THE Hunter’s Anglican and Catholic Church leaders have emerged as pragmatists on the issue of same-sex marriage despite more hardline views within their communities.
Redefining marriage to include same-sex marriages ‘‘won’t be the end of the world’’, was the surprising conclusion reached by Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright in an opinion piece this month, putting him at odds with an official Australian Bishops Conference statement in May, and the views of his former Manly seminarian colleague, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
‘‘It would be better to save the name ‘marriage’ for the thing it has long defined: the shared life-project of a man and a woman who commit to a lifelong partnership, intending to have children together and to create a home and family. But the time for that has probably passed,’’ Bishop Wright wrote in the August edition of the diocese magazine Aurora.
‘‘Let’s face it, there is already a lot of daylight between marriage as understood by Catholics and ‘marriage’ in Australian law and majority social consensus.’’
The statement was made before Mr Abbott’s surprise Coalition party room debate last week derailed plans for a possible same-sex marriage vote in Parliament this month, in favour of a plebiscite or referendum some time in the future.
But Bishop Wright’s opinion piece came after the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement in May titled ‘‘Don’t Mess With Marriage’’, in which the bishops declared that ‘‘messing with marriage ... is also messing with kids’’ who needed a family for the best start in life.
Redefining marriage away from it being between a man and a woman was ‘‘gravely unjust’’ to children, the bishops said.
Bishop Wright appeared to challenge his fellow bishops who argued that changing the law would be ‘‘a serious injustice’’ that would ‘‘undermine that common good for which the civil law exists’’.
Bishop Wright argued that law was ‘‘not there to impose ideals or to teach a moral code, but to keep society functioning smoothly’’.
‘‘Law has to take account of how people actually live. It will permit or regulate certain behaviours when the attempt to suppress them would cause more harm than it remedied,’’ he wrote.
Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson said religious communities experienced the discussion of same-sex marriage as both complex and confronting because of traditions which have ‘‘for thousands of years opposed intimacy between people of the same gender’’.
In a statement on Monday, Bishop Thompson said gay and lesbian people in Australia had been treated with ‘‘harshness and intolerance’’, and for many people families were not places of hope and love but places of trauma.
The church was just one institution in Australia that had to ‘‘face and correct’’ discrimination and abuse from the past, he said.
Bishop Thompson said he did not expect the Anglican Church to change any of its formal positions on marriage ‘‘quickly, if at all’’.
But ‘‘our shared responsibility as Australian citizens is to create a way of life that respects difference and in which people flourish’’, he said.