Brisbane, Australia – As Australia debates gay marriage, one Catholic member of Parliament, who is in favor, says his faith informs his thinking, but not necessarily his decision-making.
In taking this stance, Brisbane Labor MP Graham Perrett is opposing both his church and his party but said he believes “it is time for this nation to protect committed, monogamous relationships, whatever the gender of the adults who wish to have their relationship recognized by the state.”
Perrett made his comments after consulting his electorate. Last November, the federal Green Party won a motion requiring legislators to consult their constituents on gay marriage after politicians were unable to agree on allowing a conscience vote on the so-called Marriage Equality Bill.
On Aug. 24 of this year, Perrett told Parliament that he and 53 per cent of his polled constituents supported gay marriage, with 46 per cent opposed. Nationwide, according to an Aug. 4 Roy Morgan poll, 68 per cent support gay marriage. However, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she personally opposes gay marriage, and her ruling Labor Party officially opposes it.
Currently, Australian law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Ten countries – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden – permit gay marriages, as do six U.S. states, most recently New York.
Perrett, who taught in Brisbane’s Catholic schools for eight years before entering public service, pointed to bullying and suicides among homosexual youth, telling Parliament a law change will reduce harm among young people. “I wanted to go with something that reduces youth suicide,” he said. “I cannot sit idly by while the nation is complicit in this harm.”
Perrett, who has two gay brothers and says he attends Mass as often as he can, says faith “moves people in certain ways – it’s unshakeable.” At the same time, he believes, “there’s nothing logical about faith. That’s why it is called faith, not logic.”
Many politicians, including Perrett, view a conscience vote, where lawmakers do not necessarily have to vote their party’s line, as the logical step to advance same sex marriage, but this requires support from the Liberal opposition party. As most Australian politicians currently favour civil unions, Perrett is not hopeful of immediate change – and has ruled out supporting civil union legislation.
“I [initially] thought a civil process would be much more logical, but I’m told by the same sex attracted community that is not something that they would settle for,” he told ENInews.
A 16 August poll released by Australian Marriage Equality, a national organization working for equal marriage rights, showed 53 per cent of Australian Christians support same sex marriage. “Clearly, most Australian Christians believe same-sex marriage is consistent with Christian values like justice, love, compassion and fidelity, not opposed to these values,” spokesperson Malcolm McPherson, a Christian, says.
Australia’s Catholic archbishops maintain such support is inflated. They recently joined 50 other Australian Christian leaders in stating their opposition to changes in the marriage law. “Redefining marriage would seriously undermine the family unit. Children have a right to the complementary experiences of mothering and fathering as far as possible,” their 24 August statement said.
Perrett said he is not answerable to church leaders. “Thankfully I do not have to explain my faith to the Pope, or to [Australian Cardinal George] Pell. It is a private matter between me and my God, so while my faith informs any decisions I might make about marriage, it does not dictate how I decide,” he told Parliament.
While same-sex marriage will benefit his brothers, Perrett, whose wife is Anglican, says he would not notice any change. “It’s not going to have an impact on my Catholic marriage,” he told Parliament. “If we change the Marriage Act right now and tomorrow same-sex attracted people were able to get married, how would my world be different? Will I wake up next to my beautiful wife of 16 years and say, ‘You look cheaper?'”