Holy Pride & Prejudice

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Religious principles, or holier-than-thou pride and prejudice?

the stirrer has been having a bizarre and at times frankly incomprehensible ‘debate’ on Facebook (I know, nothing new there) with someone arguing for ‘special safeguards’ for business owners who don’t agree with marriage equality.

CAT & MOUSE

Each time one of their concerns was addressed, they moved the goalposts, raised a totally unconnected issue, or moved the discussion onto entirely different premises. I grew tired of being the mouse toyed with by the cat, and ended the discussion. It was like chasing someone through a hall of mirrors. It was a process designed to exhaust, not educate or elucidate. I have better things to do.

The conversation began reasonably enough. Accepting that our side have won and marriage equality will soon happen, they asked what ‘safeguards’ would be put in place for people who did not agree with the change. They cited the experience of the UK, where prospective adoptive parents “not only have to accept homosexuality, they have to “celebrate” it or not get an adoptive child… It is one thing to accept everyone has equal rights, it is quite another to insist people adopt values that preference a choice.”

I pointed out that homosexuality is not a choice (which they seemed to accept), and that it’s perfectly reasonable to require prospective parents to fully support a child who turns out to be LGBTI. Not just tolerate, but actively support, approve and celebrate their life stages exactly as they would a heterosexual child. To do otherwise risks damage to the child, and the child’s welfare is surely paramount? Surely it is the height of selfishness for the parents to insist that their views trump the child’s well-being?

And in any case, the anti-discrimination law under which this condition was imposed predates the introduction of marriage equality by some years. the two issues are not connected. It’s the same law that the Jewish school often mentioned in current refusenik arguments fell foul of: it was enacted three years before equal marriage passed the UK parliament. A totally separate issue.

My inquisitor then changed the subject, setting the pattern for the rest of the conversation. I would answer an objection, they would seem to accept my correction, and promptly raise a different issue.

ADAPTING TO CHANGE

It’s a taste of what is to come once the results of the postal vote are known, as the other side continues to try to delay, water down and if possible, ignore the coming change: the insistent demand for special treatment. Instead of looking for ways to adapt, these people seek legal endorsement to become drop outs: to freeze their little part of the world, and behave as if the change never happened. 

But societies, laws, and circumstances change continually, and people have to adapt. To demand ‘safeguards’ – special treatment – for people who do not accept a particular change, is a nonsense. To take an analogy from another sphere, look at how we have to constantly adapt to changes in technology.

My British brother in law served a long and poorly paid apprenticeship to become a master printer, a highly skilled, well paid and secure job, with a strong trade union to protect him. Then along came new technology, Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch, and in very short order his skills were no longer required. Union laws were changed, gutting his protection, and he and his wife had to rethink their future.

As everyone knows, the print unions tried to fight the changes (much as my Facebook correspondent is trying to fight the changes to marriage), but eventually, inevitably, they lost. The printing industry chose to move to the new technologies (just as Australian society is choosing to enhance marriage): the government of the day legislated to assist that change, and everyone (including my brother in law) with a huge personal investment in the old ways lost out.

It was tough. But my sister took over as principal breadwinner, forging a very successful career, becoming a senior executive in her field, while he became a brilliant stay home dad, taking care of the children. They were challenged, adapted, and thrived. Of course they could have made different choices. but they accepted that the world had changed, and they had to change with it. It happens to us all the time

TURNING TO THE POSITIVE

It’s about to happen to reception centre owners, photographers, bakers, florists: with the arrival of marriage equality, their world is about to change. But they are better off than my brother in law. The change will not devalue their skills and knowledge. Their professions will not cease to exist. Their businesses will not be damaged, they will be enhanced. Unlike my brother in law, they can choose to continue as they are.

They also have alternative choices: the extension of marriage to new populations will expand their marketplace, providing new business opportunities, and increasing the value of their businesses. They will be able to sell out at a good price, if that is their choice, and invest in some other line of business. They will gain much from this change, if they embrace it, but they have other choices.

What they cannot choose is to be excused from change simply because they are not personally comfortable with it. To be excused from obeying the law because it doesn’t fit their personal beliefs. To request special privileged treatment. That they continue to do so suggests to me that other motives, like pride and prejudice, are at play here, not matters of conscience. They want to have their cake and eat it. A fair, equal and democratic country does not work that way.

With a little flexibility, they are unlikely to suffer any long term damage. In fact they stand to make substantial gains. Unless they foolishly choose to make themselves martyrs, in which case I am sure there will be some irresponsible quasi-religious organisations egging them on.

EXIT STRATEGY

I have some sympathy for them. I made a submission to the Senate enquiry into the impacts of marriage equality, suggesting that people who did not wish to operate a business that treated all clients equally be allowed a period of grace – I suggested three years – in which to sell their businesses, or place them under church ownership, or retrain, or make some other orderly exit from their dilemma. This would be a solution that, unlike special religious exemptions, does not undermine the letter or spirit of anti-discrimination law.

Sadly the committee did not take this suggestion up. Perhaps those campaigning for special treatment could lobby the government to do this?

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. And now he's been nominated for LGBTI Journalist of the Year 2017, which is great news, as he hasn't won any of these things for years! If you want to nominate him too - the more the merrier - you can do it here http://www.australianlgbtiawards.com.au/public-nominations.html"Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)