Let me start with a fact. A minority of eligible Australians voted yes in the recent same-sex marriage postal plebiscite.
Yes, that’s right. Given that just over 20 per cent of Australians on the electoral roll were not sufficiently interested in changing the Marriage Act to put a stamp on a card and stick it in a post-box, the percentage of eligible citizens who voted yes was under 49 per cent! That’s a statistic the news media won’t tell you.
Given the unyielding barrage of invective to which those ideologically opposed to same-sex marriage were subjected over the past months, the strength of the No vote was absolutely remarkable. Almost five million Australians unequivocally declared themselves uncomfortable with the idea of marriage being anything other than the union of a man and a woman. And in a revealing microcosm of the mixed national mood, 48% of Australian Jewish News readers declared themselves displeased with the result of the survey (Vox Pop, AJN 24/11).
Sadly the put-downs have not ceased. After what normal election would the leader of his country continue to deliver thinly-veiled insults to those members of the electorate who did not vote his way rather than intone the language of appeasement and unity?
Granted that same-sex marriage will now most likely be enacted with unholy and unhealthy haste, it is absolutely essential that adequate provisions are put in place to ensure conscientious objectors – of which there are likely to be many – are safeguarded against being forced to act in a way that offends against their sincerely-held, religiously/morally-founded beliefs.
At the present time – and, given the quicksand upon which concepts of moral right and wrong are shifting constantly in western society, we cannot say more than that – it is widely conceded that clergy ought to have the right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage.
But why are only clergy allowed to act upon their beliefs? Are civil celebrants not permitted to hold to the tenets of their faith? Why shouldn’t Christian, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish hoteliers, restauranteurs and caterers be permitted to decline to service a same-sex marriage which runs counter to their creeds? Why shouldn’t religiously-observant bakers have the freedom to decline to ice a wedding cake with the inscription “To the loving newlyweds Adam and Steve”? Why shouldn’t devout videographers be able to decline to record a same-sex nuptials at which they will clearly be uncomfortable?
We Jews of all people should understand In Judaism, rabbis do not have any special function beyond being teachers and arbiters of halacha. Any observant Jew expert in the third section of Shulchan Aruch known as Even ha-Ezer can, in theory, conduct a wedding regardless of whether he has a semicha. Rabbis have no special privileges as religious marriage celebrants because they are ministers of religion.but only because they are talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. A photographer might also be a Torah scholar. Why then single out clergy only for special exemptions?
The truth is that what is making many well-meaning social reformers nervous is a buzzword which, like many others, has changed its meaning as a result of its exclusively narrow, and negative, usage in the contemporary world. That word is “discrimination”
I remember my father of blessed memory using the word a lot when we were children. Only he used it in a positive way. “Be discriminating” he used to say. We were encouraged to be discriminating in the food we ate, the clothes we chose, the company we kept, the books we read and the TV shows we watched.
Parents are rightly discriminating in the values they wish their children to imbibe both at home and in school. Why should a parent not have the freedom to withdraw her children from what she may regard as inappropriate gender education lessons or sexual mores taught in a morally-relativistic way?
Jewish parents are particularly discriminating in the marriage partners they seek for their children. At very least, parents strong in their Jewish identity will discourage their children from intermarrying.
If a Jewish father, distraught that his child is marrying out of the faith, declines to make a wedding for that child while for a sibling who had a kosher wedding no expense was deemed too much, will sibling A feel empowered within the law to sue her parents for “racist discrimination” with expectation of success?
The hard reality is that this is the society we are becoming – because we insist on bandying about the word “discrimination” indiscriminately. In its confined, politically-correct usage the word has become a golden calf. All other values including freedom of conscience are increasingly being forced to bow in its direction.
We cannot afford to be complacent in the mistaken belief that the politicians have everything in hand and they can be relied upon to enact new legislation as they see fit without input from faith groups with concerns such as those I have outlined above and no doubt more besides. Since when was passive faith in political leaders a Jewish habit?
Nor is it a Jewish habit to be silent. A panel has been tasked with reviewing protections for religious freedom under the chairmanship of former Liberal frontbencher Philip Ruddock. And religious groups are being encouraged to have their say. Such groups must mobilise and ensure that religious protection is afforded to all whether ecclesiastical or lay. And our responsible voice must be heard among them.
There are many good reasons for this to happen. Almost five million in fact!