Last year I had the chance to get one Lyle Shelton, the chief of staff at the Australian Christian Lobby, on the phone for an interview. I was pleasantly surprised that he agreed to an interview and I think he was a good sport about it, all told. I’ve agonised a bit since then about how I could have done that interview differently and, indeed, whether I should have done it at all. When I was still doing the show on JOY I would frequently get very boring in the studio, editorialising against mainstream media outlets for giving groups like the ACL a platform in discussions about gay rights, when most Christians in Australia disagree with them on this, their main hobby horse.
Even though it was a really interesting interview and it generated a fairly big reaction, I still feel like a bit of a hypocrite.
Anyway, the reason I mention that interview is that Lyle said something that I think reveals something pretty ugly about the ACL’s motivations, and it’s popped up again following the Press Council’s ruling over a column by Margaret Court. In my interview, Shelton talked about the debate over whether homosexuality is a product of nature or environment. I pointed out that virtually every major psychological organisation (ie. those not funded by fringe nutters with the explicit purpose of proving that being gay is a ‘lifestyle choice’) has found that whatever ’causes’ someone to be gay is not completely understood, psychologists do not consider sexuality to be a conscious choice.
Shelton commented on the American Psychological Association’s decision to declassify homosexuality in the 1970s, and argued that there had been a lot of “activism” that led to that decision. By corollary then, I suppose we can say that the Australian Christian Lobby believes that being gay is a mental illness. I wish I had pursued this point further – another point I agonise over.
Yesterday, the ACL launched a defence of Margaret Court over the Press Council’s ruling about an opinion piece she wrote in the Herald Sun. The Press Council determined that the article was “probably inaccurate and potentially dangerous” – a pretty modest summary of a particularly nasty, homophobia-imbued spiel. (Let’s also, for the sake of brevity, not point out that Margaret Court also believes gay people are that way because of sexual abuse. The ACL were so repelled by that they decided to nominate her for the National Living Treasure award. But I digress.)
The Council’s decision was hardly a threat to “free speech”, as the ACL tried to frame it. They found that the Herald Sun had every right to publish that vile screed, but that the online version should have included a link to a (smaller) rebuttal piece by JOY’s Doug Pollard, which was published in the print version.
Given that the article was explicitly pushing harmful ex-gay therapies, and even contended that gay people are immoral and are bringing down society, I’d say the Press Council’s rebuke was, yeah, pretty fucking weak. Would they have come to the same mild conclusion if Margaret Court had written that the people responsible for this “steep moral decline” were the Jews, for choosing a non-Jesus based lifestyle?
But the ACL went to great lengths to argue in support of Court’s original assertion about homosexuality being a choice, quoting from a variety of sources to support that claim, mostly excerpts from writings by gay activists, including Peter Tatchell. I’m not really bothered to go through and work out how badly they’ve taken the quotes out of context, because even if they are totally accurate, who declared Peter Tatchell the president for life of gay people anyway? (I for one would like to nominate Albus Dumbledore, should the position become vacant).
Leaving aside the awkward questions about gay suicide, not to mention the many people around the world who suffer persecution, torture and death for being gay, what if being gay IS a choice? Left-handed people don’t have to demonstrate that their left-handedness has a genetic basis in order to be treated equally. Christians don’t have to put together scientific studies showing that they have the elusive “Jesus gene” in order to worship as they please. Why are they even bothering with this lame argument in the first place? Whether being gay is a conscious choice or a mental disease, it’s difficult to see what, if any, political gain they hope to achieve out of running this disingenuous and nakedly homophobic attack against gay people.
The ‘being gay is a choice’ hypothesis is still as wrong as the ‘being gay is a mental ilness” hypothesis, and ex-gay therapy is unscientific quackery, plain and simple. It’s worse than other types of quackery, like homeopathy for instance, because practitioners of homeopathy don’t threaten their patients with eternal torture in hell if their magic water fails to cure them.
It sets people up for failure by telling them that they are damaged and need to fix themselves, and leaves families to clean up the mess when the victims of these programs choose to end their lives. I never had a problem accepting I was gay, but I’ve spoken to people who have gone through these horrendous programs, and it has made me immensely thankful I didn’t have to grow up hearing the kinds of hateful things that Margaret Court and the Australian Christian Lobby have been putting out.
The Australian Christian Lobby wants to position itself as a credible voice for mainstream Christians, and have worked hard to cultivate an image of media-savvy respectability. Moreover, their front men and women go into fits of apoplexy whenever someone rightly calls them on espousing bigoted views. They hate hearing the ‘b’ word. They scream louder than Ned Flanders screams over purple drapes when you suggest that their crusade against gay rights might be a bit homophobic – perhaps, maybe, possibly.
But what do they actually expect?
I finally finished my submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill. It was actually quite hard to write for some reason. As someone who is not short of words in tearing apart the idiocy of the anti-marriage people, I tried to set out a positive submission focussing on why it is a good thing and why the people who are opposed to it are just misguided in their concerns, and that they’re not all frothing, hateful nasties. A lot of them are, of course, but it’s important to rise above these things sometimes.
Also, when writing these things, there’s the vague sense of injustice about having to spend my Saturday afternoon even arguing for this stuff. It’s hard to articulate precisely the indignity of having to campaign and write letters and emails and piss off your Facebook friends and provide evidence that you aren’t Satan’s gay little bum-boy himself.
But anyway! Here’s my submission. It’s a bit long and it’s not perfect but it’s my li’l appeal for equality and I hope it does a little bit to help the cause.
PS. If you haven’t yet made a submission and you want to, the deadline is on April 2 so you only have a day or so left. Please, even if you’re not usually the sort of person who makes submissions to federal legislative committees, a perfunctory submission will add to the volume of calls for equality, which is better than not doing one at all.
Dear Committee Secretary,
Please find attached my submission to the inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010.
I am writing to wholeheartedly support the Bill to recognise gay marriage in Australia.
As a gay man in a committed relationship, this is an issue that resonates strongly with my family and me. The fact that I am writing this is in many ways incredible. For much of my life I have felt different; for me, finding acceptance and belonging has been a challenge, as it is for a lot of young people, gay or straight.
My teenage years were difficult and characterised by a great deal of loneliness and isolation. There are times in my life when I have gone to sleep wishing that I wouldn’t have to wake up in the morning. It’s because I came through it and am now happy and true to myself that I am able to make this submission.
I support marriage equality because I don’t feel like any young person should have to feel like their government is complicit in discrimination against them, simply because they are gay.
I am a tax paying Australian citizen, I work hard and I volunteer. I am not a perfect person, but I try to treat other people the way I would like to be treated. I’m not asking for special rights. At the moment I have all of the same responsibilities – all I am asking for is the same rights and respect that should accompany those responsibilities.
A few years ago I became involved in the gay and lesbian radio station in Melbourne, JOY 94.9. I had moved from Adelaide when I was twenty; I knew nobody and wanted to connect with people with shared experiences. The station’s mission is to provide the opportunity for freedom of expression and the breaking down of isolation, and that is what I wanted to help do.
As the host of the youth affairs program on JOY, I had the chance to meet lots of young people working to highlight the struggles and achievements of the diverse gay community. I have to remind myself that just a few decades ago this would have been impossible in this country.
Marriage equality is, for me, not a complicated issue. I think we would be a better, more proud and more inclusive country if we extended to gay people the right to civil marriage. It’s about respecting the thousands of excellent same sex marriages in this country which already exist, and which deserve the same legal recognition. Far from undermining the institution of marriage, gays and lesbians can only strengthen it and make it more relevant.
Gay marriage is not a left- or right-wing issue – it affects people in every community around Australia. It is about whether or not we want to be a country that holds ourselves to our own standards of fairness and egalitarianism. It is, as the Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron has argued, not just about equality, but about commitment, and the ties that bind us together as people.
By reforming the Marriage Act we will be making a positive statement about ourselves: that we are a society that respects the equality of all its citizens, and values them for their talents and their contributions.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that of the ten countries most highly ranked by the UN Human Development Index 2011, four of them (Norway, the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden) have legal same sex marriage. The United States, also on the list, has same sex marriage in eight states, with more expected to join that list in the near future. The rest have some equivalent national civil union scheme, and are progressing towards full marriage equality.
Australia is a conspicuous outlier among these progressive nations, and the time has come to make this important change.
As it stands, the Marriage Act sends a powerful message of exclusion to gay people. In Australia, in 2012, if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender you are between three and twelve times more likely to attempt suicide. It is evident in the pain we inflict on these people at every level, from school bullying to rejection by families and churches, right up to the people elected to govern in this country. The tone of the debate about marriage equality is toxic and, I believe, compounds and multiplies this problem.
Among the claims I’ve read in some of the Senate submissions is the assertion that gay marriage “decays families,” that it is “evil,” that gay people are perverts, that it will destroy families and civilisation itself. All these arguments against marriage equality seem, to me, to be rooted in disapproval of homosexuality and homosexuals, and nothing more.
At least one submission cited the book of Romans to justify the claim that gay people are filled with wickedness, murder, deceit, depravity, and hatred of god. I don’t know how somebody who calls himself a Christian can hold within himself so much deep hostility and anger.
I understand that this is an extreme view, and not every person who opposes marriage equality for religious reasons is angry and spiteful in this way. I think their concerns about children and families are understandable, but misplaced. From research, and from anecdotal experience, I know that gay parents are perfectly capable of providing for children the loving and secure home they need. An Australian Psychological Society report released in 2007 concluded that:
“Children’s outcomes in families parented by lesbian and gay parents are likely to be at least as favourable as those in families of heterosexual parents, despite the reality that considerable legal discrimination and inequity remain significant challenges for these families.”
Likewise, the argument currently being pushed by some elements of the Christian lobby that gay people want to force churches to marry them. That is why the Bill specifically states that churches will not be forced to conduct same sex marriages. In effect, it will enhance and preserve religious freedom by giving churches the ability to decide for themselves, based on their conscience and their interpretation of their scriptural mandate.
Those who argue that we should not legalise gay marriage because of a personal belief that homosexuality is immoral are entitled to that belief, but it isn’t a reason to deny gay people the right to marry. I wish I could show them that morality is not about whether you are gay or straight, it is about how you treat people.
I wish, also, I could tell them about my mum and my dad, who never planned to have a gay son. When I came out, my dad was concerned about me, and about the discrimination I would inevitably come up against. Today, I am happier than I have ever been, and my family has seen what a difference it made to me that I could be true to myself. They are my biggest allies and supporters. I have a family that accepts me completely, and it is because of them that I know about unconditional love. For this I am lucky, but I know not everyone in my position is able to say the same.
I strongly recommend that the Senate committee considering this matter give its support to marriage equality. We have absolutely nothing to gain from throwing up pointless legal barriers to same sex couples who want the right to get married.
Personally, I want the same chance to stand before the people I love most, my family and friends, and to make that commitment to my partner, the same as anyone else.