If the Coalition didn’t have so many members who choose to live a ‘homophobic lifestyle’, one could almost feel sorry for them when it comes to their troubles over marriage equality. But this is a behaviour they consciously chose and they refuse to educate and inform themselves.
Frankly, they are more confused about gay issues than the prepubescent boy who doesn’t realise he is gay until one day he gets a bit too excited in the team shower after football practice.
The Liberal Party like to see themselves as a ‘broad church’ and their various and conflicting marriage equality positions are certainly ‘illustrative’ of that.
Not even with the best intentions could one accuse the Liberals of being progressive, modern, or … liberal, especially on social issues such as marriage equality. In fact, marriage equality has really threw the spanner in the works for them.
There is a camp of so-called ‘small l’, fiscally conservative but socially progressive, Liberals who support marriage equality and acknowledge the way forward for Australia is an amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) by Federal Parliament. Malcolm Turnbull is an example of this group. Sadly, he can’t be fully trusted by the LGBTI community, because he has a track-record of towing the party line and prioritising his political ambitions over his personal convictions and principles. For example, in 2012 he voted against marriage equality.
And then there are the rest of the Liberals, and their ‘capital C conservatives‘. And this is where things get really interesting … and confusing.
Many of them oppose marriage equality outright. Some even oppose a conscience vote on the issue. Unsurprisingly the most fervent opponents hail from the religious ring-wing of the party, such as Alex Hawke, Bill Heffernan and Cory Bernardi.
Some of the more conservative players of the Coalition reportedly went as far as delivering a warning to the Prime Minister that he would be on the receiving end of a savage internal backlash if he allowed a conscience vote on marriage equality.
The National Party members of the Coalition are also overwhelmingly in opposition, with George Christensen being a particularly strong voice. Only three of their twenty members and Senators declared their support: Darren Chester, Nigel Scullion and Kevin Hogan.
Some within the Liberals, including Philip Ruddock and Scott Morrison, are prepared to go as far as destroying the institution of marriage in Australia as we know it, rather than allow social progress, and share the institution. They are suggesting the Federal Government repeal the Marriage Act altogether, and introduce legal civil unions for all, while giving churches exclusivity over marriage.
A kind of salting the earth approach …
Both Scott Morrison and Phillip Ruddock appear to be confused when they refer to this suggestion as following the French model, given in France all legal marriages are performed at civil ceremonies. In France, a religious ceremony is optional if the couple desires one, but it has no legal standing.
Others, such as Peter Reith, are calling for a plebiscite or referendum on the issue, options that have been already rejected by most sensible people. I previously analysed the reasons why a plebiscite or referendum is not necessary, or desirable, in Australia to resolve the issue. Even the Prime Minister acknowledged that the matter is within the powers and the scope of our Federal Parliament. This is not surprising given the High Court of Australia made it clear in The Commonwealth v Australian Capital Territory  HCA 55 that:
- ‘s51(xxi) [of the Australian Constitution] gives the federal Parliament power to pass a law providing for same sex marriage’ [at paragraph 10]; and
- ‘[w]hen used in s 51(xxi) [of the Australian Constitution], “marriage” is a term which includes a marriage between persons of the same sex’ [at paragraph 38]).
Predictably Australia’s religious leaders have also stepped in and wrote to the Prime Minister opposing marriage equality. I particularly object to this unwarranted intervention in the political process, and the human rights of the LGBTI community, by religious groups.
While I support the right of people of faith to observe their respective religious beliefs, in a secular, liberal democracy that right cannot be unfettered. For example:
- religious beliefs cannot be equated with, or override, proven observable facts and social and scientific theories; and
- freedom of religion must give way when it comes into conflict with the dignity of human beings.
I also see very limited, if any, role for religious institutions in influencing public policy. ‘Religious morality’ has little role to play in modern public policy and society.
Only public policy guided by common decency, human dignity and fairness, and informed by proven observable facts and social and scientific theories, will be good public policy. Such policies will arguably always satisfy the fundamental principles of religious beliefs, without importing the uninformed bigotry and prejudices developed and retained by their institutions over the centuries.
Supporters of marriage equality are often called upon to ‘show respect’ to those who hold an opposing view on the issue. But I ask, would you show respect to someone who:
- supported the subjugation of women as the property of men;
- opposed the right of women to vote;
- considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist;
- supported apartheid in South Africa; or
- supported slavery?
And before you answer, remember that at one time or another, these propositions were widely accepted social norms, supported by ‘religious morality’:
- When ‘religious liberty’ was used to justify racism instead of homophobia (Think Progress, 26 February 2014)
- Gay marriage opponents mimic objections to interracial marriage, Professor Forde-Mazrui says (University of Virginia School of Law, 4 October 2004)
- Why the ugly rhetoric against gay marriage is familiar to this historian of miscegenation (George Mason University History News Network, April 2004)
Others argue the importance of a father and a mother in a child’s life as a reason to deny marriage equality. There has been a lot of deliberate misinformation on this subject by certain groups who devoted significant funding and effort into creating ‘studies’ that denigrate same-sex parenting.
First, not all same-sex couples desire to have children. Second, and more importantly, those same-sex couples who do choose to have children are just as good at parenting as straight couples. Reputable research to date indicates that the children of same-sex couples are just as happy and healthy as children raised in more ‘traditional’ family environments.
At the end of it all, the Liberals look more like a very confused, conflicted, and frankly bigoted and homophobic church – not a ‘broad’ one.
The Coalition is probably right about one thing. Labor most likely introduced its marriage equality bill to score a political point, knowing the issue would create chaos within the Coalition. However, the Coalition is no stranger to exploiting often very important issues for their own political purposes either. Nevertheless, the whole affair turned into a self-goal by the Coalition and they can’t blame anyone else for that.
The Coalition’s overall attitude towards the LGBTI community and marriage equality is particularly disappointing because the United Kingdom and New Zealand had shown us that conservative leaders and governments can lead on marriage equality. Ireland, Spain and France had shown us that overwhelmingly Catholic nations can also reconcile same-sex marriage with their conscience.
All that’s required is human decency, a sense of social justice and leadership — qualities that have been sadly lacking from the Australian political process of late.