Over the past few days, erudite and well-respected representatives of the homosexual community such as Hannah Gadsby and Senator Penny Wong have expressed concern that the holding of a national plebiscite on the question of same sex marriage in Australia will give a platform to people to express hatred. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also, rather vacuously, announced that he intends to “hold Malcolm Turnbull personally responsible for every bit of hateful filth” that is produced by the debate.

Since the Government’s plebiscite policy was announced here are a few quotes that my friends have posted on Facebook. Apologies for the language. They are not my words.

“Vote Yes. Don’t be a fuckwit.”
“If you plan to vote against same-sex marriage, I can’t know you.”
“If you don’t support same-sex marriage, please unfriend me now and save me the trouble.”
“Vote NO to stop political correctness and continue being the cunt you were born to be.”
"Yes, you are correct. I am not an ignorant intolerant dumpster fire, that's so nice of you to say"

Thank God we have the progressive left to protect us from hate-speech. Although that last one made me giggle.

Doubtless, there have been equally bigoted offerings coming from vocal opponents of the move to change the definition of marriage. The Australian Christian Lobby (which I in no way endorse, by the way) compared the raising of children by gay couples to the stolen generation. That’s pretty messed up, both with regards to the attitude towards gay couples and to the disrespect it shows indigenous people whose tragic history it’s casually ripping off. Maybe Penny Wong had a point. It seems respectful debate is hard to come by. But the campaign by the “marriage equality” movement to silence all debate and declare any act of dissention to be an act of hatred, doesn’t help matters at all.

Let me be clear, before you get your pitchforks out, that I do not oppose changing the definition of marriage adopted by the Australian government to include same-sex relationships. Under the terms of my religion, I do not feel able to condone or endorse same-sex marriage, but under the terms of that same religion I do not seek to impose my religious beliefs on those who don’t share them. If Federal Parliament voted to change the definition tomorrow, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. The plebiscite, on the other hand, puts me in a weird position. The current definition of marriage matches that which I believe in. While I don’t seek to impose it on anyone else, I do believe in it for myself.

This is not to say that I seek to deny the same rights to homosexual people that I have. I’m all in favour of a legal status that endows homosexual couples with the legal rights associated with marriage, such as power of attorney, recognition as a couple before taxation and immigration laws, access to health records and all of that stuff. Civil unions achieve all of that.

The counter argument to this, of course, is that it marks homosexual relationships as different to heterosexual ones and somehow less worthy.

That’s not entirely true. Drawing a distinction between things does not make one less valuable than the other. I hold women and men to be of equal value, dignity and standing before the law, but I also acknowledge that we’re different. Indigenous cultures of this country differ greatly from the “mainstream” culture, but I would want to argue that they are equally valid and dignified ways of understanding the world.

“But why should homosexual relationships be treated differently from heterosexual ones?”

Because they are different. Not lesser, not subordinate or less valid. Just distinct. If - as the law currently stands - marriage is by definition a union of one woman and one man in a covenant relationship to the exclusion of all others, then homosexual relationships are something different. It’s the definition I agree with. That’s my view, and I accept that it is coloured profoundly by my religious perspective.

Not everyone agrees with me, and people who disagree are welcome to express that. Campaign, lobby and argue to your hearts’ content. But to turn and say that those who disagree with changing the definition of marriage should be shunned as hate criminals, and the debate silenced, invokes the very bullying and bigotry that we’re supposedly trying to protect people from.

The whole plebiscite thing cuts me in two, to be honest. On the one hand, I love and support my homosexual friends. I have no desire to impose my religion on those who don’t share it. I can’t in good conscience vote no. On the other hand, by asking me individually for my perspective in the form of a plebiscite, I can’t with any integrity vote yes. I believe what I believe and if I vote against those beliefs because I know it’s not widely agreed with, what kind of coward would I be?

Of course the question is bigger than just me. The whole culture of Australia seems to be fracturing along lines defined by progressive against conservative. The one redeeming of feature of the plebiscite is that, whatever the outcome, at least no-one will be able to claim they could not have their say. We will, assuming participation is reasonable, be able to say that the majority has spoken. This is a democracy after all.

If we vote Yes, those of us like me who hold our own beliefs and respect the rights of others to hold their own, will shrug and move on to the next thing; Nuclear war with North Korea, apparently. There’ll be some loudmouths despairing over the triumph of political correctness over public debate, and the decline of the religious and moral standpoints that this country was founded on or some other bombastic nonsense like that, but for the most part it won’t really affect anyone in a practical way apart from those who would now get to have marriages instead of civil unions, so we’ll shake it off and move on.

But I worry about what will happen if we vote No, and I worry it's a bigger possibility than many people assume. And I suspect the vocal opponents of the plebiscite from the progressive side are worried too.

We only have to look at results in the Brexit referendum and the last presidential election in the United States to know that silencing, belittling and shunning the conservative right might win lots of likes on Facebook, but on polling day the votes of all those people are counted with the same value as the progressives. The modern tendency of the left to ostracise and silence conservatives only lends power to back-lash figureheads like Trump, Farage and Hanson.

And if we vote No, do we really suppose the Marriage Equality movement will accept the result and move on? Certainly it will give the politicians the body shield they need to dodge the issue for another twenty years or so, but I don’t think the issue is going away. “Well… the bigots outnumber us, so we’re going to accept the democratic result and get on with tackling climate change,” doesn’t sound like something we’re likely to hear.

So here I sit. I honestly don’t know which way I’m going to vote yet. I feel like I have to vote yes, but that I should vote No, but I’m absolutely terrified of what will happen if anyone else does. Maybe I should abstain. Somehow that doesn’t seem any better. Seriously it may come down to something as arbitrary as how the question on the form is worded.

Maybe I’ll vote No, but fill my envelope with glitter anyway, to invalidate it.

I don’t know the right way to handle this. My culture and my interpretation of my religion are fundamentally at odds with each other. Of course this is what is supposed to happen. The Christian response is to die to self and live to Christ.

But which self?

So there you have it. Unfriend me if you must. Call me whatever you like. Cast me into outer darkness and claim yourself a few more likes. And while you do that, make sure you take a moment to congratulate yourself on standing up against intolerance and hatred.

After all, love is love. Apparently.

Make of that what you will.

 

Garry with 2 Rs

And now for the latest instalment in Kim and Garry’s theatrical adventures.

After we had such a blast being part of The Taming of the Shrew with Nash Theatre, we’ve followed it up with Nash’s next production: Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan.

Read more: Lady Windermere's Fan

I have a long established tradition of only doing plays where the main characters die at the end: The Cripple of Inishmaan (sort of), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Jesus Christ Superstar - there’s a distinct pattern here. Somehow we even managed to do it in the Taming of the Shrew. So what I thought was “I really need to branch out and try something a little more light-hearted."

Read more: Miss Saigon

Tonight, taken by a sudden pensive and melancholy mood, I stood on my balcony staring moodily into the bushes that line the fence between our block of flats and the next one. As is often the case when you sit quietly and stare at the foliage in Australia, I started to notice tell-tale signs of movement; there was something alive in there.

Read more: Existential Ruminations on the Possum of Darkness

A few reflections on the ongoing significance of Pentecost for the 21st century Church in Australia.

Read more: Some Thoughts on Pentecost

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