It didn’t take long. Having lost the plebiscite they demanded, opponents of marriage equality began issuing demands.

Conservative academic and Safe Schools critic Patrick Parkinson anticipated the result and on Tuesday demanded from “the leaders of the ‘yes’ case, a willingness to be magnanimous in victory and to reassure those who are unsettled by the pace of social change, that their fundamental rights and freedoms will be respected.” Parkinson lauded the bill circulated by IPA senator James Paterson, which “has far more substantial protections for freedom of belief, speech and conscience than Dean Smith’s. His proposals need to be considered alongside the Smith bill.”

This morning, No campaigner Karina Okotel issued her demands, complaining of “the ‘yes’ campaign’s sudden turnaround to effectively ignore the need to protect basic freedoms that would otherwise be lost.” She too lauded the Paterson bill — by that stage abandoned — over Smith’s bill, complaining about the latter “it is by no means a comprehensive bill and does not reflect the 90 per cent of Australians who believe that free speech and religious freedom should be protected with the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Senator James Paterson’s bill, on the other hand, makes the effort to strike that balance.”

At The Australian, the reactionaries were also issuing demands. “The political challenge for Turnbull and the leaders of the Yes campaign is now not to ignore the real concerns raised during the campaign and supported by almost 5 million Australians and to ensure other rights are not diminished by extending a new right,” wrote Dennis Shanahan. Greg Sheridan also lauded the Paterson bill which “offered the most comprehensive defence of religious freedom. Paterson is religiously an agnostic, voted Yes and has long advocated a Yes vote. He is intellectually substantial and a big part of the Liberals’ future.”

As always, Sheridan was happy to do Tony Abbott’s undermining for him: “A majority of Coalition voters voted No. Turnbull would be gravely mistaken to think he can ignore them and win an election.” Except that the electorates of Abbott, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz all strongly voted Yes.

There’s no moral, ethical or political reason for marriage equality advocates to accede to these demands, and it’s nothing to do with the fact that the Yes case won a thumping majority and the No case failed to even achieve its own self-appointed “moral victory” level of 40%. 

It’s because there was never a moral or ethical basis for the plebiscite. It was always intended as a cynical delay mechanism by opponents. In fact, there can be no moral or ethical basis for a process by which a minority must seek from a majority its basic human rights. Those rights are not in the gift of the majority; they exist regardless of the views of the majority, whether 62% support them or none do. The purpose of the plebiscite was political, both from the point of view of opponents, and of Prime Minister Turnbull. It is no more valid because of a high turnout or the “right” response. The plebiscite was always innately unethical and intellectually incoherent.

The plebiscite was also intended to be a vehicle for vilification of LGBTI Australians. Apart from the attempt to distract voters by the No campaign by claiming it was really about political correctness and freedom of speech and religion, the primary argument from the No campaign was that marriage equality harmed children. Smears of same sex parents were unleashed by groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, which charged that same sex parents had “stolen” their own children. Such vilification was intended to hurt LGBTI people, and it succeeded admirably — not to mention the physical, verbal attacks and vandalism visited on Yes supporters, little of which was ever condemned by No campaigners.

To issue demands, after engineering an unethical process intended to delay rights and harm people, is extraordinary chutzpah.

The other reason is because No advocates are incapable of seriously participating in any sort of debate about what specific rights they believe need protecting. Their case is full of homophobic bakers no one can find, fictional efforts to turn boys into girls and vice versa via Safe Schools and slippery slopes to gender fluidity; the latest case, from Queensland senator Matt Canavan, is of Christian bands being forced to play at same sex marriages. The bill they put up, from Paterson, wound back long-established protections and opened the way, as Kevin Andrews admitted yesterday, for sectarian and faith-based discrimination between people of different religions. Paterson abandoned his own bill within 48 hours of circulating it.

Marriage equality advocates owe these people precisely nothing.

Peter Fray

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