Australia and Marriage #2 – Threatening to Divorce

Continuing my mini series of thoughts on marriage in Australia, Nick (and Sarah) Jensen, a Christian couple, recently made headlines by threatening to divorce if Australia gains same-sex marriage.

Some people are pretty on board with this…

I’m sure we’ve all heard about these two by now, as it was several weeks ago. But in the flood of internet responses (most of which were either ‘this is disgusting’ or a more satirical ‘gay people threaten not to care’), I saw one key point discussed, but not (to my knowledge) elaborated on.

If the Jensens are telling the truth when they say that they intend to divorce legally but stay married ‘religiously’, they have revealed that their definition of marriage might currently align with the legal definition, but it is not based on that legal definition. They have removed any integrity they had when speaking out on the subject of ‘protecting’ legally binding marriage.

The Jensens have said they will continue to live as husband and wife and have children. I don’t think they’re just referring to becoming housemates and going through with IVF. They’re going to continue to sleep together. Most of the authors of the Bible agree when it comes to extramarital sex–don’t have it. Mainstream Christianity follows this position. As a member of the ACL, Nick Jensen certainly agrees with this (I would assume Sarah does as well).

If they want to divorce but live as husband and wife, they believe they are truly still married, regardless of Australian law. This means they don’t believe that secular marriage law really ‘counts’. Nick is even quoted in this article, saying that he thinks marriage is not ‘a human invention’.

So why should he even care about secular marriage law? Given this inconsistency of definitions, why should anyone listen to what these two people have to say about secular marriage law?

I’m not even trying to ask this as a way to attack them personally–it’s just their rationality that bewilders me. Bearing this in mind, it is astonishing that more people aren’t encouraging them to go through with it. It really is. Especially since Nick Jensen is very active within the Australian Christian Lobby (a fact that somehow didn’t make it to the ears of NT News).

In an ideal Australia, Sarah and Nick would get legally divorced, begin to live together in a legal de facto relationship that had the religious definition of marriage, and would leave the discussion of legal marriage to the people who actually want it, most of whom believe it is a human institution. Everyone’s finally happy. Or, if not, at least we’ve moved closer to a rational discussion about it. In an ideal Australia, that is.

Here, nobody’s talking about this. But here’s the thing: it’s an incredibly good idea to separate legal concepts of marriage and religious concepts of marriage. They’ve been tangled up for years, and anyone with a stake in either definition is quite upset. We would all be a lot happier if this changed. Even if the Religious Right was still upset about LGBT rights*, they would still be able to express their views** and marry in the way that they want to, while people in same-sex relationships would be able to express their love in a way that they wanted to, with the same legal benefits and protections that those of us in straight relationships do.

* which they would be

** just because I believe they’re wrong doesn’t mean they should forfeit the right to free speech

Australia & Marriage #1 – the US Supreme Court Decision and YOU!

I don’t intend to make my blog all about marriage rights etc, but it’s an interesting topic and I have thoughts on it. Hence, there will be a couple of posts about it in the next few days. If you’re not reading for this kind of analysis, wait me out. I won’t take long 🙂

Nabbed from the New York Times. Photo by Doug Mills.

Nabbed from the New York Times. Photo by Doug Mills.

“Australians should be thankful that our High Court has not resorted to divisive undemocratic judicial activism on marriage.”
– Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton

Those Australians who argue against the US Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell v Hodges on the basis that unelected judges are moving into making legislature should be very careful when making those arguments.

In America this is applicable, as it is a fine line between interpretation and creating new legislation. In rulings to come it could tip either way. As a non-American it’s okay to make these comments too–when it’s about America.

In Australia, the courts’ interpretations are a majority of what give us an implied right to, for example, free speech. We do not have a bill of rights, or much constitutional support to fall back on, as Americans do, and new legislature can override (and has) any implied right that it wishes to.

Whether it’s technically appropriate in a system that is based on separation of the judicial, executive, and legislative powers, “divisive undemocratic judicial activism” is probably the only thing we have going for us in the Australian system.

This stance can probably be partially explained by the fact that the above argument is one being made by the American Christian Right. The Christian Right in Australia takes many of its cues from the Christian Right in America (due to its higher population and larger output of speakers and video, audio and written material). Sometimes those cues lose their context.