As the nation today marks the second anniversary of the vote to redefine marriage, we remain in the grip of an unresolved debate about freedom of speech, religion and parents’ rights to say no to gender-fluid indoctrination of their children at school.
It was on this day in 2017 that the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced the results of what was dubbed the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.
Around 80 per cent of Australians cast a yes or no vote at home before returning their ballot by reply-paid mail.
It was a win for change, 61.6 per cent “Yes” to 38.4 per cent “No”. But as Rita Panahi has pointed out, the no vote in percentage terms was higher than Labor’s at the past two federal elections.
The yes campaign had a devastatingly effective campaign slogan – “love is love”.
Who could argue with that?
The reality is that no one could and those of us running the no campaign didn’t even try.
Like most of our fellow Australians, we were not interested in who people loved. That was never the issue.
But we were interested in the freedoms of millions of Australians, religious and non-religious, who bore no animus to their gay friends but believed that marriage was a one-man-one-woman project orientated to the best interests of the next generation.
The freedom of speech muddle we are now in is best illustrated by Qantas and Rugby Australia making an example of Israel Folau and now Tennis Australia through its punishing of Margaret Court.
A clear message is being sent to less famous quiet Australians who also do not salute the rainbow flag. Stay quiet or else.
It’s worth revisiting some important facts that were lost in a debate that was cleverly framed around “love” and “equality”.
As far back as 2009, all legal discrimination against same-sex couples was removed from Commonwealth law so people were free to love and live with whomever they wanted.
There was no practical inequality.
However, changing the definition of marriage to create a perceived “equality” has actually created inequality for children and for millions of Australians who do not agree with the change.
This is because marriage has never been solely about love. It was an error to dumb down an important cultural institution to just one facet of its reason for being.
The only reason governments historically have taken an interest in marriage is because it is essential to the best interests of children, something the overwhelming majority of marriages are of course orientated towards.
The change means Australians are now sadly divided between those who no longer believe that children, wherever possible, have the right to the love of their own biological parents, and those who believe that the natural family is the essential building block of a flourishing society.
As I and others stressed during the long-running marriage debate, none of this is to suggest that two men or two women cannot be good parents. Of course they can.
But it has now become an act of bigotry to argue for the rights of children, wherever possible, to be raised by the complementary love that only comes from a mother and a father.
It is now “hate speech” in the eyes of the victors to question the wisdom of creating families which sever children from a biological parent, not because of tragedy or desertion, but to meet the desires of adults.
And while same-sex family formation had begun prior to the redefinition of marriage, it is now lapidary in culture because marriage has always been recognised as a compound right to found and form a family.
This brings us back to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
It is one thing for the law to change to allow same-sex marriage and the use of assisted reproductive technology to create motherless or fatherless families — what are now called “rainbow families”. It is quite another to now demand through the force of anti-discrimination law that everyone else celebrates this and ceases and desists advocacy for the natural family.
Religious communities, with malice towards no-one, wish to continue to promote the time-honoured definition of marriage and its vision for families with mothers and fathers.
Parents who send their children to Christian and Muslim schools wish to retain the freedom to do so, knowing the school upholds and promotes their values.
This parental freedom is expressed through schools having unfettered freedom to teach their children this vision of marriage and family and to require all staff within the school community to support this vision in word and deed.
This freedom exercised within civil society institutions like schools was once called freedom of association.
But it took less than 12 months from the marriage vote for Labor and the Greens to launch an all-out assault on school freedom through a bill in the Senate to strip religious schools of the right to hire staff who share the parents’ ethos.
With the help of the Centre Alliance and to the visceral outrage of Labor’s Penny Wong, the Morrison Government was able to kick the can down the road to the Australian Law Reform Commission which is due to report next year.
The yes campaign said there would be “no consequences”.
But the religious school sector is now in a position of uncertainty it should never have been in.
One school, Ballarat Christian College, is being sued by a teacher who wants to bend the school to her vision of marriage, now that she has the force of law behind her.
The Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill, designed to mop up after the marriage plebiscite, looks like pleasing no-one.
Like 18C of the flawed federal Racial Discrimination Act, it contains subjective words such as “vilify” that allow offended rainbow activists the legal tools they need to continue to harass through litigation anyone who does not genuflect to their worldview.
Finally, parents in non-religious state schools are also hit by the degendering of marriage.
It is now compulsory in several states, Queensland being the latest, for children to be taught that their gender is fluid at school with or without parental permission.
When asked about this by the media, Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace cited the “marriage equality” vote, even though the Yes campaign vehemently denied gender-fluid programs like “Safe Schools” were linked.
With “Safe Schools” re-badged in some states as “Respectful Relationships”, children are asked: “People are born either male or female, and that’s who they should stay. Myth or fact?”
There is of course only one right answer and the kids are taught only a bigot would suggest otherwise.
For a social change that was supposed to be about “love” and “equality”, Australia is on a slow burn towards hatred and inequality metered out by our new cultural overlords to the millions of Australians who continue to resist.
Thinking “love is love”, most yes voters did not vote for that.
Lyle Shelton is the former Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby and was spokesperson for the Coalition for Marriage, the official No Campaign during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.
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