Over the past few days, there has been an uproar about a video produced by The Bible Society which centred around three straight, white, male liberal MP’s debating the merits of marriage equality, while candidly sipping on bottles of Coopers Light. The theme of the video was – “keeping it light.” Get it? They were drinking light beer while discussing the issue of marriage equality in a “light” way. I’m not sure what’s more unsettling here – the fact that people can drink light beer seemingly with delight, or the fact that any person could think it is possible to have a “light” discussion about trampling on the civil liberties of other people in this country and actively discriminating against those people.
The Bible Society and Coopers both received an enormous wave of public backlash in response to the video, which ignited anger across social media and resulted in a widespread boycott of the brand (Coopers have since apologised for the video, saying that they support marriage equality). Addressing this in a statement, The Bible Society said, “We’re sad and sorry that a conversation (not a debate or an argument) on an important issue for our community has provoked such a flame war.” However you want to frame it, a conversation, a debate, an argument, or a blatant example of discrimination, talking about continuing to withhold the rights of gay people in our society is never constructive – it is only ever hurtful, and dangerous. You may recall that earlier in the year the recently elected Liberal Turnbull government proposed a nationwide plebiscite on the issue of gay marriage. The intention was that public funds would be distributed to both a “yes” and “no” campaign around the issue, with the country casting a vote after these campaigns. The plebiscite bill was blocked by the opposing Labour party, with opposition leader Bill Shorten aggressively contending its merits from its inception. At the time Shorten said, “the idea of your people, perhaps yet to come out, seeing the legitimacy of their identity debated on the national stage. This is not an ideal inflicted on any citizen when we have a better path. Let me be as blunt as possible: a ‘no’ campaign would be an emotional torment for gay teenagers, and if one child commits suicide over the plebiscite, then that is one too many.”
Bill Shorten is right in every way here. There cannot be a “healthy discussion” about something which directly impacts the rights of everyday citizens. At this point, it isn’t even really about marriage. Marriage is an archaic institution, and increasing numbers of young people are deciding not to get married at all. What it is about is social division. By certain factions of society deciding that some people deserve rights that others do not, they are intentionally driving a wedge between us. And it is divided that we fall into disarray as a society. People are intrinsically afraid of what they don’t understand – this is why throughout history we have seen such horrific examples of racism, genocide, and homophobia. When something is different to what is perceived to be “the norm,” that difference is ridiculed, and those who are considered different are unduly punished for it.
Whilst in Australia open discrimination against gay people is nowhere near as prevalent as it is in countries such as Russia, Syria, Kenya and Pakistan whom all have anti-gay laws, we are still dragging behind much of the civilised world. Our neighbours in New Zealand, many countries in Europe and most of the U.S.A have all legalised gay marriage now. We used to be a country that was seen around the world as progressive, laid back and free. But as politicians and certain members of our society continue to rally against what should be a human right, we are quickly losing that reputation. We recently spoke with Fiona Patten, a member of the Victorian Parliament and leader of The Sex Party, who said “people from around the world view Australia very differently from afar. They’re astounded that we have such draconian drug laws, they’re astounded that we still haven’t legalised gay marriage. People used to think that Australia was this free-wheeling, easy going country and now they’re shocked by many of the things we’re doing – whether it’s our approach to asylum seekers, our approach to our aboriginal first Australians, or our approach to drugs and same-sex marriage. We’re largely a progressive nation, and our politicians and policies should reflect that.”
And that is just the problem – our politicians and policies overall do not reflect the views of our people. Over 60 percent of Australians believe that gay people should have the right to get married. For that reason alone, this should be an open and shut case. But the dwindling ultra-conservative faction of our society is continuing to block the path forward, with very flimsy reasoning. “It’s unnatural” is simply not good enough – studies have now proven definitively that homosexuality is not a choice, but rather it is a biological predisposition. “Gay marriage is attempting to redefine an institution” is also not good enough – society evolves by redefining institutions. Once upon a time, people were excluded from public spaces due to the colour of their skin – that practice would have also been considered an “institution,” but as we evolved as a society, realised the horrific errors of our ways, and began to heal those divisions. We simply must do the same for the gay community – and the only way to truly heal that divide is to afford the same rights to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, creed, or colour.
It must be damaging for a young person coming to terms with their sexuality to see a video of three politicians trying to discredit their biological orientation for political purposes. There is no such thing as an “open” or “light” discussion about marriage equality – it is only ever discrimination in disguise. It is only ever forcing a wedge between different societal groups. And it is only ever the fear of that which is different, which has constantly brought out the worst in humanity.