The Australian Christian Lobby has taken its bat and ball and gone home.

It will no longer engage in any public debates on same-s-x marriage, nor will it participate in any community discussion on this topic where they might be challenged, questioned or called on to provide evidence for their claims.

Why? Because they fear “personal attack and vitriol”.

To put this in context, the ACL was the group that organised the National Marriage Forum in the Great Hall of federal Parliament in 2004, after busing in fundamentalists from mega-churches on the outskirts of Sydney. This public display of unhappy clappers was organised to pressure the ALP into joining with the Howard government to unequivocally oppose gay marriage.

This was the cheering audience at which keynote speakers variously described gay people as “shameful and vile” and as acting like “moral terrorists”. This is the meeting where speakers claimed that children raised by same-s-x couples, “suffered from guilt and shame”.

The gall of these people is breathtaking.

After having been denouncing same-s-x relationships for two decades, saying among other things that “gay marriage would destroy society”, that it, “would lead to incest and polygamy” and that “people would marry their pets if gay marriage went ahead” — they are now saying they’re worried about vitriol coming from “the gay lobby!”

The situation is so bizarre that recently Loree Rudd (sister of Kevin), accused supporters of gay marriage of behaving like a “global gay gestapo” and “brainwashing people”, which not only shocked supporters of equal marriage but offended the Jewish community, which called for an apology.

But the extraordinary response of the ACL was to rush to the defence of the not-sorry-Loree and to paint her as a victim.

On Sunday, News Limited’s Catholic columnist Miranda Divine tried to pin the London riots on lesbian mothers and the “fatherless society”, and then had the audacity to say that same-s-x marriage would be “a pyrrhic victory if it were achieved through intimidation of its opponents”. (Italics mine).

So what’s all this about? Why is the ACL really backing out of public meetings and community discussions on gay marriage?

The truth is they’re losing.

When they started their campaign in 2004, only 38 per cent of voters supported gay marriage. Now, seven years later, it’s more than 50 per cent and up to at least 64 per cent depending on what poll you look at. Some 75 per cent of Australians regard gay marriage as “inevitable.”

The attitudinal shift is huge. Seven of the eight Labor state branches have passed motions in support of gay marriage and all manner of public figures have begun editorialising in favour, having read the public mood.

Every time the ACL is forced to explain its position in public, defend its arguments and prove its case, it goes backwards.

Those who are undecided on the topic and who attend a public meeting to hear both sides, invariably leave as a supporter of equal marriage.

The response therefore from the ACL has been to retreat from scrutiny, and to blame this retreat on “the gay lobby”, trying to frame  it as hostile so they can play the victim card. In fact, every public meeting around the country on this topic over the past seven years has been thoroughly civil.

So, the strategy now for the ACL and its supporters, is only to preach to the converted. It will continue to hold meetings and discussions but only for opponents of gay marriage. It will quarantine its arguments to those who already agree. It will muster its support base for the politicians and the TV cameras but not to try and shift community opinion their way with debate. It fails at that.

And so it is, that the approximately 25 per cent of people who stridently oppose gay marriage will try and get the ALP to hold fast to its anti-gay policy and not switch to a policy of equal marriage at its National Conference in December.

This Tuesday however, opponents of equality will again be holding their public rally in the Great Hall of Parliament to corral supporters and further pressure the Labor party. The ACL has called on its members to demand “natural marriage” and to “warn politicians”. It will be interesting to see who from the ALP fronts this mob and what they will say?

Over the weekend, Warwick Marsh, from the anti-gay Fatherhood Foundation, told supporters he was speaking at this event but was having difficulty in getting a Labor Party member to speak on behalf of the “importance of marriage and the natural family”. Presumably Penny Wong was unavailable?

One thing is for certain, however, nobody will be invited to the National Marriage Day to put forward the case that traditional marriage has changed many times. Nobody will be allowed to point out that traditional marriage banned blacks from marrying whites, banned Catholics from marrying Anglicans, banned divorce outright and relegated wives to being the property of their husbands.

Nobody will be allowed to point out that same-s-x marriage is simply another step in the evolution of marriage and that saving marriage from decline and irrelevancy means that it must adapt to changing social attitudes and always has.

Facts must not get in the way of fear. Assertions must not be questioned. Debate will not be tolerated. Don’t question us, we’re victims.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey