We are deep into the belly of the beast for the same-sex marriage postal survey and, as many predicted, it has brought out the worst in many people.
Some of the differences have been petty, complaints about sky writing and mass texts. However, if there are three words that would sum up much of the public conduct on the matter it would be this: vicious, vitriolic, and even violent.
I had hoped that this debate would be civil, cathartic, and bring us towards a consensus about how we manage differences about equality in multi-cultural Australia. Alas, it seems that vulgarity and violence are becoming regular headlines.
Below I list what I regard as the low-points in public conduct of both sides and then suggest a way forward if we are to redeem the same-sex marriage survey.
Top Five Worst Incidents by Yes Campaigners and Supporters
- Head butt of Tony Abbott. Whether the man who allegedly head butted Tony Abbott was motivated by the SSM postal vote is an open question, he claimed he wasn’t, even so, he was wearing a “Yes” sticker at the time and violently attacked a former prime minister.
- The protest featuring a banner saying “Burn Churches Not Queers” accompanied with the chant “Crucify Christians” at the Coalition for marriage Melbourne launch. Given the genocide of Christians in Iraq and the specific targeting of Christians in Egypt and Libya, actions such as this really are chilling.
- Video featuring a young man verbally abusing what appears to be a Middle Eastern couple with the words, “We let you into this country. How dare you vote no.” The racism of Yes campaigners towards foreigners with a conservative view of marriage has been confirmed by Liberty-Party Vice-President Karina Okotel, of Sri Lankan descent, who claimed: “I have even been told to go back to my own country, which is difficult given that I was born in Australia. However, the discrimination and hate I have faced just by querying whether we should be legalising same-sex marriage has been like nothing I have experienced before.”
- Journalist and comedian Ben Law’s tweet that he’d like to “hate-f…k” No-voting MPs. Law has refused to apologize and maintains that the term has nothing to do with sexual violence but is about consensual sex with someone you do not like. However, even the left-leaning Crikey.com concedes that Law’s comment was “a bit rapey.”
- For reasons that remain baffling, Channel Ten faked a gay hate poster. In an age when demagogues like Trump try to delegitimize the media as producers of “fake news” it does not help when supposedly credible news outlets actually produce fake news.
Top Five Worst Incidents by No Campaigners and Supporters
- The bashing of Kevin Rudd’s God-son for standing up for marriage equality. A 48 year old man with a history of public nuisance has been charged. Bashing teenagers for their views on marriage equality is never acceptable.
- A Neo-Nazi group called “Antipodean Resistance” erected posters associating same-sex marriage with paedophilia. It is hard to imagine a more despicable group with a more despicable message.
- The homophobic tweets and graffiti enfaced all over the internet and public property. Some people really feel the need to publish their prejudicial and homophobic thoughts and make them visible for everyone to see. Sadly, the only thing this convinces anyone about is their own depravity and intolerance.
- Houses decorated with rainbow flags and pro-SSM posters have been vandalized and occupants verbally abused. There have been multiple reports (see here) of people’s houses been attacked and defaced because of their support for SSM. It is dire when even the family home is not safe from attack by strangers because of one’s stance in a social issue.
- Tony Abbott’s claim that attacks on LGBTI people are long gone was grossly insensitive and above all demonstrably false. LGBTI people are still the subject of verbal attacks, physical violence, discrimination, and harassment. The postal survey has, as seen above, intensified some of the attacks on the LGBTI community.
Five things you can do to change the tone of public discourse
I’m not the only one opining the state of the SSM debate. Political commentator Graham Richardson and journalist Sherele Moody have expressed their disgust and frustration with how people and institutions have conducted themselves.
But what are we to do? Well, I have a few suggestions.
- Do not allow your grievances to justify violence.
Everybody thinks they are the good guy. Everyone thinks they are the light struggling against the forces of darkness. Everyone thinks they are the Harry Potter or Jedi knight of their own symbolic moral universe.
But know this. The worst violence in the world is not committed by men and women who believe that what they do is wicked, rather, it is done by those who believe that what they do is righteous.
If you find yourself thinking that I’m so right that I’m entitled to hit, hurt, or harm, then you are no longer fighting for the cause of anything, merely gratifying your own debased desire to inflict pain on another human being.
- Don’t justify your hatred by imputing hatred to the other side.
Don’t get sucked into thinking that the other side only believes and behaves the way it does because they are consumed with hatred. They hate gays and their families. Or, they hate Christians and their churches. Therefore, I’m justified in hating them back ten-fold.
When you know for certain that the other side is motivated exclusively by hate, it becomes a convenient fiction to justify your own hatred. But know this, hated is a deadly poison. It might feel good, give you purpose, make you strong, but it kills you like a cancer, and those around you. Hatred begets pain for everyone.
Maybe, just maybe, some people have reasons other than hatred for their views. Many in the Yes-camp see this issue as a struggle for equality and justice for LGBTI people. Many in the No-camp worry that the institution of marriage is being deconstructed and religious freedoms may be curtailed thereafter.
- Remember, the opposition is a spectrum.
If you read about some neo-Nazi putting up despicable posters about LGBTI people or an Antifa protestor calling for the crucifixion of Christians, remember, they are the extreme and the minority on that side. Sadly, as Stan Grant noted, the debate has been captured by fringe elements, we need to recognize that.
The vast majority of Yes-supporters are not masked Antifa protestors willing to throw Molotov cocktails at churches or mosques.
The vast majority of No-supporters are not Neo-Nazi’s who smile with joy when an LGBTI teenager is bullied to the point of tears.
If the extreme actions or vile words from someone on your side does not represent you, then it is probable that extreme actions or vile words from someone on the other side does not represent everyone on that side either.
- Try talking to someone on the other side without verbally abusing them.
There was a ridiculous public outcry over MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie discussion of their differences about same-sex marriage over a Coopers beer. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that this really was a good idea. We need examples of civil discourse because it is possible to have a serious difference of ideas without coming to blows and without resorting to verbal abuse.
Ultimately this debate is an exercise in managing diversity and how to reach consensus within a multi-cultural society. We need to educate ourselves on how to civilly disagree with others, if not, then the very idea of a multi-cultural Australia, the idea of pluralism, a fair go for everyone, will die.
Try speaking to a friend, a relative, or a neighbour who shares a different view to you, and learn from the experience.
- Reflect on some ancient and modern wisdom before you post, protest, yell, or tweet anything.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
– Jesus of Nazareth
“Let them forgive and overlook: do you not wish that God should forgive you? For God is oft-forgiving, most merciful.”
– Qu’ran 24.22
“Beware of your enemies; you will become like them.”
– Rene Girard
“He who fights with monsters should make sure that he himself does not become a monster. Because if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”