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Thursday 15 September 2016

They Don’t Care What You Think

Anyone who knows me knows that I have strong views on certain issues. This is partly because of my personality, I was brought up to be confident, especially in matters of Scripture, but it is also due to what I do for a living. I am an ordained minister, and as such it is my role to teach God’s word, and make sure I handle it well, so that I know I am speaking the truth with a degree of confidence. I also must be able to connect it to the context of the world we live in which requires me to read a broadly as possible.
An issue that I am extremely strong on is freedom of speech and listening to other people’s opinions. If you get into a debate with me, I may appear to talk over you, but in most contexts I will seek to draw out of people what they think, so I can grapple with it in whatever way is necessary for the context. I seek to apply this to my reading as well. I am a Christian minister, but I will regularly listen to non-Christians, atheists, people of other religions, people on the left, and people on the right, because I want to test my views against the views of others, and I want to learn where I may be wrong, and I want to hone my views so they are sharper, more communicable, and therefore much easier to bring to others.

This is how Western society is supposed to work. When Australia, in particular, was colonized, it was founded as a secular society. This originally meant that it was to be a society where no Christian denomination was favoured by the state, or the official state Church, but it was founded to be a country where all settlers, no matter their particular beliefs, could participate in building our society, contribute their diverse views, and therefore make us stronger. We created a society where people were not to be persecuted or ignored for their beliefs, but all allowed to contribute equally. This is the way a healthy and free society is supposed to work.

This is why there is something about the current debate around the plebiscite regarding marriage equality that really grinds my gears; those in the Labor and Greens parties, don’t care what you think. They just don’t care, and worse, they think what you think is dangerous.

Read this article for instance, where Tanya Plibersek, calls the potential plebiscite “unnecessary and damaging and divisive.” In fact, Bill Shorten is expected to tell his MP’s to do all they can to block the legislation. Now, as much as possible, let’s put politics aside, I am a swing voter, and am not particularly pleased with either major party at the moment, but let’s think about this: what does it say about the opposition when they consider a public debate “unnecessary and damaging and divisive”? Well it says a few things.

Firstly, they consider it unnecessary, because they don’t care what you, or I think on this issue. They are settled on their views, and they will not stop until they get what they want. Never mind that same sex couples already have all the same legal protections under the law as heterosexual couples. Never mind the fact that we are not creating equality here, but redefining a term which means marriage between a man and woman, and is already enshrined with this definition in our law. Never mind that multiple bills for same sex marriage legislation have been voted down in the past in our parliament. The Labor and the Greens are determined to push this forward, without your say. Labor promised to pass same sex marriage legislation within a hundred days of being voted into parliament, they lost, yet they are still determined to push this forward, and block the plebiscite, and your view is unnecessary to them.

What does this tell you about their governing style and ideology. Let’s put same sex marriage aside for the moment. When a political party, whichever side of the aisle, is determined to move forward against the will of the people, or without even being willing to hear the will of the people, does this not sound a bit totalitarian? Or at least inclined that way? The Australian people just voted in a government that promised to allow a plebiscite, but the losing side is determined to ignore that mandate and block it, because your opinion to them is unnecessary. That is the total antithesis of democracy. One of the foundations of democracy is that your opinion matters. You may disagree with me on same sex marriage, you may want it to be passed into law, or you may not, either way you should be allowed to have your say, and not be told your view is unnecessary. This is integral in a democracy. Especially when we are being given the chance to do so, as the plebiscite will do.

But even worse you are being told that you will damage people with your opinion. When I was growing up we used to sing this song, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now I know words can be painful, but they can only hurt us as much as we let them. Don’t you think that our government should have enough belief in its voting citizens to participate in a public debate like adults, and not try to get us to shrink back from ideas and views which we disagree with? This smacks of the safe space debacles effecting American Colleges.  

We do not need to be protected from differing opinions, even ones we consider hateful. Seriously, is it even conceivable that a public debate on the issue of same sex marriage could degenerate as far as discussion does on reddit, or tumblr, or twitter? Not likely. These are places where our young people already are encountering all kinds of views on every topic, including all the views and more that will be discussed in a public debate for a plebiscite on same sex marriage. Even Facebook is filled with lively discussions on the issues. The couple of times I ventured into the world of reddit I was blown away by the plethora of immature, and viscous opinion, but I came away unscathed, as do we all when we maturely engage in debate, and recognize that the opinion of that keyboard warrior I just encountered online can’t hurt me. Debate is good for us, it sharpens the mind, and we need a few more razor sharp minds in this country, not less. 

There needs to be less of the government trying to protect us from words and ideas in society, and more encouragement for engagement with contrary ideas, so that we wrestle with them publicly, as adults are supposed to do, and as children are supposed to see adults do. Frankly, I think it is insulting that the Labor and Green’s parties think we are so fragile that they believe we as a nation are not able to handle a public debate on this issue. Our ancestors fought the Nazi’s and won, they defended the Kokoda trail, we are not a nation afraid to defend our country and other countries from invaders, we are certainly not afraid of a discussion. I would think people on all sides of this issue would agree.

But they also think it will be divisive. This is the perennial argument brought forward to stifle debate in so many contexts. And sure debate can be divisive, especially if there is a perceived winner of loser. But we already have a society which is divided, between labor and liberal voters, between left and right, between monarchists and republicans, between the religious and irreligious, between NRL fans and aerial ping pong fans, between Queenslanders and New South Welshmen, between those who think Melbourne has the best coffee, or Sydney does, between soccer lovers, and football lovers (see what I did there). In other words, our society has so many dividing lines already, yet this is without-a-doubt one of the best places in the world to live, if not the best place. Every society has dividing lines, our society seems to handle them very well indeed, and much better than most.

Yes, a plebiscite will divide the country, between those who agree we should change the law, and those who believe we should not. But is not one of the characteristics of the mature person the ability to agree to disagree. There is an old joke, get me three Baptists in one room and I will give you four opinions. But doesn’t this relate to all of us really. Do any of us ever really agree over everything? Isn’t is a little childish for the Labor government to try and protect us from a little divisive argument over an issue as important at the backbone of society: the family unit, and what should be considered marriage? I think we can handle it.  

They, that is Labor and the Greens, don’t care what you think, but I do, and so do many of your fellow citizens. Even if we disagree on marriage equality, I think we should continue to push to be given a chance to share our opinion in a public plebiscite. What do you think?