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Celebrate or else

By Mark Christensen - posted Wednesday, 10 January 2018


I got an email from our Prime Minister before Christmas advising same-sex marriage had become "law of the land".

So, it's all done. Love prevailed. "This is for all Australians," he said.

Well, no, it isn't.

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First, this is an example of majoritarian democracy, not solidarity. I voted No, along with a few others. And while I can acknowledge the process and the need for compromise, this doesn't miraculously change my views or make the decision for everyone.

Accepting Cristiano Ronaldo just beat Lionel Messi for the 2017 Ballon d'Or, is a very different proposition to agreeing he is the best footballer in the world.

Second, changing the law is not the end of this – it's the beginning.

The US Supreme Court recently heard arguments against Jack Phillips, following his refusal to make a cake for a same-sex ceremony. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered him to go against his religious beliefs or stop baking wedding cakes. It also instructed Phillips to re-educate his employees on the requirements of anti-discrimination laws and report back on progress.

As The New York Times columnist David Brooks pointsout, the aggrieved couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, had two options here.

Under the neighbourly approach, they might say: "Fine, we won't compel you to do something you believe violates your sacred principles. But we would like to invite you into our home for dinner and bake with you, so you can see our martial love, and so we can understand your values. You still may not agree with us, after all this, but at least we'll understand each other better and we can live more fully in our community."

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This is modern America, laments Brooks, and "so of course Craig and Mullins took the legal route."

Australia is edging in the same wrong direction, something mooted "religious protections" will only hasten. This already confused political moment doesn't need more complicating laws.

"Legal conflict is a clumsy tool to manage the holy messiness of actual pluralistic community," writes Brooks.

"The legal system does not deal well with local and practical knowledge, the wisdom to know when a rule should be applied and when it should be bent. It does not do well with humility, tolerance and patience – virtues that are hard to put into a rule and can be achieved only in a specific situation. It inevitably generates angry reactions and populist uprisings."

Yet it's rarely recognised such uprisings are rational, far more in touch with reality than elite culture. Supporters of disruptive candidates like Trump and Pauline Hanson understand neither Washington nor Canberra can inaugurate social harmony. Though often expressed crudely, they sense Australia needs to make a paradigm shift from centralised power to a more neighbourly approach for managing human affairs.

Despite promises to listen more, to put people first and promote grassroots democracy, it should be no surprise nothing changes. The qualitative and intimate nature of our social fabric is a direct threat to the establishment and its impersonal systems of control.

Western society rebelled against a micro-managing, hypocritical ruling class some time ago, back when homosexuality was an official abomination and the priesthood punished non-compliance with an iron fist.

Centuries on, and we're at serious risk of replacing one dogmatic regime with its mirror image.

Today, homosexuality is to be celebrated, or else. It's insufficient to merely accept same-sex marriage. All Australians must show allegiance to the new orthodoxy. Dare to think or say Messi is better, and you'll be persecuted and made to renounce your beliefs on the grounds you're a bigot who suspects Cristiano is gay.

Malcolm Turnbull is caught in no-man's land – and a couple of by-election wins is not going to change this.

There is no appeasing the Culture War factions because, at the end of the day, the progressive left and conservative right are marching down the same track. Yes, they yell and scream at each other, and talk up community, free speech and personal responsibility, but this is largely a distraction from a shared attachment to elite power.

If Turnbull wants a legacy, he needs to defuse the conflict and tension by going radical.

Step 1: no new laws protecting religious belief.

Step 2: affirm the magnanimous love and self-confidence that carried the same-sex marriage plebiscite by repealing Australia's anti-discrimination and hate speech laws.

Time to grow up and deal with the truth. Social unity can't be coerced. The middle ground we crave must be created by everyday people dealing with their differences in good faith, based on local knowledge and wisdom.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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