Friday, 11 May 2012

Gay marriage debate: Letters are out and love in

Gay marriage debate: Letters are out and love in

This weekend, six Catholic bishops are mailing 80,000 letters encouraging Catholics in Victoria to go the federal government website and register their opinions about a same-sex marriage bill.

The new bill, introduced by Senator Hanson-Young, would reverse the present legal definition of marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.

Sale Bishop Christopher Prowse, who signed the letter, said the legislation had a "social responsibility" to protect the traditional understanding of marriage responsibility.

There's a duty for all of us to protect society,” he said.

“Legislation can regulate marriage but it cannot redefine it.”

Another official in the Catholic church agreed. 

What countries would redefine [marriage]? Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Totalitarian countries would attempt that kind of thing. In democracies we don't change reality.”

The latter said it “...implies no lack of respect for people who identify as ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’...these are people we know and love.”

Sonja Souter, a broadcaster at JOY 94.9 Melbourne's gay and lesbian radio station, disagreed.

“It makes us sound like bloody aliens the way they put the inverted commas around 'gay'," she said, "This is just going to be fuel for their hatred."

"This is not good for Australia.”

Ms. Souter was attending a special “Love-in” broadcast at JOY 94.9.  Presenters David and Sue, dressed as John and Yoko, conducted their Friday Drive show from a white, flower-strewn bed in the foyer. The show started with a John Lennon song and encouraged the queer community to get involved.

When asked if the amendments would pass, David was optimistic. But Sue had her doubts, “I'm not really sure. In time, it will. Momentum is building.”

Michael Kelly, founder of the gay 
Catholic organisation Rainbow Sash, believes the letter to be out of
step with most of Victoria's Catholics.

"Of course the claims are ridiculous...marriage is a social construct,” he said.

"Marriage has been defined in many, many
different ways through the centuries.”

"The church itself used to forbid infertile couples from being married simply because they couldn't have children."

The Australian Marriage Equality website states that 62% of Australians believe same-sex couples should be able to marry. The website argues that the government allows other actions, such as divorce, although some churches are against it.

Some local governments are getting involved. The Hobsons Bay City Council will be discussing their submission to the federal government on Tuesday. The mayor, Tony Briffa, supports marriage irrespective of sex, gender or any other issue.

It's long overdue. It's about time Australia woke up,” he said.

The JOY 94.9 love-in has been one of a series of recent awareness-raising events. Other events included Australia’s first ever ‘Mass Same-Sex TV Wedding’ on 28 March. Future events for Marriage Equality include a public forum on Monday, April 16 discussing the next steps of the movement.

But Catholics like Bishop Prowse do not want these efforts to succeed. He believes that proponents of same-sex marriage should remove their proposals because marriage is “...part of the natural order”. He believes that marriage is the best way of bringing up new generations and differs with gay marriage proponents because gay couples cannot produce children.

We just simply beg to differ because of the biological issue.”

Debate will continue to heat up as submissions to the Senate close on Monday, 2 April. Submissions for the House of Representative inquiry close on Friday, 20 April.

Squirrel Main is a journalism student at the University of Melbourne and a presenter on JOY 94.9

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