It’s profoundly depressing that this Quarterly Essay, released last week, should immediately trigger reference to the Same Sex Marriage survey being run through the ABS between September and November this year. This is because the initial ‘No’ case advertisement focussed not on the question of whether the definition of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples, but instead on the Safe Schools program in schools. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has further muddied the waters by encouraging anyone who is uncomfortable with Political Correctness to vote ‘No’. It’s wandering quite some distance from the question of whether two same-sex people who love each other are allowed to marry.
Benjamin Law’s Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101 was written before the High Court gave the go-ahead for the survey. His essay is not about same-sex marriage. It is about the Safe Schools Program, and the lengthy and detailed campaign conducted by Murdoch’s Australian newspaper against it. He traces the history and genesis of the Safe Schools program, created in response to the distress and suicide rates of GLBTQI students, and its uptake throughout Australia. He then looks at the ‘poison’ of the campaign against it, spearheaded by the Australian Christian Lobby and facilitated and driven by the Australian which somehow, in the reams and reams of print devoted to the topic, never once spoke to a student. Law begins his essay with the suicide of thirteen-year-old schoolboy Tyrone Unsworth, who took his own life after sustained bullying over his sexuality. He ends it at Minus18’s annual formal for GLBTQI students. Law’s focus is on children: just as the Safe Schools debate should be.
So why then the link between this book and Same Sex marriage? It’s because the ‘No’ advocates opened their campaign with an advertisement, which features three women, including Cella White, who claimed that her son was told that he could wear a dress to school. Law knows Cella White. As he points out in his essay, her claim was rebutted at the time of her airing it (January 2016), and as far as I am aware, no other parents or students have stepped up to verify her accusations. That hasn’t stopped Cella White being featured in this advertisement in September 2017.
The calls to de-register the doctor who also appeared in the ‘No’ ad alongside Cella White are wrong. But Cella White is wrong to make this incorrect claim, and this should be called out- loudly and repeatedly. Law does it in this book, and Sean Kelly did so in his article ‘Welcome to the No Case‘ in a recent Saturday Paper. Chrys Stephenson has been doing some interesting investigating into the links between American evangelical religion and the Same Sex Marriage debate, too.
This Quarterly Essay is not about the SSM survey, but because of the advertising campaign prompted by the ‘No’ side, it has been drawn into the whole debate. It is a good and, unfortunately, very timely read.
A video of Benjamin Law talking about his Quarterly Essay: