Earlier this month an event organised at a Sydney hotel by a large group of faith community leaders to discuss the proposed plebiscite on same sex marriage was cancelled due to death threats from advocates of same sex marriage. Specifically, staff at the hotel were threatened and as a result the hotel cancelled the booking and suggested organisers find an alternative location. The meeting, which also had representation from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia was rescheduled and took place at an alternative venue.
Few days ago, a printing company refused to print a book on the grounds of its ‘inappropriate’ content, which offered arguments against same sex marriage.
These incidents and many like it expose a worrying trend and should alarm all of us, both advocates of same sex marriage and those opposing it. Why? Because they are an affront to democracy and its values.
Threats of violence have no place in any debate and as for the self-appointed censor printer, there is something almost sacrilegious about tampering with the fate of a book, perhaps because it conjures up the dark chapters of history, when the German Student Union in the 1930s burned books in Nazi Germany because they ‘disagreed’ with them and saw them as subverting their own ideology.
We would hope that the LGBTQ community would also find these tactics unacceptable as they are expressions of extremism. Extremism on any side is both unhelpful and dangerous. Besides members of the LGBTQ community should know better than to use threats of violence, intimidation and censorship tactics, as they were once victims of the same and still are in many countries.
These tactics have no place in a secular progressive democracy where freedom of speech, diversity of race, religion and gender is supported and protected under the law. With the exception of calls to violence, everybody has the right to voice their opinions. If you support religious diversity, logically speaking you must support the right of religious groups to express and defend their views.
We respect the right of faith groups to advocate for a plebiscite, but we find it an expensive and unnecessary exercise. Expensive, because according to estimates by Price Waterhouse Coopers it will cost more than $525 million, money that could be put to better use. Unnecessary, because according to most polls, more than 60% of Australians support same sex marriage, not to mention our parliamentarians already represent our voices and were elected to make those big decisions on our behalf.
In secular societies like our own, there is a separation of Church and State, an acknowledgement of the former’s influence but also of its right to exist with its own ‘constitution’.
It is astonishing then that people should be surprised that the Church should wish to defend its constitution i.e. dogma, given that both the concept and definition of marriage are intricately tied to religion in nearly all cultures across the world for centuries. It is logical and intellectually consistent for the Church and any similar institution to resist change, for survival instincts to kick in, and for it to feel the need to defend its belief system shared by its millions of adherents.
Equally, the LGBTQ community has the right to argue its case, defend its own dogma and put forward its case to society in a non-aggressive way, without patronising and bullying tactics as those reported in the media.
To expect the Church to roll over and not to debate the issue is at best naïve, and at worst, arrogant.
Minorities always have to fight harder for their stake in society, that’s reality and so say mathematics: It’s a numbers game. Everyone should be expected to fight for their belief, but always within the parameters set out by our democracy.
The LGBTQ community needs to makes its case without alienating those who don’t share their views and without disrespecting people’s religious beliefs.
It should fight for its beliefs with respect for its opponents and not be so stunned that people still hold traditional views on marriage. Society has done so for millennia. The majority of us including members of the LGBTQ community are the offspring of centuries of heterosexual marriages. Change takes time, patience and understanding. Supporters of same sex marriage need to win the hearts and minds of society through civilised debate, facts, figures and love. Even if in the end, all parties agree to disagree. That’s the quality of democracy we should strive for.
Finally, noting developments around the rest of the world it appears that same sex marriage will become a reality in Australia. So in the meantime, during our national conversation on same sex marriage, it is best all sides use only the tools our democracy affords them and not those borrowed from theocracies and totalitarian regimes.