The Wong way forward for Australia

Michael Cook
14 Aug 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Yesterday evening's discussion of same-sex marriage on SBS Insight was both great fun and a frightening omen. Insight is a bit like cage fighting for intellectuals. Representatives of opposing views say their piece and are booed or clapped by a carefully vetted audience. (This included me!)

In this episode, a Chinese Malaysian and Vietnamese Australian gay couple, a lesbian who is Federal Minister for Finance, and a Catholic priest were at the centre of the bull pit. As the invitation of the host, Jenny Brockie, others jumped up to comment. (See transcript and a YouTube video of the whole show. )

Penny Wong, the politician, dominated the evening. She is a dour woman, although from time to time a smile lit up her face. She brought to the studio the authority of being a minister of the Crown and Australia's best-known lesbian mum.

As soon as she could, she introduced two themes.

First, she complained about the bigotry and homophobia radiating from the audience. I was puzzled. I hadn't heard the vicious homophobic slurs which she found so appalling? But at Jenny's invitation, some people had declared that every child needs a mother and a father. Was that homophobic?

Yup, it certainly was.

"Appalling comments" like this, Penny said, implied that her love for her partner was inferior to other loves and that her child had a lower status. Since Penny has a scowl that can curdle black coffee, her magisterial pronouncements were quite intimidating.

Second, Penny framed the debate as the imposition of religious views on a largely secular society. She icily told the priest sitting beside her, "I think it's interesting you use words like 'respect' at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not homosexuality is in fact natural or, by implication, a result of some form of disorder. I don't think that's particularly respectful."

This strategy succeeded (with a little help from the Insight team). The evening was plunged into a bunfight over why some strands of religious belief were hostile to same-sex marriage why some weren't. The social harms, or benefits for that matter, of same-sex marriage were ignored or derisively dismissed. Raising a "secular" matter like the welfare of children became evidence of latent homophobia.

At one point Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, of the Australian National Imams' Council, proposed a referendum to settle the issue.

Penny wouldn't buy that. If a mere half-hour in the studios of SBS had coaxed the viper of homophobia out of its lair, a referendum campaign would set slavering beasts of bigotry galloping throughout Australia. "I [don't] want the country and the community to be in a situation where some of the hateful things which are said in this debate become so central to the public discourse," she said imperiously.

This is why the Insight debate was so scary: there wasn't one. You can debate ideas and facts, but all the gay lobby served up was undebatable emotions of love, fear, disdain and contempt. It became clear that for Penny Wong, all disagreement is ipso facto homophobic.

There was a moment of comedy (which failed to make the final cut). The Sheikh was asked about his position on same-sex marriage. A gentle but single-minded gentleman, he began to read relevant but lengthy passages from Islam's holy book. Jennie attempted to curtail this. "You must not stop me," said the Sheikh. "I am reading from the Holy Qu'ran."

Most Australians might smile at the Sheikh's blinkered rigidity. But in framing all disagreement as "deeply offensive", Penny Wong was just as blinkered, just as rigid. If same-sex marriage ever becomes legal in Australia, get ready for LGBT sharia.