The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Don’t call me bigot

There are some things that people don’t being called. Like arsehole, for example. Or bitch. Or Quincy. Most of us are fairly immune to such taunts, however, because of a quiet confidence in our true nature. “That’s OK,” we tell ourselves, “I know I’m not an arsehole, or a bitch. And I definitely possess no quince-like qualities.” There is one label, however, that is almost guaranteed to result in an outpouring of outraged indignation.

No one likes being called a bigot.

And, my, have lots of people been called bigots lately. Same-sex marriage opponents have been called bigots. Same-sex marriage supporters have been called bigots, too. Not even Mr James Bigot of Wetherill Park has been safe, despite assuring everyone that the ‘t’ is silent. But it all became a bit much for some people when our Finance Minister, who is raising a child in a committed lesbian relationship, said that the Australian Christian Lobby, and, by implication, all Christians who shared their view, were “peddling prejudice” and engaging in “bigotry that has no place in a modern Australia”.

Needless to say, a lot of people were a little unhappy. The ACL itself said that “the bigotry card…played by none other than the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Senator Penny Wong [made] no attempt to engage with our argument. Why bother when a slur of Christians will do?” Reverend David Swan shared a similar sentiment, saying that “if Senator Wong could take a moment to engage with the argument that has been proposed rather than simply accuse people of bigotry…then perhaps a better discussion might ensue”. And Gary Bigelow, who I’m told is most definitely not related to Deuce, felt that calling someone a bigot was “divisive and inflammatory…and unworthy of a politician in this country”. Because as we all know, Australian politicians are never divisive or inflammatory, are they? *cough*

So… are any of these criticisms justified?

To answer that question, it might be helpful to revisit what a bigot actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, a bigot is “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”. I prefer, however, the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said that “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract”.

It all comes down to open-mindedness, or, more specifically, a willingness to consider that you might be wrong. If you’re the kind of person who considers the evidence first and forms an opinion second, or if you adjust your view in light of new evidence, then you’re probably in the clear. But if you decide before you think, or you cling doggedly to your opinion as evidence to the contrary piles up around you, then, I’m sorry, but there’s a very good chance that you’re a bigot. And if your opinion is a basis for discrimination against a particular race, gender or sexuality, that “good chance” becomes a certainty.

So I guess the three people above just need to ask themselves two questions.

1
The first question is a simple one: “Does my view form the basis of discriminatory action against a race, gender or sexuality?”

Why yes, yes it does.

2
The second question is slightly harder. “Can I conceive of any evidence that could change my mind?”

Note that this isn’t asking if such evidence exists, but merely if such evidence is possible. Is it possible that same-sex marriage will not automatically lead to plagues of bestiality and incest? Is it possible it will actually increase societal cohesion, and not lead to complete moral decay? Is it conceivable that a study might show that same-sex families are as happy or happier than their heterosexual equivalents?

Sadly, the answer for many of the opponents of marriage equality seems to be “no”. But, strangely, such people are actually less infuriating than the people who answer “yes”. For, while these people will trumpet any evidence that happens to confirm their particular preconception, they will summarily dismiss any evidence that contradicts it. Say hello, Lyle Shelton.

And they do this because they have to. You see, for someone like Lyle, all these many questions are different versions of just one.

When it comes to homosexuality and marriage, could god be wrong?

And I think we all know how Lyle would answer that one.
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So, are you one of these people? Are you willing to consider that you, or your god, could be wrong on marriage equality? No? Then you’re a bigot.

And just like anyone called an arsehole, or a bitch, or Quincy, all you need to do now is decide if you care.

Are you qualified?

There has been a lot of talk about referendums1 lately. There is, of course, the local government referendum that has been the talk of dinner parties from Waitara to Wahroonga and everywhere in between. But all talk of that tremendously important and widely-publicised issue ceased when independent MP Tony Windsor called for a referendum on marriage equality. Christian and Muslim groups soon followed suit. Selfish bastards. I wanted to talk about local government.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Here are all the things I know about local government in general, and the related referendum in particular:

  1. I have a local government.
  2. They make me put my bins out on Wednesday night. In my undies, too, because I never seem to remember until after I’m in bed.
  3. There may or may not be a referendum on local government on September 14.

Aaaaand I’m out. I don’t sound very qualified to vote in a referendum on local government, do I? Perhaps I should:

  1. Shelve my hatred of local government (a fairly big ask, given that they force me to drag bins around in my undies);
  2. Go and find out what the actual question is, and what the consequences of a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote might be;
  3. Reach a decision based on facts, reason, and the best interests of the people who will be directly affected.

Sounds like a plan.

Actually, now that I think about it, there are a few people who probably aren’t qualified to vote in that other referendum, either. People like Fred Nile, for example. The only thing is he probably doesn’t realise it. So, Fred, if you’re listening, I’ve prepared this helpful guide to help you decide if you should bother voting should the referendum go ahead.

Referendum Eligibility (534x940)

See you on September 14, Fred. Or not.

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Footnotes

  1. Or referenda. Whatever.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re a woman in one of the red boxes, you can marry a man in one of the blue boxes (if joined by a line). But something’s not quite right.

What's wrong with this picture

I know, I know. It seems odd that a Croc-wearing Neo-Nazi can marry a convicted paedophile, right?

Anti-equality argument 6 – But… they can get married if they want to!

I must admit, I nearly choked on my Weet Bix when I first heard this argument. Which was actually quite dangerous, because it was at that stage when the milk hadn’t soaked all the way through, so the Weet Bix were still pretty crunchy, and represented a genuine choking hazard. Much like the argument itself.

How’s that for a segue.

The argument in a nutshell
Firstly, no, it’s not a joke. There are quite a lot of people out there who think this is a sensible argument against marriage equality. Because, you see, same-sex people already have equality. A gay man can marry a woman, just like a straight man can. And a gay woman can marry a man, just like a straight woman can. And an intersex person can… oh sorry, I forgot, they don’t exist.

See? Equality! Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!

What they’re really trying to say
I love it when my prejudice finds a loophole.

The smackdown
One thing that same-sex marriage opponents are constantly telling us is how important marriage is. It has, we’re told, been the bedrock of happy, prosperous societies for thousands of years. It’s an institution so sacred, so profound, and so absolutely critical for the propagation of mankind, that allowing same-sex marriage would be jeopardising our very future as a species. For this reason, marriage must be allowed only for heterosexual couples who love each other beyond measure and want to raise a family.

Oh, and anyone who finds their partner physically repulsive.

OK I’m exaggerating a little, but let’s just think about that for a moment. The people championing the sanctity of marriage think that a loving, monogamous, same-sex couple will besmirch their sacred institution more than two people who have absolutely no interest in each other physically and will probably cheat on each other during the bridal waltz. That would, admittedly, make for some pretty funny wedding photos, but it renders their argument kind of useless.

This argument is nothing more than a cheap and very poorly disguised attempt to justify the same bigotry behind all the other anti-equality arguments. But this time, their idiocy has ended in self-immolation. For if what they’re saying is valid, marriage isn’t sacred, it’s a joke.

And not a very funny one, at that.

You’re playing with yourself, Andrew

You know when your dog runs off with one of your socks, and you chase her around the backyard for ten minutes trying to get it back, and you end up stepping in some of her poop, and when you finally catch her, she’s surprised to learn that you weren’t actually playing a game of “Chase the dog with the sock and step in her poop”? Well then you know what it’s like to to read an article on marriage equality by Andrew Bolt.

You see, Andrew Bolt reckons we’re playing games with him, too. Word games. We’re not, of course – firstly because no one wants to play games with Andrew Bolt except Andrew Bolt; and secondly because he doesn’t know enough about the English language to realise that the game he’s playing doesn’t even exist.

Luckily for you, Andrew, I hate to see people with no one to play with, so I will play a word game with you. I’ll give you some words that relate to your article, and you try and guess their meaning before reading the actual definitions. Ready? Let’s play!
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same sex · noun · sām seks
1. Of or pertaining to two people who are either both male or both female.
2. If you think about it for two seconds, it should become immediately obvious that, by definition, it excludes people with characteristics of both sexes, or neither sex, or the physical characteristics of one sex but the gender identity of another.
3. It is therefore not an appropriate prefix for “marriage” in the current debate about marriage equality.
4. You know what is an appropriate term for “marriage equality” in the current debate about marriage equality? Marriage equality.
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sexual discrimination · noun · sek-shə-wal dis-kri-mə-ˈnā-shən
The denial of rights or privileges to people on the basis of their sex.
e.g. “No, you cannot marry that person, purely because you are male.”
e.g. “No, you cannot marry that person, purely because you are female.”
e.g. “No, you cannot marry that person, purely because the law is pretending that your sexual or gender identity doesn’t exist.”
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sophistry · noun · ˈsä-fə-strē
A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument.
  e.g. “Hey look at me, I’m using sophistry!” – Andrew Bolt
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plausibility · noun · plȯ-zə-ˈbi-lə-tē
1. The appearance of truth by virtue of not being mind-numbingly ridiculous.
2. Not possessed by your “But lesbians can marry men if they want to” argument, by virtue of it being mind-numbingly ridiculous.
3. Not granted to bigoted newspaper columnists by Federal Court judges.
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destruction by definition · noun
1. Defining your position into existence, then deploying the definition you just defined to defend your defined definition. For example:
  P1: Let marriage be between one man and one woman.
  P2: Therefore, marriage is between one man and one woman.
2. A ripper of a punk album by The Suicide Machines.
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How’d you go, Andrew? Sorry, I can’t hear you, you seem to have a sock in your mouth.

CWaC Round 1 – The case for Secularism

Welcome to Conversation With a Christian, Round 1.

Steve and I haven’t discussed marriage equality at all before now, but I suspect that a lot of his arguments will be religious in nature. In anticipation of that, then, I want use my first post to make a case for secularism in general, before moving on to marriage equality in particular.

First… the case for Secularism.
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So, why is secularism a good idea, in a modern democracy such as Australia? Why should we base our laws solely on that which can be justified by reason? There are, in my opinion, four very good reasons.

1 – What about those who don’t believe?
Let’s say there exists an act, let’s call it X. It is admitted by everyone, atheist and theist alike, that X causes no objective, real world harm, excepting the breaking of a faith-based law, and the offending of a deity. How should we deal with X, as a modern, ostensibly secular, society that needs to enact laws that apply to everyone? Should the state enact laws against X that apply even to those who don’t believe in the faith that condemns it? Should the number of faiths or people that condemn X make a difference? Should we take into account the level of god’s alleged offence, or the number of years a particular faith has been around?

These are important questions, and it would seem that almost all modern democracies have answered them with a rather emphatic “No”. If they hadn’t, it would now be a crime to:

  • Worship a god other than the Christian variety;
  • Make a graven image;
  • Take god’s name in vain;
  • Dishonour one’s mother and father;
  • Work on the Sabbath;
  • Lie; and
  • Covet your neighbour’s goods or wife.

In fact, in our own country, only two of the Ten Commandments are to be found in the criminal code (murder and theft), and it’s no coincidence that those are the two that also happen to have very good, non-religious arguments that support them.

It’s clear that there are a great many religious laws that, as a society, we have decided should only apply to those that want to follow them. That is, I trust you’ll agree, a good thing. I for one am very glad that we don’t arrest people who try to ordain women, force people to be audited for thetans, or prosecute people for pushing a pram outside the bounds of a thin piece of elevated wire at a particular time on the weekend (seriously).

I hope you are glad of that, too. There is no doubt that the three things I just mentioned are very important to the followers of the religion from which they originate (Catholicism, Scientology and Orthodox Judaism), but if the offence finds justification solely within the pages of a Holy book, then there it should remain.

2 – The invention of argument
The year is 1820. A convicted con man named Joe wants to take another wife, but the secular laws of his state currently prevent him. As a disloyal horny misogynist with a vivid imagination, what should he do? Should he have a frank discussion with his wife about his desire to expand their sexual repertoire? Should he retake his workplace’s Sexual Harrassment training? Or should he invent Mormonism?

We all know what happened. Joseph Smith invented some ridiculous story about a set of golden plates with god’s latest and greatest revelation, and, 192 years later, we had a Mormon running for President of the United States. And if you think that the days of invented religions are behind us, think again.

If faith-based arguments are valid, it becomes very easy to justify whatever it is that you want – as easy, in fact, as inventing a faith.

3 – The problem of absolutes
When it comes to sin, the major religions don’t tend to allow much wriggle room. I mean, it’s not like abortion is OK if the life of the mother is in danger, or homosexuality is OK on Tuesgay. Do you remember the fuss that was made over Pope Benedict’s “concession” on condoms? To anyone with the smallest inkling of common sense, allowing the use of condoms by an HIV-positive man within the confines of marriage amounts to nothing more than an extremely obvious yet astoundingly narrow relaxation of a rule that shouldn’t exist in the first place. To the world’s Catholics, however, it was a great, magnanimous demonstration of wisdom and compassion.

Allowance for shades of grey (hopefully more than 50) is essential for fair and reasonable government. To the writers of faith-based laws, it’s a sign of weakness.

4 – Which faith is right anyway?
We know that not every faith can be right, and that they often contradict each other. There are even contradictory beliefs within the same faith. Just within Christianity, we can look at priestly celibacy, or homosexuality, or the ordination of female clergy, or the ordination of sexually-active homosexual female clergy. Each is allowed under the progressive watch of the leaders of the Uniting Church, but not their (stubbornly orthodox) Catholic equivalents.

With so many faiths shouting to be heard, to whom should we turn our ears? What if one faith condemns marriage equality, and another embraces it with sequinned arms?

So, in conclusion…
… secularism is the way to go, and we shouldn’t make laws unless there are very good, non-religious, reasons for them, right? Right.
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Over to you, Steve!

Conversation with a Christian

Some of you may have noticed that I am somewhat in favour of marriage equality. What you may not realise is that I don’t understand anyone who isn’t.

Well I guess that’s not quite true. I understand why some people oppose it. Whenever the winds of change come forth to blow away the inequities of our forebears, a brigade of close-minded hypochondriacs stands ready to defend their right to discriminate. We saw it in the fight for universal suffrage, we saw it in the Civil Rights movement in the US, and we’re seeing it again now. There will always be people like Fred Nile, Bill Meuhlenberg, Jim Wallace and Margaret Court, trotting out the same old arguments, and the same old warnings of moral decay and social collapse. People for whom no argument, no matter how rational, will ever be enough to erase a prejudice as indelible as their love of Status Quo. Sorry, the status quo.

What I don’t understand is why so many awesome people oppose it. I have a lot of awesome friends, which isn’t surprising because awesomeness is one of the prerequisites, but every now and then one of them surprises me by expressing an objection to marriage equality. These people aren’t like Mr Meuhlenberg – they’re sensible, well-educated, good-natured, nice people.

I find it baffling.

So, Huge Blog Audience, meet Steve.

Steve is one of my awesome, sensible, well-educated, good-natured, nice friends. He is, in fact, an absolute champion. He is also Christian. And he has very kindly agreed to have a little bit of a blog conversation with me on marriage equality.

The purpose of the discussion, from my point of view, will be two-fold. First and foremost, I want to get to the bottom of why people like Steve oppose it. And when I say “oppose”, I mean active objection, not passive distaste. The tenets of Steve’s faith make it clear that marriage equality is not a “good” thing, but I’d like to get to the bottom of why it’s viewed as a “bad” thing, and, in particular, why people like Steve feel they should try and prevent if they can.

My secondary motive is an unashamed attempt at conversion. I want to try and convince Steve that, even if he personally believes that legalising marriage equality would be “wrong”, if it came down to a referendum, he shouldn’t necessarily vote against it. So, Steve, and any other marriage equality opponents who happen to be reading, prepare yourselves … for conversion!

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As well as giving up his precious time to give me someone to argue with on the internet, Steve has also very kindly offered me first post.

See? Told you he was nice.

The Weird World of Brendan O’Neill

A few days ago, Brendan O’Neill posed this question: “Has there ever been a weirder political issue than gay marriage? A cool-headed look back at events in Britain last week … suggests, no, there hasn’t been.”

And this, apparently, is why:

  1. Gays didn’t want marriage in the 1970s. Because, after all, “the truth is early gay radicals campaigned against marriage, not for it.”
  2. Yeah sure, most people agree that granting marriage equality is the right thing to do, but no one thinks it’s a big deal. Because, after all, “a recent poll did indeed find that 55 per cent of Brits support the idea of gay marriage, but it also found that a measly 7 per cent think gay marriage is ‘important’.”
  3. Today’s gays won marriage rights in Britain far too easily. Because, after all, “Rosa Parks and those who followed her had to go through hell – marching and boycotting for years, getting attacked by police dogs, whacked with water cannons, shouted at, spat on, jailed.”

Those are some pretty sophisticated arguments. Possibly too sophisticated to refute. But I’ll have a go.

  1. So what?
  2. So what? And;
  3. ARE YOU FARKING SERIOUS?

Does it really matters what gays thought of marriage in the 1970s? Isn’t the more relevant point that some from the LGBTI community want marriage now? And do you think that a gay person’s view of marriage in 1970 may have had more to do with rejecting one of the defining features of their oppressors?

And is something right because it’s right, or because a certain number of people think it’s important? Should we have granted citizenship to Aboriginals if most of the country thought it was a non-issue?

And should we only treat people equally if we’ve first made them grovel and beg and dodge our attack dogs? Are you really saying that you’d be more likely to support marriage equality if you could yell and spit at a few queers first? What on earth is wrong with you?

One final question, Brendan. If marriage equality is such a non-issue, and it’s a simple change to make (which it is), WHY THE FCK ARE YOU WASTING EVERYONE’S TIME WRITING THIS RUBBISH? It would be better for everyone if you just shut the fck up, and got out of the way.

We’d like to move on, too.

Same old, same old

Behold, the words of Mr S. Smith, Member for Flint, as he addresses the British House of Commons:

I cannot comprehend the mental attitude of those who say we should only look at the first step we take, and shut our eyes to its inevitable consequences; as well might a man drive a coach down a steep incline with a precipice at the bottom, and say that he had no business to consider the precipice.

‘The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church’ is the uniform language of Scripture, repeated in one form or another hundreds of times. Could a greater calamity befall the human race than to undermine this sacred institution? I [don’t] much doubt that … should X be successful, a time of social chaos would ensue.

Out of this movement for X may develop at a later date another movement to replace the marriage law of Christianity … and I much fear that experiments may be tried which will not tend to the welfare of mankind … It may be granted that the great majority of those who are moving in this matter have not at present the slightest wish for such changes, but my argument is that they are feeding a movement which contains them in its bosom, and out of which they will ultimately grow.

I wish to lay before the right hon. Gentleman the circumstance that universal history is opposed to X; no free country in the world has ever tried the experiment … They take a tremendous responsibility who deride the universal experience of mankind.

[If X was allowed], everything would be thrown afresh into the melting pot, and no human being could predict what would emerge from the cauldron. But my main objection to this and all similar Bills is my dread of its effects on the home life of the nation. I hope the House will weigh well the pregnant words of the right hon. Member for Midlothian — ‘I am not without the fear lest, beginning with the State, we should eventually be found to have intruded into what is yet more fundamental and more sacred, the precinct of the family, and should dislocate or injuriously modify the relations of domestic life.’ I believe those words are perfectly true, and they weigh more with me than all other objections combined.

I ask the House to pause before taking this terrible leap in the dark. It is the most revolutionary proposal of our time. If it prove a mistake it will be irretrievable; once given it cannot be reversed. In my judgment, it will be the commencement of national decline. In any case, it is a desperate experiment. We have too much at stake to make rash experiments. We are trustees for the greatest Empire the world ever saw, and we cannot afford to sap its foundations by reckless innovations.

Can you guess what ‘X’ is? Sounds like he was talking about marriage equality, doesn’t it?

He wasn’t.

He was speaking in 1892, about giving women the vote.

Interesting.

On civility

We’ve been hearing a lot about civility lately, or rather, the lack of it. Sometimes a little civility goes a long way. And sometimes it’s nothing more than a debating tactic; an excuse to air views that don’t deserve much airing.

We can, and should, have a civil discussion on the way we price carbon. But should we really entertain a civil discussion on, say, whether women should have their voting rights renounced? Are all discussions equal?

For Peter Jensen, the answer is apparently ‘yes’:

I’m looking for a respectful and serious discussion of very important issues.
Q&A

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Except it isn’t.

You can’t sit there and ask for a nice, civil conversation when you have absolutely no intention of changing your mind. You can’t enjoy the tax-free status provided by the LGBTI community, and use it to fund your denial of their basic rights. You can’t ignore all of the polite rebuttals to your fallacious slippery slope, and claim that marriage equality will lead to bestiality and incest, again, and again, and again. You can’t lie, and distort, and cheat, and then get upset when we tell you to fuck off.

And, above all, you can’t ask for civility, and a respectful consideration of your views, when those views are entirely based on the belief that homosexuality is evil, even if you’re not a complete wanker, and don’t think it should be criminalised.

But don’t despair. There are things you can do. You can go away and have a long, hard think about whether marriage equality will actually affect you, personally. You can think about whether it will give some joy to a group of people that have been discriminated against for a long, long time. You can do some reading, and learn that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice, and the world isn’t divided neatly into “men with dicks” and “chicks with coochies”. You can realise that whether marriage equality happens or not, we will still have same-sex couples, and some of those couples will raise children, and the world won’t explode.

And when you’re finished doing all of that, and you’re still against marriage equality, there’s only one thing left for you to do: take your civility, and shove it.