Pastor John Henderson, LCA Bishop
On 22 May 2015 voters in the Republic of Ireland were asked to determine whether ‘marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex’. Of nearly 2 million votes cast, 62% voted ‘yes’.
The success of this referendum, supported by the Irish government, has sparked a worldwide response. It is seen as the first popular vote to enact same-sex marriage, rather than a vote by elected representatives, as has already happened in New Zealand (2013), many European countries, and parts of the USA. Does this signify a turning of the popular tide in relation to the issue, and how should we respond?
A senior Vatican diplomat, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has said, ‘The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelisation. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity’.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek were among the first Australian politicians to respond to the Irish referendum by introducing a private members bill to Parliament. Well-known voices such as 2GB’s Alan Jones have come out in support of same-sex marriage. Now Prime Minister Tony Abbot seems to be preparing for a free vote in the Parliament, without the usual ‘party line’ restrictions. It could take place as early as August. All this seems to mean that the odds of a change in Australian marriage law have increased significantly.
In Australia, marriage is regulated by a Federal Act (1961), which defines marriage as ‘the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. While in full agreement with this definition, the Lutheran Church of Australia recognises that governments have the duty and responsibility under God to make and enforce laws for the ordering of society. For Lutherans, marriage is not a sacrament belonging to our salvation, but an order for the welfare of human society. If the rules of society stand in clear contradiction of the Word of God, the church is not bound by them.
An example of this freedom occurred when the LCA discussed conscientious objection to conscripted military service during the Vietnam War. It argued:
When governments wantonly subvert their God-ordained functions and act in contempt and violation of God’s law, the individual Christian is bound to examine his position as a citizen and to let his conscience, bound by the Word of God, determine at what point and in which matters he must refuse obedience rather than to permit men to involve him in sin. Acts 5:29; Augsburg Confession XVI, 2.3.7. (Conscientious Objection to Service in War, CTICR, adopted by General Convention 1970)