This Thursday August 13th, hundreds of fundamentalist, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians will gather in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, for a celebratory breakfast. No, it won’t be to honour Fidel Castro’s birthday. Rather, it’s to mark the fifth anniversary of the Howard government’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Here the religious right are gathering to stare down the ALP from their bully pulpit and to warn it against changing the Federal Marriage Act in favour of gay couples, or even, heaven forbid, allow for a modest national scheme for civil unions.
While the recent ALP National Conference showed that Rudd Labor is just as anti-gay as Howard was on this question (much to the profound disappoint of the human rights community), the Christian Right are clearly unsettled by the wave of same-sex marriages around the civilised world, along with recent Galaxy polling showing that up to 60 per cent of Australians support same-sex marriages. This support is stronger among Labor and Greens voters, and stronger still with the next generation of younger voters.
The celebratory “National Marriage Breakfast” is the soft cuddly face of the Religious Right, who continue to insist that they are not anti-homosexual, merely “pro-family”. Just what that means for gay couples raising children is unclear.
However, there is no question that this gathering represents the biggest anti-gay protest in the five years since the gay marriage ban was implemented. Every gay-bashing, homophobic hate group will be represented in one way or another.
The event has even been nick-named the “Muehlenberg Rally”, in recognition of serial homophobe Bill Muehlenberg from Victoria’s Australian Family Association being a key advocate for the event. Bill is very fond of using “research” from anti-gay groups in the USA to show that homos-xuals are diseased, depraved, irresponsible and promiscuous. According to Bill’s latest missive, “Leftist political parties, trendy social engineers, a sympathetic mainstream media, and militant homosexual activists are all ranting about the need for same-sex marriage”.
At the original anti-gay rally in the Great Hall in 2004, speaker after speaker used the podium to denounce homosexuals and same-sex relationships. Various speakers referred to gay and lesbian people as “shameful and vile”, as “moral terrorists” and claimed that children being raised by same-sex couples suffered from “shame and guilt”.
Speakers included Pastor Margaret Court from WA, who once excelled at tennis but who these days excels at homophobia. Her neurosis with this topic blew up some years ago when she launched a unseemly scathing character assassination on lesbian Wimbledon champion, Martina Navratilova.
Also at the breakfast will be Melbourne’s answer to Jim and Tammy Bakker, the delightful “Salt Shakers” duo. This self-proclaimed organisation for “Christian Ethics in Action”, is deeply concerned that Harry Potter books lead to Satanism, that the gay community in NSW inflates attendance numbers at the Mardi Gras as part of a sinister political plot, and that same-sex marriages will destroy society as we know it.
Maj-Gen “Digger” James was also a notable speaker at the anti-gay forum in 2004. Perhaps sensing the cameras were on him, he was quite restrained. But his record on this topic is appalling. In 2001 he addressed an anti-gay rally in Perth where he tried to scare the bejesus out of people with reference to an outdated, highly questionable piece of “research” that apparently showed that AIDS infected faeces was passed from dirty gay waiters in San Francisco to unsuspecting diners in the restaurants of the bayside city. Charming.
Speaking of highly questionable research, the anti-gay rally is also being used to try and rehabilitate the discredited Warwick Marsh. Readers might recall how he was dumped from Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s “Men’s Health Advisory Committee” when his deep involvement with the anti-gay movement became known to a very, very badly informed Minister.
Warwick is fond of research from US anti-gay groups that reports to show that gays are responsible for every conceivable disease, social ill and criminal character on the planet — and that’s clearly a fact. Warwick has kept a low profile since being outed as Australia’s smuggler for US religio-bigot-politics, but will be back again on Thursday to help launch his re-worked “26 Reasons Why Marriage Matters.”
Oddly enough, all 26 reasons fail to explain in any way why same-sex couples shouldn’t also be able to enjoy the rights and benefits of marriage.
But here’s the best bit. As the Religious Right gather in Parliament to spook Labor into submission, to demand that homosexuals are kept in their place and to insist that same-sex couples are expressly excluded from the basic right to civil marriage — which Federal Labor MP will greet the crowd and offer support?
That’s right, it’s none other than Senator Ursula Stephens, the Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion.