Recently, Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz made some controversial remarks at the Hobart book launch of Stealing from the Child: the injustice of ‘marriage equality’. The book was written by the Australian Marriage Forum president, Dr David van Gend, and has the support of the Australian Christian Lobby, including lobbyist Lyle Shelton.
I decided to listen to Shelton’s interview with Dr van Gend on the ACL podcast in order to understand his book and political views a bit better. It was pleasant enough to listen to, at first, since the two are good friends. They laughed as they discussed whether Northcote is “hippy” or “hipster”, and Shelton teasingly called Dr van Gend a “provocateur” for his choice of book title.
I tried to overlook the fact that both of these men have been making rather offensive and disturbing comments lately, as it wasn’t as bad as I expected. They referred to marriage equality advocates as their “friends in the same-sex marriage movement”. They were careful to clarify that all of this is “for the child” and that they are just “trying to help people think about the consequences” of changing the definition of marriage.
To my surprise, Shelton turned out to be a rather talented book critic. He described how compassionate and kind the book is, telling Dr van Gend, “You bring the bedside manner of a sensitive family doctor to this very complicated and divisive debate.” He also praised the writing itself, saying “You have a beautiful turn of phrase”. That may be true, but I didn’t love all the phrases that were about to come out of Dr van Gend’s mouth. Although the two men sounded friendly and approachable, what came next troubled me.
“We love all our same-sex attracted neighbours and family and friends, it’s not an issue, they can live as they choose, they just can’t choose a motherless and fatherless life for their future children,” Dr van Gend said, having reminded listeners of his authority on these matters, as both a GP and a father. “They can’t choose to impose that radical LGBT sex education,” he added.
As the podcast went on, it used anyone and anything to prove that non-heterosexual people should not get married and raise children. They referred to a variety of people, including a man who “used to live as a gay man” and a woman who was raised by lesbian mothers but agrees that children need both a mother and a father, to reinforce their argument.
Rather than focussing too much attention on Dr van Gend and Shelton, who are not federal politicians, I think it is important to examine Senator Abetz’s remarks at Dr van Gend’s book launch.
“Ever thought why there is no celebration for those that decide to go from the homosexual to heterosexual lifestyle? Are they not honest? Are they not coming out as well?” Senator Abetz said. “And that is just one of the examples of the one-way traffic and bias from the media.”
I decided to try to counter some of this one-way traffic and bias by responding directly to Abetz’s questions.
Planning List for the Heterosexual Celebrations
Yes, Senator, I agree that there is room to celebrate people coming out as heterosexual.
Before we start ordering the blue and pink gender-conforming decorations, or determining which musicians are straight enough to perform at heterosexual coming out celebrations, though, there are a few points I think we need to discuss. And because it is so unlikely that Josh Manuatu, your staffer and Development Director of the Federal Young Liberals, who happens to be an out gay man, will put us in touch, I thought I would address this publicly.
1. What if society stopped assuming that everyone is heterosexual and stopped assuming that people’s sex organs are related to their gender identities? What if we celebrated everyone based on their own decisions and who they are, inclusive of all religions, sexualities and gender identities? Those would be some epic celebrations!
If this is not possible, then please refer to the additional questions below.
2. When we are organising the celebrations, what if some of the people we are celebrating turn out to be attracted to people they are not supposed to be attracted to?
3. What if, at a heterosexual coming out party, the honoured heterosexual finds themselves sexually aroused by someone with the wrong genitalia?
4. What do we do about celebrating bisexual, pansexual or sexually fluid people? Do we only get celebrated if we fall in love with someone that allows us to be seen as heterosexual according to society?
5. What about the many people I know who are far more radical than I am, but who identify as heterosexual? Do they get celebrations? Many of these lovely people are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, and some are observant. Some have chosen to enter into heterosexual marriages, and others have not. Some have produced adorable progeny, with or without getting married. Many of these heterosexuals are trying to change marriage and relationships far more than some of my more conservative LGBTI friends. Some of these heterosexuals, in their own words, don’t believe in marriage.
6. What if my wife and I promised to be a God-fearing, monogamous and conventional couple? Do we get a party? Can we raise a child? What if we were only one of those descriptors? No child and celebration for us?
7. What if I told you that I am non-binary? You probably don’t know, or want to know, what that means, and if you did know, you would probably snort derisively. But if I identify as a man, or act like one sometimes, can I marry my wife? Can we raise children? Can I have a party?
8. What would happen if we allowed ourselves to change, as a society? What if we all had our individual freedoms? What if homosexual couples and heterosexual couples could marry? Who would be celebrated, if all of that happened?
9. What if religious people stopped feeling defensive about their rights to practise religion? What if religion stopped interfering with people’s gender identity and sexuality? What if everyone had the right to be who they want to be, without it impacting on others’ rights?
10. What if the radical lefties, and ultra conservatives, stopped feeling defensive about their rights to be who they are? What if we stopped adding hyperbolic terms such as “radical” and “ultra”, and instead just let people be who they are?
11. What is so bad about associating marriage with love? Why do we have to focus on reproduction more than love, according to Lyle Shelton? I don’t get it.
12. Are you at all concerned about the implications of suggestions that we should celebrate people who “go from the homosexual to the heterosexual lifestyle”? To me, and some of my friends, this suggests that you could be promoting ex-gay or ‘conversion’ therapy as though it is legitimate and something that should be celebrated in itself. Maybe if certain organisations stopped pushing LGBTI people to identify a particular way, which is usually heterosexual and cisgender, we wouldn’t feel the need to provide as much support when people start questioning their sexuality or gender identities.
13. Did you agree with Dr van Gend when he said that LGBTI activists, lobbyists and media have portrayed young LGBTI people, and young people with LGBTI family members, as “so fragile that they must be protected from hearing any discussion about homosexual marriage and parenting”? When LGBTI activists, lobbyists and media worry that the anti marriage-equality ad campaigns could be dangerous for young people, do you think they are being disingenuous and manipulative by presenting them as “so fragile” or do you think they are genuinely concerned for their mental health and wellbeing? Did you know that the Australian Psychological Society, which is the leading organisation for psychologists in the country, believes that “votes about marriage equality have been linked to increased mental health risks, particularly because of the harm to people’s mental health that is known to be caused by fear campaigns and social exclusion”?
14. Dr van Gend described these portrayals of young people as “fragile”, presumably in relation to the plebiscite, “condescending”. What if I were to counter this argument by suggesting that the only “condescending” aspect of current social and political discourse is the suggestion that young people should not have the agency to make personal decisions about their sexuality and gender identities.
15. What if we stopped being afraid of marriage equality stealing from children, and instead wondered if anything else is being stolen from children when we talk about sexuality and gender in these traditional, presumptuous and limiting ways?
16. What if we worked together to lower the suicide and self-harm risk amongst all young people? What if we all stopped assuming we knew what was best for young people, and let them decide for themselves? Now that would be worth a celebration!
Once you respond to these questions, I am more than happy to help plan the first celebration. I know so many amazing, talented, hardworking and beautiful people – all colours of the rainbow – who could help throw one hell of a party.