Maritain: Gay Marriage in Australasia

Okay so last week I started talking about Maritain and got carried away with an example and ended up talking about free speech. I’m still pretty riled up, but I’ll try and stay on topic today. Let’s talk about how gay marriage is portrayed as part of an anti-democratic anti-Christian totalitarian agenda.

So this is a paragraph that I’m copy-pasting from last week, because it’s the jumping-off point for the argument. It’s also comically obvious that immediately after this paragraph I became very distracted. Okay so:

“Maritain defines the true essence of democracy in Chapter 5, ‘The True Essence of Democracy’. He sees it as sitting in opposition to “the slave philosophy”; it is characterised by the “inalienable rights of the person, equality, political rights of the people whose consent is implied by any political regime… and an ideal not of war, prestige or power, but of the amelioration and emancipation of human life – the ideal of fraternity.” One of the key ideas for anti-gay conservative Christians is that the gay rights movement is about disenfranchising the wider population. It is considered totalitarian precisely because it denies one or several of these principles. Let’s take a closer look at some expressions of this idea and see what we find.”

So last week I looked at an example of how the label of totalitarian was moved into places where it shouldn’t be. It stopped being used in reference to government and started being deployed against companies who told their volunteers to wear gay pride buttons at a gay history campaign if they wanted to do public-facing work during the campaign. That’s not what totalitarianism is, unless my fucking work uniform is also a sign of a secret fascist agenda.

Anyway, this week I wanted to talk about a couple of responses by conservative Christians to gay marriage bills in different countries – Australia and New Zealand. In my home country of New Zealand, we had the gay marriage vote back in 2013. It passed, but here’s the interesting thing. In New Zealand, the two main parties are Labour (center-left) and National (center-right). There’s a bunch of other smaller parties, and then a few weird fringe ones, including the Conservative Party, a conservative Christian party which started up in 2011 – before the gay marriage vote.

Time for some context: in 2007, we passed an anti-smacking law. Basically it removed the legal defence of ‘reasonable force’ when parents were prosecuted for assaulting their children. This makes sense: if you’re up in court for assaulting your kid, it’s probably because you beat them with a pipe or something and you shouldn’t be allowed to try and pass it off as reasonable physical discipline (this literally happened and the person wasn’t convicted). But people went crazy and it was political correctness gone mad and if you touched your child you’d get arrested. It passed anyway in 2007, which is great, and then in 2009 there was a public referendum where 87% said it should be repealed. It was only a 56% turn-out, but still comes out to 49% of the country asking for it to be repealed, which is significant. Prime Minister John Key basically ignored the referendum (fair enough), and then along came a human-shaped lizard called Colin Craig, who founded the Christian-oriented Conservative Party and said that public referendums should be legally binding because it’s what the people want so please leave us alone to beat our children. When 2013 rolled around, gay marriage passed in parliament, and it got added to Colin’s list of ‘shit that should be a legally binding public referendum’.

In this instance, you can see how the charges of totalitarianism etc etc suit the anti-gay marriage crowd. They were already hyped up about the government ignoring their referendum to legalise child assault (it’s fascism I tell you!), and then the government passed something else they didn’t like, and that was taken as further proof of our anti-democratic society that hates democracy and Christians. So the Conservative Party have a thing about legally binding public referendums. Unfortunately, the way our democracy works is that people get voted into parliament by society at large, and then parliament do their thing, and if you don’t like it, you get organised and vote in a different government next time. The governing party ignoring the referendum in 2009 was National; they stayed in government until 2017, which suggests that people weren’t really all that fussed. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, has never won any seats in any election, and Colin Craig got busted for sexting his secretary with weird love poetry, so, uh, yeah. Christians, huh.

The second case study is Australia, who passed gay marriage last year after a legally binding public referendum. The referendum happened for some honky political bullshit reason, and I don’t really understand it, but that’s not that point. The point is that Christians in New Zealand were going on about how they’d been cheated by a fascist anti-democratic government, and how if they’d had a public referendum, gay marriage would never have passed, because there’s secretly a silent majority that all hate gay people but feel too afraid to say it out loud. That’s all part of the conspiracy, by the way – not only are the government being railroaded into pro-gay marriage positions by special interest groups, the gays are hijacking society with their gender theory and making it socially unacceptable to speak up for what’s right.

So the Australians created an interesting case study for the anti-gay lobby in New Zealand. The New Zealand lot were looking for proof of a secret anti-gay majority, and the Australians – well, they didn’t provide it. 62% of responders said yes to gay marriage, and now it’s a thing, which is great! What’s interesting is that conservative Christians in Australia have pivoted from ‘gay marriage is bad’ to ‘don’t take away our religious freedom’. Here’s an example of the Catholics saying ‘let’s all just live and let live together’ – which is weird, really, because that’s what the pro-gay marriage camp were saying. But for the Catholics, it’s about being allowed to exercise their religious freedom – they’re worried that they’re going to be forced into endorsing gay marriage when they disagree with it. Here’s another example of some other conservative saying the same thing again – and here, and here’s a handy collection of a big list of conservatives all chanting it in unison.

If you read all of these articles in conjunction, there’s a really troubling sense that the Christians don’t quite understand what’s going on. The state should keep out of the bedroom, insists Anthony Fisher! Isn’t that what the gay community is saying? We need to create room to live and let live, begs Michael Casey. Isn’t… isn’t that what the gay community is saying?? I mentioned last week that many Christian organisations refuse to hire gay staff. These organisations include the universities and hospitals and churches and whatever else that these conservatives belong to. At the end of the day, that means there’s still an interesting question that we haven’t quite got round to. It’s touched on in this article – basically, the trouble for conservative Christians is that they don’t want to hire gay staff, but they can’t find a way of articulating the argument without basically opening the floodgates to a bunch of slightly different but equally filthy arguments.

We’re running over time here, but let’s play this out. A conservative Christian church says ‘We don’t want to hire gay people because we don’t want to endorse homosexuality, and it’s a religious belief, and our religion is important to us.’ What’s to stop another church turning up and saying ‘We don’t want to hire black people because we think black people are scum and it’s also a religious belief that’s important to us’? This is the point raised by Michael Stead in the article linked above:

“Stead concedes a law allowing Christians to refuse to do business with homosexuals would allow anyone to shun black people and Jews. ‘I can’t see a way of framing that that makes it sustainable.'”

From one perspective, I don’t really care whether they can drum up a successful anti-gay argument that avoids the pitfalls of racism and sexism. Anti-gay arguments are wrong and evil, and hiding behind religion isn’t going to change that fact. At the same time, there’s an interesting hypothetical question. Personally, I’m a Christian. Say I ran a Christian company that had a specifically Christian code of conduct – you’re not allowed to be a racist scumbag, say. Am I allowed to enforce a no-racists policy on the basis of religious belief, or not? This isn’t even necessarily a question about religion – it’s a broader question about the interplay between moral values, democracy, and employment rights. Say I’m an atheist running a company – but it’s not like an ‘atheist company’, uhh, it’s just a company and I just happen to be an atheist. Can I still have a no-racists policy, or not? Do I need a religious justification to be able to enforce a code of conduct among my staff? Or is there a democratic imperative that says private businesses are allowed to impose codes of conduct as long as they don’t violate like a broader legal charter of human rights? I imagine that this is the current legal reality, but as I have often said, this is not my field of expertise, so I don’t know.

But let’s imagine there is a broader human rights charter, and let’s imagine that it says that you’re not allowed to discriminate against people based on race, sex, gender, or sexual orientation. What if you belong to a religion that says God wants you to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation? Are you forced to choose between your religion and adherence to this human rights charter? That might lead some of your fellow religious believers to claim that the human rights charter is wrong, or is fundamentally out of whack with God. It might lead them to suggest that there’s an all-or-nothing battle going on between the great cosmic forces, between the holy representatives of God and the evil fascist forces of evil that’re trying to impose some false understanding of human rights on everyone. I’m not trying to defend the anti-gay agenda here. I’m just trying to explain why this is such a point of conflict. I’m articulating the problem, showing how we ended up with the gays are secret Hitlers argument. I guess I’m also asking what we do with the conservative Christians. It’s my belief that the way forward is for people like me – liberal Christians – to go and talk with conservative believers and bring them to a better understanding of God, who is very pro-gay. The way forward involves education and arguments about what the Bible says and arguments about who God is. It’s a pro-gay vision that works within the bounds of Christianity, in order to demonstrate to conservative Christians that their visions of the apocalypse are wrong. It’s not Christianity versus secret Hitler, it’s Christianity versus Christianity. That’s the only way I see conservative Christians being brought back into the fold of decent and sociable human beings.

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