There are some public policy issues which, as well as being important, can give rise to ‘intellectual stimulation’. By that I mean something that provokes informed debate, with multiple views, genuine disagreement about the best solution, sometimes even substantive and substantial arguments about the definition of the ‘problem’ itself.
Sadly, marriage equality is not one of these issues. Instead of being an exchange of ideas, for the most part the pro- and anti-marriage equality ‘debate’ is not really a debate at all. And it can’t be. Because it is impossible to have a debate when one side turns up without any arguments whatsoever on their side.
If the past twelve years have taught us anything, it is that anti-marriage equality campaigners are the intellectual Lilliputians of Australian public life. Sure they might have company out there on their ‘island of ignorance’ (hello anti-vaxers!), but it is difficult to think of many other public discussions in recent memory when so much has been said by people who had so little of substance to say.
It has become common to say that the argument for marriage equality has been run and won. And that’s true – except ‘won’ is an understatement. The defeat of anti-marriage equality campaigners, on the intellectual playing field at least, resembles nothing more than the 7:1 drubbing handed out by Germany to Brazil in the 2014 men’s football World Cup.
It is such a one-sided affair that, at times, you almost feel tempted to invoke the ‘mercy rule’ (which the opponents of marriage equality would probably reject anyway because it has too much in common philosophically with euthanasia).
In practice, the vacuity of anti-marriage equality campaigners, like Jim Wallace, or Lyle Shelton, or Cory Bernardi (and countless others), hasn’t stopped them from spouting the same nonsense time and time again over the past decade. It doesn’t matter that what they say on this subject has no credibility, they’ll keep saying it regardless.
And that’s the frustrating thing – approaching twelve years since the original ban on same-sex marriage was introduced, and with the possibility of more before equality is finally legislated, it remains our responsibility to have the same public ‘debate’ with these people. To calmly refute the ridiculous claims that marriage equality will harm children, or impact on religious freedom, or that just because marriage has ‘traditionally’ been man-woman that it automatically must remain so in future.
And when I say ‘our’ responsibility, we should acknowledge that this burden has fallen particularly heavily on the shoulders of people like Australian Marriage Equality’s Alex Greenwich, and later Rodney Croome, and the Penny Wongs and Bob Browns of the political world, who have had to sit on countless panels and engage in countless debates with the Jim Wallaces and Lyle Sheltons of the Australian Christian Lobby, while suppressing the natural urge to react emotionally against the ignorance of what is being said. Hats off to them for doing what many of us might struggle to do.
Of course, this isn’t to say there is no intellectual stimulation in the issue of marriage equality per se. There certainly have been, and continue to be, interesting intellectual debates on this subject. It just happens that they are all held between people who already assume that everyone should be equal, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
The debate about whether people should be aiming to make marriage inclusive or abolish it altogether, about whether there was strategic value in pursuing state-based same-sex marriage laws or not (or whether to support the Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014 or not), about where marriage equality sits on the overall list of priorities for the LGBTI community – all provide more intellectual succour than discussing the issue of marriage equality with a campaigner who seriously believes that marriage, under secular law, should be restricted to cisgender heterosexual couples.
It’s just a shame that we have been consigned to having to continue having this lop-sided non-debate. I for one can’t wait to discuss something a little bit more stimulating – and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
One final thing – you will hopefully notice that I have been careful to restrict these comments to anti-marriage equality campaigners, rather than all people who do not (or not yet anyway) support marriage equality. I am certainly not accusing all people who hold that view of being ‘ignorant’.
However, I am most definitely saying that, if you have carefully considered the question of marriage equality, and come to the conclusion that the only acceptable form of marriage is one man and one woman, and that you will campaign for that publicly, despite having no arguments on your side that withstand any kind of scrutiny, and against the equality and human rights of your fellow citizens, well, then there’s not much that you could say that is in any way worth listening to.