Spectator Australia contributor Anne Gallagher is currently overseas and received this letter from her 17-year old daughter. It is reproduced with her kind permission: unedited and in full
I remember that weeks ago we had a very passionate discussion about the new poll on legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. I realise that I expressed very strong views on the subject. In fact, I went as far as behaving in the ways which I am preparing to denounce later in this message. I still stand by some of the beliefs I shared, one being that wherever there is a need for it, justice and equality should be strived for. That even though there is a more severe case of injustice elsewhere, every dark corner can be made light. But a recent news program has opened my eyes and I cannot stand by everything I said.
There was a section on the news tonight talking about the poll and the negative effects the poll itself is having on Australian society. I watched it with an unreal feeling of déjà vu. I believe you must have learned how to shapeshift, for I heard your views (concerning bullying, misdirection, and relative unimportance) falling from the mouth of broadcaster Tom Switzer, from a Sri-Lankan Liberal Party Vice-President and from a gay couple who are not advocating for gay marriage and will not get married if it passes, because they don’t ‘need marriage to show they love each other’.
There was a point they all had in common. They all believe that the real problem is the bullying going on because of this poll, the instant labelling of anyone who doesn’t fall into line as a ‘homophobe’. Karina Okotel, the politician, says the ‘disturbing’ bigotry she has faced for being against same-sex marriage is worse than any racist labels she endured because of her Sri Lankan background. She believes this bullying is coming from parts of the ‘yes’ party.
Mark and Ben, the gay couple who don’t want to get married, are worried about where this will end. ‘If we make one exception for one community, that being the same-sex couples, where does it stop?’ Mark said. ‘Do we then see other cultures being allowed to have multiple marriages? Do we see the age of consent being lowered for another group of minorities? That is my concern, of where it would lead.’
Mark believes there are many people who will vote no but are too scared to express their opinions publicly. ‘This could be the Brexit or Trump moment for Australia, where the polls are saying one thing but you go to the ballot box and people are clearly in another mind, going to vote another way,’ he said.
Karina Okotel claims that people with opposing views to legalising gay marriage are being ‘shamed into silence’ and I can only agree. She believes it is important to consider the ramifications on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. She says that many people are keeping quiet because they are ‘scared of the backlash. Scared that their views will be taken out of context or that they will be called hate-filled, homophobic and bigoted and that’s something nobody wants to be called’.
Tom Switzer believes that ‘several serious subjects can no longer be debated openly now without eliciting a hostile, even hysterical response and unfortunately same sex marriage is one of those issues’. He says that though he now supports same-sex marriage, if the ‘zealots in the debate continue to use this issue to create a stifling orthodoxy that tolerates no dissent and demonises good and decent people who are opposed to same-sex marriage, I, like many other people, will switch my vote’.
Tiernan Brady, an Equality Campaign Director, is urging both sides – for and against – to take the time to engage in respectful, open-minded conversation, well aware of the fact that there is probably ‘no other group that understands what it feels like to be bullied more than the LGBTQ community’.
It is an unfortunate truth that it took this news program for the veil to be lifted from my eyes. The poll has become a platform for bullying, bigotry and hate-filled speeches, instantaneous labeling, all culminating in the Yes side trying to squash any form of debate or dissent. Tom Switzer, Karina Okotel, Mark and Ben, and Tiernan Brady all made the same point: that the intolerant, close-minded attitudes held by too many Australians are harming our society: making us weaker and less tolerant.
You made every single one of the points that they did. I didn’t listen at the time, because I refused to believe that aiming for equality could ever be anything but positive. But there is a right way to push for equality and if it comes at the price of restricting freedom of speech or shutting down debate, tolerating no opposition, then perhaps the value of the outcome should be rethought.
Albert Einstein said ‘Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding’. I believe that applies to the debate surrounding this poll. I am not going to be distracted from the intolerable behaviour from those throwing themselves into this debate, nor allow anyone to call someone else homophobic just to silence them. Australia needs to do better and I fully admit that my opinions have changed.
There is a song by Tim McGraw with a lyric, ‘always stay humble and kind’. It makes me think of you and a quote from Cinderella, ‘have courage and be kind’. In relation to this and everything I do, I will listen to it faithfully.
With love and gratitude,
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