Inside the ‘No’ campaign: ‘We will become dissidents in our own country’

Lyle Shelton speaking at the national launch of the Coalition for Marriage in Sydney on September 16. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

Lyle Shelton is back on the road again. In fact, he’s been almost nowhere else for the last four months as he relentlessly criss-crosses the nation, travelling from one speaking destination to the next as he spearheads the Coalition for Marriage’s ‘No’ campaign for the current postal survey.

He’s tired, but it doesn’t really come across as he talks to The Catholic Weekly from a car taking him from Canberra to Sydney to give yet another two speeches at public meetings in this key voting city.

Regardless of the outcome of the postal plebiscite on marriage on November 15, those inside the “No” campaign know that – one way or another – the battle will be far from over.

These dedicated individuals who have devoted their entire lives over the past few months to defending marriage are deeply concerned by the likely consequences of redefinition, as evidenced in Canada and the UK — increasing loss of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, as wells as the compulsory institutionalisation of radical gender theory in schools.

That’s why they’re prepared to keep fighting on the issue well into the future. It’s also the reason that they’re giving the “No” campaign everything they’ve got.

Mr Shelton told The Catholic Weekly his relentless campaigning for the “No” vote is certainly a hard-slog – but it’s one that is also deeply rewarding.

“It’s a joy and we know we have to throw everything at this,” said Mr Shelton, who is Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Sophie York, Sydney lawyer and spokesperson for Marriage Alliance. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

Over the past three months he has been travelling extensively around the country speaking to concerned groups.

“I’ve been going flat-out since August. I’ve had two days off and one weekend off since August. But I know there are other people in this campaign who haven’t even had that.”

He travelled to Hobart, Canberra, Darwin and Cairns in one week, and as he spoke to The Catholic Weekly he was in transit yet again. He has also spoken in Perth twice, Melbourne, Albury-Wodonga and Warrnambool. His audiences have been a broad cross-section of the community.

“[They’re] just ordinary Australians who are worried about the direction this is taking the country. I think they feel let down by the politicians – I sense that big-time. The political system has let people down.”

The campaign has taken Mr Shelton away from his family, but he says this cause is worth it.

“I’ve got four kids. They’ve been great. I’ve spent more time away in the last few months than I have at home. But that’s OK. We can’t leave anything in the tank. We’ve got a month to go and we’ve just got to keep going as hard as we can to get every last vote.”

“I think the Coalition for Marriage has run a really, really good campaign. Our message is cutting through, and I think when people hear our message it’s changing minds. I don’t trust the polls and the propaganda from the ‘Yes’ side.”

Even if the “Yes” vote gets up in the plebiscite, Mr Shelton is determined to keep forging on to protect the freedoms of Australians, especially Christians and Australians who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“If the ‘Yes’ vote wins the sun will still come up, but it is going to be a lot harder for faithful Christians in Australia. It’s going to be hard for anyone – whether of faith or not – to believe and advocate for marriage between a man and a woman. We will become dissidents in our own country.”

“I will never believe a lie about what marriage is. Realistically, we’ll have to accept the democratic position, the will of the people. But then we’ve got to make sure there is as much protection of freedom of speech and freedom of religion as possible.”

“Mummy blogger” Marijke Rancie

“I think it’s close, but we’re in with real chance. If we can encourage the four or five million Australians who haven’t voted yet to vote ‘No’, that will enhance our chances.”

Meanwhile, lawyer and mother of four young children, Sophie York, says that campaigning in defence of marriage has been “the most absorbing” and “the most important thing” she has ever done.

“This is about our society, the social infrastructure of our society and the freedoms and interactions within it. This is the foundation on which all the rest is built,” she said.
As spokeswoman for the Marriage Alliance she has spoken at Coalition for Marriage launches in Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. The venues for all the launches were packed-out,” Ms York said.

“There was just a wonderful vibe. It was just so brilliant, full of enthusiasm and joy.”

Ms York considers her role as a spokeswoman for Marriage Alliance, which she took up two years ago, to be an enormous honour.

“I have been deluged with beautiful emails and texts. What an honour it is to have this role as the voice for all these beautiful people. When I first took on the role I thought I was out on this high, windy cliff on my own. I didn’t know there was such a groundswell of support.”

Most of her time is taken up with communications, preparing for speeches, printing flyers, meeting with people, attending fundraiser dinners and launches.

“It’s from the time I wake up and I’ll often be working late at night. But it’s all good. My family really support what I’m doing. They understand it’s important.”

“Some days I do fret a bit because I think ‘am I doing enough?’ ‘Is the message getting out there?’ ‘I wish I’d done more.’ All I’m doing is my best. In the end it’s up to God. That keeps me going because I know if I did nothing I’d have to answer for that.”

“I have a lot of faith in my fellow Aussies that they will push back on this. I think they can see what’s happening and I’m putting all my hope in that.”

“Mummy blogger”, Marijke Rancie, has likewise been using every spare moment to share information on her Political Posting Mumma Facebook page about the consequences of same-sex marriage.

The young mum has been campaigning solidly ever since she found herself under fire from same-sex marriage supporters after posting a video on Facebook expressing her concerns about Safe Schools. Her posts went viral with one video chalking up more than three million views. In Youtube terms that’s well and truly viral.

It’s come at a cost. She’s received death threats, including horrific threats to harm her children, but she’s determined to keep fighting.

“I have to take lots of breaks. I haven’t been doing that well with it actually. I feel time-limited but I take breaks and get back into normal life because online is not real, so I try to pull-back when I can.”

Rather than intimidating her, the vitriol she receives makes her fight all the harder.

“To be honest it actually makes me keep going. I don’t like it but I think, well, while I’ve got the chance I’m going to push-back because I worry about the consequences. So I’m going to go harder. The more they’ve tried to silence me, the louder I’ve got.”

As well as travelling the country to speak at Coalition for Marriage launches, Ms Rancie posts five or six times a day to her Facebook page and said she receives hundreds of supportive emails in response.

“I think I’ve been able to be a voice for the silent majority, to speak up for mums, give them a voice. It’s given other people courage I think. I get a lot of encouragement.”

Many of those writing to her are teachers who can’t publicly express their views in opposition to same-sex marriage for fear of reprisals.

Like her fellow No-campaigners, Ms Rancie has great faith that Australians will reject the radical agenda of same-sex marriage and gender theory being pushed on them.

“I don’t think Australians are going to buy it. I just hope they vote.”

She also intends to keep advocating the cause even if the “Yes” side wins the day.

Monica Doumit moderates a debate in August 2016 between former gay rights activist and now-traditional marriage supporter James Parker (left) and Marriage Equality CEO Tiernan Brady. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I will continue to fight the program in schools, and I will leverage off the fact that the ‘Yes’ camp are all saying it’s not connected and it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.”

Communications Director for the Coalition for Marriage (and Catholic Weekly columnist) Monica Doumit says that whatever the result on November 15, she’ll be back at work on November 16 continuing the fight against same-sex marriage.

“We know we’re going to have to be battling on,” Ms Doumit said.

“If the ‘No’ vote gets up, we know the other side won’t rest and will try again. If the ‘Yes’ vote gets up we’re going to have to seek to protect people from the consequences. These consequences aren’t imaginary.”

Ms Doumit has been working 18-hour days for the “No” campaign.

A typical day starts early in the morning when she goes through the latest news reports and then briefs the rest of the team on the news cycle for the day.

The rest of her day is usually spent responding to requests and putting information out into the media.

“We receive so many requests,” she said. “Everything from university students doing assignments to some of the big mainstream news outlets.”

Physically it is tiring, she said, but it’s also “energising” because of the amount of support the Coalition receives.

“Last week we had 10,000 turn up at the Festival for the Family, and just seeing the energy of our volunteers,” she said.

“You can’t help but be spurred on by the enthusiasm of everybody else. Every day our campaign grows stronger and it grows more united. Yes, it can be physically tiring but we’re buoyed by the enthusiasm of everybody else.”

Ms Doumit said once Australians are made aware of the broader agenda behind same-sex marriage, and they’re given the opportunity to voice their genuine views, it becomes obvious that many will defend traditional marriage and family.

“What we’re finding is that once people are allowed to hear about the consequences without interruption or without being yelled over, they respond very, very quickly.”

Although the Yes campaign has been widely backed by corporate Australia and the media, she’s still upbeat.

“We can win this. This is by no means over. We’re in it to win it and we’re pushing for a strong finish. Regardless of the result, we’ll be back at work on November 16.”