Australia's same-sex marriage plebiscite: oceans of assertion, and puddles of proof

A war of words in Australia over same-sex marriage could make President Trump’s threat to “rain down fire and fury” on North Korea look like playground bravado.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that there will be a postal plebiscite in November on same-sex marriage.

It’s the least worst option for Mr Turnbull’s conservative Government. Although personally in favour of same-sex marriage, he is committed to a national consultation.

Mail order democracy is an odd way of resolving the issue. The plebiscite will not be binding on Parliament; voting will not be compulsory (as elections are in Australia); and it will be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics rather than the Australian Electoral Commission.

The plan is certain to be challenged in the High Court, although government ministers are confident that it will survive.

This will probably be the only chance that Australian voters will have to express their opinion on the matter directly. Polls – most of which are at least two years old – suggest that about 70 percent of voters “support” same-sex marriage. Although much of that support is lukewarm, it looks like an uphill battle for supporters of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

The survey will be posted out on September 12 and must be returned by November 7. The result will be announced on November 15. Even before the High Court has ruled on the legality of a postal plebiscite, the campaign is already full of “fire and fury”.

Supporters of same-sex marriage are enraged – or claim to be – that a plebiscite is even taking place. A national debate, they say, will open the sluice-gates of vile, homophobic abuse and inundate Australia with hatred. A bit like a normal day in Parliament, but without the sergeant-at-arms to restrain the crazies.

Let’s examine their claims.

Penny Wong, the leader of the Opposition in the Senate, is in a lesbian relationship and has two children. In an emotional speech this week, she said that the campaign would expose her children to hatred.

"The Australian Christian Lobby described our children as the stolen generation. We love our children and I object, as do every person who cares about children, and as do all those couples in this country, same-sex couples who have kids, to be told our children are a stolen generation.” 

But being the mother of a “stolen” child is quite compatible with loving the child. No one can deny that Senator Wong and her partner are doting parents who want the very best for their bubs. Nonetheless they have deprived them of a loving stable relationship with a biological father.

Here’s what a Victorian man told the inquiry into the practice of separating Aboriginal children from their birth parents:

“I’ve got everything that could be reasonably expected: a good home environment, education, stuff like that, but that’s all material stuff. It’s all the non-material stuff that I didn’t have – the lineage. It’s like you’re the first human being at times. You know, you’ve just come out of nowhere; there you are. In terms of having a direction in life, how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from?”

Same-sex marriage campaigners need to prove to Australians that gays and lesbians will not relive the mistakes of white parents with good intentions.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby, who is probably Australia’s most famous gay man, says that the plebiscite treats him as a second-class citizen. Other dramatic changes in Australia’s social landscape had not been left to the vagaries of public opinion in an “improvised” ballot, he says. He plans to boycott the plebiscite.

"It wasn't done in the case the advancement of the legal rights, equal rights of the Aboriginal people, it wasn't done in respect of women's advancement of legal rights, nor in the demolition of 'White Australia'.”

But it was same-sex marriage supporters in Parliament who frustrated proposals for a constitutional referendum on marriage, similar to the one which gave equal rights to the Aboriginal people. A postal vote is imperfect but it is the last option for voters to express their views.

And Mr Kirby ought to know that some of these have been treated so shabbily that they too have a right to feel like second-class citizens. Take voters “served” by Tony Burke, the Member of Parliament for the Sydney electorate of Watson. Polls have shown that they are strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. But Mr Burke loftily announced in 2015 that: “The time has now come for the conversation in communities like mine to move to the fact that this change will occur.”

If you were a Muslim, as 20 percent of his electorate is, you might feel like a second-class citizen.

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten expressed the main fear of campaigners for “marriage equality”: an explosion of homophobia. “"I hold you responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash,” he warned the Prime Minister. [You] are " giving his blessing to billboards, websites, pamphlets, TV advertising and online material. It will vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children."

Pro-SSM campaigners contend that questioning the wisdom of homosexuality leads to serious mental health issues for gays and lesbians. But what proof is there other than tearful anecdotes? Where are the peer-reviewed studies?

In the United States, the leading researcher on LGBT health and stigamatization is Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, of Columbia University. In 2014 he found that stigma lopped 12 years off the lifespan of sexual minorities. His articles are cited widely by “marriage equality” advocates. But Hatzenbuehler’s statistical correlations are far from being the received wisdom in the field. A recent review of that paper dismissed its conclusions as “unfounded”.

In 2015 the Australian Psychological Society told a Senate inquiry about a possible plebiscite that it posed “significant risks to the psychological health and wellbeing” of homosexuals. But it cited only one local study, from 2012. This found that same-sex attracted people were more likely to feel negative, depressed, lonely, weak and powerless if they were exposed to criticisms of same-sex marriage. However, this was a so-called “convenience” study, in which the participants were recruited by psychologists from gay websites. Recruited from gay websites is objective? Pull the other one!

In short, the notion that the mental health of vulnerable homosexuals will be impaired as a result of a debate over the plebiscite is still at the Chicken Little stage. We have oceans of assertion, and puddles of proof.

As the debate over same-sex marriage heats up, Australians ought not to be distracted by hysterics over the injured feelings of adults. They are more than capable of defending themselves from insults.

Look at the children of these marriages. Bereft of their connection with either a mother or a father, they will be genetic orphans, robbed of their identity, the subjects of a colossal social science experiment. “How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from?” That is the tragedy of same-sex marriage.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.   


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