Graphic depicting same-sex marriage as an iceberg from the Marriage Alliance website

Do you know your Marriage Alliance from your Marriage Forum? Should the marriage equality plebiscite go ahead, here are the anti-gay groups that will be vying for that sweet, sweet taxpayer money to tell you all why same-sex marriage will be the end of the world.

The Australian Christian Lobby. The ACL is probably the largest organisation that would be the beneficiary of this funding. As Crikey has outlined before, the ACL takes in almost $3 million in donations each year for its organisation and is by far the loudest voice on the “no” side of things in the media. This is the group behind accusations that same-sex marriage will lead to “rent-a-wombs” and another stolen generation.

A recent study of the ACL’s press releases since 2014 showed there were more press releases put out about same-sex marriage than all other issues they commented on — including Safe Schools — combined. ACL managing director Lyle Shelton has already confirmed he has been speaking with the government about running the “no” campaign.

Marriage Alliance. This group dropped in last year with a splash by delivering a strange advertising campaign featuring a cartoon iceberg designed to warn about the potential consequences of same-sex marriage in Australia. As Crikey pointed out at the time, the group has strong ties to the Liberal Party: spokesperson Sophie York has previously run as a Liberal Party candidate; it is backed by former Liberal Party president Ashley Goldsworthy; and the authorisation for the ads came from former ACT Liberals president Tio Faulkner. Marriage Alliance’s media is also managed by a Liberal powerbroker, Nathaniel Smith of marketing company Hugo Halliday. Smith is also the son of former NSW attorney-general Greg Smith.

Since its initial launch — and appearance on Media Watch, where host Paul Barry defended the group for not being able to get the same air time as pro-marriage equality groups — Marriage Alliance’s campaign has been mostly confined to social media, where the group posts increasingly bizarre memes. One that earned a rebuff in Parliament from Labor MP Tim Watts was an image of a woman in a rainbow noose, which was supposed to represent a woman being subjected to workplace bullying after marriage equality passes.

Australian Marriage Forum. This tiny group based in Queensland could not be any more Helen Lovejoy if it tried. Seriously, its slogan is “Think of the Child”. It’s an outfit started by Queensland doctor David van Gend, who frequently writes letters and op-eds published in conservative newspapers and conservative websites. Last year, the group took out ads in newspapers and attempted to advertise on TV claiming that gay marriage “is not marriage”. According to financial statements seen by Crikey, the group averages around $20,000 in donations every year, although it claims to have spent around $40,000 on its advertising blitz last year.

Van Gend has been around many years in the debate, but his tone has softened. In a 1997 letter published in The Australian, later read out in Parliament, van Gend was quoted as saying homosexuality was “a disorder”:

“Lesbians should be treated with kindness and pity for their emotional disorder, but disorder should be named for what it is.”

He has claimed several times that being gay can be cured and has referred to being same-sex attracted as “a nightmare”. Most recently Australian Marriage Forum used International Women’s Day to argue against same-sex parenting. AMF has loose ties to the ACL through older groups such as the Family Council of Queensland.

FamilyVoice Australia. FAVA has a history dating back to the ’70s — as an organisation combating people opposed to censorship — but its most recent incarnation as a “family” group stems back to 2008. It is an Adelaide-based organisation that appears to be mainly run by a husband and wife David and Roslyn Phillips. As with van Gend, David Phillips often writes letters to the editor, and FAVA has made a number of submissions and appearances before parliamentary committees on same-sex marriage and censorship issues.

At a 2012 hearing, David Phillips predicted the downfall of Australia if the Marriage Act were to be redefined:

“Governments have a responsibility to ensure Australia does not become a basket case as Greece has become. For that reason, governments need to commend, privilege and protect the institution of marriage as we know it.”

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Greece.

FAVA has called for equal Commonwealth funding of the “yes” and “no” campaigns in the plebiscite and has argued for the question to take the form favoured by Attorney-General George Brandis, i.e. Australians voting in the plebiscite will be presented with specific wording as it would appear on the legislation drafted to amend the Marriage Act. Of course, bombarding voters with legalese is a surefire way to scare many of them into voting “no”.

According to financial documents, FAVA is a large charity, taking in more than $1.1 million in donations per year. As with the Australian Christian Lobby, FAVA’s donors are not disclosed, but the group has admitted to financial support from Frank Seeley, the founder of Australian air-conditioning manufacturing giant Seeley International. Seeley is on the FamilyVoice South Australia Advisory Board. In an interview he gave with FAVA, he claimed that “anything that erodes the family will undermine the broad spectrum of business”.

FAVA also has ties to another anti-marriage equality group, Endeavour Forum. This group is mainly focused on anti-abortion activity but has made submissions against marriage equality.

Australian Family Association. This group is behind the “National Marriage Day” celebrations held annually on the day John Howard passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. The group’s head spokesperson is Terri Kelleher, who, like so many of the other groups attempting to stop same-sex marriage, also appears to have issue with Safe Schools. In a recent letter, Kelleher is described as attempting to stop the program because it “normalises homosexual activity”.

At a committee hearing looking at the plebiscite last year, Kelleher called for freedom to say whatever she wanted during the plebiscite campaign:

“But it really is putting a chill on free speech and on being able to really talk about an issue if it is going to be shut down because it is distressing to another party. The point is that they are talking about what marriage is and the definition of marriage.”

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. This Catholic Church-aligned group came to prominence when it distributed an anti-marriage equality leaflet to students in Tasmania and found itself subject to a complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission. The commission hasn’t made a finding yet, but the fact that even a complaint was made has resulted in supporters, such as the Australia Christian Lobby, calling for anti-discrimination laws to be suspended during the plebiscite.

The group argued that a full and proper debate was needed in the plebiscite and said that to date the only debate on same-sex marriage had been “shrill” and consisting of name-calling and slogans.

Family Life International. Another anti-abortion group that likes to dip its toes into the marriage equality campaign. Last year group spokesperson Paul Hanrahan told a parliamentary committee that there needed to be a way for the government to be able to require commercial stations to take ads from both sides of the “yes” and “no” debate, after SBS banned ads from Australian Marriage Alliance.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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