The media in Australia is obsessed with same-sex marriage. It is far from clear, however, that this is a priority for many Australians living in the suburbs and regional centres – far away from the inner city where journalists tend to be domiciled.
Take Channel Ten’s Meet the Press last Sunday, for example. Queensland mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer, who has stated an intention to form a revised United Australia Party, was a guest.
Palmer agreed to take questions from the panel. First up was presenter Kathryn Robinson who commented: “Mr Palmer, we’d like to get an idea of what policies your party will stand for … Gay marriage, where would your party stand on that?” Palmer dodged the question, declaring that “all social issues are going to be issues of conscience”. It is doubtful that many Channel Ten viewers would regard same-sex marriage as a priority issue.
At the ABC, presenters and reporters tend to embrace same-sex marriage with much the same conviction as Southern Baptists in the United States believe in the Second Coming. It’s a matter of faith. Commentator Greg O’Mahoney said on Sky News recently that there was no “coherent convincing counterargument” to same-sex marriage. Those who hold a different view are incoherent, apparently.
Amanda Vanstone, the ABC’s token conservative presenter who presides over the tellingly named Counterpoint program, seems to be in the same-sex marriage cart. The former Howard government minister is on record as criticising Tony Abbott’s refusal to give Liberal MPs a conscience vote in the lead-up to the 2013 election.
Journalist Steve Dow, whose book Gay: The Tenth Anniversary Collection has recently been released, appeared on ABC News 24’s The Drum on April 19. It was one of the many debates on the ABC where everyone agrees with everyone else.
During the discussion, Dow acknowledged that the gay movement’s support for same-sex marriage has been a recent development. He added that gays have “gone from quite a radical critique of the whole institution of marriage” to support for same-sex marriage in just 10 years.
And herein lies the problem. Australia is a socially conservative nation. In 2002 the radical Australian-born gay activist Peter Tatchell opposed the very concept of “the nuclear family”, depicting it as a bourgeois institution. Yet earlier this year he condemned Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for not supporting same-sex marriage.
It’s one thing for Tatchell and many of his fellow activists to change their position. It’s quite another for them to expect that the rest of society should immediately alter their views, or simply accept that same-sex marriage will be imposed by legislation.
A decade ago, certain words had clear meanings. A marriage was a union between a man and a woman. A married man had a wife. And a married woman had a husband. Moreover, children had certain expectations, whether or not their parents were married. A child had a father who was male and a mother who was female.
Not any more. On RN Breakfast earlier this month, former US Democratic Party politician Barney Frank told Fran Kelly about the views of his “husband”. Then there is the matter of children.
According to reports, Elton John’s partner, David Furnish, is cited as the mother on the birth certificate of their second child. This is a frequent demand by sections of the gay community. If it prevails, it is likely that in a decade or more the same problem will arise, as with adopted children in the past. Namely, there will be a yearning by teenagers and adults alike to know who both their biological parents are.
Same-sex marriage advocates see themselves railing against the old-fashioned views of some Christians, including many Catholics. This overlooks the fact that there is considerable opposition to same-sex marriage in the Muslim and Hindu communities as well as among socially conservative non-believers.
When the Marriage Amendment Bill was debated in the House of Representatives last year, it was opposed by three prominent Labor MPs from Western Sydney – Chris Bowen (an atheist), Tony Burke (a Catholic) and Ed Husic (a Muslim).
In the current issue of The Spectator, John Laughland documents the growing opposition to same-sex marriage in France, particularly in provincial areas. If significant social change is to be imposed on Australians at relatively short notice, it would make sense to test community attitudes. After all, in 1977 a plebiscite was conducted on what should be Australia’s national song. Many Australians regard the concept of traditional marriage as important as the words of the national anthem.
Last week’s column should have referred to Simon (not Stephen) Breheny. Apologies.