If a senior member of the media can call you a “nauseating piece of filth”, what will it be like for traditional marriage advocates if the legal definition of marriage actually changes?
So asked the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, at the QndA panel discussion at Notre Dame University’s Broadway campus on 19 August, referring to the invective being unleashed by journalists and other public figures on pro-marriage advocates.
He was referring to a tweet about himself by Crikey.com politics editor Bernard Keane in May during the debate on same-sex marriage.
Regarding the Keane tweet, Mr Shelton told the several hundred-strong Notre Dame audience that the relative cultural power of both sides was grossly unbalanced.
“If I tweeted something like that about Rodney Croome, who is the leader of [Australian Marriage Equality, the pro same-sex marriage lobby], I would be hounded out of my job,” Mr Shelton said.
“I’d be gone tomorrow. And yet Bernard Keane can tweet that I am “a nauseating piece of filth”, and [in spite of that kind of behaviour] he’s rewarded with commentary
positions on ABC’s The Drum, [and on ABC’s] Radio National, et cetera … [It] needs to be called out”.
Keane’s tweet of 23 May may have been eclipsed for sheer vitriol in recent weeks, particularly in the wake of the ABC’s Q&A and Media Watch programs on 17 August.
US child’s rights advocate Katy Faust – who was raised by two women – and Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill inspired intense outrage for their comments during Q&A decrying what Mr O’Neill described as the “ugly intolerant streak” to the push for gay marriage.
That was preceded by Media Watch host Paul Barry asking “Whatever happened to freedom of speech?” in relation to the media’s overwhelming coverage of pro-gay marriage voices and the recent rejection of a “pretty mild” pro-marriage advertisement by Seven and Ten.
Mr Barry, a “supporter of marriage equality”, described as “ridiculous” the online lifestyle site Mamamia’s assessment that the ad’s claims were “inviting hate”.
He said that “both sides of the debate had an equal right to be heard”, and pointed to the imbalance of “marriage equality” spokespeople Rodney Croome and Christine
Forster scoring 32 interviews to Sophie York and David van Gend’s 12 in the first 12 days of August.
Several journalists and other public figures let fly on social media, with an account attributed to University of Sydney international law lecturer Ben Saul comparing Katy Faust to convicted criminal Zaky Mallah, tweeting: “Sorry #qanda but Katy Faust is tonight’s Zaky Mallah. What were you thinking?”
Age education journalist Henrietta Cook said there was “no need to give equal air time to both sides of the debate when one side is discriminatory”.
Senior Age journalist Jill Stark also chimed in with, “Gay people are already having kids you tedious imbeciles” during the Q&A stoush, referring to Ms Faust as “the batsh*t crazy lady” to Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s left.
News Corp’s Tory Shepherd suggested that pro-marriage advocates could be like anti-vaccination campaigners while Mamamia responded by saying that the media was and ought to be biased “when the choice is truth or hate”.
News/opinion site newmatilda wrote: “Who cares if Katy Faust and co are bigots, they’re delusional either way.”
Speaking to fellow guest, Greens leader Richard Di Natale, Mr O’Neill objected to what he said were the “silencing”, “sacking”, “demonisation” and “harassment” of pro-marriage supporters world-wide, decrying what he called the state’s increasing cultural “oversight”.
“For me, as a libertarian, that’s a step too far and I think for you to redefine a view that was standard for thousands of years as bigotry, that in itself is a form of bigotry because what you’re saying is that you will not tolerate traditionalists. You will not tolerate religious people. You will not tolerate Christians.”
In the spirited QndA discussion chaired by UNDA’s Patrick Langrell, Mr Shelton was joined on stage by the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, retired High Court judge and gay rights advocate Michael Kirby, Dr Justine Toh, senior research fellow at the Public Centre for Christianity, and US marriage advocate and Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson.
Archbishop Fisher spoke approvingly about the Media Watch segment.
“If people talk about a debate, well as I understand a debate, it’s hearing the best arguments civilly and properly from both sides, and trying to understand and being open to being persuaded,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“In the so-called ‘marriage equality’ debate in Australia, one side is finding it very hard to have their point of view heard because large sections of the media are simply refusing to report their view.”
Seated next to the archbishop, retired judge Michael Kirby said he supported having both sides heard, challenging the archbishop on why UNDA wouldn’t “allow” there an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) group at UNDA, drawing enthusiastic applause from a small segment of the overwhelmingly pro-traditional marriage audience.
“I would support having a debate on such topics,” the archbishop said. “What organisations you should have on different campuses of different kinds of universities, that’s a separate question. I don’t think a Catholic university should have an atheist society …
“I think a support group for people is one thing but a group that is promoting a particular ideology would be another question.”
Mr Kirby said that redefining marriage to include same-sex couples was akin to the 1967 US Supreme Court decision Loving vs Virginia in which the court overturned a ban on interracial marriage, in spite of 80 per cent public support for the ban.
The recent Supreme Court decision, he said, was simply reflecting the same logic.
Ryan Anderson disagreed.
“We all want the law to treat all marriages equally.
“What we were having a discussion about in the US was what sort of relationship is a marriage. And our Constitution doesn’t tell us what sort of consenting, adult relationship is a marriage.
“And five unelected judges have no greater access to the correct answer to that question than the American people did.”