Second in a series on the state of Australia
By Warwick McFadyen
No one will die. No one will be hurt. Cities will not tumble into the sea, towns will not turn to dust. The sky will not fall. Locusts will not descend upon our homes.
There is nothing to fear.
Our children will not die in the cradle.
And yet it is fear, cloaked in an arrogance of superiority, that is rising and driving the opponents of same-sex marriage. They would not call it such.
This, to them, is a crusade to preserve a status quo that no longer exists. They are the defenders of the faith and of the blessed union of three people in marriage: man, woman and God.
It is a battle by one set to impose a viewpoint, and a course of life, on another set, and yet for whom the actions of the first set have no interaction or consequence to the other. It is about power.
Same-sex marriage only affects the participants. It is only about those whom it will affect personally. This is so obvious it is incredible how obscured it has become. The union of two people of the same gender does not affect anyone outside that union. It does not stop others from acting how they wish to.
Yet to hear the wailings of the churches and some conservatives it will bring down fire and brimstone upon civil society. Parents and children will be coerced into acting against their will and beliefs. They will be shackled by the chains of political correctness. The children will see . . . God forbid, they might see love between two people, irrespective of that gender.
But, once you strip away the moral equivalence, it is not an attack, it is an evolution (a word and concept that plainly scares the hell out of many). For the move to same-sex marriage is, in effect, an action to make the terms of one club the terms for all, even for those who are on the outside of the club, who never want to be part of the club.
After the federal government announced that it would hold a $122 million non-compulsory, non-binding plebiscite, Tony Abbott went on the attack.
He breathlessly informed the country, “I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.’’
Abbott is the apostle who, blinded by his righteousness of his cause, cannot or will not allow himself to see the wood for the trees.
One of those trees takes the shape of John Howard. In 2004, the then Prime Minister Howard, about to go to the polls in October, instigated an amendment in the Marriage Act (which had come into being under Robert Menzies in 1961) so that marriage was the “union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.
Howard said at the time: “We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands, ultimately, of the Parliament of the nation. It should not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts. It is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.”
He said this in May. In August, according to reports, more than 1000 people attended a National Marriage Forum in Canberra to support the amendment. The forum was organised by the National Marriage Coalition, whose members include the Australian Christian Lobby and the Australian Family Association. Labor’s Nicola Roxon told the forum that Labor would support the amendment.
Howard told the forum: “I support marriage because I believe it provides stability in relationships, because it is a public expression of commitment, but it also the environment in which children are best raised and nurtured and brought to full adulthood and enjoyment of life’s opportunities.”
In 1973, Lionel Murphy, as Attorney-General in the Whitlam government, established civil celebrants. The first was Lois D’Arcy. As now, back then there was fierce opposition. However, according to the ABS in the past 20 years, “Australians have increasingly opted for civil rather than religious celebrants, with civil ceremonies almost doubling, while the number of religious ceremonies have almost halved’’.
If that isn’t righting on the wall, then there is this: People of faith are old and, of course, getting older. According to the latest Census, “no religion’’ was the religion growing rapidly – from 22 per cent in 2011 to 30 per cent in 2016. Of those aged from 18 to 34, almost two fifths had no religion. These trends won’t reverse. Although 60 per cent say they have a religious affiliation. However, there is a vast distance between practising it and ticking a box. The writing is on the wall.
These countries have same-sex marriages, Holland (the first in 2001), Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the US, Ireland, Colombia, Finland, Germany and Malta.
In Australia, the ABS “counted more than 47,000 same-sex couples in 2016 – up from 33,000 in 2011 (a 42% increase) and 26,000 in 2006 (an 81% increase)”.
If you are worried about the future of freedom of speech, as Abbott declares, then you actually should vote “yes’’. It pushes the door open that little more so that in this supposedly progressive nation, our elected representatives can have a free vote in Parliament.
And if that fails, stock up on candles, for we will have returned to the dark ages.
Warwick McFadyen is a freelance editor and writer