Much ink has already been spilled on events in the House of Representatives last week — the week “love won”. Christopher “Black Handed ” Pyne, positioning himself somewhat jesuitically between JS Mill and the Society of Jesus’ hip and trendy Australian frontman Frank Brennan, led the charge to enshrine a secular state stripped of its core underpinnings of freedom for minorities and the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Incidentally, the Minister for Extraordinarily Expensive Submarines also identifies as “an observant Catholic”. One can only wonder what he has been observing. But I digress.
Amid ridiculous scenes of pink euphoria, flag waving, hugs across the aisle and that Wilsonian proposal to a blushing swain in the gallery, the Australian parliament collectively gave the middle finger to an institution which existed prior to the state and which, for thousands of years, has served to bind men to women, create and nurture families, and form the bedrock of communities.
There is a strangeness about all this.
Only a few short years ago, virtually no one thought about the 260,000-odd thousand same-sex couples in Australia and the tiny minority of that minority wanting to be “married”. Back in the day, much of the gay lobby famously opposed marriage as a creaky bourgeois institution best interred for gays and straights alike. Marriage appalled them.
Of course, everyone knows this isn’t and never was about the colouring-book lurve between Tims and Ryans and their right to wed. It is about cultural change. It is about normalising homosexuality, yes, and more. You can’t have gay marriage as the end game if there are still Christians (and Muslims, but let’s not mention them!) who still won’t accept homosexuality as normal. That is why the caravan won’t stop here and why its ultimate destination is clear as day, even among those clouds of celebratory glitter.
If the strategy is “making gay OK”, then the marriage bit is but one step. There is still work to do, as at least one gay activists immediately made clear. The latest herald hot from the rainbow barricades to advise that marriage equality is nice but nowhere near enough equality is Monash University professor Paula Gerber. She has this to say (emphasis added)
[The gay marriage] debate is over. But it doesn’t mean we have equality and its very important to remember that.
There are still a number of provisions in our laws that need to be fixed before the LGBTI community has full equality — and I think the most important one is to remove these religious exemptions from anti-discrimination…
If you are into leather chaps and poppers and fancy renting the local parish hall for a gay bacchanal but find your request rejected, Professor Gerber might be just the person to recommend a learned friend who can launch a pro bono blitz of lawfare against the hapless and “intolerant” Father Pat. As for Catholic hospitals, the smart ones will be lawyering-up with great haste.
Another aspect of the strangeness is the implication that it is only religious people, arguing on religious grounds, who oppose gay marriage. This is, and always has been, rubbish. Religious people can have non-religious grounds for opposing same-sex marriage. Non-religious people can have non-religious reasons for opposing it. Libertarians can oppose it not because they wish to make gays miserable but because they do not see the state as having any legitimate in blessing unions, gay or straight.
We all know many Australians voted ‘yes’ in the belief there would be protections for freedom of speech and belief, just as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised (mind you, it is not the only pledge he has disavowed). There was no public funding of the Yes and No cases, as per a real referendum. Plus, there was bullying of No supporters that undoubtedly affected advocates’ capacity to put their argument. Clearly, voters’ knowledge was imperfect, not least a cognisance of what they were actually voting for.
The plebiscite question itself was worded in a way that, well, didn’t allow the No case to put its best foot forward. Imagine an alternate wording — an accurate wording — along these lines: “Do you support same-sex marriage legalisation as also bestowing the right of endorsed and officially sanctioned homosexual advocacy in classrooms?” I wonder how the numbers might have stacked up had the question been more than a nebulous endorsement of “love”.
There is not the remotest argument for saying, even if we know a majority of Australians have a particular view on a policy matter, parliament must pass legislation in accordance with that view. If a majority of Australians favour the death penalty, should that view be automatically accorded status in law? If a majority of Australians think the age of sexual consent should be raised to 21 or dropped to 12, the latter option undoubtedly favoured in certain culturally enriched suburbs, should either of those views be legislated? If a majority of Australians supported legalised bestiality …. If a majority of Australians wanted to give Tasmania to New Zealand …
Governments providing leadership on nuanced, complex issues is nothing new. Governments often say “no, wait” to the demands of the masses, or indeed, as was the case here, to the demands of a small minority that somehow persuaded a majority of those who voted. Representative democracy, with all its patent shortcomings, is built on the concept of reasoned leadership.
Many years ago (the 1840s), Charles McKay wrote a book on the madness of crowds. There has been a tendency evident throughout history for many people, perhaps a plurality, to believe crazy things. Society doesn’t take the view that governments must act on extraordinary popular delusions, which explains why there hasn’t been a good witch-burning for some time. False views are often sincerely held. They might be the result of misinformation. They might be believed thanks to the efforts of those who peddle false news. They might, in particular, be believed by an ill-educated millennial generation with no knowledge of many things and a fervency for the great causes their teachers extol and impart, most notably the primacy of relativism.
Democratic theory as far back as the Greeks has struggled with the idea of “the majority”, what it means, and whether and how majority views are accorded weight in the political system and across the community. The legislation guided through parliament by the Black Handers has done untold damage to the body politic and our system of checks on majority tyranny.
The cynical might assume several things here, knowing Mr Turnbull as we do. He wanted this. The Liberal gay mafia, who seem numerically over-represented among the wets wanted it. The peculiar, borderline-creepy support cast within and outside parliament wanted it (see under Entsch, W). Roz Ward wanted it. Just don’t pretend the parliament had to do this. Two attempts were made to get a formal plebiscite through the Senate and each failed. Malcolm Turnbull initially said that was it, that the gay-marriage posse had shot its bolt and there would be no more talk of changing the Marriage Act at least until after the next election.
Then came that tape of Christopher Pyne telling supporters how moves were afoot to get a gay marriage up anyway, and suddenly it was back on the agenda. What does this tell us? One of two things: (a) Malcolm Turnbull used Pyne as his surrogate and was complicit in reviving the gay-marriage push when it was dead, buried and cremated, or (b) he is incapable of exerting party room discipline, even on the wets who sharpened his knife and helped plunge it into his predecessor.
One can only wonder what would have happened if the No case had somehow won. The efforts to circumvent the result and push ahead regardless would have been jaw-dropping in their brazen determination.