The real numbers in the fight for marriage

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstockshutterstock

Last weekend, I had the privilege of being invited to one of our Sydney parishes to speak about the push to redefine marriage in Australia. At each of the four Masses, I began by speaking about the love of God for those of our brothers and sisters experiencing same-sex attraction, commenting that this is just one of the many temptations that anyone who is striving for holiness might face. I said that there was no better place for anyone who was trying to be a saint than inside the Church because Catholics are called to love others like God loves us: unconditionally.

But loving someone does not mean agreeing with every choice they make. Sometimes, love requires us to challenge a person, and to set boundaries when it comes to behaviour. Every good parent knows this to be true. In the same way, it is out of love, and not out of hatred, that the Catholic Church raises her voice in defence of marriage. It would be much easier for us to remain silent. But that would not be love, it would be apathy.

After outlining a few of the potential consequences for the community in a post-same-sex marriage world, I invited people in the parish to join the campaign to defend marriage. I told them that it did not matter who would win the election because we can make our voices heard in a national plebiscite if there’s going to be a public vote, or to our local politicians if there is to be a parliamentary one.

After one of the Masses, an older lady pulled me aside. She thanked me for my talk and said: “You know, I feel sorry for you. Because you’re trying, but it is not going to change anything. We are going to lose and I’m scared.”

I told her not to lose hope because I was confident in our chances to keep the marriage law as it is. In fact, I was more confident this week than I have been in a long time.

The main voice advocating for the redefinition of marriage is Australian Marriage Equality. They often tell us that 72 per cent of Australians support a change to the law.

These numbers come from a survey of 1000 people conducted in July 2014, and this 72 per cent number is the most recent statistic on the Australian Marriage Equality website.

But another survey came out last week which puts these numbers into doubt.

For those unfamiliar with the ABC’s Vote Compass, it is an online tool which asks a user to agree or disagree with a number of propositions. The program then calculates how the user’s personal views align with the positions of the political parties and tells the user which party most closely represents their convictions.

Given the questions it asks, and how popular it is, Vote Compass is also a useful barometer of the public view on a number of issues, including same-sex marriage. One of the propositions put to respondents is the statement: “Marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

Last week, after collating the responses of 351,939 people, the ABC reported that 44 per cent of respondents “strongly disagreed” with the statement (i.e. they strongly support marriage redefinition) and a further 12 per cent “somewhat disagreed”.

A survey which is 350 times larger and two years more recent than the survey so often quoted by Australian Marriage Equality tells us that only 56 per cent of Australians are supportive of same-sex marriage, and a good number of them aren’t strong supporters, and so could probably be persuaded by a positive, pro-marriage argument (if we are permitted to have one).

The ABC’s audience tends to be somewhat less-than-conservative, so the numbers probably reflect this left-leaning demographic. Additionally, an online poll would not reach a majority of older Australians, and the poll also tells us that those over the age of 55 are least likely to support a change in marriage laws.

Contrary to what this dear woman thought, there is much about which we can be hopeful. The defence of marriage is certainly within our reach.
I think this means two things.

First, it means that we should stop listening to the voices telling us that this is all over.

We need to stop listening to those who tell us that only a small number of conservative Australians/religious zealots/bigots/homophobes oppose the redefinition of marriage.

We need to stop listening to those people who want to tell us that our views are so rejected by mainstream Australians that we should keep them to ourselves.

And second, it means that we need to keep fighting for marriage. We cannot, we must not, be discouraged. Not only do we not have permission to give up, we have no reason to.