'The same-sex marriage debate' by Peter Rose

For decades, centuries, millennia, homosexuals (here as elsewhere) have been insulted, blackmailed, beaten, incarcerated, and murdered. Even now, homophobia and violence towards homosexuals remain principal causes of suicide and despair in our society, especially among young males. In numerous countries, homosexual acts are illegal and punishable by death or imprisonment. Remember those two young men in Aceh – our neighbour and ally – who were flogged and reviled in public? Only a fool or a bigot would suggest that homosexuals have never had it so good.

In Australia, the hard-won reforms of the 1970s and 1980s – absurdly belated yet ferociously contested in some states – came just in time. National self-respect is not endlessly plastic.

Yet the cultural warriors, serenaded by their ‘choir of the just’ in the media and the churches, still seem convinced that homosexuals are submissive, pliable, endlessly patient – forever grateful for the scraps of humanity they have been vouchsafed.

The recent debate about same-sex marriage has been one of the most unseemly episodes in our recent history. A legal entitlement that has been endorsed by untold opinion polls – with clear majorities across the country – has again been delayed because of internecine strife in the federal coalition. A postal ballot with dubious legal weight or status will further delay same-sex marriage and result in a divisive public debate – at quite a cost too. How far would $120 million go in our schools, our hospitals, our theatres, our laboratories? Yet again, gays and lesbians (plus their children) will be talked about and debated in ways that heterosexuals would find insufferable.

Do these people – these conservatives with their furrowed brows and anxieties – never stop to consider the indecency of judging our readiness or entitlement to behave like everyone else? Do they never consider our feelings during these torrid and tendentious debates? Do we not have organs, feelings, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? Are we such misfits, such nonentities?

How would these stalwarts like to have their morality, their fitness to marry, their sheer legitimacy incessantly debated, as if they were not even present in the room? One thinks of thoughtless parents gossiping about vexing children seated a few feet away – taking it all in.

Well, we have come this far, and we will not go back, and we will not be patronised indefinitely. Something ugly happened in August, and it will not easily be forgotten or excused. We know why these cultural warriors insisted on this postal ballot: to exploit unreason and to inflame prejudice.

Not all of us wish to marry. Some of us, truth be told, see no point in perpetuating that particular heterosexual model. But many gays and lesbians – law-abiding, tax-paying, peaceable citizens – do wish to marry. Why on earth should they be prohibited from doing so? What fool in government or the pulpit would seek to keep the loving and the loyal apart in the eyes of the law?

It says much for the power of love and the obstinacy of convention that a class that has been hurt and humiliated, taunted and trashed, imprisoned and grudgingly pardoned, should still crave acceptance in the eyes of government.

If and when this otiose and stupid opinion poll is conducted and reveals its likely message – overwhelming support for same-sex marriage – politicians would do well not to crow about it. There should be no homilies, no victory laps. Send us no salad bowls or condescensions. It will be years before some homosexuals forget the insults and fatuities of the past few weeks; years before the indignation and the bitter taste in our mouths have dissipated.

But if the bigots have their way and the No vote prevails, how craven Australia will seem in the eyes of most foreign countries. Already they look on us – with our British queen, our refugee policy, our freshened xenophobia – with mystification. A No vote would reinforce Australia’s reputation as an increasingly illiberal society – one burdened by prejudice and timidity.

For some of us, even more depressing than the homophobic pulse in this debate is the further evidence of a deep-seated and pathological fear of change in this country – change of any kind really. Few other wealthy, educated, secular societies are so unnerved by reform. It’s as if any reform – however harmless, sensible, popular, obvious – threatens the cultural warriors’ birthright or raison d’être. Remember Tony Abbott’s casual linkage of same-sex marriage with religious freedom and freedom of speech? What specious thinking and despicable tactics. How do fond exchanges of wedding vows threaten our freedom of speech? Abbott’s miserable interjections reminded us why he was unfit to be prime minister and why his premiership was so short-lived and inglorious.

If this innocuous social reform isn’t approved, there will be little hope for systemic reform in this country – little hope for major constitutional change or social advancement – and even less for civilised debate and intelligent politics.


Learn more about the Equality Campaign, a joint initiative of Australian Marriage Equality and Australians for Equality: www.equalitycampaign.org.au

You can listen to ABR Editor Peter Rose's Comment on the same-sex marriage debate here: