It was with shock that I opened my local newspaper this week to find an advertisement for the “NO” campaign by one of the local churches. Priding myself on my open mindeness to different views, I quickly shut down my internal opposition to what was written, on the basis that a well functioning liberal democracy and society requires the expression of different views, no matter how much we find them distasteful or difficult.
However, I heard a woman speak on the radio yesterday which made me revisit this view. She was the mother of a daughter in a single sex relationship and the grandmother to her daughter’s child. She described the pain that her and her family have experienced, as long standing members of her local parish which is supporting the NO campaign. The anguish she felt seeped through her words, as she recounted how she had sat through sermon after sermon supporting the NO campaign. Members of her parish, her community and friends, suffocating her and her daughter with their silence. She then spoke of how finally it all became too much leading her to finally decide to bring the matter up to discuss with her pastor.
What this example brought home so poignantly to me was the heart breaking human cost of the exercise that Australia has just been through with the postal survey. It was exactly what the single sex community feared and what indigenous Australia has always been concerned about in regards to proposals for a referendum on constitutional change. Such processes change the nature of discussions from abstract considerations of values and personal beliefs, morality, ethics and social norms to concrete judgments about how people live. Instead different beliefs about these issues become outwardly expressed through harmful actions against persons whose lives fall into the subject being debated. Asking people in this way to decide how others should live will always be fraught with this danger.
It is one thing to determine these questions in the abstract, and for oneselves and how one wishes to conduct ones own life. This is a right protected by the free democracy in which we live. It is another to expressly seek to condemn and judge others for how they live, affecting innocent people, including children who all experience the rejection of the society into which they were born. This is the type of behaviour we should fight against.
Unfortunately, this campaign, has as such things are want to do, brought out the worst of the religious world and exposed the underlying themes of judgment and intolerance which is often kept behind closed doors. No matter what the argument, a view that not only does not support attempts to lessen human suffering but actually lacks the awareness of its role in causing more suffering, will never be one that I can be a part of. As people feared, we have seen the ugly side of this campaign. Lets hope that as a community we can redeem ourselves to those affected.