The campaign against a gay marriage plebiscite is anti-democratic and infantilises its opponents.
What has become increasingly noticeable about the proponents of same-sex marriage is not only the intellectual poverty of some of their arguments, but the sheer, bullying nastiness of their tactics. Even long-term gay rights and same-sex marriage activists, like Andrew Sullivan, have noted with dismay “the obvious and ugly intolerance of parts of the gay movement”. Yet at the same time they wail that they are the victims of “bigots” and “haters”. The same-sex marriage movement, whatever one’s opinion of actual same-sex marriage, has become a paradigm of the cry-bully phenomenon.
The latest, and perhaps most odious, manifestation of this is the strident campaign to abort a long-promised plebiscite on same-sex marriage, on the grounds that it will hurt gay peoples’ feelings. This is one of the most bizarrely anti-democratic campaigns we have witnessed in Australia: the claim that “my hurt feelings trump your democracy”.
This is the authoritarianism of the offended.
The argument, put forward by same-sex marriage campaigners, the Greens, and now by an opportunistic, bandwagon-jumping Labor party, is that allowing a plebiscite on same-sex marriage would lead to a “hateful and divisive debate in the community”, cause young people to commit suicide, and be a waste of money.
These arguments are anti-democratic, hypocritical, and without foundation.
The idea that democracy is some sort of polite tea-party is insulting nonsense that diminishes our public sphere. “Democracy is not a polite business,” as Salman Rushdie reminds us. “Democracy involves the clash of often violently differing opinions.” Some of the most important democratic debates in Australia’s history have been extraordinarily hateful and divisive: the bitter conscription debates of WWI, for instance. The debate over Communism in the 1950s divided not only the Labor party for a generation, but whole families. Should everyone have politely pretended not to have held their ideological differences? Would anti-Vietnam protesters of the 1960s and 70s have taken seriously the suggestion that they shouldn’t protest, because they might hurt soldiers’ feelings? The Franklin Dam protests of the early 1980s, the galvanising moment for the Greens, bitterly divided west coast Tasmanian communities – to this day, one hears of locals who won’t talk to one another: should that debate have not gone ahead? Even the Pulp Mill dispute in the late 2000s was known to lead to fisticuffs between old friends. During the 1999 Republic referendum, it was suggested that the debate should be postponed out of respect for the Queen and the older generation – a suggestion which was rightfully rejected.
The idea that public debate cannot be had, simply because it might, gosh, get a bit rude, is pathetic. On the one hand, it stifles democracy by attacking its very foundation, free public exchange of opinion, in a way that has been done with no other issue. On the other, it infantilises the current generation by insinuating that they are just too precious, too wilting, to endure the slings and arrows of what has for every generation before them been the lifeblood of the democratic process.
The anti-plebiscite campaigners’ argument that it will unleash some sort of tidal-wive of bigotry and hatred is also rank hypocrisy, because, as noted by even other gay rights campaigners like Sullivan, the most obvious and vicious public campaign of bigoted hatred and intimidation is being waged by the proponents of same-sex marriage, not its opponents. A bigot, it must be remembered, is someone who refuses to tolerate others with different opinions.
For instance, what particularly dismayed Sullivan was the incident in which Brendan Eich, then-CEO of Mozilla, was hounded into resigning after it emerged that he had privately donated to a campaign against same-sex marriage in California. As Sullivan pointed out, this was Eich’s perfect democratic right, and there was no indication that his personal political opinions in any way affected his professional conduct. Nonetheless, in Sullivan’s words, “a coalition of those, gay and straight, who do not believe that people with different views than theirs’ should be tolerated” demanded Eich’s resignation, and got it.
The same visceral hatred is being poured out in waves of bile by the proponents of same-sex marriage in Australia, even as they bleat about the imagined horrors a plebiscite will supposedly unleash. A planned meeting by opponents of same-sex marriage had to be cancelled after a “ferocious” campaign of intimidation organised by a gay website, which included violent threats to the staff at the venue. Hypocritically, those threatening the venue accused the planned attendees of being “hateful” and “extreme”.
This echoes the words of former Labor party left-wing minister Peter Baldwin that those who screech loudest about fighting “fascists”, “are the ones who, time and again, resort to classic 1930s fascist tactics such as wrecking the meetings of their opponents and in some cases harassing or attacking attendees”.
The same-sex marriage advocates likewise prove themselves, time and again, to be dab hands at the “hate speech” they wring their hands over. Crikey’s Bernard Keane responds to Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton’s call for a respectful debate with childish name-calling. Fairfax’s John Birmingham gibbered about “a sweating pig circus of morons and bigots”, before degenerating into an apparent impression of a tourette’s-afflicted toddler, with such gems as “unshaved butt-twuntch”.
Of course, many of the anti-same-sex marriage campaigners aren’t much better. But the point remains: two wrongs don’t make a right, and if you’re going to complain about “hate speech”, don’t go hatin’.
When John Dickson of the Centre for Public Christianity posted on Facebook, calling for all sides on the debate to engage with one another respectfully, and specifically asking (and miraculously, one might say, for a Facebook post, receiving) commenters not to trade insults or slurs, nonetheless the post was reported to Facebook and removed without warning. Only the personal intervention of then Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson – a same-sex marriage advocate – forced Facebook to apologise and restore the post.
The proponents of same-sex marriage have repeatedly attacked the very notion of free speech, recognised since the Enlightenment as the very bastion of liberal democracy, and repeatedly attacked their opponents with unrepentant savagery if they have dared voice their own case in even the mildest of terms. In Andrew Sullivan’s words again, this is “McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance”.
The most hysterical claim of the anti-plebiscite brigade – that the concomitant public debate will drive young gay people to suicide – is the ultimate cry-bully tactic. From the gay lobby, it’s the political equivalent of a toddler threatening to hold their breath until they turn blue; from their ideological camp-followers in the Greens and Labor, it’s the logical extension of their infantilisation of their constituents: it’s won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children? writ large. And, of course, it’s nonsense: it’s the rallying-cry of politicians who desperately need to “justify an action so irrational that it cannot be justified any other way”.
Because there’s just no evidence to support it. This desperate plea for the children is made in a complete evidentiary vacuum: it’s simply asserted as if it’s an obvious truth, and the self-righteous cry-bully wafts off in a cloud of their own sanctimony. Because what monster would dare question such a heartfelt plea – you don’t want the gay children killing themselves, after all – well, do you?
Well, sorry, that’s not good enough: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That people will kill themselves because of a political debate is an extraordinary claim – so do the same-sex marriage proponents have any evidence to back it up? So far, no. The only evidence offered is that of a higher suicide rate among “sexually diverse Australians” – but this does not on its own logically imply that a plebiscite campaign will cause anyone to suicide. Further evidence is needed to support this claim – evidence which is conspicuously lacking. Indeed, evidence from Ireland, where same-sex marriage was in fact put to a popular vote suggests the contrary.
As a last-ditch pitch against a plebiscite, same-sex marriage advocates have lately taken to bleating that it’s just a waste of money. This is perhaps their most disgracefully anti-democratic argument yet.
Every democratic vote costs money. The same argument – that it was a waste of money – was made against the Republican referendum in 1999. The argument was given short-shrift then, because, as was rightfully argued, some issues in a democratic society are worth the cost. The planned referendum on Indigenous Recognition will cost at least as much money – so would the “progressives” accept for one minute that the money is just better spent elsewhere, and the whole vote done away with?
In fact, the last Federal election cost over $200 million – so why not do away with elections entirely? Just let the politicians elect themselves.
It’s an obviously ridiculous argument. We live in a democracy, and there are some issues – important, society-shaping issues – that should be decided directly by the people, no matter what the cost.
The arguments put forward against a plebiscite by the same-sex marriage lobby are pathetic, anti-democratic and hypocritical. None of them stand up to serious scrutiny. So why is the campaign against a plebiscite so sustained, and so vicious? After all, the same-sex marriage lobby routinely claim to have the will of the majority on their side.