriage is not anyone’s plaything,” as all serious cultures and religions also regard it as something sacred.

“When men and women get together in this particular way, even people with not much faith, they almost always surround it with ceremony, because they know something-bigger-than-ordinary-life is going on here and want someone-bigger-than-ordinary-people to bless it,” he concluded.