The decision by Rugby Australia’s tribunal to terminate the contract of Israel Folau should make the whole of Australia sit up, take notice, and be warned.
The sacking of Folau marks the crystallisation of a movement in our society that many of us warned about in the run-up to the postal vote on marriage in 2017. At the time, and since then, we have been ridiculed for suggesting that there was far more at stake than simply a small change in the Marriage Act but the truth of those warnings is now being seen.
Changing the definition of marriage was always about far more than simply tweaking a rule to include a few more people, not least for those who campaigned so hard for it. The slogan “love is love” was heavy in the air and it spoke to a very specific claim – that homosexual relationships were no different to heterosexual relationships. Of course, in many ways that is true. Homosexuals can love one another just as deeply as heterosexuals can. But beyond that, the slogan starts to fall apart. For example, biology tells us that heterosexual relationships are capable of reproduction whereas homosexual ones aren’t. And the moniker “love is love” seemed to be very selectively applied – where was the outcry for throuples to be allowed to marry? Or petitions for incestuous marriages? Some loves, it seemed, were more equal than others.
I was involved in a number of different media conversations in the lead-up to the postal vote. One of the questions I regularly asked was, “What is marriage? How do you arrive at that definition?” It was fascinating that I never received a consistently applied answer. I was told regularly that it was about 2 people who loved each other. So what about 3 people? Why not them? If “love is love” then why not their love? And why love anyway? And who will check if it’s there?
I pastor a church with lots of people from all over the world. A good number of them have arranged (not forced) marriages. Like Tevye and Golde in A Fiddler on the Roof, they didn’t love each other on their wedding day but over the years they have forged a strong and loving marriage. According to the fuzzy definition given during the Australian marriage debate, theirs wasn’t even a proper marriage. Try telling them that now.
Through all these ill-defined arguments and slogans we began to see something else emerge – the shouting down of those who disagreed. For many who were campaigning it was outrageous that anybody could even consider voting “no”. It wasn’t seen as a matter of conscience but as a moral failing to think that heterosexual and homosexual relationships were somehow different, even if those who voted “no” didn’t want to make statements about morality themselves, they just didn’t think that these two types of relationships were exactly the same. But the “yes” campaign was always a campaign about morality; the rhetoric of “second class citizens” and the reliable “love is love” were moral claims and the change in the Marriage Act was really about having the State itself make a moral claim. It was, ultimately, about achieving state-enforced moral equivalence.
And it was achieved, by changing the law governing the most fundamental social building block we have. Once the law was changed then it was only going to be a matter of time before the progressive activists took this to be a mandate to look for the same enforcement of sexual morality in other areas of our common life.
And so we arrive at today’s decision. What is remarkable about the position that Folau finds himself in is that it was entirely because others wanted to make the morality of sex an issue. Last year when Folau first upset people it was because he was asked a direct question about homosexuals. He didn’t raise the issue but it was forced upon.
This year’s incident is just the same. Consider the dynamic of what actually happened. Folau posted a “warning” that a variety of different “sinful” behaviours would land someone in hell. Yes, he referred to homosexuals but he also listed out a whole heap of other behaviours and positions as well. But Rugby Australia didn’t pick him up on any of those. He didn’t discriminate against one particular group (you might even say that he was broadly inclusive in the scope of those included in the “warning”). Instead, it was Rugby Australia who made sexual morality the issue. Of all the possible choices presented to them by Folau’s post, they picked that one. Much of the media have fallen into line too. I can’t count the number of times this past week that I’ve heard or read about Folau’s “homophobic tweet” but no mention of his “kleptophobia” or the like.
A prominent employer decided to make moral disapproval of homosexuality something punishable. Just as we had warned would happen back during the marriage debate.
Today there will be Christians all around the country fearful that they may very well be in the same position. They may not post on social media like Folau but each and every one of them can be asked an impromptu question, just as Folau was. Sometimes that’s done overtly, more often it’s achieved through the ever-increasing culture of “inclusivity” programmes and the like. Either way, the snowball that began with the marriage debate is now in real danger of being an avalanche and many many people may find themselves out of a job for holding, in good conscience and without malice, a belief about sexual morality. So powerful is this new shibboleth that even one of our most prominent politicians tried to get more votes by diving into the debate and declaring “I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell.” Never mind that the Constitution of this great country states explicitly that there should be no religious test for office. Dare I say it, but we really do seem to have found a new sacred cow.
You might not be bothered by this phenomenon, perhaps because you agree with marriage equality. But if we’re prepared to accept this kind of culture of censure in one area then none of us can complain if we see it occur in others in the future.
Today is an important day for far more people than Folau and it’s important that we see it for exactly what it is; a threat to all of us.