MICHAEL MULLINS. Proper scrutiny will expose ‘traditional marriage’ as dangerous.

Pope Francis has confirmed his resolve to dump Pope John Paul II’s legacy regarding marriage and the family. He will replace it with his own more inclusive vision, which he outlined in a speech in October last year. This suggestion of openness has obvious implications for Australia’s Marriage Law Postal Survey ‘no’ campaign, which presents traditional marriage as a virtuous institution that is beyond question and beyond change. 

This week the Catholic daily La Croix International reported that Pope Francis has confirmed his resolve to dump Pope John Paul II’s legacy regarding marriage and the family. He will replace it with his own more inclusive vision, which he outlined in a speech in October last year.  The John Paul Institute, founded by John Paul II in 1982, will have its charter expanded to emphasise new fields of study such as gender and modern parenting. Traditional marriage will be put in an historical perspective as part of a set of subjects dealing with the history of family and family law.  Whether that means Pope Francis is consigning ‘traditional marriage’ to the history books remains to be seen. But it will most surely be subjected to the kind of scrutiny that goes hand in hand with Francis’ own predilection for reading the signs of the times.

For now, this suggestion of openness has obvious implications for Australia’s Marriage Law Postal Survey ‘no’ campaign, which presents traditional marriage as a virtuous institution that is beyond question and beyond change.  Indeed there is some urgency in the need for us to shine a light on the dark side of ‘traditional marriage’.

Last weekend Fairfax columnist Peter Hartcher did this when he reminded us of some of the more unsavoury aspects of traditional marriage. He pointed out that men could marry 12 year old girls in some parts of Australia until the 1950s, and rape within marriage was not outlawed in all states until 1992.

Also in the past week, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils President Keysar Trad discredited traditional marriage when he won an Ernie misogynistic speech award for his statement that ‘using violence against women is a last resort for men, step three after counselling, buying her chocolates, or taking her to dinner’.

The family unit, which goes hand in hand with traditional marriage, often functions as an incubator for psychological, physical and sexual abuse. The idea that a wife should obey her husband is alive and well in some families. Many of us know families subjected to the iron rule of an authoritarian husband and father who may have mental health or other psycho-sexual issues that adversely affect the well being of the whole family.

In 2015, veteran Irish family therapist and author Gail Grossman Freyne wrote in Eureka Street that ‘traditional marriage is on very shaky ground because we are continually trying to extract equality out of inequality’.  She suggested that we should applaud the fact that marriage ‘changes its shape as we change our culture’.

In this blog last month, Catholic historian Paul Collins described traditional marriage as a ‘misnomer’, as the institution of marriage has always been in a state of constant evolution. He says that what the Catholic bishops are today presenting as ‘traditional marriage’ is really a romantic, bourgeois understanding that originates in the Victorian era and comes to its fruition in the 1950s nuclear family. 

‘Throughout human history all types of arrangements have evolved to nurture children, of which a common form is a reasonably stable relationship between woman and man.’

Hopefully the graduates of Pope Francis’ reshaped John Paul Institute will underline the importance of redefining marital arrangements to best serve the changing needs of men, women and children in their particular moment of history. 

Michael Mullins , editor of Eureka Street 2006-15, now blogs at www.michaelmullins.org

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Michael Mullins is a former editor of Eureka Street.

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