The War of the Rings
Four Steps to Navigate the Marriage Equality Survey
At the beginning of Tolkien’s great epic, a small hobbit, Frodo Baggins, is instructed to throw a ring into the fire, whereupon ancient magic elvish letters appear on its inside. The wizard Gandalf translates them and tells him of a dark and menacing power that is trying to arise and subjugate all of Middle Earth.
“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”
Dear LGBTI Australians, our families, our allies and friends,
I feel a bit like Frodo Baggins. A great menace is once again trying to subjugate the LGBTI community, a community that has experienced systemic oppression from governments and the church since the beginning. Every single ounce of progress we have ever made, we have had to fight for. Against the odds, against forces of bigotry and ignorance.
Right now, I write with a mixture of emotions in my heart. There is anger, in fact white hot fury, hurt, confusion, sorrow, disbelief. And I know I am not alone in this unwanted flood of emotion. We have all been catapulted into a monstrous evil designed by our opponents in which we find ourselves experiencing Australian life just like our forbears did when being gay was still a crime: we are feeling viewed, talked about, discussed, dissected, evaluated, judged, found wanting, found lacking, found unworthy. I know there is incredible anger among you and loads of pain. To think that in a modern Australia, we are forced to ask the permission of the whole nation to marry, to ask if we’re worthy of marriage. There is no doubt, we have been made to feel like second class citizens. And now this survey. In the words of another LOTR character, King Théoden of Rohan, “so it’s come to this”.
I want to offer a four step way of thinking about this mess. We need to keep focused and keep things simple.
Step 1. Our Predicament
Given the High Court did not overturn the survey, we are now in the midst of a battle for hearts and minds. It is a battle that we did not choose and one that we do not want. However, it is all around us, so we have little choice but to engage it. I will not go into all the ins and outs of the weaknesses of this survey, for they are plenty, and they have all been discussed at length elsewhere. But I will designate eight discrete aspects about it that we all already know: this survey is immoral, unnecessary, harmful, expensive, methodologically unsound, politically-motivated, unjust and therefore, illegitimate.
The survey is not happening in a vacuum. It cannot be ignored that there is an enormous amount of politics behind it. I just want to remind us all that our predicament falls fairly and squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister, in this present Parliament now. Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott for the top job and foolishly agreed to a suite of his predecessor’s policies in order to secure the promotion. He promised he would not enact marriage equality legislation before taking it to the people in a plebiscite, a strategy he himself had formerly argued against, and he linked the deal with the Coalition agreement with the Nationals. In this, he straitjacketed himself on the very day he took the crown, despite his own preference for marriage equality.
Since that day, he has allowed the right wing of his party, old-world homophobic dinosaurs like Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, Christensen, Dutton and most of the Nationals, to effectively nobble his leadership. He has been seen by the Australian people multiple times now as a hollow man and he has lost any sheen of progressivism or achievement that he might once have had. His is a failed Prime Ministership. And more fool them, the Liberals perpetrated this upon him. He has squandered his time as leader by placating his enemies, becoming known widely as a ‘do-nothing Prime Minister’. He will regret it for the rest of his life. And now, in acquiescing to this odious survey of homophobia, (for supporters want a free vote in the Parliament), against the clear preference of most Australians, his gay credentials also lie in tatters and ruined at the feet of a bigoted wing of his party who will stop at nothing to prevent marriage equality and destroy him if they can in the process. And even as a believer in our cause, he has hardly lifted a finger to help. He has in the main, left ot to other MPs. Thanks for nothing.
Step 2. Know Thy Enemy
The ‘No’ case is essentially Tony Abbott and John Howard and their cabal of conservatives like Abetz, Bernardi and Fierravanti-Wells, plus some cross benchers. Outside the Government, opposition is essentially the Australian Christian Lobby, an evangelically based extremist group that has deeply conservative theological reasons why they oppose gay people. Their mouthpiece is Lyle Shelton. Also, tied in with them is the smaller Catholic organisation Marriage Alliance, mouthpiece Sophie York, and of course, you will also find the Catholic Bishops themselves opposing. These have all joined forces to form the Coalition 4 Marriage.
But these opponents have all but abandoned the substantive issues around two people of the same sex marrying. You’d be hard pressed to find any article or any Twitter or Facebook post advocating those arguments now. This is because all of those arguments have been lost. They have been met with sound logic and rational reasoning by marriage equality advocates as well as by disinterested impartial commentary. History, sociology, anthropology, psychology, social work, medicine, ethics and the law have all lent their considerable knowledge base to debunking the arguments as to why we should not be treated equally and have marriage laws extended to us, as they have successfully countered similar arguments in other comparable Western countries.
These days, our opponents talk about other stuff. Their two topics focus predominantly around children and gender, but there are others too.
They speak tirelessly of attacks on free speech and attacks on the fteedom of religion. On the latter, they want further exemptions to the anti-discrimination acts so that Christian business people can refuse to serve gay couples.
Move to the back of the bus Rosa Parks.
However, if you follow the ACL Twitter feed or Marriage Alliance or C4M Twitter feed, you will see that they almost totally focus on children and gender. And it is all done through ceaseless unrelenting fearmongering.
They are paranoid about children. There is often an insinuation, never articulated (they wouldn’t be game) that gay people are child abusers or paedophiles. It is a filthy and ugly tactic. They also come after us around LGBTI families with kids. It’s always about depriving kids of a mother and a father. Now, this is clearly wrong. Every LGBTI family I know makes sure that the children have role models of the opposite sex to that of the parents. In many cases, the biological father or mother is part of the arrangement, either co-parenting or as regular visitor in the home. Kids in these homes are valued and loved and nurtured as well as in any other home. And there is research to back this up. You can find some on the Australian Psychological Society’s website for instance.
This review provides an overview and summary of the main bodies of research about parenting by lesbian, gay, bisexual…www.psychology.org.au
Our opponents hate and loathe the Safe Schools program that was designed to offer some education around bullying of LGBTI kids. They have misrepresented it as us wanting to teach what they call ‘radical gender theory’:
- that all boys can be girls and that all girls can be boys;
- that there is no such thing as male and female anymore, but that we are all gender fluid.
Now, this is not what was being taught in Safe Schools or other programs. Safe Schools is Professional Development course for teachers, not students, designed to help them deal with matters of sexuality and gender when they arise in the lived experience of their students. But our opponents lie, conflate, confuse and obfuscate. Our education system absolutely needs to catch up with the science, including the biology, genetics and psychology of gay sexuality, and kids should absolutely be taught to respect diversity and not harm it. Young gay people come out in school these days and they need some dedicated protections put in place around them.
Almost every tweet I read, or post I see, from the ACL, the Catholic Bishops and organisations like Marriage Alliance, focuses on gender. They say inane things like, ‘marriage equality advocates want to de-gender marriage’, which is about as ridiculous a statement as ever I’ve heard. No, not true. Straight people will continue to marry opposite sex partners, gay people will marry same sex partners. Plenty of gender there. There’s nothing de-gendered about it.
But more than this, they cannot cope with the fact that some people do not identify with the biological gender of their birth. It seems that if they’re not going to talk about same sex couples marrying they’re going to talk about transgendered folk. They do this as though that in itself is a bad thing. Now of course it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing we are talking about the T in LGBTI. But our opponents are convinced that we want to destroy the concept of gender so that everyone will be transgendered. The religious among them appeal to God and creation, that God created them male and female, as in the Book of Genesis. However, you and I know that science has been slowly working away to understand the experience of transgendered people and how best to help them through their journey, no matter the stage of that journey. We accept them and value them in our alphabet of diversity.
Other No Campaign Topics
You will probably also hear people like Abbott and Lyle Shelton talk about freedom. They insist that marriage equality will curb their right to say oafish homophobic utterances, which of course, it won’t. They’ll still be free to be ignorant and to publicise it. Then there’s the freedom of religion they’re worried about. They say that marriage equality will be the beginning of an attack on religion. When they say this, they don’t mean all religions, just Christianity. Now again, this is nonsense. Our Constitution recognises that there is no ‘established’ religion in Australia and that people are free to practise whatever religion their heart desires. People will still be able to go to church after marriage equality. And besides, several reliable polls have surveyed the Christian response to marriage equality and it’s up in the high fifties and even higher for less frequent observers. There is a freedom of religion, but there is also a freedom from religion, and it works well in Australia. As far as I am concerned, their religious freedom stops at the borders of my human rights. You can tell me I’m a filthy sinner and not worthy of marriage because God, but you don’t get to tell me if I can marry my partner or not in a civil ceremony in a secular democratic country. You may also hear John Howard rabbit on about history and tradition, but those arguments are specious and have been well and truly debunked.
Greg Barns, who ran the 1999 Republican campaign warned us that this survey would get dirty. He said that Abbott and Howard are formidable warriors and they will not hesitate to go negative and to use fear-mongering as a strategy. They did in 1999. Shelton and the ACL are relentless in such tactics and are already hard at work trying to ramp up the fear factor. We need to be ready and we need to be smarter than they are.
Arguing the Toss
When you’re arguing with an opponent, they will do their best to pull you off script and onto one of their pet deviations: freedom of religion, political correctness, free speech, Safe Schools, etc. etc. But I suggest, don’t get caught. In all my dealings now on Twitter and other social media, every time they try it on, I pull it back to marriage equality. I invariably end up saying something like, “It’s not about that. It’s about two committed same sex people having the right of marriage extended to them. Gay people are equal. We are not inferior. Our relationships are equal to yours. They are not inferior. We are good citizens and we want to be treated equally before the law”. Don’t argue on their turf. Stick to the substantive issue of marriage equality, the very thing they don’t want to talk about.
One more thing about arguing or debating. Despite being goaded to anger and even rage, it is best not to lose your cool in the public space, virtual or real. Our opponents want to paint us as being irrational and emotional, to demonstrate to Australia that we have no substance. They want to cut n paste enraged or expletive behaviour on their tweets and websites and get on the news coverage, mocking us with captions of ‘the tolerant Left’ or ‘so much for love’. Do your best to keep calm or end it and move on if you feel you can’t.
Step 3. Tools
Tell your friends about your position on the survey. Tell your family. Tell your work colleagues if it is safe to do so. Make a noise. Polls show that two thirds of Australians support us and most didn’t want to have a plebiscite once they found out it was not binding and the Parliament would still have to vote regardless. For the most part, Australia is on our side. But let’s enlist their help to Vote Yes.
Fourth, vote ‘Yes’. When we’re going through something aversive that we have little power over, psychologists will often suggest a technique called reframing. Essentially, its like putting a picture into a different frame. It’s the same art work, but now it feels different. We could reframe this survey. We might understand that we’ve been given a Liberal National shit sandwich, but we could see it instead as the official paperwork to get rid of these people next election. When you fill it out, imagine that you’re consigning them to the scrapheap of Australian political history with a stroke of your pen. You don’t have to love it, just vote on it and mail the damn thing away.
Our offence should not trump our good sense.
- If a Yes vote comes back, a bill will be presented to the Parliament for a free vote. The result on present understanding of voting intentions should be marriage equality. There may be retaliation by the No side. Be ready.
- If a No vote comes back, that will be Turnbull’s worst nightmare. It means the issue will be continuously live and will dog him and the Coalition all the way to the next election, where marriage equality is a strong suit for the ALP. You’ve seen him get angry at journalists asking questions about it. That’s because he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Step 4. Boot The Bastards Out
I mean it. Turnbull and the LNP would not listen to the warnings given by the LGBTI community, as did the ALP. There is already great harm done and we are now being attacked by MPs like Matt Canavan and other opponents for feeling the distress; a classic bully tecnique to blame the victim. I personally feel so aggrieved by what the Liberals and Nationals have done to us that I have pledged myself to doing everything I can now to make sure they are unseated at the next election and that Australia boots their conservative arses from Canberra to Kingdom Come. Forcing this survey on us for base political reasons is utterly unforgivable. It has been comprehensively confirmed for me now that LGBTI people are not valued by the LNP at all, or they would not have done this to us. I am convinced now that LGBTI people will never flourish under a conservative government in Australia. Their values are just too discrepant from the values I know we hold important. The LNP has used us as toys to be tossed around as so much rubbish in their stupid internecine war between conservatives and so-called moderates. A pox on both of them.
And we all know there is a personal cost. My father died before he could see his third son married and my mother at 89 died last week. She was a huge supporter. Multiply my story by thousands upon thousands and we understand the anguish our politicians have visited upon us. I will hang the stinking carcass of this survey around Malcolm Turnbull’s spineless neck forever and always remember the day when he stood duplicitously behind the dais, Cormann by his side, and told us that we should be grateful for democracy. He, Abbott and the rest of the LNP will wear this survey as a badge of shame forever and their legacy of homophobic opportunism will be set in stone forever. I hope other Australians will feel as I do come election time and remove them from office.
In the final analysis, we LGBTI people just want Australia to legislate for marriage equality. There is no nefarious clandestine rainbow agenda, just marriage equality. We did not ask for a war of the rings. We are not interested in fighting a war. We want to end this unnecessary battle. But we are real people and we should be treated equally alongside all other Australians. Our lives are precious, our relationships the equal of any straight one, our place in Australian society firmly entrenched.
So for now, let’s hang in there. We are family. Let’s look out for each other and make sure the young ones are not feeling overwhelmed. Disconnect from the process often and take time out to recharge. You cannot live in this hate-filled mud patch every day. Let’s reassure each other that we will get through this.
Frodo: I know what I must do, it's just that... I'm afraid to do it.
Galadriel: Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.