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The nauseating, embarrassing crawl to marriage equality in Australia

As a gay man in a loving 19-year relationship, I have reached the end of the road when it comes to trying to understand and ‘respect’ so-called ‘traditional views’ on marriage and the ‘diversity of views on marriage equality that should be respected’.

There are still a fair few who hold so-called ‘traditional views’ on the role of women in society, and the workplace …

We commonly call such people sexists and misogynists, and society had agreed that such uninformed ‘views’ are unacceptable, and damage our society.

Equality nowThere are still a fair few who hold so-called ‘traditional views’ on the role of people of colour and other races and nationalities in society and the workplace …

We commonly call such people racists and xenophobes, and society had agreed that such uninformed ‘views’ are unacceptable, and damage our society.

Those who hold so-called ‘traditional views’ on marriage had largely proved themselves, by the arguments they presented over the years, but especially in the last couple of months (including outright lies, half-truths, and malicious fear-mongering, rejected repeatedly by legislatures and courts across the Western liberal world), to hold uninformed ‘views’ that damage our society. It’s called … homophobia.

Yes, I know they don’t like to be called homophobes, but sexists, misogynists, racists, and xenophobes also always bulk when they are called those terms.

But if that’s what they are, well … that’s what they are.

And I don’t call them homophobes because they oppose marriage equality, but because of the ‘arguments’ they have presented during this debate.

And I do wonder still (as I have for the past 20 years or so) if anyone can present me with a reasoned and logical argument of any substance as to why we should treat homophobia at the dawn of the 21st century as a socially acceptable, let alone ‘respected’, position, while we have pretty much all agreed that sexism, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are not?!

Professor Paul Russell of the University of British Columbia in Canada, and professor of philosophy and director of the Gothenburg Responsibility Project at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, eloquently explained recently why belief-based religious world views, which are ideological or value-laden identities, simply can’t expect privilege over racial, gender, or sexual identities which are unchosen, and not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature.

For centuries LGBTI people have been called child molesters, paedophiles, aberrations, sick, sinners, perverts, mentally disturbed, and unnatural, we have been beaten down and beaten, chemically castrated, lobotomised, subjected to electric shock and conversion therapy, and murdered.

No more!

Enough!

Marriage equality is about opening up civil marriage under the secular law of a liberal democracy to same-sex couples.

The law reform is about equality.

What opponents are asking for now is a right to discriminate on the basis of privileges rooted in the historical religious cultural controls of society, seeped in uninformed prejudices, based on a historically and intellectually flawed interpretation of ‘religious freedom’.

However, religious freedom cannot be an absolute right marshaled to exclude and discriminate against a section of the community in a 21st century liberal democracy. When such unrealistic interpretations of religious freedom come into conflict with human dignity and decency, such interpretations and demands must submit to the secular state and respect the civil rights of others to live their lives free of outdated cultural norms informed by religious dogma.

The historical privileges the churches and certain cultural practices enjoyed for centuries enabled them to create their own alternative reality, largely unchallenged, and free from facts and the reality of human, social evolution – this will be no doubt a hard habit to kick.

Enshrining such privileges in the form of discriminatory exemptions in the secular laws of an egalitarian, liberal democracy, would mean capitulation to uninformed and intolerant views, and religiously rooted extremism itself, and to the ‘morals’ and ‘values’ of a primitive humanity from millenniums ago, captured in ancient texts even believers are forced to interpret selectively now, because many of those ‘values’ are considered morally repugnant, or even illegal, in modern, liberal, secular societies.

Let’s be clear, the Australian LGBTI community had never asked for the farce that was the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey – a legally and constitutionally superfluous process, contrary to the fundamental principles of our liberal, secular, representative Parliamentary democracy.

In a liberal democracy we do not subject the equality and the civil rights of a minority to a collective deliberation process; such rights are recognised constant, inherent, universal, and unalienable – not up for debate or a popularity contest.

All the LGBTI community ever asked for was equality, and respect for our love, and dignity.

The Survey was designed by those who always opposed not just marriage equality, but the LGBTI community, to delay, obfuscate, and prevent marriage equality, and was demanded by those members of the community who always rejected, hated, and vilified LGBTI people. Yes, I’m looking at you Australian ‘Christian’ Lobby, Catholic and Anglican Churches, and fringe extremists evangelical and other religious groups.

They insisted they were the so-called ‘silent majority’.

However, the Australian public has spoken – it’s time to legalise equality and love.

Now!

No more delays!

No more excuses!

No more obfuscation!

This government always had the mandate, and the responsibility, to legislate marriage equality – now it also has the voice of the people of Australia demanding that they do so.

But, they shouted yes to equality and love – not to blatant state-sponsored homophobia and discrimination against LGBTI people.

The result of the Survey shows that the people of Australia did not buy into the uninformed, fare-mongering scare campaign of opponents.

The LGBTI community rejects any attempts to introduce provisions into the law that would create a ‘gay apartheid’ in Australia! That’s not what Australians ‘voted’ for.

The LGBTI community rejects any attempts at blatant state-sponsored homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people, beyond existing exemptions that are reasonable for a secular society, such as for ministers of religion.

The LGBTI community will not stand by and watch this unexpected triumph (ironically engineered by our very opponents) to be snatched away from us by the forces of bigotry and hate.

All this government really needs to do is to reverse the malicious 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) by the Howard Coalition government, designed purely to prevent the legal recognition of marriage equality in Australia, or use something like the bill introduced in New Zealand as the base.

Section 47 of the Marriage Act already provides the only exemption that’s required in an egalitarian, secular, liberal democracy. Section 47 already provides that Ministers of religion are not obliged to officiate any marriage if they do not wish to do so. Thus any additional provision to that effect in respect of same-sex marriages is completely superfluous.

In any event, the ability of ministers of religion to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages was never challenged. Every single marriage equality bill before Parliament to date recognised that right of refusal, including the current one, so I don’t know why some people keep carrying on about the matter, other than to confuse and agitate.

As for marriage celebrants under the Marriage Act, they are servants of the Commonwealth, performing a secular, civil function under a secular law – exempting them from performing such a function on religious grounds creates a dangerous precedent for civil servants refusing to perform their civil functions if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

And there is one more, minor detail – civil celebrants do not wish to be exempted.

When it comes to discrimination by private businesses that serve the public, on the basis of religious beliefs or personal conscience, I already canvassed the issues in Marriage equality, ‘religious freedom,’ and why you should vote ‘Yes’!

However, in this context I do note the ridiculous amendment proposed by Senator David Leyonhjelm to Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, which arguably already goes too far in creating new forms of discrimination ‘for the sake of compromise’ on marriage equality. This is the bill currently before the Senate, the bill which is most likely to be the base of the marriage equality legislation which may pass Parliament.

Senator Leyonhjelm’s proposed amendment would, among other unnecessary things, insert a new section 38A into the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) which would enable the refusal of service by private providers to LGBTI couples related to their marriages, including an annual reminder of their second-class status on their anniversaries – see s38A(c)(ii).

38A   Marriage

Nothing in Division 1 or 2, other than section 26, renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status in the course of providing, or offering to provide, goods, services or facilities for, or in connection with

(a)  the solemnisation of a marriage under the Marriage Act 1961 ; or
(b)  the preparation for, or celebration of, such a marriage; or
(c)  the preparation for, or celebration of, events associated with such a marriage, including:

(I)  an event announcing or celebrating the engagement of the parties to be married; and
(ii)  an event celebrating the anniversary of the marriage.

Can you feel the love and equality?!

Suddenly there is also talk of introducing certain provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into Australian law, in particular Article 18.

Article 18

1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

I note that while the Covenant is an inarguably historically significant document, there is also a problem in that it is a ‘very historical’ document. The Covenant, drafted in the 1960s, is arguably due for a refresh, because while it reflects many timeless and fundamental principles, it inevitably expresses them in terms of the historical cultural norms of that time, in language that had become dangerously outdated, and had fallen behind human social evolution since in many respects.

More importantly, if the government is serious about protecting the freedoms of all Australians, perhaps it’s time they stopped resisting the introduction of an Australian Bill of Rights, a comprehensive legislation that goes beyond the piecemeal adoption of civil rights and freedoms by cherry picking one article of one convention.

Of course conservatives oppose a Bill of Rights because such instruments in progressive, liberal democracies are focused on equality, not merely the preservation of the privileges of one section of the community.

After all, if the question whether same-sex couples should be entitled to enjoy the protections and privileges of the civil right prescribed by the Marriage Act, a secular law of the State, was important enough to be put to the people, so should have been the question whether people should be able to refuse service to LGBTI people, and discriminate against them in the public sphere, in the name of religion in the event marriage equality was approved.

But they didn’t ask the people that question, did they?!

And I think we all know why.

Because the whole survey process was designed by the opponents of marriage equality to return a ‘No’ result, and now that they have been caught out by the majority of Australians rebuffing the ‘No’ campaign, they are scrambling yet again to impose their bigotry and homophobia on the LGBTI community.

Mark David cartoon
Mark David Cartoons

Quite pathetic really …

Alternatively, a competent government would have simply released the proposed amending bill before the Survey took place, so people could have made an informed decision.

I also acknowledge that 38.4% voted ‘No’.

However, I wonder what proportion of those voters fell victim to the malicious, misleading, lie-riddled ‘No’ campaign. If Australia follows the global post-marriage equality trend, even in the United States, whereby after marriage equality is actually legislated people eventually see it has zero effect on their daily lives and many become unconcerned, even supportive, in a year or two we may see that number dwindling.

I would also argue that the 20.5% of eligible Australians who did not respond are more likely to be supporters, or are completely ambivalent about the issue, because I seriously doubt that anyone who really opposes marriage equality would have failed to respond to the Survey.

As for the ‘cranks’ on the margins, like Cory Bernardi, Lyle Shelton, Tony Abbott, and their ilk, they will of course continue to agitate against the LGBTI community, and try to manufacture fake public hysteria from every molehill they can turn up, every opportunity they get … sadly, we will just have to grin and bear that for the foreseeable future.

But, if this government can’t get this law reform done in a civilised and informed manner, and with a 21st century mindset, let’s take the issue to the next election.

I call on the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens to reject and block any malicious attempts by the Liberal Party of Australia and The Nationals to enshrine in our laws their homophobia and anti-LGBTI prejudices in the form of state-sponsored discrimination and hate under the guise of marriage equality legislation.

Legislate equality and love – not discrimination and hate!

Legislate it now!

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