Monday, June 18, 2012

Archbishop’s letter ‘Redefining Marriage’

This past Sunday, a coalition of Churches in Australia had letters read to them from the pulpit. I'm unsure if the LDS Church in Australia participated in this same program.

Peter Jensen, Anglican Archbishop, Sydney, Australia
Dr. Peter F. Jensen, Anglican Archbishop, Sydney, Australia
Dr. Peter F. Jensen, Archbishop of the Anglican (Church of England) in Australia issued this letter. In response, I sent him the letter below:

Good Morning Sir

I write the following with the fullest degree of respect for you, your Church and your position on gay marriage.

At the age of 16 I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I appreciate that this of itself may cause you to have some doctrinal issues with my faith, but as a Christian I trust you can take it in face value.

At 19 I left home for my two year mission. It was an amazing experience, I spoke with hundreds of people and shared the message of the birth, death and resurrection of the Saviour. I taught of his redeeming love and the mercy of his atonement.

From about the age of 12 I had feelings for boys which I knew was not right in the eyes of the Church and for most in society. I prayed and prayed and at times fasted for help from Heavenly Father to remove these feelings from me.

As a young man in my 20's these feelings continued and finally at the age of 36 I resigned myself to the belief that gay was a part of who I was. I promise you it was not a choice that I'd made at some point to be gay. I would suggest that having been in the gay community for some time now there is a small group who do make that choice. However it's not my role to place judgement upon those people.

As with all Christians, the LDS perspective on marriage is one of sanctity and reverence. You may be aware that LDS doctrine teaches that marriage is of an eternal nature and one that is required to enter the highest degree of glory in the next life. Again, your doctrinal view will be different, but I share it here only to convey my respect and reverence for the institution of marriage.

In the final years before I "came out" I remember stirring some vigorous discussions in Sunday meetings around the issue of homosexuality and the institution of the family. At the end of the day, all gay people belong to a family. That family may have had a mother and father, or in many cases a single parent.

While LDS Church leadership has made statements like "homosexuality is the greatest threat to the family" and "gay marriage is the beginning of the end of the family" I was never able to get anyone to articulate clearly, exactly why that was the case. I personally feel that alcohol, drugs, abusive fathers and poor financial management are a greater threat to families than the actions of homosexual couples who may be our neighbours.

In my extensive reading on the topic of "gay marriage" I've come across many views. I'm supportive of the view that in no way should Churches be forced to facilitate a marriage between couples of the same sex. As I've shared with my friends, why would I want to share such a happy occasion with a body who despise my very existence. I would personally rally with you should there ever be a hint of government imposing such a law on Churches. Just as I claim protection under law for my rights, so Churches should be able to claim the same right.

But, is marriage a religious claim?

I don't believe it is. The current argument is a political one. If the Christian lobby feel so strongly against gay marriage, why are they not so zealous in suggesting that Muslim, Jewish, Hindu etc marriage also not be recognized? Because this is about denying gay people the ability to marry, not to protect the institution of marriage itself.

Can I propose a solution?

Perhaps government needs to remove itself from the business of "marriage".  "Marriage" is the domain of religious bodies. Government should only be able to issue licenses for Civil Unions while Churches issue certificates of marriage. This would be a fair and equitable approach, providing the same legal stance for all citizens under the law.

What about the children?

This is possibly one of the biggest issues and one which has caused great pain for many people in the gay community. The inference being that they are somehow less of a parent because their partner is of the same gender. The Christian lobby talk of the requirement for a child to have a mother and a father. 

No mention is ever made of the army of single parents who provide a warm and loving environment for their children. I grew up in such a home and have never felt I missed out when it came to volume of love a child should have in their life.

For those gay couples who adopt a child, there's perhaps only one source, dysfunctional heterosexual couples who have surrendered their responsibility of parenthood.

In Closing

I'm confident my position hasn't changed your views, but I hope it shows you there are people in the gay community who can have a civilised discussion on this heated topic.

As the debate commences in federal parliament today I hope all parties can behave in a dignified way.


Derek Bell
Mascot, NSW, Australia

Monday, June 11, 2012

Love is Sweet!

A Weekend Away Warms the Heart

My partner and I went to Melbourne this weekend to celebrate with some friends who are opening a new retail food store. The store opens in two weeks. I went down Friday morning and spent the day with a client and my partner flew down Friday night.

We stayed at the Sofitel Hotel on Collins street, what the locals call the "Paris End of Collins". It's a beautiful part of Melbourne. He got in late and was starving, so we found ourselves having room service at midnight, a cheeseburger and a club sandwich and sticky date pudding for dessert. 

J. Edgar the Movie.
Armie Hammer & Leonardo Di Caprio in a scene from J. Edgar the movie.

We watched a movie, well I did after he fell asleep in the opening scene of "J. Edgar" with Leonardo Dicaprio - how he could fall alseep with such eye candy on screen is beyond me!

Saturday Morning

The hotel had wooden shutters which we closed before going to bed which meant we didn't wake until 10:45am, the room was so dark, it was wonderful. We then headed out to Camberwell to see our friends store. We found a nice cafe, had lunch with our friend which interrupted his plastering at the store.

We then wondered down Burke Road, Camberwell did some completely unnecessary shopping and headed back to the Sofitel. Dinner was at 7pm, literally behind the hotel. We had an amazing evening, plenty of cocktails and the food was fabulous.

Sunday Morning

We woke Sunday morning, a little earlier this time. We had some breakfast and headed out to a friends place for a scrumptious mexican lunch and then off to the airport for our 5pm flight home to Sydney.

You see, the simple pleasure of a relationship are worth so much more than all the money in the world. I'm lucky to be in a relationship with an amazing man whom I adore and love. Live is good and for those who are not there yet, it really does get better.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

There Has To Be A Better Way

The ability of a nation to present itself as progressive and modern can be a task harder than perhaps originally thought. By what measures and against which values system can a nation choose to align itself? For the West, we largely base our values on those of the Jewish and Christian biblical texts of which Moses's Ten Commandments are the basis.

As we look into recent history, those values seem to have served us well. Our societies live in relative peace despite the current disruption based on the poor fiscal management of our governments, businesses and of course individuals are required to saddle some of the blame. It's individuals, like government and business, who have overspent and lived beyond our means. It's a simple equation, we really shouldn't spend more than we have i.e. credit.

Bad Legislation

In the US and Australia we have political parties who are generally aligned on a single values system, but worlds apart when it comes to implementing systems and polices that interpret those values. In the US we've seen paranoid state governments attempt to legislate that Islamic law, Sharia Law, cannot be recognised as a legitimate legal system. It creates issues from the point of view that, for example, Catholicism is a foreign faith based in Italy. From a legal point of view this stance is a mine field.

Producing legislation based on a paranoid view of a minority is dangerous. On the 27th October, 1838 the US state of Missouri and their Governor Boggs issued “Missouri Executive Order 44” also know as the “Mormon Extermination Order”. The law called for the extermination of Mormons, it was legal to kill members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That law was finally repealed in the 1976, 138 years later. I'm sure US President hopeful Mitt Romney feels comfortable visiting Missouri today in the knowledge it's now illegal for someone to kill him!

So mistakes have been made, bad legislation produces bad outcomes for society. In Australia, governments are fixated on creating programs that benefit "families", at least their interpretation of what constitutes a family. As a single, white, gay man there are really no benefits I receive from the Australian government. Should I? Well, my answer is based partially on my political views and my belief that governments role is to represent all it's constituents fairly.

The Absence of Fairness Across the Board

I firmly believe that as we all pay taxes, any benefit should be made available to all tax payers. If a couple earn $280,000 and have four kids, should they receive less benefit from the government compared to a couple with four kids who earn $80,000? I don't think so. Australia's tax regime does a great job of killing any desire by one person to excel in their work and produce a higher income. The more you earn, the greater percentage of your income goes in tax. Hardly an incentive.

It's here I would turn to some ancient values from the Jewish biblical texts which suggest 10% of ones earnings go to the Lord. I’ve seen this model work well in a Church setting, it creates a level playing field, regardless of our income, we can all pay 10% to the government in tax. Then, those who choose, can pay an additional 10% to their Lord, maker or whomever they choose.

I think this level playing field would then make any benefit payments from government i.e. from a surplus, easier to distribute to all citizens. I would love to see the figure of how such a fiscal change could be implemented. In principle I think this is a great idea, in practice I'd need an economist to do the numbers to see how it could work. At the end of the day a surplus belongs to the people who produced it, the people, not the government.

Presenting Ourselves As Something Other Than We Really Are

I struggle to understand the US view on many political issues, the disdain and enmity towards opposing political views is toxic, Australia is not much better today. Health care is a great example of this. From a nation purporting itself to be a Christian nation, the words and venom sprouted about what's seen by many in the US as socialised medicine, is appalling. The notion that a family who can't afford private medical insurance should suffer the consequences of illness, is reprehensible. I would simply ask these "Christians", what would Christ do?

The American predisposition to run in the opposite direction of anything that resembles socialism is astounding. The question has to be asked, “how's your current republic serving you?”. An advanced society should be able to look to alternatives and seek new ideas when the current system has obvious shortcomings.

A Balance

Just so we're clear, my view is that our Westminster system of government with it's constitutional ties to the British Monarchy is the best system of government we have available today. The checks and balances and the role of the monarchy provide a stable platform for democracy to thrive. Can we do better? I'm sure we can, but there seems to be an absence of anything better today. 

I admire the US/French style of government, but disagree with the Presidential model and the process of the presidential selection process. The current US presidential race costs billions and who does it serve besides media companies and the many consultants involved in the process?

Australia was formed as a federation of states with an Act of Parliament, the US lost hundreds of thousands during the American Revolutionary War and then the Civil War. Something many American’s seem to lose sight of when they point the finger at developing nations around the world where they insist in getting involved based on perceived US domestic security threats.

What Does It All Mean?

At the end of the day, I firmly believe we have great room for improvement. All nations and the many communities within those nations have a responsibility to afford all citizens the right and privilege of peace and security without any threat based on their faith, the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation or their religious affiliations.

What do you think?