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Why Equality will improve the 'sanctity of marriage', not hinder it

CREATED ON // Tuesday, 08 July 2014 Written by // Rob MacPherson

The Reverend Rob MacPherson questions those who argue for 'sanctity in marriage', from a conventional religious viewpoint, arguing that true 'sanctity' can be achieved in the institution of marriage by taking equality seriously.

Take-no-prisoners comedian Doug Stanhope perfectly skewers how far in the dark ages we still are in our thinking about marriage:

“If marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it? Would you say, ‘Baby, this thing we got is so good, we gotta get the government in on this sh*t. We can’t just keep this ’twixt us: we need lawyers and judges in on this… it’s so hot!’”

We could add, of course, politicians who frame the laws. And most of them are somewhat spooked into enforcing and bolstering bizarrely retrograde laws because of conventional religious views about the so-called ‘sanctity’ of marriage. Lily-livered, approval-seekers that they can often be.

As a minister and a registered religious celebrant, I have some news for them: ain’t nothing sanctified about marriage. Sanctity means ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’, ‘of ultimate importance’, and if you think about it for a nanosecond, marriage as a cultural institution is every bit as flawed as… well, as flawed as we are. Seen the divorce rates lately, especially among empty-nesters? Seen the hit-counts and membership stats on ‘cheater’ sites, like Ashley Madison? When the internet was new and full of old-school chat rooms and noticeboards, critics called it a ‘couple-busting technology’. What rot. Couples had been finding ways to bust long before keyboards got involved. Marriage is easy to get yourself into, and hard to get yourself out of. Think about this: perhaps it should be the other way around—hard to get into, easy(er) to get out of. Then we might be able to talk about its ‘sanctity’.

And in a 21st century world, where gender reassignment is becoming more of an achievable option for people who want it, this ‘sanctified’ institution is legally trumped by your choice of gender. Recently, an Adelaide man, a father of four who had gender-reassignment surgery, was told that he MUST divorce in order to be legally recognised as a woman. You read that right: “You want to change gender? Fine: but you can’t be married any more to your partner of 20 years if you do, and you will just have to take the legal disadvantages and emotional hardship on you and your four kids on the chin.” What a cruel society we are. Marriage sanctity, anyone? What utter rot.

Consider, by contrast, the sanctity that may be achieved in the institution of marriage by taking equality seriously, of raising equality to ultimate value or worth. For politicians, lawyers, and judges to say through laws: “no matter what your sexual orientation or gender, if you and a partner wish to become more than individuals, to become an actual coupling, go for your life. Because it IS your life.”

Now that would be a sacred statement. So my conclusion is this: if we are to lift up coupling as the life-changing, self-expanding, soul-enlarging rite of passage that it can be, we would do best to sanctify our laws around it by basing it upon our fundamental equality – that all people of whatever gender or sexual orientation have the same human rights.

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Rob MacPherson

Rob MacPherson

Reverend Rob MacPherson is Minister of the Unitarian Church of SA. Follow Rob on Twitter @saunitarians

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