I regret the discomfort of my American brothers and sisters, but three years is indeed only a moment in the 2,000 year history of the church. We seek God the Holy Spirit for the wise answer, not the quick answer. There are plenty of examples in the history of church controversies that took decades and centuries to resolve, if ever. The present debate about homosexuality may be similar in duration. Therefore, we need to find ways to live and worship together while the debate remains unresolved.
We sung the setting by Andrew Moore from his excellent Sunday Psalms: music settings for Common Worship (Mayhew, 2000) .
1 Behold how good and plea | sant it is
to dwell toge | ther in unity.
2 It is like the precious oil u | pon the head,
running down u | pon the beard,
3 Even on | Aaron's beard,
running down upon the collar | of his clothing.
4 It is like the dew of Hermon running down upon the | hills of Zion.
For there the Lord has promised his blessing: even life, for | evermore.
Hat tip to *Christopher, who got it from ePiscoSours, who got it from not a shrinking violet who got it from . . .
Accent: 'educated' Australian with hints of England
Booze: Australian wine
Chore(s) I hate: with Dave at ePiscoSours, "I kinda hate them all equally"
Composers I like (added): Mozart and Bach
Dog or cat: none; I don't like dogs much and I'm allergic to cat hairs -- I like plants!
Essential electronics: laptop, radio, alarm clock -- the handy-dandy mobile 'phone does everything (calls, messages, camera, diary, radio, mp3 player, address book, yada yada yada, but its not essential)
Favorite cologne: Tuscany by Aramis;
Favorite clothes (added): jeans and tee shirt
Gold or silver: gold
Hometown: Melbourne, Vic.
Insomnia: when I'm anxious, which is waaaaay too often
Job title: Assistant Director, Management Information and Data Analysis
Kids: nope; never wanted any either
Living arrangements: ground-level apartment with garden coourtyard, owned and shared with James
Most admirable trait: commitment;
Least admirable trait(s) (added by *Christopher): I don't suffer fools or stupidity gladly; I lose things
Number of sexual partners: next question please;
Number of life partners (added): one
Overnight hospital stays: one; unless you count the six months I spent in hospital at seven years of age, due to polio
Phobias: snakes (long story)
Quote: "Not too much" (my family motto, very suitable for weight watchers)
Religion: Christian, subspecies Anglican
Siblings: one younger brother and two younger sisters (one deceased)
Time I wake up: variable -- 6.00-6.30am most days
Unusual talent or skill: none that's unusual, but I'm good at most things to do with words
Vegetable I refuse to eat: none, but I don't eat mushrooms or unusual parts of animals
Worst habit: anxiousness (the little white pills help)
X-rays: teeth (dentist), spine (chiropractor)
Yummy foods I
make like: curry
Zodiac sign: I ignore the Zodiac;
Zealous about (added): the local church (most of the time)
There is another very safe and simple way of escape when the dull mood begins to gather round one, and that is to turn as promptly and as strenuously as one can to whatever work one can at the moment do. If the energy, the clearness, the power of intention, is flagging in us, if we cannot do our best work, still let us do what we can--for we can always do something; if not high work, then low work; if not vivid and spiritual work, then the plain, needful drudgery.--Bishop Francis Paget. The Spirit of discipline. London: Longman, 1891.
When it is dull and cold and weary weather with us, when the light is hidden, and the mists are thick, and the sleet begins to fall, still we may get on with the work which can be done as well in the dark days as in the bright; work which otherwise will have to be hurried through in the sunshine, taking up its happiest and most fruitful hours. When we seem poorest and least spiritual, when the glow of thankfulness seems to have died quite away, at least we can go on with the comparatively featureless bits of work, the business letters, the mechanism of life, the tasks which may be almost as well done then as ever. And not only, as men have found and said in every age, is the activity itself a safeguard for the time, but also very often, I think, the plainer work is the best way of getting back into the light and warmth that arc needed for the higher. Through humbly and simply doing what we can, we retrieve the power of doing what we would.
Picture: Francis Paget (1851-1911), Bishop of Oxford. Watercolour by Sir Leslie Ward, 1894.
|Of course, one could always try something like this (from Savage Chickens):|
Armillary sphere sundials, modeled on the celestial or terrestrial sphere, are constructed from three or more interlocking rings which provide support for the rod-like gnomon, which forms the axis of the sphere, and casts the time-telling shadow on the equatorial ring. The equatorial ring carries hour lines marked at 10 minute intervals from dawn 'till dark. The gnomon is set at an angle of 35° to the horizontal (corresponding to the latitude of Canberra) so that its upper end points at the South Celestial Pole.
The ANBG sundial was made and installed by Sundials Australia in Adelaide, which has been commissioned to install sundials in a number of important locations around Australia. John Ward and Margaret Folkard of Sundials Australia have published an interesting article (part 1 and part 2) based on their book Sundials Australia.
Always searching for more sunshine, the British have The British Sundial Society whose site is a mine of information.
The Episcopal Church and much of the Anglican Communion suffer from a paralysis caused by long-simmering controversies brought to a boil by the consecration of an openly gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions. These controversies increasingly dominate conversation and agendas -- both formal and informal -- in parishes, dioceses and the Communion.Exactly so. This is verymuch inthe spirit of the Collect for the commemoration on 3 November of Richard Hooker 1554-1600, priest and theologian.
Like the man in John's gospel who was paralyzed for 38 years, we desperately need to hear Jesus' words: "Stand up, take your mat, and walk" (John 5:8). Sometimes, a sick bed or a paralytic's mat tragically becomes the sick person's comfort zone. The cost of healing -- abandoning that comfort zone to re-enter the everyday world with all of its uncertainties and strenuous demands -- exceeds the allure of health. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion act as if they prefer the comfort of the current controversies to the riskier and more demanding health of serving Christ.
Healing will begin only when we realize the full extent of our plight. No one is going to come by to lift us out of our misery and place us in a pool of healing waters. We must recognize that reaching a consensus, or even finding a compromise with which a significant majority can agree, is, like the quest for the Holy Grail, an impossible quest.
Our persistence in this struggle reflects the exaggerated importance many people on both sides attach to the issues. But the energy, time and resources invested in these controversies that have paralyzed much of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion also indicate how comfortable we have become with these issues. Recent expressions of this myopic and paralyzing focus include the Eames Commission's Windsor Report with its recommendations for restructuring the Anglican Communion; the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops' response, To Set Our Hope on Christ; initiatives by other provinces; numerous diocesan resolutions; countless parish debates; and advocacy within the Church by lobbyists, networks and others. Sharp divisions, fixed opinions and the conviction that God is on one's side preclude consensus on these controversies in the foreseeable future. Further votes will create more winners and losers, exacerbating the paralysis.
Jesus commanded the paralytic to stand. All the paralytic had to do was to obey. Christianity has never taught that any definition of sexual purity or particular sexual orientation constitutes a litmus test of whether or not one is a Christian. The only litmus test of Christian identity with which I am familiar is the one articulated by St. Paul and St. John: Do you acknowledge Jesus as Lord? Anglican Christianity's "big tent" is thus defined not by anyone's views on any of the current controversies but by whether one has stood in obedience to Jesus' healing command: stand up and walk.
Refusing to acknowledge a bishop's authority because of the bishop's stance, pro or con, on consecrating an openly gay bishop or blessing same-sex unions is tantamount to declaring that the bishop is not Christian. That refusal is without historical warrant as the early Church wisely recognized that the validity of a sacrament is not contingent upon the holiness or even Christian identity of the one administering the sacrament. Similarly, refusing to be part of a communion of disparate views and practices with respect to those issues either means ignoring Jesus' prayer that his disciples be one or implies that those with whom one disagrees are not Christian.
Indeed, John's gospel reports that Jesus told his disciples, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." The New Testament repeatedly echoes that injunction. Yet no serious commentator could characterize the present animosity and divisiveness within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a good faith effort to love one another after the pattern of Jesus' love for us.
Instead of paternalistically attempting to take responsibility for the acts or faith of others, no matter how abhorrent we may find their acts or beliefs, each of us must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. That was good advice when it was written, and it remains good today. Obedience is the only answer to Jesus' command, "Stand up."
Jesus' command to the paralytic finds fuller expression in the parable of the Good Samaritan, his call (not an invitation) that those whom he has healed become instruments of healing for others. Confined to our mats, masochistically choosing paralysis over health, deafened by our laments and blinded by our pain and discomfort, we are like the priest and Pharisee in that parable, unable to hear the cries of others in pain or to see the dying.
In a world torn by strife and division, a world in which millions starve to death because they have no bread -- spiritual or physical -- to eat, a Church that stands together and walks in Christ's name would make a powerful witness. Anglicans have always found their unity as a Church that prays together, not as a Church united by common doctrines or structure. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion could make a dramatic difference in the quality of life for others (loving neighbor) and a dramatic testimony to God's love in Christ (loving God) by walking together in health and agreeing to disagree about the issues underlying the current controversies.
As a priest and naval chaplain, I preached and taught on a wide variety of social issues, including homosexuality. Once every few months someone would ask me about the current controversies. But several times each day people would come to me for help with failing relationships, for moral clarity on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and in search of a meaning for their life that would give them peace and joy. Parish clergy who are not obsessed with the current controversies share similar experiences with me.
Now -- not next year, not in 10 years, but now -- is the time for us to stand and to walk together as God's faithful servants, united in our disagreement, ministering to the hurting and dying in our badly broken world.
O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We are commanded to preach Christ crucified. But the contemplation of agony and torture doesn't ring true. The blood and guts of the crucifixion cannot be other than repugnant.
Yet it is precisely because of the death and resurrection of Christ that I'm not fearful of my own death.
I am utterly grateful for the achievements of the cross. But I find it overwhelming. Yes, I seek to live repentantly and in the power of the resurrection -- but this I try to do daily. Good Friday adds nothing. There's nothing to add to what Christ has done but silence. And thankfulness.
I resonate strongly with the Archbishop of Canterbury's Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Good Friday, (14 Apr 06).
A novelist, some years back, put it very well when he described what it was like to arrive in the empty hallway of a monastery in Yorkshire for the first time; 'There is an impression of intense activity elsewhere'. That's a phrase that comes to my mind, sometimes, when I'm in a church towards the end of the Good Friday services. We've had all the readings, we've sung the hymns, we've tried to summon up the appropriate emotions for this overwhelming day, the day on which the whole history of the world depends. And now the services are nearly over, there are no flowers or decorations, the church has been stripped of everything that might make it look attractive. An empty hall. We've run out of things to say and do. Yet it often feels just like the empty hallway of the monastery: intense activity elsewhere.Read it all, carefully
At the end of a Good Friday service, we get to the point where nothing we do will be or feel adequate to what's being remembered. And that's completely right, because what matters on this day is what's done elsewhere, done by God, somehow using the stark injustice and horror of the execution of Jesus to turn around the way the world works. Intense activity elsewhere; as if you could hear faintly a workman hammering steadily away at the blank surface of human self-satisfaction and self-deception, and an irregular sound of plaster dropping to a distant floor.
And it's not an intimidating feeling. It's not that we've got an appointment we mustn't miss and we don't know which door to walk through or which staircase to go up. In this empty hallway, there's nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they've been up all night with someone who's seriously ill or dying, or when they've been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of 'limbo', an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.
"This overwhelming day . . ." I think we make it too overwhelming -- inaccessibly so.
"At the end of a Good Friday service, we get to the point where nothing we do will be or feel adequate to what's being remembered." This time, I didn't really need to feel more inadequate than I already am; so I stayed away. But yet, "[T]hat's completely right, because what matters on this day is what's done elsewhere, done by God ..."
"The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. . . . For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else." Thank God; I'm glad that God's work in me is being done elsewhere than in busyness and anxiety. God's work is not 'elsewhere' from us, even when we cannot sense God's work.
The proper and natural effect, and in the absence of all disturbing and intercepting forces, the certain and inevitable accompaniment of peace (or reconcilement) with God is our own inward peace, a calm and quiet temper of mind. . . . Still we must be cautious not to transfer to the Object the defects of the organ, which must needs partake of the imperfections of the imperfect beings to whom it belongs. Not without the co-assurance of other senses and of the same sense in other men, dare we affirm that what our eye beholds is verily there to be beholden. Much less may we conclude negatively, and from the inadequacy or the suspension, or from any other affection, of sight infer the non-existence or departure or changes of the thing itself. The chameleon darkens in the shade of him who bends over it to ascertain its colours. In like manner, but with yet greater caution, ought we to think respecting a tranquil habit of inward life, considered as a spiritual sense, as the medial organ in and by which our peace with God, and the lively working of His grace in our spirit, are perceived by us. This peace which we have with God in Christ, is inviolable; but because the sense and persuasion of it may be interrupted, the soul that is truly at peace with God may for a time be disquieted in itself, through weakness of faith, or the strength of temptation, or the darkness of desertion, losing sight of that grace, that love and light of God's countenance, on which its tranquillity and joy depend. But when these eclipses are over, the soul is revived with new consolation, as the face of the earth is renewed and made to smile with the return of the sun in the spring; and this ought always to uphold Christians in the saddest times, namely, that the grace and love of God towards them depend, not on their sense, nor upon anything in them, but is still in itself, incapable of the smallest alteration.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge Aids to reflection (1825)
(Photo by Kenneth Arnold. The Philosopher's Path, Kyoto.;)
For most active Christians, Holy Week is a Busy Week.Sound advice, which I am about to follow. No more of this journal for a week at least. Meanwhile, an Easter offering:
For bishops, priests and deacons, there are all of the usual duties of pastoral life in addition to planning for some of the most intricate services of the church year, writing extra sermons, acolyte practice, finding the crotalus, hearing confessions, preparing leaflets and rehearsing the Exultet one more time. For servers, ushers, vergers, greeters, webmasters, flower arrangers, secretaries, organists, singers, sextons, caterers and worshipers of all kinds, the key word this week is More.
It is safe to say that most people reading this essay will be exhausted by the end of Good Friday, if they aren't already today after a full round of Palm Sunday observances. If our experience is any guide, it is grace and not just human energy that carries us each year through to Holy Saturday, the Great Vigil and on to the resurrection joy of Easter morning.
Until then, in place of the More that so many of us will be encountering this week, for our part we would like to urge some effort at Less over the next seven days. Less time at keyboard-and-monitor, less television, fewer text messages, less noise and less internet discussion with all its politicks and knavish tricks. We are far from advocating a complete tuning-out from the web and mass media. (This would be impossible for starters given our day-jobs, but we learn and gain so much of religious value on the web in any case that a complete turn-off would surely constitute an interruption of our lives instead of an enrichment.)
Rather we hope that by engaging in a bit less of these things we will be able to turn down the barrage of information that generally meets our senses. Such a momentary cutting-back should not be difficult, but we suspect it will be. It will allow us to meet the scriptures, liturgies, hymns and ceremonies of Holy Week in sharper contrast against the usual sounds and meanings of our lives. We hope it will enable us to better enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts of God we will relive this week. Join us if you can in saying Less to some things while so much More is taking place, the more carefully to do all things well and in godliness.
A Chorale, by James Agee (1934)
Who, knowing love must die or live free-fated,
Free in your heartsearth headlong man created:
Who manly died and scaled from all perdition
Our ill condition:
Your crown not God nor your great death retains you:
As you are man so man for man ordains you:
Who reign in man's regard O much forsaken
Dear Christ awaken!
Range the blest hordes that rest in you around you:
Look down kind prince on treason to astound you:
See now sweet farmer what a wasting shadow
Takes your green meadow:
How, love of self, fact, state, dream, art much prizing,
Men move in manners of their own devising:
How they kill truth to find out truth more nearly
That's mortal merely:
How knowledge muffles wisdom's eye to danger:
How greed misrules: how greed's enraged avenger
Swears greed the equal prize for man's pursuing,
And your undoing:
How many ways men build up man's disaster:
How all are armaments against man's master:
How surely soon comes toward without atonement
How cowardly those few that still exalt you
Worship their death while wildly men assault you:
How not one dares who knows what men intend you,
Die to defend you:
Though you outreign our time which is an hour,
Yet you in us have put you in our power:
What God man builds in God His truth is ended
Not well defended:
O Godsent Son of God our allsalvation,
Is faith so sickly slow to indignation
Your murderers against? Then faith betrays you:
Your friends destroy you:
Your faith who gave your heart for our safekeeping,
Your love who sweated blood while we were sleeping,
If so these waste within this generation
Death is your nation:
The time is withered of your ancient glory:
Your doing in this dear earth a pretty story:
O noblest heart fare well through the conclusion
Of all delusion.
Great God kind God the deep fire-throated fountain
Of earth and funneled hell and hopeful mountain:
Of ghosted Gods the eversame survivor:
Of shoreless strength of peace the prime contriver:
If this your Son is now indeed debasèd
Among old effigies of Gods effacèd,
Blaze in our hearts who still in earth commend you:
Who through all desolation will defend you:
For we are blinded all and sick are swervèd
Steep among many Deaths who still would be preservèd.
-- James Agee Permit me voyage, Yale University Press, 1934.
As part of his discussion, Hamilton advances Ten theses on consumption. I find them challenging personally, including as a Christian.
The last three decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the forces that govern society. In the case of capital, modern firms are driven less by competition through cost-cutting and more by product differentiation and marketing. The spread of affluence and the transition to consumer capitalism have meant that identity now has less to do with one's work -- where one is placed in the production process -- and more to do with one's consumption choices, including consumption of cultural products.
This view of the world can be represented in the following ten propositions. They apply only to affluent countries, although the consumption behaviour of rich consumers in poor countries has some of the same characteristics.
Ten theses on consumption:
It is my contention that these ideas provide the basis for an alternative progressive politics, one which resonates with the life circumstances of citizens of affluent countries by building on an understanding of how consumer capitalism has transformed the world and how it has influenced the way we think about ourselves and our lives.
- In rich countries, the principal purpose of consumption spending is no longer to satisfy needs but to find and express a personal identity.
- For a large proportion of consumption behaviour, the act of buying and the act of consuming have become distinct and need to be understood separately.
- Marketing, including advertising, is designed to get us to buy, not to consume, and where possible prefers us not to consume but to discard.
- There is an inexorable process of converting wants into "needs" and this results in and reflects a ratcheting up of expected standards of living, one in which expectations always stay in advance of incomes.
- Because of the limits to consumption capacity, this ratcheting-up process inevitably results in more waste.
- The rise in expectations or aspirations puts pressure on people to work longer and harder and this comes at the cost of their personal relationships.
- Whereas growth in consumption was once necessary to improving wellbeing, in rich countries increased consumption is now associated with declining wellbeing.
- Improving wellbeing today requires a partial withdrawal from the market and a distancing from its influence, including an active resistance to the market values of materialism, competition at the expense of cooperation, individualism and the money-metric.
- The trend towards voluntary reduction of incomes and consumption, known as downshifting, is a reaction against the pressures of consumerism.
- A shift to a society based on a downshifting ethic and the associated rejection of consumption as the basis of lifestyle and self-definition is the only way to gain an authentic identity and, incidentally, protect ourselves from severe environmental decline.
Along similar lines and drawing on the work of the New Economics Foundation, the Australia Institute is sponsoring a Wellbeing Manifesto and is inviting people to sign up online. This is an extract:
The manifesto for wellbeing
Australians are three times richer than their parents and grandparents were in the 1950s, but they are no happier. Despite the evidence of a decline in national wellbeing, governments continue to put economic interests first. The obsession with economic growth means other things that could improve our wellbeing are sacrificed. There is widespread community concern that the values of the market -- individualism, selfishness, materialism, competition -- are driving out the more desirable values of trust, self-restraint, mutual respect and generosity. Many people feel alienated from the political process; the main parties seem too alike and think of progress only in material terms. The challenge of our age is to build a new politics that is committed, above all, to improving our wellbeing.
Throughout history sages have counselled that happiness is not a goal but a consequence of how we live, that it comes from being content with what we have. Today, we are sold a different message -- that we will be happy only if we have more money and more of the things money buys. Human experience and scientific research do not support this belief.
Our wellbeing is shaped by our genes, our upbringing, our personal circumstances and choices, and the social conditions in which we live. Our collective wellbeing is improved if we live in a peaceful, flourishing, supportive society, so promoting wellbeing should be a public as well as a personal task.
We often think of wellbeing as happiness, but it is more than that. It is about having meaning in our lives -- developing as a person and feeling that our lives are fulfilling and worthwhile. Wellbeing comes from having a web of relationships and interests. Family and friends, work, leisure activities and spiritual beliefs can all increase our wellbeing. The intimacy, sense of belonging and support offered by close personal relationships are of greatest value. Material comforts are essential up to a point, and there is no doubt that poverty remains a serious problem in Australia. But for most Australians more money would add little to their wellbeing.
What can governments do?
Governments can't legislate to make us happy, but many things they do affect our wellbeing. Industrial relations laws can damage or improve the quality of our working lives; government policies can protect the environment or see it defiled; our children's education depends on the quality of schools; tax policies can make the difference between a fair and an unfair society; and the cohesiveness of our communities is affected by city design and transport plans.
This manifesto proposes nine areas in which a government could and should enact policies to improve national wellbeing. [The full text has a couple of paragraphs for each of these.]
Towards a flourishing society
- Provide fulfilling work
- Reclaim our time
- Protect the environment
- Rethink education
- Invest in early childhood
- Discourage materialism and promote responsible
- Build communities and relationships
- A fairer society
- Measure what matters
The question for Australia in the 21st century is not how we can become richer: it is how we can use our high standard of living to build a flourishing society -- one devoted to improving our wellbeing rather than just expanding the economy. Many Australians are anxious about declining moral standards. We worry that we have become too selfish, materialistic and superficial and long for a society built on mutual respect, self-restraint and generosity of spirit. The changes proposed in this manifesto would inspire healthier communities, stronger personal relationships, happier workplaces, a better balance between work and home, less commercialisation, and greater environmental protection. A flourishing society is not a futile hope. Australian democracy offers people the opportunity to shed their cynicism and commit themselves to creating a better future.
So much for government action. What about individual action? Downshifting Downunder is a move towards this. "A majority of Australians could afford to escape the rat race by downshifting economically, enhancing happiness and social capital, while reducing consumption and environmental damage. In the last decade at least 20% of the Australian population have downshifted, that is, they have voluntarily decided to change their lives in ways that mean they earn less and consume less."
This is another of Beard's works, Headlands 2 (2004).
First awarded in 1897, the Wynne Prize is awarded annually for the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours, or for the best example of figure sculpture by an Australian artist. I have a strong sense of place and a love for landscape, seascape and townscape. Many of the winning paintings have become classics of Australian landscape painting, including (below, clockwise from top left) Russell Drysdale's Sofala (1947), Lloyd Rees', The Harbour from McMahons Point (1950), Arthur Streeton's Afternoon Light, Goulburn Valley (1928) and Hans Heysen's watercolour Summer (1909).
More recent well known winners include Fred Williams, Brett Whitely and William Robinson.
A windy chilly day signals that Autumn is definitely here. (Grevillia in the Botanical Gardens)
Surfing on a very cold Lake Jindabyne, far from the sea (today's Canberra Times front page)
I am pleased to present the Civil Unions Bill 2006. This is a very significant piece of legislation and a major step forward for equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex members of the ACT community. It is clear, from both the submissions received by the government in response to its discussion paper and from the letters received since I announced in December 2005 that the government would be moving to introduce this legislation, that a great many people are keen to take the opportunity to have their relationship formally recognised. The passage of this legislation will bring the ACT into line with a growing number of jurisdictions worldwide.
The United Kingdom Civil Partnership Act commenced in December 2005 and New Zealand enacted its Civil Union Act in 2004. A number of European countries, including Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and France now provide for formal recognition of same-sex relationships, as do Canada and a number of US states. Here in Australia the Tasmanian Relationship Act scheme for registration of personal relationships, including same-sex relationships, has been in operation since 2004.
The Civil Unions Bill is a reflection of the government's commitment to the principle that all people are entitled to respect, dignity and the right to participate in society and to receive the protection of the law, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The right to equal protection of the law is also stated in section 8 of the Human Rights Act 2004, which prohibits discrimination in law or in practice in any field regulated by public authorities, including on the grounds of sex and sexual orientation. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated in its general comments that the term "discrimination" in this context means, "... any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms."
There is increasing recognition in human rights jurisprudence that the right to equal protection of the law includes positive obligations to ensure equal treatment. The Supreme Court of Canada, for example, in the 1997 case of Eldridge v the Attorney-General of British Columbia said that discrimination can accrue from a failure to take positive steps to ensure that disadvantaged groups benefit equally. Same-sex relationships must be treated equally unless there is an objectively justifiable reason to do otherwise. The ACT can find no such objectively justifiable reason to treat same-sex relationships other than equally. I ask anyone who may have concerns with this bill to ask themselves that question: what objectively justifiable reason is there to treat same-sex relationships any differently from loving, committed heterosexual relationships?
The Civil Unions Bill will ensure equal treatment under ACT law. It will allow a couple to establish a domestic partnership by making a formal declaration of their intention to do so. A civil union will be treated in the same way as marriage under territory law. A civil union is not a marriage but will, so far as the law of the ACT is concerned, be treated in the same way. The government is of the view that this is preferable to providing an alternative form of marriage that would not have equal recognition to commonwealth marriage. The civil union is a new concept that can be used by anybody, regardless of gender. It will give couples functional equality under ACT law with married couples but does not replace or duplicate marriage.
Why is this legislation necessary? The law reform that has been undertaken to date has accorded people in same-sex domestic partnerships the same status as unmarried, opposite sex domestic partnerships under ACT law. This is because there is currently no provision in Australian law for two people of the same sex to legally marry. In the absence of the option of marriage, the law must rely on the objective approach of the nature of the relationship two people have, as opposed to what they might have if the option of marriage were available. Thus the law reform the government undertook during 2003 and 2004 relied on the functional definition of the relationship-ie, two people, whether of different sexes or the same sex, living together as a couple on a genuine domestic basis. The term "domestic partnership" is now used as a universal term in ACT legislation to refer to this functional relationship.
Although laws no longer distinguish significantly between the effect of being in an informal domestic partnership and a formal marriage, there remains a difference in the capacity for parties to establish the fact of their relationship. By marrying, parties gain immediate recognition of their domestic partnership. Parties to other domestic partnerships need to provide factual material to support their contention that they are in a domestic partnership and, in either a practical way or because of a direct statutory requirement, a certain amount of time must pass before that effectively can be done.
It is clear that two people who want to establish a domestic partnership are at a disadvantage if they cannot marry. Although the nature of the relationship is the same, a couple who cannot marry are deprived of the capacity to immediately establish that they are in a domestic partnership, complete with indisputable evidence of the existence of that relationship. The purpose of the Civil Unions Bill is to provide a formal means of ascertaining the intentions of the two people involved so that particular consequences may then flow from that statement of intention. The other aspect of this is, of course, the social aspect of providing for formal recognition of civil unions. This will make a real difference to a great many people. I would like to briefly share with members some of the sentiments of people who have written in support of formal recognition of same-sex relationships. I quote:
The ACT is now providing an excellent example to other states in its recognition of the human rights of gays and lesbians. This move is important in demonstrating that love should be celebrated not stigmatised and that everyone deserves dignity and respect regardless of the family form. I join with the entire gay and lesbian community their friends and families in thanking you.The following is from a mother who wrote in support of civil unions. It says:
My daughter is in love with a wonderful woman, whom I now consider as part of my family. She is totally in love with my daughter and has made my daughter, finally, happy and fulfilled. They share a relationship and live their relationship like any other heterosexual couple.How will this civil union scheme work? The Civil Unions Bill sets up a scheme which will provide for qualifications on who may enter into a civil union, set out the process for entering a civil union, specify how a civil union may be terminated and specify the consequences of entering a civil union. While it must be acknowledged that this bill will have most application to same-sex couples, the legislation will be non-discriminatory and the option of entering a civil union will be available to any two people, regardless of their gender, subject to meeting other eligibility requirements. A person may not enter into a civil union if they are already married or already in another civil union.
It has taken me a long time to finally find acceptance in my daughter's sexual preference; I also believe that everyone in life has a basic right to be happy and to be loved to the fullest, regardless of their sexual orientation.
I hope that my daughter and her partner have a long, fulfilling, loving and stress free life. It would also be nice if they receive the same rights as any loving couple in this nation, without discrimination.
The rights and obligations flowing from a civil union are premised on a primary relationship and this requirement recognises that there can only be one primary relationship at any given time. In addition, a civil union will automatically terminate if one of the parties marries. A person cannot be in both a civil union and a marriage. An ACT civil union will always give way to a commonwealth marriage. A civil union scheme in the ACT will not alter the meaning of marriage. The bill also specifies particular age requirements for entering a civil union. A person must be 16 years of age or older to enter a civil union. A person who is 16 or 17 may only enter a civil union with the consent of a parent or guardian or, alternatively, with an order of the court. This is consistent with, although not the same as, the commonwealth Marriage Act and also reflects the age of consent specified in the Crimes Act for the sexual component of any such relationship.
There is currently no prohibition on a person who is 16 forming a relationship but only in having that relationship recognised. To deny such a person equal access to the law solely on the basis of their age is discriminatory and contrary to the human rights set out in the Human Rights Act 2004. The bill does not require that people be resident in the ACT in order to have their relationship formally recognised in the ACT. The basis on which a birth, death or marriage is registered by the ACT Registrar-General is simply that the event happens in the ACT. Similarly, a civil union will be entered on the ACT register if, and only if, it happens in the ACT.
The process for entering a civil union requires that the parties first give notice of their intention to an authorised celebrant. This notice must be given at least one month before the event. The parties then make a declaration to the effect that they are entering into the civil union with the other person and that they are doing so of their own free will. This declaration must be made before the authorised celebrant and at least one other witness.
The bill also provides for termination of a civil union. This does not require an order of the court, although it may be done by an order of the court. The usual method would be to give notice to the Registrar-General, with this notice taking effect automatically 12 months after it is given, unless it is withdrawn within that time.
Whilst I am satisfied the ACT is doing all it can to afford equal protection under the law to all people regardless of their sex or sexual orientation, it must be recognised that, without changes in the federal jurisdiction, this equal treatment will be limited to the ACT. My challenge to the federal government is to end its discriminatory treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians and to amend federal laws so that relationships of same-sex couples are treated in the same way as relationships of opposite sex couples.
Today the government moves to eliminate one of the last remaining legal impediments to the full equality of gays and lesbians in our community--a process begun in our first term of government and now in its final stages. It has been an important journey for a community that is committed to equality and respect for the basic human rights of others and an acceptance and celebration of diversity. Conferring equality on those who have historically been discriminated against under the law does nothing to diminish the rights of those who have always been protected by that law. If anything, it heightens the value of that protection by highlighting the importance of extending rights to all, not just a chosen few or a chosen majority.
The equality conferred by this bill is not only functional and practical but also highly symbolic. A civil union will not simply be evidence of a loving, lifelong commitment between two people, with a piece of paper as proof; it will create the relationship being recognised. It is a distinction some may find subtle but to the many same-sex couples who will use this law I suspect it is anything but subtle; it is critical. I commend the Civil Unions Bill to the Assembly.
- Davis describes his work in the Nigerian church, especially with Bishop Ugede, showing that Davis is known to senior church officials and plainly putting the lie to denials by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) that it could not identify him as a church member;
- Davis expresses fear of arrest; and
- Changing Attitude notes the introduction into the Nigerian Parliament of the new anti-homosexuality law
Changing Attitude now asks Canon Popoola whether he had contacted those named in Mr MacIyalla's report, including Archbishop Akinola and his wife. "Canon Popoola's denial that Davis was a member of the Anglican Church is all the more remarkable given Davis's deep involvement in the life of the Church of Nigeria from his earliest years and more recently in the Diocese of Otukpo."
Related earlier posts (newest first):
- A cagey Nigerian game
- Nigerian church turns to policies of the Inquisition
- Dr Williams, please act now
- Compelled to ask whether the global Christian community has lost not only its backbone but its moral bearings
- Mwamba's message of maturity
- Open letter from Changing Attitude to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to the ACO and to ACC officials
- Signaling the existance of gay Nigerians
- Nigerian disgrace
- Changing attitudes
- Stoning and power
Bright autumn sunshine is perfect for a Sunday afternoon walk in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, on the side of Black Mountain, close to our home.
The Gardens are devoted exclusively to Australian native plants. Some displays are organised by plant type: Eucalypt, Acacia, Banksia, Hakea, etc. But there are areas where complete systems have been established, as in a Tasmanian rainforest, or Southern Queensland forest.
Banksia (pictured) was one of the few varieties in bloom, but the array of textures, colors and shapes is always fascinating. A lovely place for an hour or three of fresh air and relaxation.
I did not expect to see buggery in a cartoon in the conservative Weekend Australian newspaper this morning. Condemned by all and sundry, the cartoon is apparently a response to the one below, published earlier this week in Indonesian paper Rakyat Merdeka and likewise adjudged tasteless. It depicts Mr Howard as a dingo mounting Mr Downer, also as a dog, with the prime minister saying: "I want Papua!! Alex! Try to make it happen."
All this is in consequence of Australia's decision to grant refugee visas to 42 asylum-seekers from Indonesia's Papua province. Meanwhile, Australia's government has warned travellers that there have been protests outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta because of the decision to grant the temporary visas.
Howard said "In relation to the cartoons, well I've been in this game a long time, if I got offended about cartoons -- golly -- heavens above -- give us a break!" he said. A good response!
Hopefully Australia and Indonesia can get down to some serious talking about the harm that Indonesian is doing through denial of freedoms to its West Papuan 'citizens'.
The Australian government, yielding to Indonesian protests has reversed earlier policy and decided that all illegal arrivals on the mainland will go to mandatory offshore detention. So Howard has indeed allowed Australian freedoms to be buggered.
The Same Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry will be co-chaired by the federal Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, and the commission's president, John von Doussa, QC. The inquiry is expected to finish by Christmas and then make recommendations to the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock. Its launch comes at a provocative time, with Mr Ruddock this week warning the Commonwealth could legislate to override the ACT's civil union proposals.
The inquiry will include discrimination in workplace leave entitlements, social security benefits, tax concessions, Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, superannuation entitlements, workers' compensation, veterans' pensions and entitlements, and inheritance.
The Commission has previously heard of gay people being denied promotions or being unfairly dismissed because of their sexuality, of compensation being withheld from same-sex partners because they are not spouses, and gay partners being denied bereavement leave. The commission has previously criticised the Australian federal goverenment's ban on gay couples international adoption of children as a potential breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. On the other hand, the Commission praised a federal government decision to grant servicemen and women in same-sex relationships the employment entitlements available to those in heterosexual relationships.
I welcome the enquiry but I am entirely sceptical that it will achieve anything; it's recommendations are likley to be completely ignored by the Howard government.
Issues of discrimination for gay men and lesbians include:
- Employment: Issues include denial of promotions, unfair dismissal, harassment, breaches of confidentiality and refusal of overtime and higher duties.
- Superannuation: Recent changes to law provide that a member of a same sex couple can nominate their partner to receive their superannuation benefits when they die, and that the tax free status for superannuation benefits also extends to same sex couples, but federal public employees are excluded.
- Compensation: Same sex partners do not fall within the definition of 'spouse' in most employee compensation schemes.
- Leave and other entitlements: Same sex partners are often denied bereavement leave, carers leave, compassionate leave and travel and transfer benefits because of narrow interpretations of 'family' and 'spouse'.
- Education: There have been documented cases of both teachers and students being victimised because of their sexual orientation.
- Accommodation: Gay men and lesbians have been denied access to housing by landlords and/or estate agents on the basis of their sexual orientation.
- Health: Gay men and lesbians have been refused treatment because of their sexuality. Gay men in particular experience discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived HIV/AIDS status. Same sex partners have been refused hospital visitation rights or the right to give medical consent.
- Age of consent laws: state and territory laws on the age of consent to sex are inconsistent.
- Vilification and violence:Many gay men and lesbians experience physical and verbal abuse.
- Recognition of same sex relationships: immigration is one area where there has been some progress in the recognition of same sex relationships. However, despite limited progress the law generally refuses to recognise same sex relationships. In addition to those areas noted above, discriminatory laws continue to apply in areas such as taxation, social security, insurance, family law and intestacy and wills.
As The Economist notes, opinion polls show that the government's strength derives overwhelmingly from economic management. For the polls also show that majorities of Australians believe their country has become meaner, disapprove of the federal government's squeezing of public health and education spending, and consider that sending troops to fight in Iraq was not in Australia's interests.
I would add that yet more Australians are angered by the government's anti-democratic labour law 'reforms' and are scandalised by well-substantiated allegations of that the government turned a blind eye to a government-supported wheat exporting monopoly paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government. But the 'children overboard' scandal has almost been forgotten, despite the clear culpability of the government. And the horrendous mal-administration of immigration, with Australian citizens being deported or held in detention and refugees mistreated, will soon be forgotten by the short memories of Australia's beer-and-circuses voters.
In a recent piece, The Economist writes about "The rebirth of outrage" in U.S. politics. One Australian institution currently at outraged by the Howard government's behaviour is the ACT government, angry at the federal government's inteference in the territory's plans to secure the human rights of its gay and lesbian citizens.
A few years ago there were huge marches in support of reconciliation between Australia's indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, in which even some of Howard's minister took part, but the greatest recent occasions of political outrage in Australia were the protest against Australian participation in the Vietnam conflict, which was instrumental in the election of a Labor government in December 1972, and the anger expressed by many when the same Labor government was dismissed by the Governor-General on 11 November 1975. "Maintain the rage", the Labor party urged the people. But in the ensuing election, the people did the opposite, giving the conservatives a massive parliamentary majority.
Why? Because, as Bill Clinton has (in)famously said, "It's the economy stupid" and, in just three years (with some justification), the people had lost confidence in the Labor Party's ability to manage the economy.
Prime Ministers have key phrases with which they are associated. For Chifley it was the "light on the hill", for Menzies, "the forgotten [middle class] people" and for Whitlam, "It's Time". Malcolm Fraser said that "Life wasn't meant to be easy", but for Howard, "relaxed and comfortable" was the buzz-phrase, at least until the post-9/11 security scares.
Howard has succoured this "relaxed and comfortable" notion well, by personally appearing at events of national jubilation and self-congratulation and in times of national mourning, sidelining the head-of-state, the Governor-General. Despite a frequently demonstated generous public spirit, it seems that Australian definitely prefer "comfortable" and maybe "relaxed" as well. A desire for justice and ethics seems to have little place in our politics. Rather, the attitude is to suggest that aggrieved minorities "shut up, get on with it, and quit wingeing", while 'majority' groups complain endlessly about lack of government funding.
I suspect that only economic disaster will tip John Howard out of office, though lack of confidence in his eventual successor may cause the Liberal and National parties to falter in time. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect the Australian people will tolerate any outrage as long as they feel comfortable. And they will feel comfortable as long as unemployment, inflation and interest rates are low and wages growth is maintained.