Signs of the Times
I think one of the issues with the recent revision of marriage is that many people found it hard to understand how the meaning of words can change change so quickly.
Words are seemingly increasingly fluid today – much like gender is regarded in certain circles. ‘Equality’ and ‘marriage’ were the two key words to undergo revision in 2017 in Australia, and it is no mistake that Yes groups connected these words in simple slogans with the overall aim of promoting ‘love’ to help stimulate revision.
Love is Love?
For example, take the University of Sydney advertising campaign in 2017 that was presumably linked in to the marriage debate: “Unlearn Love”.
The meaning could be taken several ways, but I am sure that the university was not saying that the love of two men is not love. I believe they were saying that married love is not what you always thought it was, and that now the new idea is to challenge the status quo and develop new ideas and ways of expression.
I always find it helpful in this new era of re-defining words to ask people when they say anyone can be married to ask them what marriage is and gently probe their response. Usually most people have a restriction on who can marry (not-with standing that most pro Yes Marriage voters would not have even been aware of the restrictions in Section 23 of the Marriage Act).
There is also a lack of definition when one probes the meaning of the word ‘love’ today. Perhaps defining ‘love’ is now too difficult or exclusionary? It is much easier to say, ‘Love is love’, and to sing about it than think about what it means. Perhaps those of us in the church could help the wider society learn more about the types of love mentioned in the bible? We need to be reminded of some of the hard sayings of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5: 43-44)
Marriage and Gender
Newtown in inner-city Sydney was one of the few local areas that had a significant number of local businesses and groups involved in publicly supporting the Yes vote. Among hundreds of signs and slogans in Newtown, this sign about gender was the clearest in its revisionist context. The move away from the understanding of marriage as a natural biological union from which children are produced and nurtured centres marriage on a form of romantic love where individual fulfilment is the key to that love. Sameness is promoted rather than complementarity. It reminds me of the part in Seinfeld where Jerry in contemplating marriage realised what he was looking for all along – himself.
Ridicule of Belief
I am wondering if understanding of, or even basic awareness of the deepness of belief for people of faith could become increasingly rare in wider society? I know that Newtown is a rarefied context, but is the issue broader?
On the day of the marriage survey announcement a mural was proudly unveiled on the back of the Botany View Hotel in Newtown, Sydney.
Presumably the designer Scott Marsh had in mind an exemption from the Additional Safeguards Act that was in place during the marriage survey up until and including 15 November 2017, namely that part that mentioned “a communication communicated solely for genuine satirical, academic or artistic purposes; or” (Division 1, Subdivision A, Section 6, 4 (b) Marriage Law Survey Additional Safeguards Act 2017) as Marsh chose to celebrate the day by denigrating two prominent Catholic figures as well as the Catholic faith. Tony Abbot was illustrated wearing a bridal dress and tiara along with an allusion to performing a sexual act with the straw in the bottle of wine, as well as being depicted placing his hand down the pants of a buffed up Cardinal George Pell who was depicted as a lifeguard wearing a rainbow swimsuit. Not unexpectedly, this mural prompted considerable reaction. Within 24 hours the mural had been splashed with white paint and then later painted over with black paint, with some wording left (The Happy Ending). Groups representing differing viewpoints converged, including (mainly Maronite) Christians who wanted to pray and witness to their faith. This development led to a local police presence, albeit to ‘keep the peace’ between the different groups. In the days following people added to the black canvas with a wide range of insults, swearwords as well as blasphemous comments and praiseworthy comments about Jesus. This whole saga continued for several weeks, with regular blackening out, though by February 2018 the graffiti language decreased markedly as activists presumably have moved onto to other causes.
One intriguing aspect from some of my discussions around the area was that while people were very upset at the perceived ‘vandalism’ of the mural, some could not understand that the mural had been offensive in the first place.
I have been able to capture some lovely images of natural rainbows in Newtown. One was in 2009, and one in February 2018. These rainbows always provide a measure of hope and help me to continue to reflect on a holy and living God, our creator and redeemer.