Former Prime Minister John Howard believes the current Coalition government will commit to a plebiscite to resolve the same-sex marriage issue, but has warned Christian lobbyists of how “powerful and overwhelming” the “equality” argument is.
“My sense is that the commitment of the current government will be to have a plebiscite some time in the next parliament to allow the people to decide, and I think early opinion polls suggesting that people want a say on this means that it will end up as a plebiscite,” he said.
“That does give people time to marshal arguments and there is an opportunity there for a counter-attack.”
Mr Howard was addressing an Australian Christian Lobby dinner on 3 September while in Perth to support the Liberal candidate, former SAS soldier Andrew Hastie, in the Canning by-election on 19 September.
Mr Hastie, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has declared his support for traditional marriage and is “very much in favour of the Australian people having a popular vote” to decide the “crucial issue” of same-sex marriage.
Mr Howard said he had been “astonished at the rapidity with which militant secularism has brow-beaten Members of Parliament and people elsewhere in the community who should know better into embracing ideas and attitudes which a few short years ago would’ve completely astonished me”.
He was also astonished by the “extent of the capitulation” by corporate Australia to the “fashionable ‘marriage equality’ language”.
While he respected the fact that there are people in the community who have different views to him on the issue, he insisted that the argument would not be won by simply couching it in biblical terms – “important though that is foundationally”, he said.
“What gives me a sense of concern – nay, urgency – about this matter is the speed with which the superficial argument about ‘marriage equality’ has succeeded in shifting public attitudes,” he said.
“We shouldn’t delude ourselves: public attitudes have shifted a lot on this issue, and it will require a very successful and in some cases sophisticated campaign to turn it around, because it is so appealing.”
There was a real possibility that this debate could be lost, he said, but he was confident that many people in the community could be swayed to the truth, especially considering how easily they had given over to superficial slogans.
More sophisticated means must be used, he said, because the fairness in egalitarian Australia of anything that speaks of any discrimination and equality is “powerful and overwhelming”.
Mr Howard also had serious concerns for the Labor Party, which he said appeared to be struggling with its traditional Irish Catholic roots and the rising secularism of its inner-city elite in Sydney and Melbourne which, he said, sought to undermine the role in the public space of Christianity and the “inherited Judeo-Christian ethic which has moulded this country more than any other moral influence”.
Mr Howard believes the strongest argument against same-sex marriage is that “it’s overwhelmingly the case that children raised in a traditional marriage situation with their married biological have the best outcomes in terms of self-esteem, career success, physical safety and freedom from abuse”.