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Same-sex marriage a sticky issue for Church

HONG KONG (SE): Several countries in the world today are currently involved in a public debate over same-sex marriage and, although in Asia the issue has not reached the crescendo of the United States of America, Europe, Ireland or Australia at this point, the time will surely come.
Already the issue has raised its head in Taiwan and the government has run a somewhat controversial straw vote through the post and social media which, predictably, showed strong support for a change in legislation to recognise same-sex marriages in law.
In Hong Kong, although the move has yet to reach that level, there have already been ideological clashes between Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender movements and the Catholic Church on odd occasions, with some involving disruptions to Sunday Masses at the cathedral and criticism of the bishop by members of his own flock.
The question of how to respond as a Church has dogged Church leaders of all colours in the western world. They have invariably found themselves pushing the minority opinion and their position has been worsened, as mostly the debates have sunk into the mire of mud-slinging rather than exchange of opinion.
With the government of Australia set to conduct an opinion gathering postal vote, the scene has already seen acrimony coming from both sides of the fence.
A retired judge has accused opponents of same sex marriage as talking hate speech and the Australian Christian Lobby has labelled children in the care of same-sex partners a new Stolen Generation.
(The Stolen Generation is a term referring to Aboriginal children forcefully removed from their families to be brought up in European-run institutions to alienate them from the culture of their birth. The practice continued up to the 1970s and has been a source of terrible pain and suffering).
In addition, Stop the Fags posters have appeared on the streets of Australian cities.
However, the labelling and slurs thrown by both sides is non-productive and as Father Chris Middleton sj, the rector of the prestigious Xavier College in Melbourne, comments it is not descriptive of the many in the middle ground, who are probably numerous enough to sway the vote one way or the other.
Father Middleton notes, “The yes campaign, in my reading of the polls, can only loose if a suppression of alternative voices alienates many in the middle and the no campaign can risk all credibility for its proponents if identified with prejudiced or hateful language.”
While the yes campaign is mostly built on equality and the no on marriage as integral to social fabric, Father Middleton maintains that this is not the only difference in their perspectives, as the two are looking at the issue through different lenses.
He observes, “For many Christians another dimension is that there is an understanding of marriage that predates civil marriage.”
However, the postal vote and maybe a later plebiscite is not talking about marriage as a sacrament, but about marriage as a civil right.
Nevertheless, this is no reason why the Church should not have a voice in the public discussion, but experience to date shows that argument from authority has proven weak and non-communicative.
In addition, social commentators in Australia believe that even if a vote was only taken among Catholics, it would be touch and go as to which side of the question would come out on top.
This reflects a deep disconnect between Catholics and the voice of its bishops and leaders.
A similar experience in Ireland prompted Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, from Dublin, to comment after the Church had run an unsuccessful no campaign in a referendum on same sex marriage, “I think really that the Church needs to do a reality check.”
He added that it should take a good look at what it does well and where it has drifted well away from its members.
But the archbishop was careful to draw a line between public policy in a secular state and the moral convictions of the Church.
He said, “That does not mean that we should renounce our teaching on fundamental values on marriage and the family. Nor does it mean that we dig ourselves into trenches.”
Archbishop Martin called for the Church to find a new language that can be appreciated by others as the debate is really about unjust discrimination against others and not Church principles.
In all events, the Church does not have a good record on the protection of same-sex rights and has often been part of the stigmatisation the same-sex attracted suffer in society.
But as Father Peter Day, a parish priest and founder of a home for people with disabilities in Canberra, says, “This is not to say… that the Church must, therefore, pander to the whims of the marketplace, or surrender its values. On the contrary, the Church, like the rest of us, has a duty to follow its informed conscience.”
While there are also issues relating to the freedom of the Church and like organisations to follow their own consciences in their living of and administration of marriage, and teach their principles in their schools, it is relying on the open mindedness  of society for this and must listen to the opinions of others with the same tolerance.
It is not legal definitions that make Christian marriage, as the power of the ideal lies in the living of it, not the enforcement.

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