On marriage equality

Bruce Hassan writes: Re. “Don’t make gay people beg for equal rights” (August 19). Amy, thank you for expressing in words my increasing despondency about this. I have long had the view that coming out never stops, its every day, in every new situation, there’s always some moment that arises when I have to explain to someone that, yes, I am a gay man and yes, my partner of the last 18 years is also a man; and yes, we have a daughter, who is now an adult and a school teacher, happily married with a husband. Sometimes it is sharing, but all too often it seems like a quiz in which I somehow have to prove something, although I’m never sure what. It never stops, but sometimes it lessens.

Now, with all the “people’s vote” rhetoric, but without any actual question or timeframe or reason, without any asking of us whether we want to be be placed on public display and asked to justify our existence, all I can see is an interminable and ever increasing level of hurtful commentary, eye-avoidance, uncomfortable silences for years (because it will just go on and on, beyond whenever the plebiscite/referendum is held, if it ever is). “People” will talk freely about homosexuals and pedophiles and bestiality and every shade of awfulness as if it’s all the same thing, with no comprehension that after a lifetime of name calling and innuendo and, for some people physical violence (I’ve always been able to outrun bashers, but now that I’m in my 50s, I’m not so sure I can still do that) these things always cut anew, are always a fresh wound, no matter how hardened and thick-skinned and inured I like to think I have become.

I also think the marriage issue is just a fig leaf – the real question is much broader, and asks whether the Australian people are able to accept us as fellow citizens. Same-sex marriage is just a prism through which this much deeper and more fundamental issue is being viewed, and I fear the answer. I am old enough to remember when homosexuality was first decriminalised in WA in 1991, with its prohibitions on ‘proselytising’ and an age of consent of 21 and various other demeaning qualifiers (the infamous Foss amendments). I was at uni, and there were young gay men then who so feared this they would not agree to a social club we were forming having the word “gay” in its name because that might be illegal proselytising and they might be hauled off to the local lock-up. That was only 24 years ago, and already I see the same fears returning. I saw in the papers on Tuesday a story that a gay artist singing the national anthem at a basketball game was jeered for wearing a rainbow tie.. Just this week, in the office in which I work just two days aweek, I overheard “poofters” and “pillow biters” mentioned in conversations — words I have never heard there before.

I feel deeply, deeply uneasy about all of this, about us all being cast as enemies of tradition, of family, of children. Scapegoating always starts with something, and enemies of tradition will easily morph into enemies of the state. Jails were full of men in the 1950s and 60s criminalised for their sexuality, so many in fact that Cooma Jail in NSW was set aside just for men convicted for their sexuality. History might show that the last 20 years, when the bigotry seemed to fade awhile, may have been just a moment of light in an otherwise dark past and a dark future.

I don’t believe all people hate us or want to delete us from the body politic, or that all religious people believe we are evil devil spawn. Some of my best friends are straight! But enough do that a long drawn-out ‘debate’, if it can be dignified with that name, will make the shouting voices of the ‘kill the faggots’ brigades seem ever louder and all-embracing. And, of course, every one of us will hear every one of those words, over and over again, and many of us will crumple under the pain.

We all just have to strong in some way now that the ball has been set rolling and hope we aren’t all squashed beneath it.

Santa’s little helper

Michael Kane writes: Re. “Rundle: how B.A. Santamaria shaped post-war Australia” (Friday). There is always a peculiar fascination in delving into the truths and half truths of the Santamaria  phenomenon, and Gerard Henderson and others will fight about the legacy until presumably they join Santa in the communion of saints. However in two specific areas the legacy of the DLP, and the NCC as its Opus Dei, have been crucial and these are in foreign policy and school education.

The generic anti-communist position of the Coalition over several decades was driven as much by the DLP as any ideology of the Protestant establishment.Vietnam. It survives repackaged in the Abbott government’s position on Iraq/Syria and to an extent in our propensity to support the US position on China. The code or loyalty ode is that Australians will always fight nasty foreigners and will always support aggressive US/UK  policy on war and confrontation with perceived enemies. This is a particular a position of conservative Australian Catholicism which I suspect dates back to half-memories that as “tykes” they were regarded as potential traitors during the Great War. It would seem that those Catholics who’ve  actually joined the traditional  party of the Protestant ascendancy demonstrate are passionate, mainstream champions of aggressive foreign policy in order never again never again to be  victims of sectarianism. The PM would appear to be the archetypal example of this phenomenon. I would doubt if Sanataria would have any problems with most of his foreign policy positions.

With respect to domestic policy, and just as interesting, the historical campaign by the Catholic hierarchy to protect their religious schools  through  obtaining state aid owes much of its success  to the DLP. It was they who forced the policy on the Coalition who had never really cared about the issue until the 1960s when they realised it was an election winner. This had the effect not only in locking in the Coalition as the party identified with non-government schooling but, even more importantly, ensuring that the Labor party would match the Coalition with financial across all state jurisdictions. In Victoria the return of Catholics to the ALP fold after the DLP collapse has resulted in Labor administrations with significant Catholic presence in their leadership sympathetic to the Catholic  education system. It has to be said this is somewhat ironic given the anti-State Aid position that long dominated the Victorian branch of Labor in particular, and especially during the split itself.

Certainly our current foreign and school funding policies, in the forefront of policy issues that Australians do care about and divide upon, would suggest that  Santamaria’s legacy remains considerable. They have also cost a lot of public money, but then the DLP was never neoliberal!

On a coal future

James O’Neill writes: Re. “Abbott brings religious fervour to his Old King Coal act” (Friday). The only rational explanation for Abbott’s stance on coal (and related issues) is that he and/or the Liberal Party have been bought by the mining industry through substantial donations that they dread will dry up if the government loses its evangelical fervour in favour of their products.

Peter Fray

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