A fortnight ago Australians learned that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) was urging the federal government to set aside anti-discrimination laws during the marriage equality plebiscite. This would facilitate free speech for the “no side” which was, according to ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton, fearful of being prosecuted if they expressed their views on same sex marriage.
According to Fairfax, Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission described it as “a disgraceful way of dealing with the issue”. Suggesting the ACL failed to understand how the anti-discrimination law worked, she added. “It’s an outrageous proposition and it’s highly misguided.”
In a radio interview with Jon Faine on Melbourne’s ABC 774 Shelton raised the example of the rather unambiguously titled “Pastoral letter” Don’t Mess With Marriage (below at 1 minute mark).
… at the moment we’ve seen the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference taken to the Tasmanian Human Rights Commission because someone felt offended by a very gentle, and respectful booklet just explaining Christian teachings on marriage.
Speaking to Fairfax about the same case Shelton is quoted as saying those who argued against same sex marriage faced a “constant threat of quasi and full-blown legal action”. Apparently as Shelton sees it these laws are not fair. State anti-discrimination laws have “such a low threshold” and thus, according to Shelton, the ACL is very concerned about fairness during the campaign.
The “gentle and respectful booklet”, as Shelton labelled Don’t Mess With Marriage was published in November last year. It points out on p.13 that:
Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to a mother and a father. And there are countless reliable studies that suggest that mothers and fathers enhance – and their absences impede – child development in different ways.
‘Messing with marriage’, therefore, is also ‘messing with kids’. It is gravely unjust to them.
A few pieces of this “gentle and respectful” wisdom require an entire paragraph in large font. Don’t think the fact that many children are happily raised in single parent families might get in the way of the ACL “Christian teachings on marriage”.
There is a big difference, however, between dealing with the unintended reality of single parenthood and planning from the beginning artificially to create an ‘alternative family’ that deliberately deprives a child of a father or a mother. (p.13)
Same-sex friendships are of a very different kind: to treat them as the same does a grave injustice to both kinds of friendship and ignores the particular values that real marriages serve. (p.9)
Under a photo of a sad child staring expressionless into space with disheveled hair and wearing a singlet is the heading Consequences of redefining marriage. Large font paragraphs sum up:
But if the civil definition of marriage were changed to include ‘same-sex marriage’ then our law and culture would teach that marriage is merely about emotional union of any two (or more?) people. (p.14)
Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, will be seen to be wholly interchangeable social constructs as gender would no longer matter. (p.14)
As always with such bigotry we’re reliably informed there is “sociological research” or simply research to back the claims. One citation mentioned on page 16 is M. Regnerus (2012): How different are the adult children of parents who have same sex relationships? His methodology and conclusions are condemned by a number of experts in this fact check from Equality Matters.
Indeed there was no comparison of same sex couples raising a family to heterosexual couples raising a family. Rather the criteria used is whether a parent had ever had a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex. The parent subjects were in fact part of a failed heterosexual union. Only a minor part of the sample spent “more than a few years living in a household headed by a same sex union”.
D. P. Sullins’ Emotional problems among children with same-sex parents: difference by definition is cited. It is also the subject of Emma Green’s Using Pseudoscience To Undermine Same-Sex Parents. Green notes:
This is not a new argument. Especially in the past decade, as gay marriage has been legally recognized in many states, a small number of scholars have claimed that kids of same-sex parents are exposed to more potential harms than kids of straight parents. This, in turn, has been used to argue against gay adoption and marriage.
In 5 Things to know about the new “gay parents are bad for kids study” Democratic Underground lay out how poorly data collation was conducted by Sullins, and note a lack of controls or adjustments for ambiguous variables (Point. 2). They ask in point five, So why bother authoring a study that is very obviously flawed?
This is essentially the problem with the deeply offensive Don’t Mess With Marriage. Children are the innocent victims of same sex marriage. They are to endure a “grave injustice”. Also the booklet is sprinkled with apparently awful outcomes for individuals and institutions across the globe. Again the tone is that same-sex marriage has a victim count.
So why would any objection be raised against Don’t Mess With Marriage, if Shelton deems it “a very gentle, and respectful booklet just explaining Christian teachings on marriage”? We find out in this Australian Women’s Weekly article that the “anti-gay” scribe was handed out to Catholic school children. 56 schools in Canberra according to Canberra Archbishop Christopher Prowse. Students discovering sexual orientation and gender or aware they are gay attend these schools. One mum stressed she was “furious”.
Referring to “sociological research” to quietly pass the buck to justify emotionally destructive and psychologically harmful biases might be intended to lend academic integrity to organised bigotry. Yet it appears any such consensus as put forward doesn’t exist.
The American Psychological Association published a statement on June 11th 2012. It includes:
On the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the American Psychological Association (APA) and other health professional and scientific organizations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. That is, lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. This body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.
In fact one study which did have the religious right unsettled was the 2014 University of Melbourne (Australia) study by Crouch et al. Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parent families: a cross-sectional survey (Full paper). Abstract Conclusions read:
Australian children with same-sex attracted parents score higher than population samples on a number of parent-reported measures of child health. Perceived stigma is negatively associated with mental health. Through improved awareness of stigma these findings play an important role in health policy, improving child health outcomes
Lyle Shelton’s appeal to antiquity is one for those who love to dig through history. In defending the request for an “override” of anti-discrimination laws Shelton claimed,
…those in the “no” camp were not seeking to say anything bigoted, but to put forward the “millenia-old” argument that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
A History Of Same Sex Marriage by William Eskridge Jr., offers a markedly different view of marriage, history and culture. There are the fascinating accounts of fourth century Christian martyrs and Roman soldiers St. Sergius and St. Bacchus. Perhaps married lovers as John Boswell concluded – to much criticism. Or simply “made brothers” via adelphopoiesis. Or as others postulate was the Christian tradition of adelphopoiesis the ideal vehicle to allow a same sex union in all but name? Nonetheless the real answers would lie in a firm grasp of history and anthropology.
Still, it matters little what is “millenia-old”. Appeals to antiquity are regarded as logical fallacies because in all their forms they are bankrupt of evidence to persuade. Today in our present social climate the denial of same sex union requires discrimination and frequently, bigotry. Expecting “override” of anti-discrimination legislation hints at the tone of argument the conservative religious movement would like to get away with.
The ACL should be ashamed they feel justified in making such a request.