Let me start by saying that I never thought the day would come where I would be on the same side of an argument as Miranda Devine…
Get ready to unleash the hounds, but despite the laughably stupid ‘Keeping it Light with Coopers’ Bible Society video, I am not joining my brethren on the Left and boycotting Coopers.
How did someone like me, outspoken on same sex marriage, end up going against the tide of outrage and ripping the top of a cold one (after rolling it, of course – I’m not an animal)? Did I like the video? Do I support the underlying message that something as important as someone else’s rights should be a matter of light discussion between two white men from a party with an atrocious record on recognising evolving concepts of rights? Have I reversed my previously strong support for same sex marriage and my long-term stance against anything remotely resembling a plebiscite?
No to all of the above. First, the Keeping it Light campaign will be a university textbook staple in Marketing 101 for the next decade on how not to promote your brand. Why an independent brewery which has forged a brilliant niche in the alternative market would do anything this public and follow it up with statements about supporting the ‘word of God’ is beyond me. I assume someone in the Cooper’s public relations team has been dragged out the back of the brewery and forced to run up a loading ramp dodging rolling kegs Crash Bandicoot-style for this one. I still support same sex marriage, and I still strongly oppose the plebiscite for both human welfare and philosophical reasons.
So what is it?
The answer is simple. If you are sick of politics in this country being a cacophony of simplistic and populist mudslinging devoid of substantive public policy, then we need to start being more tolerant of discussions like this and not just shouting people out of the room for disagreeing with us. Do you want same sex marriage to be decided by a parliamentary vote? Then don’t just get outraged when parliamentarians voice their opposition. Do you want effective policies implemented in response to climate change? Then accept that there is going to be disagreement and work with it. The harsh reality is that, for all its stilted awkwardness, Andrew Hastie and Timothy Wilson’s Keeping it Light discussion on same sex marriage was one of the most civilised debates we have had on a controversial subject in this country for decades.
I mean seriously, this is what Andrew Hastie said in opposing marriage equality:
“I’m for retaining the current definition of marriage, which is between a man and a woman. I hold to a common view of marriage, common throughout culture and history. It’s a comprehensive union between a man and a woman. It’s equal and it’s diverse, and it’s got both genders. “It’s an institution that’s grown up organically, prior to politics, and so my view is the state shouldn’t be redefining something that exists prior to the state… That’s not to say that Tim and Ryan, his partner, shouldn’t be afforded the same rights before the law as a married couple. I just think the definition is distinct and important.”
More on the substance of his position to follow, but I think we can appreciate the fact that Hastie states that his opposition is not one against equal rights under the law. This is an important distinction to make because a lot of people on the left seem to characterise opposition to same sex marriage as being the position of people who believe that homosexuals should be stoned to death. We are at least having a discussion which recognises that certain rights are universal; it is just that marriage for some people is a religious concept which should be beyond the intrusion of the state.
To be perfectly honest, it is a reasonable position to take, in a sense. So why this explosion of outrage and hatred? This is about as reasonable of a discussion about same sex marriage as you are going to get.
I have stated before that our generation has a curious inability to understand the basic tenets of arguing to win – using facts and evidence to rationally overpower a person’s position and persuade them to adopt yours. What is often forgotten is two things. The first is that it involves overpowering and persuading, which inherently requires a little nuance and subtly (not to say that it doesn’t get out of hand from time to time). The second is that an effective debating technique requires you to understand the rationality behind your opponent’s position so that you can exploit where they have made mistakes, whether logical or factual.
Do you want the same sex marriage debate to be rational or emotive? Because emotive politics is how you end up with Donald Trump being President on the United States – you make people reluctant to express their opposition in rational terms because they are scared of being publicly castigated for their feelings. People don’t gravitate towards parties which peddle the ‘real Australia’ myth (like One Nation) inherently; they end up there because in ‘real Australia’ they can express their opinions without being hung up on a Twitter flagpole and egged by a Left which has lost sight of the fact that it was once an ideology which united intellectuals and the working class.
The truth is that left wing intellects have fallen in love with collective outrage. We venerate it. Nothing gets us going more than getting together on social media and gratifying one another with our mutual disgust at a person or organisation’s behaviour. What purpose does it serve, however, if all it achieves is greater collegiality amongst people who already agree with one another? It feels great, its free and it brings people together? Well, in that sense it is pretty much the intellectual equivalent of a circle jerk – a group of people standing around giving one another satisfaction. It is this rampant outrage and self-satisfying attitude that cripples the broader appeal of the intellectual left, and gives our opponents the justification to label us ‘smug’.
The cruel irony in all of this is that in the furore about the video and Cooper’s apparent lack of unequivocal support for marriage equality, what was lost were the flaws in Hastie’s position on same sex marriage. Any rational engagement with his position renders it laughably incoherent and factually baseless. I’ll print it again:
“It’s equal and it’s diverse, and it’s got both genders. It’s an institution that’s grown up organically, prior to politics, and so my view is the state shouldn’t be redefining something that exists prior to the state.”
It is this, the rational basis for his opposition to same sex marriage, that presents the strongest position for us to work with. See if you can spot it – you can almost drive a semi-trailer through it.
Equal? What part of marriage has been historically equal? It certainly isn’t the Christian version of it. Marriage was a social construct, a contract, which protected society from instability by ensuring that a woman, being the property of one man (who often had essentially ‘purchased’ her from her father), could not be interfered with by another man. It was a contract of mutual and social-wide benefit – a man could go off to war and know that there was a social mechanism which would act as a disincentive for his wife to go gallivanting with other men. Women were chattels with few legal rights. Their position in the contract of marriage was to be nothing more than a domestic servant, reproducer and vessel of sexual gratification. Don’t believe me? It was not until 1991 that the High Court ruled that, under common law, rape could exist between a man and his wife – her consent was a condition of the contract she entered into upon marriage.
Beyond that, the opposition’s argument that the concept predates politics is preposterous on two counts. The first is that politics is merely the way in which power is distributed and utilised in a society or group. You and your partner have a political dynamic within the household. Nothing can predate politics because the essential inequality of humans based on gender and geography has existed for as long as there have been humans.
Yet we can go further, ‘the state shouldn’t be redefining something [marriage]’ – well we sort of agree there. If there is a religious definition of marriage which limits it to being between a man and a woman, then the state has no moral justification to interfere. That is secularism – the state is the law and the church is morality. The problem is that marriage is a legal concept whether you like it or not; it is enforced and upheld by the power of the law. You can’t say that the state has no prerogative to change or redefine something which exists as a legal concept, on the basis of your own moral objections (which not every Christian share, either). What you can say is that marriage is a religious concept and argue that it should be taken beyond the ambit of the State – but to do that you would have to sacrifice legal authority. The French do it – religious marriage is not recognised under law because it is a religious concept. Instead, you require a civil marriage for your partnership to be legally binding.
Marriage equality is predicated on the argument that there are no secular reasons which prevent marriage as a legal concept. Ultimately, it is not that religious people should protect their practices, but rather that their practices have no place in law.
In the end, what is important is that we on the left reengage with people who are actually willing to have civilised discussion about issues we care about. Yes it can be frustrating – we answered every concern about the moral consequences of marriage equality half a decade ago and we are still getting people like Andrew Hastie relying on a mischaracterisation of history and politics to justify their opposition. The alternative, however, is giving oxygen to a far more dangerous opposition which is grounded in emotional, rather than rational, disagreement. The last American election should teach us that the intellectual left is fragile and vulnerable when political discussion descends into rabid shouting.