Australia has legalized same-sex marriage, and very many practicing Catholics supported the measure. It is sad.
Laws come to be in Australia by parliamentary action. Two chambers comprise the Australian parliament, the Senate, with 76 members, and the House of Representatives, with 150 seats. The people elect the members of both chambers. By its constitution, Australia is a monarchy, sharing its monarch with Britain, but Australia is completely independent of any British authority or oversight.
When Australia’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is absent from the country, as usually is the case, a governor-general, whom she appoints, acts in her name, possessing all the authority vested in her by Australia’s constitution, such as the right to hire and fire prime ministers and the privilege of vetoing bills passed by parliament.
By tradition, however, but only tradition, not settled law, the crown always names the leader of the majority in the House of Representatives as prime minister and never vetoes bills passed by parliament.
To enact a law, a member of the House of Representatives proposes a bill. Members study and debate the bill and then vote on it. The Senate does the same. If a majority in each house approves a bill, it passes. Then it goes to the queen, or to her governor-general, for final approval. Regarding the bill to legalize same-sex marriage, the Senate passed it overwhelmingly. Then the House adopted it with only four members opposing.
Catholics have been in Australia since Europeans first arrived in 1788. Today, a quarter of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholics. Many Catholics sit in parliament. Given the majorities behind passage of the same-sex marriage act, it is obvious many Catholic parliamentarians voted for it.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was not only outspoken, but loudly outspoken, in his support of same-sex marriage. He is a Catholic. No one, even in their wildest dreams, thinks that Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove will not give royal assent to the bill. The governor-general is a practicing Catholic, regularly at Sunday Mass.
Many Catholics have asked, some with irritation, “Why don’t ‘the bishops’ do something?” Without exception, in a variety of circumstances, bishops in all these places have made abundantly clear where the Church stands, whatever the issue. All along, Australia’s Catholic bishops urged rejection of the bill, building their case on the ancient Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. No intelligent, rational and intellectually honest person could say that the Catholic position was unknown or qualified. For that matter, every pope has made clear the teaching of the Church and the reasoning behind it.
Australia hardly is the only place on earth where politicians who describe themselves as Catholics support legislation in open repudiation of Church teaching. Americans think of examples in this country. It is a reality, however, in every major, developed democracy, often in places where Catholics are much more numerous than in the United States or in Australia, for example, in Italy, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Belgium and France.
These political leaders are the sources of scandal, but none seized office by the force of arms. All these countries are vibrant democracies. Legislators, freely elected by the people, make the laws. Every last one of these politicians, Americans among them, holds office because many Catholics voted for them.
Very many Catholics simply do not care what the Church teaches. If Catholics in any country came together to let politicians know that these measures are unacceptable, all politicians would get the message and quickly. Political survival is the first law of politics.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.