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Ending the toxic ripple effect of prejudice



As the senate passed Dean Smith's same sex marriage bill by 43 votes to 12 on Wednesday afternoon, I was attending a work lunch. A colleague had been surreptitiously checking her phone beneath the table, and as the result was announced she reported it to the assembled guests.

Australia flag with rainbow coloursSome of us broke into applause. It was a special moment for this woman (and for those of us who voted yes in the government's marriage equality postal survey): she is gay, and she was bearing witness to the unfolding of history — a groundbreaking legislative decision that would help cement her right to marriage equality.

But as history has taught us all too well, governments can't legislate against hatred and intolerance. As a friend stated on Facebook in anticipation of this historic moment, 'No law can change human biology. No law can make natural what is unnatural. No law can make equal in fact what is unequal in fact.'

Such rhetoric is a reminder that the realm of human rights is still a bloody battlefield in which certain groups continue to proclaim superiority over others. In an era of supposed enlightenment, when consensus should have been reached around what constitutes the commonly held rights of all human beings (and where laws have been passed and declarations and treaties signed in support of these shared rights), still there are those who fight viciously to keep others from accessing the basic rights they enjoy themselves.

The slogans carried into battle serve to further ostracise and dehumanise whole groups of people: stop the boats, build the wall, expel the Muslims, stop the fags, ban the feminazis, vote no.

Buoyed by conservatism's rapid global upswing, governments are frequently guilty of encouraging (if not directly fomenting) such discord. Here in Australia, Turnbull's government amplified the hostility in the matter of sex marriage by issuing, against expert advice, its unnecessary and ill-considered postal survey.

In so doing, he gave his constituents permission to openly express deeply offensive and often hateful opinions on public forums, and bestowed upon them the righteous belief that they were entirely within their rights to do so.


"It's too bad for those who believe their religion is under threat, for the right to religious expression doesn't give them the right to discriminate against other human beings."


It should be no more acceptable to slander a person's sexuality than it is to disparage their race or their religion. But the genie has been released from the bottle, and can never again be forced back inside. While the right of the religious to discriminate against LGBTQI people is still being debated, the right of bigots to express their distaste for gays — and to spread factually incorrect information about them in the public sphere — has been enshrined by virtue of the postal survey. For the entire process hinged on the ensuing public debate, and though people were urged to be respectful, there was no law than prevented them from not doing so.

And this scourge isn't confined to Australia with its fraught legislation process for same sex marriage: in the UK, where SSM has been legal since 2014, detractors are still out in force. My best friend, who lives in London and is the loving and supportive mother of a gay son, lamented this reality during a phone call earlier this week. She has stopped reading anything pertaining to homosexuality or same sex marriage, she told me, because the comments are just too ignorant and hurtful to bear. It breaks my heart, she said, to think this is the hateful world my son must navigate as a gay man.

And this is the toxic ripple effect — the prejudice that is borne not just by LGBTQI people but their family and friends, too — that we should all be considering as same sex marriage is legalised in our country. It's too bad for those who voted no, for the majority has decided. It's too bad for those who believe their religion is under threat, for the right to religious expression doesn't give them the right to discriminate against other human beings.

And it's too bad for those who, like my friend on Facebook, believe that homosexuality is unnatural, for it is a reality for many people, it is who they know themselves to be — and it will determine who they marry when they are finally accepted as equals under Australia's new marriage act.



Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

Main image: Bodie Strain via Flickr

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, marriage equality



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Existing comments

Excellent article Catherine and certainly sobering. Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and indeed official Church documents still continues this 'unnatural' argument. This needs to stop as all it does is promote a hateful agenda.

TomK | 01 December 2017  

"But the genie has been released from the bottle, and can never again be forced back inside". Perhaps too negative a view? People who thought they were in a 'silent majority' and thus free to spout their prejudices around have found they are in a minority - surely an inhibiting realisation. Plus it will make them think about why most other people have changed their minds. Overall, there's been a long march of progress for gay people - let's celebrate a win for inclusivity! Also, I expect most of the people who voted no are good people, it's a small minority who are 'vicious.

Russell | 01 December 2017  

I'll continue to fight for the fundamental right of all children to be raised by their married biological parents and for the fundamental obligation of parents to raise their biological children in a family. I'll pray work and argue for our current, socially destructive craziness to end. If someone finds the defence of children, families and traditional marriage "vicious", well, I feel sorry for them.

HH | 01 December 2017  

I am not sure that I completely agree your all your friend`s Facebook entry , but I believe that he/she/it has a human right to express it. Freedom of expression, as also Freedom of religion are universally-recognised inherent, i.e. by birth, human rights to which Australia has signed up by binding treaty. The "civic" right of whom one can be recognised as married to by the State is in quite a different category. As a biologist I think it is quite reasonable and indeed factual to say that sexual behaviour based on penile penetration of another`s rectum is quite "un-natural", and also objectively pretty unhealthy; but I would not want it made illegal when between consenting adults, nor do I think it is germain to whether the small minority of the community that are homosexuals should be able to have a secular marriage certificate in 21st century Australia.

Eugene | 01 December 2017  

Great article Catherine. As someone of the Christian faith who has been a supporter of SSM for many years I agree that things might have been handled better. But unfortunately I cannot think of any change that has benefited humankind that has occurred without some people feeling the heat of that moment. I do not imagine that Rosa Pares retained her seat on that bus in 1955 without knowing that all hell would break loose around her, and it had been going on for a long time by then. She lost her job and had her life threatened for that act. I know it is easy to say but sometimes we have to live through these things for them to change. And just like slavery and segregation and divorce, God will bring the church around. Perhaps kicking and screaming, but He will bring them around.

geoff | 01 December 2017  

In “After the Ball” (1990), Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen described their six-point plan to change public opinion regarding homosexual behaviour. Their chosen method was “a planned psychological attack in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media.” By using emotive slogans such as “love”, “marriage equality”, “discrimination” and “human rights”, their followers were able to by-pass rational arguments based on science, anthropology, and philosophy. In fact they boasted, “Our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or proof” (page 153). Furthermore, by branding opponents as “bigoted” and full of “hatred and intolerance”, and themselves as “enlightened” and “progressive”, their followers could justify the suppression and silencing of the beliefs of others. It is these so-called enlightened progressives that are the opponents everywhere of the Western Enlightenment values of rational thought and free speech.

Ross Howard | 01 December 2017  

I am an extremely ignorant person, because I do not know if people are part of that large group of letter that I cannot put a noun to!! I can do some but not all. The kindest , most caring teacher that my children had in primary school was gay. I only knew when the younger children were there. My older son was very clever and a pain to several teachers. I had him assessed and it was suggested that once he had grasped the meaning of the subject being taught,he could go and assist the (gay) librarian. Sadly his(straight) male classroom teacher was unwilling to participate in this programme and had a very bright naughty, disruptive child to deal with. So in a desperate move the naughty son was sent to the librarian, where he was given all the AWFUL jobs. He was not rewarded for being naughty but had to do time and learn how to help others. I do not know the sexual persuasion of others, unless I am told. I can only say that all the gay men I have known have been kind and gentle. As far as I know I have not met a lesbian lady. Am I a dill or do they have a tatoo in their head. I take people as I meet them as people. I am desperately sorry for the pain and misery we have inflicted , especially in my ignorance.

Gabrielle Jarvis | 01 December 2017  

I will continue to pray for the same thing, HH. And I vote "Yes". SSM legislation has nothing to do with the rights of parents and children. It's a universal issue regardless of gender and marital status that society will continue grappling with - with or without SSM.

AURELIUS | 02 December 2017  

Ross Howard, I can't see how claiming that your version of "science, anthropology, and philosophy" is rational, and therefore others are wrong and you hold a monopoly on the truth. I based my Yes vote on my God-given conscience, reflection on reality and a discernment on how this will affect others ie empathy, compassion.

AURELIUS | 02 December 2017  

Well said, Catherine! I am chastened by the perennial conservatism of Australian Catholics, by comparison with the attitudes of the much smaller proportion of UK Catholics who rebelled against the conservative Christian tide on this issue. It may be that we are nurturing a Jansenist elect - in our schools and churches - to the extent that we have forsaken the social radicalism of our predominantly rebel Irish forebears, so that Australian Catholicism is now viewed in the public eye as a bastion of reactionary conservatism. I am reminded in this instance of Terence Feely's (a Jesuit product) scathing expose of the propaganda used to discredit Ramsay MacDonald's first UK Labour Government by media headlines such as 'Communism destroys Marriage' and which warned against schools where children were 'baptised' into the 'Communist' faith and taught the principles of insurrection. Voters were regularly warned that public officials could be 'Communist spies' and that if the 'Commos' came to power, children would be taken away from their parents and subjected to state-sponsored school-based indoctrination. Are we at risk of re-vamping a highly successful strategy, once redolent of anti-communist hysteria, against a new awareness that gayness is a facet of our human nature?

Michael Furtado | 02 December 2017  

And I, HH, will continue to advocate for the fundamental right of all children to be nurtured in loving and supportive families and social environments, and for the fundamental responsibility of all adults to provide those positive and supportive environments so that all our children can develop and grow into well-rounded thinking and loving individuals as free as possible of the prejudices, bigotry, and tribalism that have afflicted your and my generation.

Ginger Meggs | 03 December 2017  

There seems to be a theme running through the article and most of the responses, that if something is indeed apparently "natural" i.e. instinctive for an individual human, then it is OK. That has never been the canonical Christian position. Rather, is behaviour wholesome and does it bring human flourishing? It is worth reading the quite early Letter of Jude from the end of the New Testament on this ("mere natural instincts"). Although flowery and combative in language, it is also quite telling about standards, as well as extolling mercy.

Eugene | 03 December 2017  

Eugene, I believe the church still has a lot to learn about sexuality..... and as a faithful Catholic, I wish it would at least catch up a bit with modern secular psychological thinking on this topic. It's not about creating a division between secular and sacred - but trying to discern what's the most life-giving path to take. And I'm not talking about life-giving in the strict sense of procreation either.... (it's been noted that heterosexual couples practice anal sex far more than gay couples) So it's clear that it's unjust to expect homosexual people to remain celibate and single for the rest of their lives - which is the current Christian consensus. Why would homosexual people be any more capable of remaining celibate than heterosexual people?

AURELIUS | 04 December 2017  

Thank you for the article, Catherine. As the mother of not one, but two, gay sons my heart, like your friend's, aches when I read the thinly veiled contempt of some commentators. As a practising Catholic, I have been buoyed throughout the debate by "Eureka Street" and the respectful, intelligent and sensitive commentary that has come from this publication. Thank you again.

BPLF | 05 December 2017  

Ross Howard, people always seek to persuade others by using strategies such as you describe - moderating their language choices with the aim of convincing others. Good rhetoricians do nothing less! In this case, the matter at hand is most surely about “love”, “marriage equality”, “discrimination” and “human rights”. Here there is no need to massage language since there is nothing to obfuscate. It is what it is.

BPLF | 05 December 2017  

G.M., you're implying that you don't believe a child has a fundamental right to be raised by his or her biological parents, or that parents have an obligation in justice to raise their biological children. That's where we disagree.

HH | 06 December 2017  

HH the ‘fundamental rights’ of children don’t depend on biology. We don’t own our children any more than we own our partners. Their primary care givers will always be (and have always been) the adults in the family group in which they are being raised, be they ‘natural’ parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents, or whatever. But the responsibility doesn’t stop there: it extends to the wider family - uncles, aunts, etc. - and beyond the family proper - to friends, teachers, coaches, etc. We ALL have a responsibility for the welfare and succour of ALL children because they are all OUR children.

Ginger Meggs | 07 December 2017  

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