It was impossible, after I read Tom Switzer’s comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, to stick to my resolution that I was going to say nothing more about voting in the possibly upcoming “survey” on marriage equality.
I speak as an elderly atheist of 65 years study and commitment, who was in a heterosexual marriage for forty three years until my husband died. My four children are in heterosexual marriages with children of their own. I therefore think my platform for speech on this topic is about as neutral as it could possibly be.
I will vote a resounding “Yes” in any vote.
But I feel strongly that this is an issue which should not be decided by a public vote. Not only because the campaigning has got so nasty, but because, unless you are an adult gay couple who wish to marry, it is the business of no one else.
I found Mr Switzer’s article was offensive on two fronts. The first that he clearly does not see that the “No” vote’s outspoken supporters are speaking more offensively to my neutral ears than are the “Yes” vote supporters. He is not able to see this. Even his quoting of Margaret Court’s outspoken remarks before the issue became a survey and the fact she did not see there would be considerable retaliation to the tenor of her comments, was offensive.
I do not want my remarks to be particularly an attack on religions as there are many churchmen and institutions that have spoken out in support of a “yes” vote and some others who have spoken very moderately, but clearly, about their reasons for a “no” vote.
However Mr Switzer’s one eyed view on who is unreasonable in this debate is a reflection of a very conservative religious view that has dogged me all my life. It is that if one is a non believer one must verbally genuflect if one is to criticise a religious belief. When expressing my absence of theism I have always felt the need to be very careful so that I do not give offence. I have, unless I have been very hard pressed, refrained from liking a religious belief to any other legend or story. I have gone out of my way to make it clear that I admire many of the exhortations of religions to do good and love one’s neighbours, whilst quietly believing this is part of a humanist ideology as well.
But all my life I have had the Christian religion thrust upon me, from the days my parents insisted I go to Sunday School and pressed me to be confirmed or to take first communion. I politely attended SRE lessons that Public Schools make it hard to avoid. I paid taxes that promote Christian religions without overt complaint.
As an adult I leant more about Islam and am astounded at the extraordinary parallels between that and Christianity.
Yet the Islamic spokespeople here have the sense to say they are not entering the debate intensely as they think their intervention might promote a backlash.
Yes, they have experienced backlashes in Australia, as the gay community have experienced over the years with homosexual acts being criminal until relatively recently. Those who have experienced criticism of their ideas as people are a little more careful of how they speak. They have learnt that freedom to speak does not mean that their speech is free from criticism.
But conservative sections of the Christian Church, such as Mr Switzer seems to represent in his article, must accept that although they do and always should have freedom to express their views, this does not mean that if they do so it will not excite vigorous retaliation.
And from my exposure to debate on the “survey” issue both in the press, on the radio and television and through social media I have to say that the earliest “below the belt” criticism came from the “no” voters. And it has been answered quite cleverly.
We are voting on an issue very personal to those whom it directly affects.
Those who disagree will always have the right to freedom of speech. Religious beliefs are provided with additional freedom in our constitution and in some of our laws.
But for those of you, Mr Switzer, whose experience of life has been of people like myself who give a verbal genuflect before disagreeing with you, you have now lost that extra respect (to which you have never been legally entitled).