How to argue about same sex marriage
A guide to disagreeing with people.
On Thursday 7 September, The High Court voted unanimously to allow the same-sex marriage postal survey to go ahead. Voting forms will be posted from 12 September and should be returned by 27 October or, at the absolute latest, by 7 November. Results are scheduled for release on 15 November.
The voting forms will ask:
“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
In the meantime, you’ll have to navigate the treacherous waters of the same-sex marriage debate. Tensions will run high, tempers will flare and relationships will explode as your Twitter and Facebook feeds are overrun with questionable ideas and even more questionable evidence.
To survive the onslaught, you will need to know something about the No campaign: who’s behind it, what they’re claiming and how they’re speaking to their base.
“We are the silent majority”
That is the first thing you see on the Coalition for Marriage website, the organisation spearheading the No campaign. Their major partners include the Australian Christian Lobby, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and the Marriage Alliance, whose name you may recognise from the now infamous same-sex marriage iceberg ad run on Foxtel 2 years ago.
As political campaigns go, the Coalition’s platform is curiously quiet. It functions on the assumption that many No voters have already made up their minds — they’re simply preaching to the choir.
However, they’re also throwing the net open to the fence-sitters by sowing seeds of doubt. By government design, no-one knows what the outcome of the postal vote will mean for same-sex marriage in Australia. And while that gives the government some space to breathe, it’s also a major foothold for the No campaign. In fact, the campaign outright acknowledges and pardons the shame or fear some may feel about indecision with its slogan:
“It’s ok to say no.”
The key to the No campaign is uncertainty and fear of the unknown. They have latched onto the vague approach of the government and are using it to point to the most sensational and eye-catching stories abroad to say, “vote Yes and this could be us”.
The No campaign’s major arguments
The No campaign rely on the following arguments to support the claims of their platform.
1. Countries that have legalised same-sex marriage are our canaries in the coal mine
… and, boy, are they looking ill.
The metaphor used in the Coalition’s overseas coverage is the “domino effect”: once same-sex marriage is legalised, the government has free reign to dissolve laws around traditional notions of gender identity, encroach on your Freedoms of Religion and Speech and impose radically sexual curriculum on students.
To back up that claim, the campaign regularly refers to Canada, who enacted their Civil Marriage Act on July 20 2005, the UK, who legalised same-sex marriage throughout 2014 and New Zealand, whose legalisation came into effect in August 2013.
Scroll through the news feeds of the partners of the Coalition for Marriage and you’ll quickly gain a clear picture of this “domino effect”:
- “NZ Charities can now be deregistered for not agreeing with same sex marriage”
- “Don’t teach LGBTI issues? Then you’ll be shut down”
- “The Domino Effect: First marriage, then gender and sex will all fall.”
To hammer a consistent point home, the No campaign apply a similar structure to most stories in their overseas coverage:
- hone in on a single detail of a progressive government initiative — the UK simplifying the process for changing genders, for example
- cherry pick a phrase and twist its intent — “choose to change their gender” becomes “it has to be super easy, otherwise, LGBTI individuals won’t have ‘sufficient rights’”
- tie it back into the legalisation of same-sex marriage — “There is no beating about the bush: redefining marriage brings a torrent of consequences.”
You may hear people referring to news that Canada has imposed a radical agenda on businesses to restrict their Freedom of Religion or that the UK is indoctrinating children by mandating sexually-explicit classes — but keep an eye out for overly emotive language or an excessive use of quotation marks.
This is about creating shocking headlines to share on Facebook. And the truth here is always going to be far more boring — political initiatives like these are only ever about greater equality.
2. Changing the definition of marriage is also changing the definition of gender
When discussing this topic, the Coalition really wants you to know they’re baffled:
“Going further, changing ‘sex’ to something based entirely on preferences (e.g. what gender do I want to list on my birth certificate?) abolishes any ‘special’ status or traits of the LGBTI community. Without preconceived, concrete definitions of biological gender, there is no basis for distinguishing amongst lesbian, gay men, heterosexuals, or heck, even transgender!”
That’s because, when it comes time to sound the alarm bells about teaching these issues in classrooms, they want you to be outraged. How can anyone think it’s reasonable to teach kids such damaging ideas when it makes no sense in the first place?
There are no facts to check here, this is all about the No campaign’s inability to engage with the realities of gender identity.
It’s the Coalition’s perfect storm — it turns its unwillingness to even entertain the concept into society’s collective delusion, sums it up as “political correctness gone wild” and gets outraged about trying to teach it in schools. Which brings us to…
3. A Yes vote will allow schools to teach children an explicitly sexual curriculum
Raising the smutty spectre of the Safe Schools program.
This argument is peppered throughout all No campaign discussions because it is rich in emotional appeal. And the most effective emotional appeal of all is the children.
The Australian Christian Lobby are particularly fond of this and fought hard to stop the Safe Schools Program by repeatedly employing children as a persuasive tactic: “…it has been teaching students that heterosexuality is not the norm, and encouraging students to explore sexual and gender diversity.”
And that’s exactly what the Coalition is doing here.
On their “Freedom of Religion” page, they reference Vishnitz Girls School, “an orthodox Jewish school” in the UK that “faces closure for refusing to ‘explicitly’ teach girls between the ages of 3 and 11 years about sexual orientation and gender re-assignment.”
Ofsted, the UK’s regulatory education body, did in fact note that Vishnitz continually failed on several key requirements, stating teacher and schools leaders “…recognise the requirement to teach about the protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010. However, they acknowledge that they do not teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender re-assignment and sexual orientation.”
The Coalition have deliberately strung together the most salacious details about the case — teachers being “explicit”, the relatively young age of the girls and the specifics of “sexual orientation and gender re-assignment” — to give you the impression the curriculum is not only inappropriate for children but promotional or persuasive in nature.
In reality, all schools in the UK are actively discouraged from promotion or persuasion. In its page on “Sex and Relationship Education,” the UK’s Department for Education clearly states the subject “…involves teaching children about reproduction, sexuality and sexual health. It doesn’t promote early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation.”
The same is true for all aspects of education. For the Coalition’s argument to hold water, it would have to argue similarly for other subjects being taught in school, like geography or history. This leads to the extremely uncomfortable position of arguing that teaching students about slavery is the same as promoting slavery, in which case, I would agree the school should be closed.
In any case, the LGBTI content is only a part of the Coalition’s concerns here. They’re more concerned about children learning about sexuality in general:
“We do not want the wallpaper of our children’s lives to be continually sexual.”
4. Legalising same-sex marriage will restrict your Freedom of Religion and Speech
You should note that the Coalition is, in large part, a Christian organisation.
This argument is the bedrock of the No campaign. As a largely Christian organisation, Freedom of Religion and, to a lesser extent, Freedom of Speech, rank highest on their list of concerns. And despite all the alarmist rhetoric elsewhere, you can trace the thread of their concerns back here.
Essentially, should same-sex marriage be legalised, the Coalition would not like religious people to be discriminated against for exercising their rights under Freedom of Religion to discriminate against the LGBTI community. It’s a painful conundrum.
These concerns are then looped into a discussion about Freedom of Speech using one of their biggest catchphrases, “political correctness gone wild”:
“Australians are becoming increasingly concerned about their ability for people to express their views on marriage and the gender ideology.”
The Coalition refers to the case of Oregonian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein who, in 2016, refused to bake a wedding cake for lesbian couple Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. The Kleins were drawn into a legal battle and ordered to pay $135,000 in damages to the Bowman-Cryers, which ultimately sunk their bakery.
Regardless of how you feel about the plight of the bakers, the Coalition are completely and deliberately overlooking the fact that, without our own bill of rights, Australians do not even have a constitutional right to free speech. What we do have is the “implied freedom of political speech,” as explained in this Gizmodo article, and a number of anti-discrimination laws at both federal and state levels, including the:
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex or religion, among others
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
All facts aside, this doesn’t explain away the tendency for the Coalition to class its right to discriminate over the civil liberties of the LGBTI community. Their “Freedom of Speech and Association” page claims to hold examples of people being “kicked out of university courses, fired, denied business or employment or forced to resign for saying what they think.” What the Coalition for Marriage neglects to tell you is that, as Christians, they think they should be allowed to discriminate freely against the LGBTI community.
So, if you come across anyone banging on about free speech or Freedom of Religion, just calmly repeat this simple mantra: Nowhere in Australia do you have a protected right to discriminate against someone based on their sexuality.
Make your voice heard
If you want to get involved with the Yes campaign and make your voice heard, head to yes.org.au, where you can help “ make half a million phone calls and win at least 5.5m votes in the same-sex marriage postal survey.”