I have thought very carefully before posting a response to Ian's comments on the article published in the Guardian by Christine Milne, former leader of the Australian Greens.
Despite the fact that I am a friend of Ian, and greatly appreciate his many interesting and erudite articles on this forum, it is possible that he and I may beg to differ on the issue of what many people call "marriage equality" but which I prefer to call "same-sex marriage" - for want of something more appropriate.
I realise this topic arouses much debate; sadly, much of it heated and irrational. It is very much in the news in Australia at present, as the Government ponders how it will handle its proposed plebiscite.
Note: in Australia, at least, there is a difference between a referendum and a plebiscite. A referendum is a vote used to approve a change to the Constitution. A plebiscite is used to decide a national question which does NOT affect the Constitution. Unlike a referendum, a decision reached in a plebiscite does not have any legal force.
The Australian Opposition is very much against a plebiscite; rather, it wants a simple vote in Parliament, where members vote according to their conscience, that is, not necessarily along party lines.
With the Government's very slim majority in the House of Representatives, and a plethora of minor parties in the Senate, it is still unknown whether a Bill authorising the plebiscite will be passed.
The loudest voices in the media - ad infinitum, ad nauseum - would have everyone believe that (a) if a parliamentary vote took place or (b) a plebiscite were held, the result in either case would be in favour of same-sex marriage - and that, furthermore, it must and will be introduced. These voices also loudly proclaim that anyone opposing same-sex marriage is by necessity a homophobe (whatever that is) and a hater. They insist that actually asking the Australian population what they think is not just unnecessary but will also unleash a major vitriolic attack against those who perhaps could be termed non-heterosexuals.
For a start, I struggle with the terminology. Certain words in the English language have been appropriated by lobby groups for their own use, such as "gay", which I was always taught simply means happy, and "rainbow", which I always gaze upon with wonder in the sky after it rains.
But the term which irritates me the most is "marriage equality". My interpretation of that is the equal status of the man and the woman in a marriage. By definition, to me, marriage is of necessity between a man and a woman. End of story. However, the advocates for same-sex marriage have very skilfully adopted the phrase "marriage equality" to mean that a "marriage" between a man and woman OR between a couple of the same sex has equal status.
Still on terminology, what is a "homophobe"? It seems to be a relatively recent term, and is supposed to mean someone who hates homosexuals. What upsets me more than anything is that anyone who dares to oppose same-sex marriage is accused by many of being a "homophobe". This is both preposterous and offensive, but it is a very effective means of silencing people who have genuine concerns about same-sex marriage, thus allowing the argument in favour to proceed almost unopposed, apart from a few brave churchmen.
I am reminded of the unfortunate comments of a candidate for my local constituency at the 2013 Federal Election. I cannot recall her exact words but she was opposed to homosexuals teaching in schools and implied that they were paedophiles as well. Naturally there was a furore, she was taken to court and the local media had a field day. She was disendorsed by her party but still stood for election anyway, and only secured a handful of votes.
What she said was, of course, outrageous. Equally outrageous, in my view, is to call an advocate for maintaining the marriage status quo a homophobe.
Christine Milne is being rather disingenuous in lumping in John Howard and the Exclusive Brethren as natural opponents, not only of same-sex marriage, but also "gay rights". It is not as simple as that. I and many other ex-EB were very grateful for the support of former Greens leader Bob Brown and his deputy Christine Milne following the misguided EB political campaign around ten years ago. We were disgusted with John Howard's support of the EB. Also, we are all very much aware of the long-standing extreme opposition to homosexuality by the EB and the effects of that on individuals.
Naturally, growing up in the EB, I was taught that homosexuality was a sin, indeed abhorrent. You only have to read the Bible to see that. However, over time, I have become much more tolerant and less judgmental on many issues. Homosexuals are as much entitled to basic human rights as anyone else, and the laws criminalising homosexuality have long since been repealed. I recognise that the world has moved on.
And yet....it is not so long ago that same-sex couples in general eschewed the concept of marriage. They, like the heterosexual community, saw marriage as between a man and a woman, and were content with an alternative arrangement. But now, apparently, everything has changed. Suddenly, marriage, as such, has to apply to same-sex couples as well.
I have no problem with same-sex couples entering into a life-long committed relationship, by means of a legally recognised agreement. But I remain opposed to calling that a marriage, or, as referred to in the Church of England and elsewhere, "holy matrimony". Yes, I noted the quote from Martin Luther King, regarding conscience asking the question, is it right? A very good question: my conscience tells me same-sex marriage is not right. But I accept that not all consciences would agree with mine.
Above all, I reject being accused as a "homophobe", and I strongly advocate a reasoned and respectful debate. Both sides of the argument should feel confident of expressing their views publicly, without rancour or abuse.
In the end, I guess we will have to live with whatever decision is made as part of the democratic process. But it will be interesting to see how the "silent majority" votes if they have the opportunity.
Meanwhile, if I find myself on the same side of THIS argument as John Howard and the Exclusive Brethren, then so be it.