When the Australian Marriage Postal Survey landed in my letterbox my first response was predictably off centre and sent me trawling through computer files for this particular photo. The look says it all. Somebody just said, “No Harry”, as he heard it, a typical grownup response to something as harmless as taking all the books off the shelf and throwing them on the floor. Such fun!
But that was then. Now he’s five and has already learned to counter No with Why. The patient parental explanations that follow, give him time to look for the flaw in them, an excuse to change the No into a triumphant Yes.
Five letters, two words, and nothing simple about either of them.
The Australian Marriage Law postal survey makes them seem so simple – Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? Mark one box only – yes or no. From a legal perspective, even one of justice, the answer would seem to be Yes. But, I’m a catholic and ever since I’ve been in a tangle of thought about the very particular beliefs about marriage that catholics are taught.
According to Australian law marriage is an either/or choice –a man and a woman can choose a civil ceremony or a church service. The celebrants of both are licensed by the government. But, if as seems likely, this law is extended to cover same sex couples, then it seems only just that people licenced to be marriage celebrants should be obliged to abide by these laws – no exemptions. All couples who marry would do so in a civil ceremony.
Experience tells me that catholic marriages seem to fail as often as those that that began with a civil ceremony. It would be more honest if couples could choose to sacramentalise their union in a separate church ceremony. As already happens in some countries, this might be weeks after the civil ceremony or possibly years later, when the romance has died off and been replaced by a deeper understanding of love.
“Love one another” slips easily off the tongue, like a religious slogan. Jesus said it and he didn’t hedge it with restrictions about who can be loved, and who not. Love is the glue that keeps people together. Civil marriage is basically a legally binding document which gives the man and the woman who enter into it certain rights and privileges meant to protect that relationship. Sacramental marriage is recognition of marriage as a visual sign of God’s love for us expressed in relationship.
Over the centuries catholic teaching about marriage has gradually become wrapped up in theological language, losing touch with the way life is experienced in a multiplicity of cultures. Marriage for catholics is hemmed in by rules and regulations about procreation and the education of offspring. It’s “till death do us part.”
I said earlier that my thoughts about all this are tangled. Harry is growing up in a society where sexual diversity has become part of the fabric of society. I grew up in a church that presented itself as the keeper of sexual morality. Now I’m not so sure that they got it right.