A churchgoing driver getting harassed on his way to a meeting, a young woman losing her job over her stance on the survey, a football club being pilloried by the media for refusing to endorse same-sex marriage and legislation that remains uncertain. Although there are some, including Attorney-General George Brandis, who say that the introduction of same-sex marriage would not weaken personal freedom, there is great doubt in light of recent events.
I’m not a legal scholar so I’m not going to presuppose whether religious freedoms could be weakened or protected by a bill to introduce same-sex marriage or look at overseas precedent. Nor am I a polemicist so I won’t make the case for or against same-sex marriage. I am however a keen observer of politics and instead will look at the political climate around same-sex marriage which has, thus far, been anything but liberal, leading me to be sceptical that personal freedoms will be upheld in the event of same-sex marriage.
My first concern is the groupthink of the same-sex marriage lobby. Since high school six years ago, the preferred term amongst my generation has gone from gay marriage, to same-sex marriage, to equal marriage to marriage equality. When I was in the Labor Party I can remember assertively declaring ‘I support gay marriage’ only to be shouted down by the left-faction who aggressively corrected ‘marriage equality.’
From the outset, support for same-sex marriage has never been enough as the dedicated activists within the broad coalition of supporters have constantly embraced new sub-causes for division as if to draw a hierarchy of virtue amongst the supporters. This is reflected in Equal Marriage Rights Australia having had a series of name changes throughout the years and the familiar abbreviation LGBT being constantly amended with new character additions (LGBTQIA+). Such regular changes do nothing to unite people behind a common cause and simply make those up to date on the latest preferred terms feel virtuous.
When the Irish enthusiastically returned a Yes vote in their plebiscite on same-sex marriage, there were passionate calls amongst same-sex marriage advocates, including the Australian Greens, for then prime minister Tony Abbott to put it to a public vote. When this became Coalition party policy, the line shifted, with the expediency of a committee in the Kremlin, to almost unanimously opposing a plebiscite on the grounds that it could be ‘damaging’ to gay people and their families.
The other concerning thing about the same-sex lobby is their close association with the Labor Party. As a former Labor Party member and campaigner for an Australian republic, I was taught to never conflate causes. Having subscribed to Equal Marriage Rights Australia (and its various precursors) for the last six or seven years, I have seen it, in recent years, become more nakedly partisan. From sharing anti-Trump memes to supporting the Safe Schools program to, perhaps in their peak aggressiveness, compared a ‘No Vote’ to racism. Equal Marriage Rights Australia behaves with the audacity of a Labor Party think-tank. This is concerning when, with fears that freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association may be under threat, there appear to be very few moderate voices in the leadership of Equal Marriage Rights Australia.
Then there are the Yes campaigners who complain about ‘politicisation’. ‘When did who you can marry become political’ goes the stalwart call of the Yes campaigner. Let’s see, probably about the time politicians started advocating that we change the law.
Therein lies the problem. The same-sex marriage lobby has a near religious zealotry for same-sex marriage and, should anyone even offer a contrary point of view (see Margaret Court or Israel Folau), they are greeted with abuse. In the eyes of these campaigners, opposing a change to the definition of marriage is unconscionable and bigoted. ‘Do you oppose inter-racial marriages too?’ goes the familiar call. Any perspective that this is the current law of the land and that support for keeping it was considered uncontroversial as recently as three years ago is lost on them.
Very few same-sex marriage advocates have defended the rights of Catholic organisations (such as schools) to refuse hiring gay people on the grounds of their sexuality with some even considering it to be on par with refusing employment on racial grounds. None of this bodes confidence that opposite views will be respected after the victory of a Yes vote. There are slurs that opponents of gay marriage are ‘backward’ and ‘uneducated’ complete with Hegelian calls for the so-called bigots to ‘wake up and join the twenty-first century’.
With this in mind, the notion that, after a victory for the ‘Yes’ vote, these campaigners would then step back and defend Israel Folou’s right to free speech or a Christian church’s right to refuse to marry a gay couple seems naïve. Especially when such views and actions are so regularly equated to the most heinous of crimes and those of contrary views are so often told they must ‘get with the twenty-first century’ which in no way suggests any tolerance for dissent.
As it stands, the social pressure for ideological conformity is already great enough without same-sex marriage being law. When organisations have come out in favour of a Yes vote, similar organisations have been put under public pressure to make their position clear. The example of Carlton Football Club is a case in point. The club simply stated their support for equality but stopped short of advocating a “Yes” vote saying that they ‘respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue’.
This created absurd controversy with one fan saying that ‘she was never more ashamed to be a Carlton supporter.’ Why? Because her club would not engage in political activism, but rather, stick to its core business of playing footy? This unwarranted outrage at what was an entirely inoffensive statement speaks to the growing McCarthyite obsession of the Yes Campaign in combatting invisible bigotry.
Whether or not the introduction of same-sex marriage would result in an intrusion into our freedoms remains unknown, however, the way that same-sex marriage campaigners have conducted themselves thus far shows them to be anything but liberal.