The No campaign in Australia's upcoming marriage equality survey, played their hand early by revealing that they will run a campaign of fear if marriage equality is legalised; declaring that everything from bestiality to marriage with inanimate objects will suddenly become the norm ... it is clear that fear-mongering and catastrophising is their modus operandi as they discuss everything but the real consequence of marriage equality, which is simply that two people in love can get married.
Oh, even though they are running a campaign of fear ... don't call them homophobic because ... er ... according to them ... they are not afraid ... right ... yep. The Oxford English Dictionary describes phobia as an 'irrational fear or aversion to something'. The No campaign: Irrational, tick; fear, tick; aversion, tick. Yep, it ticks all the elements of phobia ... ergo, the No campaign is homophobic!
Let's quickly go to bigotry - because that's another thing they don't like being called. Firstly, it is not bigotry to oppose same-sex marriage - everyone is entitled to an opinion. So why are some of them being called bigots? A bigot is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as 'a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance'. It is one thing to hold different views, but to force another group to live by those views is bigotry. Preventing someone from marrying the person they love because you are so obstinately unable to accept their love, is bigotry. Conversely, marriage equality does not force anyone to marry someone of the same sex, nor does it force opposite-sex couples to divorce. There is no impact on heterosexual people. They are still free to marry whoever they want, to have children if they can and want, to divorce, to criticise homosexuality. That doesn't change. Yet, the obstinate No campaigners are preventing people from marrying in order to enforce their intolerant views - that is bigotry!
One of the tactics of the No campaign has been to catastrophise issues that followed marriage equality in other nations, so let's unpack some of those.
An article in The Spectactor(1), listed four things that supposedly happened in Britain after same-sex marriage was legalised.
1. Gender reassignment surgery will no longer need medical consultation. The UK government stated that this was to continue on building an inclusive society for all people, including the LGBTI community following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, marriage equality in 2013, and Turing's Law in 2017 that posthumously pardoned men who'd been charged under the now abolished anti-homosexuality laws(2). Medical diagnosis is seen as an intrusive and unnecessary procedure for someone who wants to change gender. The law aims to make it easier for LGBTI to transition to the gender of their choice. How is this a bad thing? It's only impact is on trans and intersex people, and given the significance of it, it isn't a decision that they would make lightly.
2. Freedom of religion. This point is argued on MP Justine Greening stating that churches should 'reflect modern values' and marry same-sex couples which currently the Church of England is not legally allowed to marry. The Speaker of the House also stated that in true equality, people should be able to get married in a church if they choose. And why shouldn't they? Nonetheless, in Australia, it is proposed that religious leaders would have the option as to whether or not to allow couples to marry. This will mean that there will be a number of churches available for couples to marry in, and those who feel strongly against conducting ceremonies for same-sex couples can still say no. How is this a problem?
This point went on to discuss a Pentecostal Christian couple who were denied the ability to foster children because they 'would not tell a child a homosexual lifestyle was acceptable'. They argued that this was because of THEIR religious views. The court ruled that the right to live in a non-discriminatory home took precedence over religious views. And why shouldn't it? It is already well known that LGBTI children face significant emotional trauma over rejection and difficulty in reconciling their sexual orientations to those that parents, guardians, schools and churches try to force on them. Why should adults who refuse to accept homosexuality be allowed to foster homosexual children. What sort of impact would this rejection and emotional abuse have on the child. This issue has nothing to do with freedom of religion. No-one is preventing this couple from worshiping in the way they choose, it is however, about ensuring homosexual children are raised in a nurturing and welcoming environment.
The article claimed that the Vishnitz Jewish Girls School, which in 2013 (prior to marriage equality), was assessed by Ofsted (the body responsible for assessing schools) and 'passed with flying colours'. It then claims that in 2017 (after marriage equality was legalised), Vishnitz was assessed again by Ofsted and failed the school assessment 'on one issue alone', namely the 'inadequate promotion of homosexuality and gender reassignment' and is now facing closure as a result. It has since been revealed that this is a lie. Marriage Equality became legal in the United Kingdom in March 2014. Vishnitz was already running foul of Ofsted prior to this date for a number of reasons as stated by by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) on their website(3), which included failing 'to have policies in place that would require it to report incidents of abuse and neglect. ECAJ went on to state that the UK Equality Act 2010 protected sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. The UK Equality Act explicitly allows for schools to teach their own beliefs about sexuality and marriage 'in a way that does not disrespect LGBTIQ people'. In October 2016 and May 2017, Ofsted found that Vishnitz was not meeting the standards required to respect LGBTIQ people. Furthermore, the school failed on a number of other issues not related to LGBTIQ people, including 'facility maintenance, lack of a medical room and poor labelling of suitable drinking water'. In May 2017, Ofsted found the school had rectified these issues, except for the requirement to respect LGBTIQ people. Ofsted did not mention teaching marriage equality and certainly was not forcing Vishnitz to teach gender reassignment surgery(4). Vishnitz is protected under the UK Equality Act to teach their own beliefs, as long as it encourages respect for LGBTIQ people. Is there anything wrong with respecting others?
Is the right to disrespect others at a school level, at an educational level, what the No campaigners want? Are they arguing that it is ok to lie in order to make one's point and that children should be indoctrinated to disrespect others? What an example to set children by people who claim they have the children's best interest at heart.
It should be made clear, that not all Christians feel threatened by marriage equality. There is a large number of Christians who support it, including groups such as Australian Christians for Marriage Equality(5).
3. Freedom of speech. This section talked of horrendous bullying that anti-same-sex marriage campaigners suffered, including excrement being thrown at one person's house and their children receiving death threats. Clearly unacceptable. However, this is an extreme example and fails to acknowledge the violence and abuse that LGBTI people have suffered for years at the hands of those who feel they are an 'abomination'. During the Australian debate over marriage equality, there have been terrible claims made about the consequences of marriage equality, including it leading to pedophilia, bestiality and polygamy. Even those who think they're being less ludicrous, still draw illogical conclusions with no evidence, such as marriage equality will damage children and fundamentally change society. The No campaign is based on such non sequiturs aimed at shutting down the Yes campaign.
Those who argue that proponents of marriage equality are opposed to free speech forget one very important point; free speech cuts both ways. If someone voices an opinion, others are entitled to challenge that opinion. That is free speech. It isn't the proponents of marriage equality who are trying to stop people doing or saying anything; that would be the No campaign who want to stop people in love marrying those they love and being able to talk openly about it.
The article goes on to list a number of workers, including public servants, who have lost their jobs for failing to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The funny thing about public servants is that while they may not always agree with a particular government policy, they have agreed through their employment to act impartially - regardless of their political views. A public servant who has a significant conflict of conscience would have to seriously consider their future if they can't remain impartial.
The article cites the example of a North Ireland bakery that discriminated against a marriage equality activist who asked them to bake a cake with the words 'Support Gay Marriage'. Any employee who feels strongly against homosexuality, whether they worked for a large chain store or a small business, would have to question their future employment if they refuse to serve customers on the grounds of sexual orientation. This is reminiscent of the days when some Christians refused to serve mixed-race couples.
The fact is that baking cakes is not a religious activity, it is a commercial one, so no-one's religious activities are being curtailed. In terms of freedom of speech, well speech just happens to be that - speech. It is not behaviour, and it certainly isn't the right to discriminatory behaviour. A person may feel strongly against someone or something, and they generally have the freedom to speak out about it - other than when it comes to hate speech or behaviours that encourage violence against others.
Now that LGBTI people might have the same opportunity to marry as others, the bullying has intensified and the homophobic No campaigners are trying to portray themselves as the victims, yet LGBTI people have been victims of bullying and abuse for years.
The hate-speak and fear-mongering of the No campaign, has given impetus for a neo-Nazi group called Antipodean Resistance to oppose same-sex marriage through vandalism and spreading of vile posters that link same-sex marriage to pedophilia(6). The group admits they recruit radicalised individuals and hasn't ruled out violence in achieving their goals. Is this the sort of bigotry, discrimination and hate crimes that the No campaign feels should be part of the future?
Anti-discrimination laws are in place for a reason; and that is to protect the rights of all people to live a life in which they enjoy the same rights as others, free of discrimination. Is this really too much to ask?
Speaking of freedom of speech, like with much of the No campaign, this is only freedom for some people - namely, those who the No campaigners agree with. Recently, a Victorian church refused to marry a heterosexual couple because the bride posted her support for marriage equality(7). The Presbyterian minister stated that this contradicted the 'teachings of Jesus and the church' ... really? Considering there are a large number of Christians supporting marriage equality, this is a shaky premise to take. It is unrealistic of any church to expect everyone they deal with to have exactly the same views as them. Freedom of speech? Not in the convoluted mentality of the No camp and disturbingly, Prime Minister Turnbull is condoning this attack on freedom of speech.
4. Children. The article discussed a number of independent religious schools which were brought to task for failing to promote homosexuality and gender reassignment. It mentioned that there was a push by the Minister for Equalities for sex ed classes to be LGBTI inclusive so that students were 'equipped for life in Britain as it is today'. This is similar to the concerns that were aired over the Safe Schools program run in Australia a couple of years ago. Safe Schools specifically addressed LGBTI issues with age-appropriate classes from primary school to high school. The idea was to reduce the stigma that LGBTI children already experience and which is the prime cause of their emotional trauma.
A recent study by the Centre for Social Research In Health at University of New South Wales concluded that marriage equality has a beneficial outcome on the mental health of LGBTI adolescents(8). Surely anyone who is concerned about children would accept that this is a good thing. If children are taught to accept that not everyone is born heterosexual, that there are a number of variations to sexual orientation, and for that matter gender is not always a simple male/female issue, then this will help to reduce rejection and bullying of LGBTI children ... which clearly won't happen if they follow the lead of homophobic parents.
There is no disputing the fact that some people are born intersexual. This is clearly biological. Why should intersexual people be required to live in hiding so that some small minded people are not offended? As for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender - the science around the causes is complex with evidence to indicate biological causes for some, while issues in early development may be the cause for others. Regardless, some people are gay ... or lesbian ... or bisexual ... or transgender... or intersexual ... or some other variation. This exists regardless of whether LGBTI people can marry.
Marriage Equality will not force or encourage anyone to 'become' gay.
Similar arguments to the above have been claimed in Canada(9), such as supposed restrictions on freedom of expression, parental rights in public education and religious institutions' right to autonomy. Each of these have been addressed above regarding Britain and also addressed below about Australia. Ultimately, the opponents of same-sex marriage want the right to discriminate regardless of the harm it does to LGBTI people and their children.
Back to Australia
Failed Labor Party leader, Mark Latham claims that same-sex marriage will open a 'can of worms'(10) by allowing 'gender fluidity', into the Marriage Act. This has been the latest ploy by the No campaign to remove the debate from same-sex marriage to ... shock horror ... any two people getting married regardless of their gender identity. Really? We're still looking at two people getting married. Latham then bangs on that 'Through Neo-Marxist programs like Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships, radicals have infiltrated the class-room'. Goodness. Poor old Karl Marx cops a hiding for stuff he never did or said. But resurrecting the 1950s 'reds under the bed' zeitgeist is part of the fear-mongering against same-sex marriage .... and they want us to believe they aren't homophobic. I'm not sure what part of 'safe' and 'respectful' that Latham and opponents of Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships don't understand. Why would they want the opposite: unsafe and disrespectful?
Imagine being a child who feels they don't fit within the definition of 'normal' or expected behaviour for their gender? Often they are battling with confusion and depression. Children are most likely to either withhold this information or discuss it with the people they generally trust most, their parents. How much will it damage them if their parents reject them, abuse them, tell them they're an abomination in the eyes of God. If people truly care about children, they would support programs such as Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships.
In an insightful article on transgender children, Benjamin Law quotes Paul Thoemke, an American case manager for LGBTI children, who says '... I sometimes think the greatest risk for these kids is their families'(11). If those families understood that gender and sexuality is a spectrum, they would be more inclined to support their children instead of forcing them to be someone they aren't .... or worse ... rejecting them, abusing them, kicking them out. Law goes on to quote statistics regarding the high levels of homelessness among LGBTI young people; America up to 40%, Britain up to 25%, and estimated in Brisbane of around 13%. Clearly families are rejecting their LGBTI children. Is this the world that the No campaign is campaigning for?
Ironically, the anti-marriage-equality people are concerned about children being forced into gender and sexuality models that they don't believe are natural, when in fact, it is THEY who are forcing LGBTI children into lives that aren't natural for them.
What's the worst that could happen?
Consenting LGBTI adults will be able to marry the person they choose.
Will Ministers or other people of faith be forced to marry same-sex couples? No.
Will butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers be forced to sell their wares to same-sex couples? Possibly - because ... anti-discrimination. Hmm ... let me see, not baking a cake - yeah that will teach people for being gay - goodness, if the cake is tasty enough, it might even motivate them to give up the gayness. What's more important? Someone's bigoted interpretation of scripture, or someone's right to live a life free of discrimination and abuse!
Will kids be denied the right to a mother and father? No. Marriage Equality does not steal children from their parents. Divorce does that, yet No campaigners are strangely silent around this ... perhaps because quite a number of them are divorced, so that would mean shining the light on themselves. 12% of LGBTI people in Australia already have children of their own who live with them(12), and further, they are legally able to adopt. Additionally, a comprehensive study into child-rearing over a 30 year period concluded that gay and lesbian parents are as competent and effective as heterosexual parents. The authors observed that the inability for same-sex couples to marry adds to stress for their families and that 'because marriage strengthens families, and in so doing, benefits children's development, children should not be deprived of the opportunity for their parents to be married'. (13)
Will schools teach gender fluidity rather than the binary male and female genders? Unlikely, but so what if they do? Biology classes will obviously go into detail about male and female as these are the two genders required for reproduction, however, will it kill anyone to understand that the world is not black and white, that there are people who are intersexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender or have other views on gender and sexual orientation. This is not the end of the world, it just means children will have a better understanding of the real world than their parents did - perhaps this means they won't grow up with obstinate and intolerant views on those who are different to them.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are a spectrum, they are not a neatly categorised binary system. Why should children be taught an inaccurate paradigm of gender because reality is too uncomfortable for some who can't reconcile their limited views with fact.
The rainbow that represents LGBTI people is appropriate as sexual orientation and gender identity are not black and white.
The No campaigners are trying to re-engineer themselves as the victims in this debate, claiming they are being bullied, demonised and victimised. Why? So they can continue bullying, demonising and victimising LGBTI people who have suffered from homophobic violence and discrimination all their lives.
Many of the No campaigners are Christian. Which means they are bound to have repeated the scripture that 'perfect love drives out fear'. So why are they so hell-bent on using fear to drive out love?
The positive effects of marriage equality
With all the fear-mongering from the No campaign, we cannot forget what marriage equality will actually achieve:
1. Same-sex couples will have the same opportunity as heterosexual couples to marry, providing greater legal protection and recognition of their next-of-kin status.
2. Same-sex couples will be able to provide the support of a recognised family for their children.
3. A reduction in the stigma of same-sex couples and their children.
4. A reduction in hate-crimes against LGBTI people.
5. Freedom of religion for LGBTI people.
6. Freedom of expression for LGBTI people.
7. Greater community awareness and appreciation that gender and sexuality are not binary, that there is a spectrum and no matter where on that spectrum people are, they are entitled to the same opportunities as others.
If two consenting adults are in love, why shouldn't they get married? Their ability to love, to marry, to commit, is not dependent on their genitals or where they want to put them.
Love is Love - regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation.
It's time for marriage equality.
1. The Spectator Australia, David Sargeant, What's changed in Britain since same-sex marriage? 7 September 2017, https://www.spectator.com.au/2017/09/whats-changed-in-britain-since-same-sex-marriage/. Accessed 9 September 2017.
2. UK Government, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Government Equalities Office, New Action to Promote LGBT Equality, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-action-to-promote-lgbt-equality. Accessed 9 September 2017.
3. Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Factual inaccuracies surrounding London's Vishnitz Girls School #DebateWithoutHate, 4 October 2017, http://www.ecaj.org.au/2017/factual-inaccuracies-vishnitz-girls-school/. Accessed 6 October 2017.
4. The Guardian, Paul Karp, Claim UK school failed inspection over marriage teaching 'factually inaccurate' 5 October 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/oct/05/claim-uk-school-failed-inspection-over-marriage-teaching-factually-inaccurate. Accessed 6 October 2017.
5. Pink News, Jasmine Andersson, Christian group backs marriage equality campaign in Australia, 30 August 2017, http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/08/30/christian-group-backs-equal-marriage-campaign-in-australia/. Accessed 9 September 2017.
6. ABC News, Danny Tran, Antipodean Resistance Neo-Nazi group trying to sway Australia's same-sex marriage postal vote, 5 September 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-05/neo-nazi-group-antipodean-resistance/8852682. Accessed 9 September 2017.
7. The Age, Michael Koziol, Malcolm Turnbull defends right of church to refuse to marry couples who support gay marriage, 15 September 2017, http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbull-defends-right-of-church-to-refuse-to-marry-couples-who-support-gay-marriage-20170915-gyi0hm.html. Accessed 15 September 2017.
8. Hopwood, M., Treloar, C., Kolstee, J., Koonin, J., (2016), The Impacts of Marriage Equality and Marriage Denial On the Health of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW, Australia, https://csrh.arts.unsw.edu.au/research/projects/marriage-equality-evidence-review/
9. The Witherspoon Institute, Public Discourse, Bradley Miller, Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada, 5 November 2012, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/11/6758/. Accessed 10 September 2017.
10. The Daily Telegraph, Mark Latham, Same-sex Yes Vote Will Open a Can of Worms, 29 August 2017, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/mark-latham-samesex-yes-vote-will-open-a-can-of-worms/news-story/248eb22253826ed116f51eb08c353a48. Accessed 9 September 2017.
11. The Canberra Times, Benjamin Law, Why do transgender children raise the hackles of 'tolerant' Australians?, 9 September 2017, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/good-weekend/why-do-transgender-children-raise-the-hackles-of-tolerant-australians-20170906-gybvyv.html. Accessed 10 September 2017.
12. Australian Government, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Lixia Qu, Ken Knight and Darryl Higgins, Same-sex couple families in Australia, September 2016, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/same-sex-couple-families-australia. Accessed 22 September 2017.
13. Perrin, E.C. & Siegel, B.S., 2013. Promoting the well-being of children whose parents are gay or lesbian. Pediatrics, 131(4), pp.e1374 – 83, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/03/18/peds.2013-0377. Accessed 10 September 2017.
Updated 6 October 2017.