While reading the paper on the train from Sydney to Port Macquarie last Sunday, I came across an interesting and insightful op-ed by Nick O'Malley, a a senior Fairfax Media journalist. O'Malley's piece makes for a good follow-up to my August 10 post on the state of marriage equality in Australia.
right) explains how former prime minister and longtime opponent of marriage equality Tony Abbott draws from the playbook of well-known U.S. anti-marriage equality activist Frank Schubert. In exploring the similarities between Abbott and Schubert, O'Malley shares the experiences and insights of Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the U.S. group Freedom to Marry. Wolfson and his organization played a key role in the campaign to legalize gay marriage in the United States, an effort that culminated with a Supreme Court decision two years ago that made marriage equality the law of the land.
In many ways, Frank Schubert was Wolfson's nemesis during the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S. No wonder, then, that anti-marriage equality activists in Australia such as Tony Abbott and Australian Christian Lobby director Lyle Shelton are attempting to emulate Schubert's strategies. This despite the fact that such strategies ultimately failed in the U.S.
Writes O'Malley: "Like Abbott, Frank Schubert is a deeply religious man of powerful conviction. Like Abbott he is intensely disliked by gay marriage activists. In another weird parallel, like Abbott, Schubert has a politically engaged gay sister with a partner and family who does not share his views. . . . [Opponents of marriage equality know] they cannot win on the merits of their argument, so they have to make the debate about something else."
And that, explains O'Malley, is why Abbott announced last week that the Australian government's upcoming plebiscite on marriage equality was about "political correctness and freedom of speech rather than gay marriage."
I have absolutely no doubt that this ploy will fail in Australia . . . just as it failed in the U.S. Marriage equality will be won in Australia. It is just a matter of time.
Following, with added images and links, is O'Malley's op-ed in its entirety.
His Anti-gay Marriage Strategy
Out of the U.S. Playbook
By Nick O'Malley
Sydney Morning Herald
August 12-13, 2017
One person who was not surprised by Tony Abbott's hoarse declaration of a general culture war at the doors of Parliament House on Wednesday morning was the American activist Evan Wolfson.
right], perhaps suffering from a winter bug, fronted the cameras and announced the same-sex marriage plebiscite was about far more than simply blocking one group of Australians from marrying.
"I say to you if you don't like same-sex marriage, vote no," said Abbott. "If you're worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don't like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks."
Later that day the director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, wrote that "the marriage plebiscite is a referendum on freedom of speech and 'safe schools'". He has lamented the "stolen generation" that are the children of Australian gays.
Freedom to Marry, was the architect of the campaign to legalise gay marriage in the United States, an effort that culminated with a Supreme Court decision two years ago that found in part that one group of Americans did not get to hold a vote to decide upon the basic human rights of another. He has been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most powerful people in the world.
Wolfson's victory might have looked sudden from the outside, but it was the culmination of years of campaigning in which Wolfson and supporters battled anti-gay-marriage activists in a series of state legislatures, where, as in Australia, conservative politicians introduced ballot measures in an effort to block gay marriage.
In many of these states Wolfson's key opponent was a bloke called Frank Schubert, a Republican staffer turned freelance campaign consultant. Like Abbott, Frank Schubert is a deeply religious man of powerful conviction. Like Abbott he is intensely disliked by gay marriage activists. In another weird parallel, like Abbott, Schubert has a politically engaged gay sister with a partner and family who does not share his views.
This week, says Wolfson, Abbott played straight out of Schubert's campaign playbook.
"He knows they cannot win on the merits of their argument," explains Wolfson, noting that Australians already overwhelmingly back gay marriage, "so they have to make the debate about something else." That's why Abbott announced that this was about political correctness and freedom of speech rather than gay marriage.
Wolfson is not speaking figuratively. After Schubert won an unlikely battle to have a ban on gay marriage added to the California constitution in 2008 via a ballot measure, Schubert wrote a memo detailing his winning strategy. Wolfson can see its echoes in Abbott's opening salvo.
The now notorious document was an article for Political Magazine in February 2009, in which Schubert and his co-author explain how they won despite Californians supporting gay marriage at the start of the campaign by about 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
"We needed to convince voters that gay marriage was not simply "live and let live" – that there would be consequences if gay marriage were to be permanently legalised," Schubert wrote.
"We reconﬁrmed in our early focus groups our own views that Californians had a tolerant opinion of gays. But there were limits to the degree of tolerance that Californians would afford the gay community. They would entertain allowing gay marriage, but not if doing so had signiﬁcant implications for the rest of society."
In the US those "significant implications" became the arguments that "gay propaganda" would spread into schools, that once gay marriage was the norm other aberrant forms of marriage would follow, that religious groups would be victimised.
It became the fraught concern for the wellbeing of bakers and marriage celebrants and wedding caterers. It was about anything but the right of a committed couple to marry.
All of this is already in play in Australia, and was neatly summed up by Abbott on Wednesday morning.
But according to Wolfson there was a parallel campaign fought too. While mainstream politicians kept their hands clean, aware that outright homophobia doesn't wash anymore, a subterranean poison of invective followed the overt campaign, and this too will now by foisted upon Australian gays and their families.
You can see it already if you care to dip your toe into online sewers, and elements of it have crept onto cable TV. On Tuesday night Bronwyn Bishop was on Sky News warning of bestiality and the killing of newborn babies.
Of course, in the years since gay marriage was legalised in America, the only impact to society has been that some gays got married, and many who once feared the outcome have now changed their views.
Today even a plurality of Republicans support gay marriage, 48 to 47 per cent, while 64 percent of Americans back gay marriage, up from 62 per cent.
"This is not some sort of experiment Australia is being asked to make," Wolfson says. "Around the world 1.1 billion people now live in 22 countries where gay marriage is legal."
In none of those countries have any of the dire warnings of those who would see it banned come true, despite Bronwyn Bishop's nightmares.
– Nick O/Malley
Sydney Morning Herald
August 12-13, 2017
Sydney Morning Herald
August 12-13, 2017
Related Off-site Links:
Turnbull Government to Hold Public Vote on Same-sex Marriage by November – Michael Koziol (Sydney Morning Herald, August 8, 2017).
"We Love Our Children": Penny Wong's Senate Speech About Marriage Plebiscite – Sydney Morning Herald (August 10, 2017).
Hope and Frustration in Australia as Gay Marriage Debate Nears – Tacey Rychter (SBS, November 6, 2015).
The Equality Campaign
UPDATES: Catholics Central in Debate on Australia’s Upcoming Marriage Equality Vote – Robert Shine (Bondings 2.0, August 16, 2017).
Religious Freedom Is an Important Right. Once Same-sex Marriage Is Legal, It Must Be Protected – Frank Brennan (The Guardian, August 17, 2017).
This So-called Plebiscite Is a Sham – Andrew Wilkie (The Mercury, August 24, 2017).
Who Are the Australian Christian Lobby? – Judith Ireland (The Sydney Morning Herald, February 19, 2016).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• The State of Marriage Equality in Australia (Part 1)
• Thoughts on the Australian Catholic Bishops' Latest Ploy in Their "Struggle for the Very Soul of Marriage"
• From Australia, "Possibly the Most Beautiful Ad for Marriage Equality"
• Lanae Erickson on Taking a Lesson from Down Under
• Evan Wolfson on the "Basic Biology" Argument Against Marriage Equality
Image: Getty Images.