A lot has been said since Margaret Court’s latest foray into the marriage equality debate earlier this week, by publicly declaring her boycott of Qantas over CEO Alan Joyce’s public support for marriage equality.
However, being a ‘sporting legend’ does not give her immunity from the community’s response to her uninformed, and arguably harmful, statements, guided by religious dogma.
Of course this is not the first time she opined on the LGBTI community, or marriage equality, consequently her latest comments cannot be taken in isolation.
Here are a few examples of her previous ‘work’:
- in 1994, while delivering a speech at a prayer breakfast held at Parliament House in Canberra, she reportedly exclaimed, “Homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord!”
- in 2012, in an opinion piece written for the Sun Herald, which was later criticised by the Australian Press Council for propagating false and “potentially dangerous” information about homosexuality, she wrote, “Let me be clear. I believe that a person’s sexuality is a choice. In the Bible it said that homosexuality is among sins that are works of the flesh. It is not something you are born with. My concern is that we are advocating to young people that it is OK to have these feelings.”
- in 2013 she publicly attacked fellow tennis player Casey Dellacqua, just as she was celebrating the arrival of their new baby boy with her same-sex partner.
Sadly for Margaret Court, the days of unquestioning reverence for selective and uninformed religious prejudice, I mean opinions, are long gone.
Religion requires faith.
But blind faith is ignorance with no room for reason.
And where there is no reason, there is no room for humanity.
It is no doubt hard for her, and her fellow Christian biblical literalist hardliners, to adjust to the fact that the historical privileges religion had enjoyed for centuries have been thankfully largely curtailed, and that most people now have zero tolerance, even some contempt, if and when your ‘best argument’ in 2017 for anything is ‘because the bible says so.’
While she presents herself as a biblical literalist when it comes to her views on homosexuality, she has no issues with overlooking the bible’s prohibition on women in leadership position in Christian worship, as she happily leads her Victory Life Centre Church in Perth, Western Australia.
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
“Let your women keepe silence in the Churches, for it is not permitted vnto them to speake; but they are commanded to bee vnder obedience: as also saith the Law.
And if they will learne any thing, let them aske their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speake in the Church.”
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Nor does she seem to realise that, despite her repetitive assertions, the book she preaches does not endorse marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, as learned religious scholars have highlighted.
As for freedom of speech, it is inarguably fundamental to a healthy liberal, progressive and secular democracy.
However, while there are so-called ‘absolute rights,’ freedom of speech is a right that often has legal limitations attached, from defamation to discrimination laws, and is strongly framed by general social expectations.
In any event, in Australia we only have a limited, implied freedom of political speech, but that’s a discussion for another day.
The ‘limitations’ are necessitated by human nature itself, in order to protect the exercise of the freedom, and to protect it from being co-opted by bigotry, hate, ignorance, and prejudice – human traits which are not known for their positive contributions to society.
Free speech also comes with some pesky attachments:
- personal responsibility for what is said; and
- the consequences of one’s opinion, including the ability of those who disagree to respond.
Informed debates, the discussion of ideas and concepts, and challenging the status quo without fear, are indispensable to human existence and progress.
Whether speech calling for discrimination or exclusion, infused with bigotry, hatred and prejudice, such as homophobia, misogyny or racism (but falling short of calling for, inciting, or supporting physical violence, or reasonable fear of physical violence), should be allowed is a vexed intellectual dilemma.
Personally, I stand firm for ‘informed’ debates on issues, but would submit that bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and prejudice by their nature lack the ‘informed’ component.
An ‘opinion’ in the absence of evidence and facts to support it is usually nothing more than bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and prejudice manifest, and consequently it is arguable that no one is ‘entitled’ to an opinion, especially when the opinion in question has no foundation in facts, or has been conclusively and inarguably debunked.
You are only ‘entitled’ to what you can coherently argue and factually support … frankly, I saw none of that from Margaret Court in the course of her current public intervention on the issue, neither in her latest letter published in The West Australian, nor in her embarrassing appearance on The Project (or in her subsequent tone-deaf comments).
Of course she can still have an ‘opinion,’ and can use her fame and public platform to try to spread it (in this case in national newspapers and, for close to seven minutes, on prime time television, which is not the form of free speech many of us can avail ourselves to), but she’s certainly not ‘entitled’ to the rest of us staying silent, nor submitting to her dogma-based bigotry, ignorance, and prejudice, especially in an educated, progressive, liberal, secular democracy.
However, to demand the protections of freedom of speech or religion for the spewing of harmful, uninformed, religious dogma-based opinions in the 21st century that are contrary to our current scientific understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, goes beyond the acceptable standards of a progressive, liberal, secular society. Such demands make a mockery of, and demean, freedom speech and religion, and our social values.
Opposing marriage equality is not in itself necessarily discriminatory, nor does it automatically make you a homophobe, provided you can back your opposition with a reasoned and logical explanation that stands up to scrutiny. But spreading uninformed, nonsensical hogwash to lend ‘legitimacy’ to your opposing views is. She may have her so-called opinion, but she is not ‘entitled’ to her own concocted (or biblical) ‘facts’.
What Margaret Court, and her ilk, are demanding here is not freedom of speech (or religion), but the right to spread any cockamamie misinformation they can think up, or read into their bible, about LGBTI people, and to do so with impunity under their own perceived ‘religious moral authority’.
Given her dated attitudes towards social justice and social progress, it is perhaps not surprising that this is not the first social justice and human rights issue on which Margaret Court finds herself on the wrong side of history.
As for the Margaret Court Arena, it is ironic her name was installed on the Arena following a campaign led by the legendary Billie Jean King, a proud and out lesbian.
Arguably, Margaret Court’s historical views on South Africa’s apartheid alone should have disqualified her from such an honour back in 2003, because she might be an Australian sporting legend, but it takes a little more than that to be a true role model.