AMONG its “reasons why marriage equality matters”, the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group lists “growing support in Australia and around the world” – an argument that implies public opinion deserves to be respected. But, unfortunately, the group showed scant respect for the democratic process when it slammed Immigration Minister Chris Bowen for declaring he would vote against same-sex marriage.
Mr Bowen, quite reasonably, is basing his decision on the fact that the Labor Party went to the 2010 election with a policy of retaining the status quo. He believes that his vote should reflect the “overwhelming and strong community view” of his western Sydney electorate of McMahon, in which many people have told him of “the great importance they place on the traditional definition of marriage”.
MPs are elected to represent their electorates, which is why Australian Marriage Equality convenor Alex Greenwich is wrong in accusing Mr Bowen and others such as Parramatta MP Julie Owens of a “cop out” and “hiding behind their electorates” in opposing same-sex marriage. Ms Owens has no problems personally with the concept of same-sex marriage but, to her credit, will be guided by her constituents in voting on the issue. Surveys show that most voters in western Sydney electorates, especially those with high concentrations of Christian and Muslim migrants, favour retaining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Such opinions are as valid as those of people who believe the Marriage Act should be changed.
If enough MPs voted to change the act on the basis of Mr Greenwich’s advice “to stand up for their convictions”, the outcome would be social disharmony and a sense of alienation from the democratic process in areas where people’s views were discounted by those supposedly representing them. Mr Greenwich is entitled to advocate strongly for his cause. So are those with the opposite view. Demanding that MPs override their constituents to support a position that the marriage equality lobby regards as superior smacks of arrogance and an elitist mindset out of step with our robust democracy.
The Australian has not taken a view on this divisive issue. But we strongly believe that the debate should be conducted fairly, with opposing views given equal respect.
And that’s what’s increasingly lacking, equal respect for legitimate points of view. Instead the “gay marriage” lobby increasingly are seeking to demonise their opponents while at the same time arguing for people to be respected. Go figure.
And, of course, that means those on the conservative side in this debate ought to also consider the language that they use. Play the ball, not the man. If the “gay marriage” lobby consistently refuse to engage with the detailed argument (as they clearly do) that doesn’t mean we slack off in being careful in how we communicate.