South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong, who was Australia’s first openly lesbian member of Cabinet in the previous Labor governments, is leading the political campaign for same-sex marriage but is at the same time attempting to set the ground rules for the debate on her own terms.
Senator Wong is hoping to change the laws on marriage to allow people of the same gender to marry legally for the first time in Australia, and to take her place in history as the leading champion of the social reform.
But the Wong campaign assumes the traditional view of marriage, one that has been the same throughout history and that has been commonly held within all cultures without exception, is a false one and that defence of the status quo is morally wrong.
Anyone who argues against the new norm is divisive at best and prejudiced at worst.
Senator Wong allows no acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the views of a large cohort of Australians, the silent minority at the very least, who are merely accepting what has been the moral and social norm since as far as anyone can remember.
Recently Senator Wong declared arguments against same-sex marriage to be “offensive”, particularly those of senior Coalition MPs who argued that same-sex unions were “not normal”.
Leading the charge is the recently demoted Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz, who merely stated that same-sex marriages would deny children the “best start in life” and open the way for polyamory.
Senator Wong described Senator Abetz’s comments as “denigrating” families, and the arguments of conservative MPs as vacillating between the illogical and the offensive.
“I find it sad that senior politicians in this country seem to want to tell my children and children of other same-sex couples that somehow they are not normal,” Senator Wong told the ABC.
Nationals Deputy Leader Barnaby Joyce warned last July that the introduction of same-sex marriage into Australia could be perceived by our Asian neighbours as a sign of decadence – a statement that raised howls of outrage.
“There are judgements, whether you like it or not, that are made about us. They [Asian countries] see us as decadent,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.
Fear upon fear
The most offensive arguments put by both Senator Wong and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten centre on the alleged consequences of the delay caused by the decision to put the same-sex proposal to a plebiscite rather than through a vote of the Parliament.
The Labor Party has been prepared to push the line of some LGBT groups that the delay will result in young homosexual people harming themselves because they have to wait to get equal marriage rights.
“I always try to think of young people around Australia who might still be struggling with who they are, might be in the process of coming out or having just come out and how it is for them to hear some of the ways in which those who oppose marriage equality debate this issue,” Senator Wong said.
Surprisingly, Mr Shorten also ignores the millions of everyday Australians who hold that the conventional view of marriage should remain.
He describes even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as being a captive of the “extreme conservatives” of the Liberal Party on the issue.
Mr Shorten says a debate on same-sex marriage will “rip up” Australian society and “stigmatise” LGBTI people.
“My reservation about a plebiscite is, do we really want a nation-dividing debate where the taxpayers are funding not only a ‘yes’ case for marriage equality but a ‘no’ case? And what are the consequences … the consensus in the community just being ripped up?” Mr Shorten said.
In a recent opinion piece, Mr Shorten wrote that marriage equality was a “simple, overdue change to Australian law that our Parliament could deal with in one day of considered debate”.
If passed, “it would be a wonderful day, a unifying national moment”.
A plebiscite, on the other hand, he opined, “could act as a lightning rod for the very worst of the prejudice so many LGBTI Australians endure”.
However, Prime Minister Turnbull, at least, has rejected Labor’s scare tactics, telling the Parliament he was disappointed in Mr Shorten’s “lack of faith in the Australian people”.
“If there are unruly voices heard, they will be drowned out by the common sense and the respect and the general humanity of our people,” the Prime Minister said.
It seems that Labor is afraid of any debate on this issue; but, if there is to be one, the supporters of the status quo must not be heard.