Coopers brewery’s PR disaster on marriage equality isn’t a PR win for those fighting for the right, either.

In what looked like a hostage video (or the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard Pistol and Boo video), solemn and stilted Tim and Melanie Cooper read from an autocue about how they have seen the error of their ways and then committed their support to marriage equality. The special Bible Society beers produced would be cancelled. Just three days of public pressure, threats of boycotts and several bars in inner-city areas in Australia taking Coopers off tap had forced them into damage control.

Let’s go back to the beginning …

The Bible Society puts out a video of Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson debating marriage equality as part of its 200th anniversary celebrations. Crikey then reports on the video, questioning why MPs would appear in what looked like an ad for Coopers’ light beer brand. The story blows up, with calls to boycott Coopers not because federal MPs appeared to be shilling for light beer on the premises of Parliament House, but because it was a debate on marriage equality. Bars like Sircuit in Melbourne say they will no longer stock Coopers. Coopers puts out an initial release defending the “keeping it light” debate video, but then puts out a second release saying it had no involvement in the video. The release is worded very carefully and doesn’t mention marriage equality at all. The Bible Society says no money changed hands.

And then the second video is released. 

The reaction since the video has been either laudatory, condemning Coopers for backflipping, or condemning Coopers for not backflipping quickly enough. And then there are those who say they will still continue to boycott the brand because of its long history of donating to the Liberal Party.

It was a poor PR move by Coopers. Everyone knows that in this day and age it is better for a company to be on the record endorsing marriage equality than being opposed. Attempting to enter the debate as a neutral party was always going to look a little weird, even if you accept that Coopers didn’t have anything to do with the video. Given the company’s previous support for the Adelaide Feast Festival (an LGBTI event) it is bizarre the brand didn’t just point this out in the first place.

But I don’t think Coopers’ support for the Bible Society should be judged too harshly. Personally, I’m not buying what the Bible Society is selling, but I don’t begrudge their existence, and they are not the Australian Christian Lobby. People who don’t want to buy a beer associated with the Bible Society are free to do so, but some of the argument around the boycott appeared to be that just having the debate on marriage equality is enough to boycott a company. Surely it is apparent by now that even though the plebiscite died, the debate is still going to happen.

Those advocating for the change are still going to be pitted against opponents in the weeks and months and — please God no — years ahead. Rodney Croome debated Lyle Shelton on Sky News just a few weeks ago. Australian Marriage Equality’s Tiernan Brady has debated Lyle Shelton multiple times. These are two of the biggest advocates for the change in Australia and they are not afraid of a “civil debate” on the matter.

All the kerfuffle did was give the likes of Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Rowan Dean ammunition. They have all this week called the LGBTI community “totalitarians” (seemingly misunderstanding the meaning of the word) for it, and brought up that Bill Leak cartoon comparing gay people to Nazis. They might have done this in some other form anyway, but no doubt the campaign didn’t help. 

The truth is that debate will continue until the legislation is passed. Yes, it is not fair that it hasn’t happened yet, and yes, it’s yet another sign of the government’s failure to do its job and just pass the damn law change already, but the reality can’t be denied that those opposed to the change aren’t going to go away any time soon. When the legislation is finally introduced there will be yet another inquiry and more speeches in Parliament all saying the things that got people so arced up this week. Surely it is a better use of time to fight for the change rather than to get lost in arguing over the process?

Peter Fray

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