Even as the Labor Party appears to have blunted the chances of the proposed plebiscite into gay marriage this week, the most vociferous opponents of gay marriage have been hitting the airwaves casting doubt and weaving mischief.
Fronting the push from within Parliament is Tasmanian arch-conservative Eric Abetz, whose opposition to gay law reform has deep roots in conservative Christian fringe allegiances in Tasmania and beyond.
Abetz made waves this week with his latest provocations at a Tasmanian book launch for the ominously titled Stealing from the Child: The Injustice of “Marriage Equality” by Australian Marriage Forum president David van Gend, a book that promises to lay bare the “breathtakingly subversive redefinition of marriage” and expose the “genderless agenda” that comes with genderless “marriage”.
Abetz asked: “Ever notice how when some people go from the heterosexual to homosexual lifestyle they are able to be celebrated and honoured for their honesty and courage? They’ve come out … ever thought why there is no celebration for those that decide to go from the homosexual to heterosexual lifestyle? Are they not honest? Are they not coming out as well?”
I think most Australians scratched their heads in disbelief at the senator’s words as we tried to interpret their meaning. Because under present Australian law we do celebrate people who make that wish to consummate heterosexual love, regardless of the personal journey that took them there. Should they find a partner, such folk are allowed to celebrate their love in the most public means I can think of – they are allowed to marry.
Yet the pernicious hypocrisy in Abetz’s position is that while he bemoans an imagined media culture in Australia that won’t celebrate people “turning straight” – he wouldn’t afford gays anything like the same dignity.
I’d suggest that far from there being some kind of media-fuelled homosexual conspiracy, most Australians are ready and willing to celebrate anyone’s journey to finding authentic self and love. Senator Abetz, not so much.
In fact, he has been one of the nation’s staunchest opponents to gay marriage – publicly backing the gay marriage plebiscite but then indicating he would refuse to be bound by its findings, and warning that legalising gay marriage would “rob marriage of its meaning”, do “irreparable damage to the next generation” and lead to polyamory or worse.
But Abetz’s diplomatic hyperbole masks a darker truth – that he would adopt any position available that would block, stall or derail the momentum toward gay marriage in this country.
A look at his history and consistent support of groups that promote the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy helps to explain his bizarre outburst.
Since entering Parliament in 1994, Senator Abetz has been consistent in his opposition to any gay law reform – including leading the charge against decriminalising homosexuality in his home state of Tasmania. That was coincidentally the same year the UN condemned Tasmania’s anti-gay laws – and it was Abetz that led the charge to block the UN intervention.
Leading Tasmanian gay rights campaigner Rodney Croome recalls that when former High Court Justice Michael Kirby toured Tasmania in 1994 to explode some of the myths around homosexuality, Abetz was there to oppose his views at public meetings across Tasmania.
The following year when the Keating government introduced the Sexual Privacy Act to federally override the Tasmanian laws, Abetz perpetrated a bizarre line of argument that many people had successfully undergone aversion therapy and had overcome their homosexuality – therefore it was wrong to change laws against it.
Always couched in legalistic and diplomatic language, the historical record bears out the fact that Senator Abetz has consistently affiliated with fringe Christian groups including the anti-gay Salt Shakers and has remained steadfast in fighting gay law reform throughout his entire term of office.
Perhaps that’s why he is now, in 2016, calling on the media to celebrate the tiny number of Australians who “come out” as straight having previously identified as gay.
His call to celebrate people turning from gay to straight is just the latest line of attack against gays in long political career that bears all the hallmarks of a religiously-fuelled, personal moral crusade.
It is important to keep this in mind when considering his current sway within the upper ranks of the Turnbull government.