Class warfare

quarterly essayFriday Forum


AS I prepare this review, the Coalition government’s same-sex marriage postal survey is entering its second week.

The Australian Christian Lobby, led by Lyle Shelton, is presently staging a ‘no’ campaign launch in Adelaide, the City of Churches.

A quick scan of my – or anyone else’s – social media feed is more than enough to confirm that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s promise of a “respectful debate” on same sex marriage is naive whimsy, at very best.

We are just seven days into a two-month process, and it is sadly evident that a festering national wound has been opened. Hysterical misinformation and threats of violence permeate the print and online sphere – a relentless march of jaundiced think-pieces and partisan dog whistling.

It is hard to imagine journalist and author Benjamin Law’s Quarterly Essay #67, Moral Panic 101, arriving at a more socially and historically apt time.

Moral Panic 101 forensically deconstructs the unhinged response – dare I say it, the ‘Fake News’ – deployed by the Murdoch press and some right wing Christian groups in relation to the Safe Schools program.

Safe Schools – ironically an Abbott government initiative – was subject to a scare campaign which, it is now apparent, provided the broader, twisted blueprint for the present ideological trench warfare being conducted over same sex marriage.

Law, an LGBTIQ Asian-Australian, empathetically relates the deeply traumatic consequences of this negative, ugly campaigning on the school children impacted.

Safe Schools, a program intended to provide 21st century appropriate sex education to kids across the gender attraction and identification spectrum, was quickly hijacked by the petty, culture warrior agenda of Australia’s self-designated guardians of conservative morality.

Moral Panic 101 illustrates the heavy burden of this demagogic cane waving.

Law’s essay is a sad litany of traumatised queer kids’ lives ruined, and in some cases cut short, by bigotry, ignorance and political point scoring.

Of course, when such a low rhetorical bar is being set by politicians and figures in our news media, what hope does ‘respectful debate’ actually have?

Transposing the ugly battlelines drawn over the mental health of children, we are now confronted with the very real ramifications of the rhetorical escalation of conservative Australia over the right for same sex couples to marry with equal rights.

If the reaction of the Murdoch press is anything to go by, Moral Panic 101 has certainly poked a conservative nerve.

Sadly, Law’s essay – in daring to question the relevance and reach of the agenda-driven tabloid morals campaigners in Mr Murdoch’s employ – has triggered an aftershock of moral panic over Law’s social media usage among those unfamiliar with the ironic vernacular of the online sphere.

Law’s essay is a masterclass in lucid, careful journalism.

If you’re yet to return your same-sex marriage survey, and are perhaps conflicted (they need to be in the mail by 27 October) I urge you to search out Law’s timely and essential essay.

We stand at the precipice of an important, defining schism in the fabric of Australian society in the early 21st century.

As Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pointed out in a tweet in early September, US television comedy The Golden Girls had the last word on marriage equality during the first Bush Presidency:

“Everyone wants someone to grow old with… and shouldn’t everyone have that chance?”

On today’s Friday Forum: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull’s promise of a respectful debate on same-sex marriage is naive?


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