Don’t Mess With Anti-Discrimination Laws

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.

Lyle SheltonLyle Shelton

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.

 

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Pseudoscience and Christian bigotry

First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

US Republican Senator Todd Akin, August 19th 2012

Some doctors have told me that health outcomes are worse for gay and lesbian people, and gay activists themselves point to health problems. I mean this in the widest sense, not just HIV-AIDS but rates of cancer, alcoholism and other disease.

Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, September 10th 2012

An interesting article headed When did it become okay to bag Christianity? was published in Mamamia recently.

The author recounts hearing what appears to be a fairly unjustified anti-theistic rant directed at Christians, then poses some queries as to why such criticism is common. Common in various media and comedy sketches. Of course this applies also to drama, casual discourse, public debate and genuine lobbying for equal rights.

Perhaps the question should have been phrased differently, or presented as an observation. Christianity particularly, has practitioners adhering to many different practices, beliefs and intention. Regrettably there are those who ignore the privacy of faith and wield their version of Christianity as if it were authoritative. Or worse, an absolute truth or blueprint for life. Everyone’s life.

It is this constant song of demand that the only life we know be discarded in servitude or demoted to a test run that sustains a deep and painful wound in the Australian psyche. The strange mix of fundamentalism and patronising insistence that others must live by an unwelcome moral code is at once offensive and utterly absurd. The intellectual paucity upon which it rides is truly astonishing.

Yet it is the message of Christianity as put forward by those in a position to command media attention, those who lobby or horrifically as revealed in recent years, those who seek to indoctrinate our children at public schools. The scale of material wealth enjoyed by the institutions that protect and nurture this archaic message and sadly defend those known to have abused so many children is not lost on Australians.

That religious institutions based on Christianity and the faith of Christianity are not one and the same, is not always clear. This may explain why it’s seemingly “okay to bag Christianity”. On the most recent episode of Q&A on Australia’s ABC, Aussies were treated to some splendid bigotry and misogyny from Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen. Such views would and do disgust many Christians. He also spoke of the message of Jesus Christ and the positives associated with this. This view would be celebrated by all Christians.

Therein lies much confusion and the source for criticism of Christianity. It may not be Christianity in it’s entirety or individual Christians that are intended to be “bagged”. Yet the inordinate wealth, control and unwanted influence afforded truly unpleasant individuals based upon what is essentially a belief in magical beings, does not sit well with the progressive 21st century mind. Christianity remains a most irritating influence and/or manifestly detrimental force for so many that “bagging” or mocking, is not surprising.

The divisive and deceptive nature of many messages pushed out by Christian identities is reflected in the above comments. In both instances we see an appeal to authority. Toss in the claim some doctors have said this or that and apparently one has the opportunity to trot out whatever bigoted opinions one would like to be fact. In both cases it backfires because “doctors” in general say nothing of the sort.

Hence no proper research was attempted but the faux impression of having sought informed consensus is bravely put forth. Worse, these are smart men so this author will assume they knowingly lied. I hasten to add Jensen followed with, “I do not know whether there is sound evidence for this or not”. Which far from saving him should rightly raise questions about his access to Google or who on earth advises him. At the time, the claim had already been in the headlines for five days.

Hiding behind dodgy “research” is nothing new for Christian bigotry. The myth that homosexuality and paedophilia are linked has been the topic of bogus, offensive, pseudoscientific and at times bizarre reporting. Quite benign findings are breathlessly reported as evidence of children in danger from gay men. For example, one source from the US Family Research Council (Advancing faith, family and freedom) is cited:

In The Gay Report, by homosexual researchers Karla Jay and Allen Young, the authors report data showing that 73 percent of homosexuals surveyed had at some time had sex with boys sixteen to nineteen years of age or younger.

The wording seeks to convey that gay men have overwhelmingly had sex with teens, whereas “at some time” conveniently distorts consensual legal sex. Exactly the type of findings we’d expect with heterosexuals.

An in depth article by Mark E. Pietrzyk, Homosexuality and child sexual abuse: science, religion and the slippery slope, followed the 2006 resignation of US Congressman Mark Foley. We read in part in the conclusion:

A number of recent studies and articles have attempted to discredit the gay rights movement by linking homosexuality to pedophilia.  These writings have either cited articles in the scientific literature alleging to show that homosexual males are more inclined to molest children than heterosexual males, or they have attempted to demonstrate an inevitable trend toward toleration of pedophilia by employing the “slippery slope” argument.

However, the very scientists that are cited in support of the contention that gays are more likely to be molesters explicitly reject the idea that homosexuals pose a disproportionate threat to children.  […]

In fact, the Judeo-Christian tradition and many other religious traditions tolerated and even affirmed pedophilic relationships for centuries.  The contemporary taboo against such relationships developed only a little over one hundred years ago…

On Q&A Jensen was lending credence to Australian Christian Lobby head Jim Wallace’s argument that the “gay lifestyle” leads to death 20 years earlier than heterosexual estimates. Perhaps relying on Modelling the impact of HIV disease on mortality in gay and bisexual men, published in 1997, Wallace certainly chose to ignore the important follow up paper, Gay life expectancy revisited, by the same authors.

They open with this paragraph:

Over the past few months we have learnt of a number of reports regarding a paper we published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on the gay and bisexual life expectancy in Vancouver in the late 1980s and early 1990s. From these reports it appears that our research is being used by select groups in US and Finland to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others. These homophobic groups appear more interested in restricting the human rights of gay and bisexuals rather than promoting their health and well being.

Wallace might like to buttress his bigotry with the solidly debunked “gay obituary study” published by the head of Family Research Council (a documented Hate Group) Paul Cameron, with Playfair and Wellum. Choosing only obituaries these guys “concluded” gay men die at 43. I’m sure this came as quite a shock to all the living gay men from the same generation over 43 years of age. Especially as the sample had no living subjects and further skewed it’s results by sampling only urban openly gay men.

Today, with antiretroviral drugs mean life expectancy from the time of diagnosis with HIV is over 40 years. So, these chaps had to zero in on a particular time period and ignore living subjects. Average age of death from AIDS was around 40 years. 20% of gay men would die of AIDS in the period before drug treatment. According to Steven Ross, even if we crank that up to 50% Cameron’s mean lifespan of 43 years requires healthy gay men to die at 46. Said differently, if healthy gay men died at 70 those with AIDS would need to die at 16.

Then there’s the group of bigoted evangelicals I personally enjoy catching out in their abuse of science. The conservative anti-drug lobby continues to produce junk science arguing measures to control blood borne virus spread have failed. They remain at the forefront of efforts to undermine the methodology of expert panels who conclude illicit drug prohibition tactics in present form are quite damaging. An assorted group of Christian fundamentalists bent on faith based practices, it is quite sad to see them attack Christian run faith based charities.

When Drug Free Australia published an attack on research supporting Vancouver’s safe injecting site under the guise of science, Mark Wainberg, professor of medicine and director of the McGill University AIDS Centre concluded in part:

In my view, the allegations that have been made by ‘Drug Free Australia’ are without merit and are not based on scientific fact. In contrast, it is my view that the work that has been carried out by the team of Thomas Kerr et al is scientifically well-founded and has contributed to reducing the extent of mortality and morbidity in association with the existence of the safer injection facility. . . . The University of British of British Columbia should be proud of the contributions of its faculty members to the important goal of diminishing deaths due to intravenous drug abuse.

Thus in all three examples the demonstrable abuse of existing science or presentation of pseudoscience to justify or defend outright discrimination is clearly demonstrated. The quest for abstinence – forced if need be – in all it’s forms certainly leads to bigotry.

Clearly the discrimination and abuse levelled at members of the LGBTI community has a demonstrable impact on health and lifestyle. For gay Christians or those raised in Christian families the effects of bigotry can be negatively life changing. If Wallace was honest he would admit that his identified lifestyle problems of drug abuse, self harm and suicide would reduce without his bigotry.

If HIV is of genuine concern he would accept stable, monogamous relationships and of course marriage, reduce the risk of not knowing the HIV status of a partner. Instead he prefers to cite a Danish study that found brief relationships of around 18 months. He might not let on this was a sample of young men aged 18-21 years. In fact same sex civil unions are rather boringly unlikely to differ from the general population.

Wallace’s claims are surely demonstrably false. What is more shocking than Jim’s predictable bigotry is his attempt to link choice to sexual orientation. In arguing that smoking reduces lifespan by up to a decade and we educate children not to smoke, he’s suggesting we should similarly educate about the dangers of the “gay lifestyle”.

Of course as Jim tells it he was misrepresented by “gay activists”. Just as his anti-Islamic, homophobic ANZAC Day tweet was a misrepresentation by “twitter activists”. In both cases Aussie Christians vocally distanced themselves from him and his mess. His knack for denial is almost impressive.

Fortunately this debacle will have a notably positive outcome. More children being educated not to listen to Jim Wallace and the outmoded Australian Christian Lobby.