Culture

The Great Big Lie At The Heart Of The “No” Campaign

Saying "No" to logic.

The days of pretending that the marriage equality debate is still about marriage are long gone. The leading voice of the No campaign, Lyle Shelton, admitted as much at the beginning of the campaign.

The No side’s ads give only a cursory mention to marriage, before listing a number of other issues the debate is supposedly about. These arguments fall into a few categories:

The Helen Lovejoy

Won’t somebody please think of the children? This argument suggests that kids do better with a mum and a dad. It’s easily debunked because A) gay couples are already raising kids, and will continue to do so, and B) there’s plenty of evidence that kids raised by same-sex parents are doing just fine.

Helen Lovejoy

The Insidious Safe Schools Monster

Safe Schools is the controversial anti-bullying program that was quietly running for years before the Australian Christian Lobby discovered it and decided it was a danger to society. The No campaign would have you believe that Safe Schools is a form of radical sex education that will lead to a world in which gender no longer exists. What the program actually does is provide support for some of the most vulnerable children in society. Safe Schools is a good program, and it’s worthy of defending, but it’s not linked to the Marriage Act in any way. To suggest that a vote for marriage equality is somehow a vote for the national rollout of Safe Schools is, frankly, bullshit.

FREEEEDDDDOOOOOMMMMMMM

But the biggest argument being run by the No campaign is all about “religious freedom” 

FREEDOM

You can have marriage equality, or you can have religious freedom, but you can’t have both. Or so the theory goes. This is the big argument the No campaign has been running in the last few weeks. They argue that by allowing loving same-sex couples to marry, it will deny religious people the right to keep pretending that gay people don’t exist.

It’s a worrying argument with huge potential consequences. If carried out to its logical conclusion it would mean anyone could claim the right to discriminate against anyone else on the basis of their genuinely held religious beliefs.

The conservative patronus John Howard has picked up this argument and run with it, chastising the government for not releasing the legislation it plans to enact in the event of a successful Yes vote. This argument has been echoed by the likes of Tony Abbott, which is especially hypocritical when you remember that Abbott invented the idea of a plebiscite on marriage equality, and never suggested that it would come with a bill to change the Marriage Act directly attached. Some campaigners wanted attach a bill directly to the plebiscite to ensure that the will of the people couldn’t be ignored after the vote, but conservatives argued against it. Now they’re arguing for the opposite. These guys set the terms of the debate, then argue against a policy of their own making.

This argument is also nonsense. We have a pretty good idea of what the legislation will look like, because we’ve seen Liberal MP Dean Smith’s bill, which includes protections for religious bodies but not for general service providers who happen to be religious. The Attorney General has pointed to Smith’s bill as a guide to what any future legislation might look like. It’s based on extensive consultation by a cross-party senate committee. The No side claims it wasn’t consulted, but that’s not true. They just didn’t get their way because the “religious freedom” provisions they wanted extend far beyond what the current law allows.

Whenever he’s asked about marriage equality Lyle Shelton pivots to “religious freedom”, because all of his other nonsense arguments have been proven false. This is all he has left. Shelton says that if only we’d listen to his concerns about religious freedom, we’d see this whole “equality” thing for the sham that it is.

But Here’s The Thing

There is no form of marriage equality that Lyle Shelton, Tony Abbott or John Howard will ever accept.

Even if supporters of marriage equality bent over backwards to create legislation to please them, they’d still vote No. Even if we scrapped all anti-discrimination laws and began a Hunger Games-style system in which we could discriminate against anyone for any reason, and only the strong survived, they’d still vote No — and they’d tell their loyal followers to do so as well.

Today, Shelton was asked to outline exactly what religious protections he’d like to see in any change to the Marriage Act, but he refused to do so. He argued that it’s up to the Yes campaign to provide religious protections, but they’ve already done that.

Shelton knows that he can’t outline the religious protections he’d like to see, because to do so would imply that there is some form of same-sex marriage out there that he would be willing to support. There isn’t. Shelton’s opposition to same-sex marriage runs much deeper than mere “religious freedom” implications.

His argument is a fig leaf; it’s straight out of the anti-equality playbook. By spending all of their time talking about religious freedom and freedom of speech, the No campaign is attempting to drag the terms of the debate away from what the postal survey is actually about: marriage and equality.

Don’t let them fool you.

Rob Stott is Junkee’s Managing Editor. He tweets at @Rob_Stott.