By Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen
The electorate of Melbourne Ports, which houses several strong traditional religious populations – Jewish, Catholic and Greek Orthodox, amongst others – is in this election year in an unprecedented situation. The candidates of both major parties have emerged explicitly supporting same sex marriage.
Kevin Ekendahl, the Liberal candidate has presented himself as the activist within the Liberal party for same-sex marriage, who wants to support or co-sponsor a private member’s bill for same sex marriage.
Michael Danby, having abstained in the last Federal vote on same sex marriage, announced in a radio interview that he would now support it were there to be another conscience vote.
The Jewish community knows Michael Danby, as I have, to work hard and to help individuals (myself included) and to have served Jewish causes: Jewish schools and Israel. Nevertheless, now to support same sex marriage, which is explicitly prohibited by traditional Judaism and the universal ethic for general society – the Noahide laws – which it transmits, undermines both of these causes. To support Jewish education and then to work for a societal changes which a Jewish education opposes is contradictory. Similarly, to think that a Government which abandons features of the fundamental morality given in Torah will support Israel is a worrying hope. The reason is simple: the Creator Who set out fundamental moral institutions for society and prescribed exclusively heterosexual marriage is the same Creator Who vouchsafed the land of Israel to the Jewish people. When one undermines the biblical basis of social institutions, one undermines the ultimate basis for support of Israel – as we see that Western Governments which respect the biblical moral tradition of society tend to be stronger supporters of Israel.
What may be of real importance in this election is a group of small parties – the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), Family First and the Australian Christians – which as parties are firmly anchored in the moral tradition associated with the major faiths of our society. There are important people of strong conviction on these basic shared values in both the Coalition and Labor Parties. But there are also those who are not. On the other hand, the DLP is the unequivocally Judaeo-Christian Labor and Family First is the unequivocally Judaeo-Christian Liberal party. The centrality of commitment to the values of this shared tradition of values is paramount. Apart from their ethical voice, they can deliver an impact through their preferencing policy – something which is very important in the “first past the post” system for electorates in Lower House (House of Representative) seats. Even though the DLP might have a natural affinity for Labor and Family First for Liberal, they will be flexible to preference those other candidates, regardless of party, who share values consistent with the traditions which underpin our society.
A vote for one of these small parties, though they are unlikely to win seats in the Lower House, is accordingly still a significant vote: their preferences can be decisive and with them they can do critical deals with the major party candidates. The Senate is a different story. With its state-wide electorate it is actually possible for them to win seats – and play a decisive role in the balance of power in the Senate – as we see from election to election.
The DLP already has a Senator, John Madigan, a feisty blacksmith from Ballarat, with uncompromising moral commitments, as he has begun to show in the Bill he put forward in the Senate that the most capricious of all forms of abortion on demand, abortion for sex selection (because one does not want the sex of the baby) should not be funded by Medicare.
One of the three smaller parties mentioned above, the DLP, has a candidate for the Lower House (the “Reps”) in the electorate of Melbourne Ports – a young man called Vince Stefano. After a home-schooling – I presume because his parents wanted to keep his religious world view wholly intact and integrated with his other studies – he studied public policy at Swinburne University. He is an intelligent, gently spoken person, with a clear commitment to traditional marriage and the values which nurture the life of the spirit on the one hand, and social justice on the other. His commitment to traditional marriage sets him apart from both the Liberal and Labor candidates in Melbourne Ports.
In this contest, a vote for this candidate would endorse key social values consistent with traditional Judaism and might also induce Michael Danby to set aside the political expediency of his recent support for homosexual marriage to become an integral representative both of Judaism and the Judaeo-Christian traditions of this society. In this case, by voting for a non-Jewish candidate we may be doing more for Judaism than by voting for either of the Jewish Liberal and Labor candidates.
Postscript: I have learned, since writing, that Family First also has a candidate for Melbourne Ports. His name is Robert Keenan. Family First is also committed to traditional marriage “exclusively between a man and a woman” to quote its policy statement.
Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, son of a former Governor General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen OBM, has a dual background in secular and religious studies. He has a PhD in social philosophy and received Rabbinic Ordination in Australia and Israel. He has been a Senior Research Fellow at Monash University and Program Director of a postgraduate Rabbinic Institute at the Kollel Menachem Lubavitch in Melbourne. In 1998 he “fused” these strands in the establishment of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization as its founding Director.