Lyle Shelton’s ‘red herring’ consequences to same-sex marriage

Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has done a fine job building straw men from supposed “consequences” of same-sex marriage legislation.

He has been pushing this shadowy notion for well over a year, using the interim time to select a favoured stable of consequences. As a constant face for the No campaign he has recently been offering these quite doubtful consequences as reason to vote No in the upcoming plebiscite. To hear Shelton tell it, oppression of select freedoms is absolutely certain. To hear others tell it he is talking nonsense. Offering red herrings. He’s certainly doing what many do when the evidence doesn’t favour their position and opinion.

Mainly, work hard at divergence. Draw attention away from the actual matter at hand. As has been recently pointed out by Nick Greiner more than one billion people live in countries where same-sex marriage is a reality. Keeping this in mind we can see that even with the stable of starring consequences the ACL and Shelton are offering a paucity of examples to defend the No Campaign. More so we should revisit his approach from last year to grasp how little has changed. As Independent Sydney M.P. Alex Greenwich notes, Lyle Shelton rarely talks about marriage with respect to the same-sex marriage debate.

On July 26th 2016 Shelton appeared on Sky News and was asked by Paul Murray to explain the No case. Mr. Shelton is no stranger to dodging an answer to questions, instead getting his own point across. He replied, “This is essentially about three things, Paul. It’s a package deal that comes with a bunch of other things”. He then went on to stress that “gay couples have equal status with heterosexual couples under law that has existed since at least 2008”. He again pressed the “package deal” point, contesting that “if we change the definition of marriage, Safe Schools comes under the banner of the rainbow flag and rainbow political agenda”.

His evidence? “You’ve got to look no further than Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews, one of the biggest proponents of gay marriage, he’s forcing Safe Schools into his schools”. Then freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion appear to be under threat. Changing the definition of marriage “in Commonwealth law weaponises state based anti-discrimination law”. He mentioned the case of Archbishop Julian Porteus. An anti-discrimination complaint was lodged in November 2015 against the Archbishop with respect to his “Don’t Mess With Marriage” booklet.

The third problem is about “what we do to children”. Shelton contended “that mothers don’t matter to a baby anymore. That’s what same-sex marriage says in law and culture”. Later he contends that “we won’t be able to stop commercial surrogacy, which is deeply unethical, if we change the definition of marriage. It is a definite flow-on effect”. He “cannot get anyone from the gay lobby to deny that commercial surrogacy is not next”. The Australian Christian Lobby argue that commercial surrogacy is another part of the “package deal” with same-sex marriage.

The next day he ran much the same by Steve Price on 2GB. According to Shelton same-sex couples enjoy the same lifestyle as heterosexual couples. If we redefine marriage, we redefine parenting. There will be “flow on effects” including gender ideology via the Safe Schools programme, which (you guessed it) is “a package deal with same-sex marriage”.

Shelton is now frequently referring to “radical LGBTIQ” education as a result of Safe Schools. It’s rather tiring researching his presentation. He will launch into the “consequences” that he insists loom before us. Every interview. Often two or perhaps three times. Although this is of course far more palatable than the May 2016 blog piece in which he wrote on Safe Schools. Including;

The cowardice and weakness of Australia’s ‘gatekeepers’ is causing unthinkable things to happen, just as unthinkable things happened in Germany in the 1930s.

Despite using a range of “consequences” to same-sex marriage to defend a No vote, it is Safe Schools that entirely make up the first No Campaign TV advertisement. The ad’ was commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage which is led by the ACL. The ABC report in part;

Claims legalising same-sex marriage will lead to sweeping education reforms are “patently ridiculous”, Education Minister Simon Birmingham has said after the release of the first national TV ad from the No campaign.

He continues to rattle off the other consequences he has firmly committed to memory. Although as I mentioned, with one billion people living in countries with same-sex marriage enshrined in law, his sample is strikingly tiny. He still mentions Archbishop Julian Porteus from Tasmania. He never misses a chance to remind listeners that in March 2016 Bill Shorten promised the Guardian Australia’s Why Knot? event that Labor would not alter discrimination legislation to please opponents to same-sex marriage. The Guardian reported;

Labor will oppose any attempt to extend discrimination law exemptions to allow people who object to same-sex marriage to deny goods and services to gay couples.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten made the pledge at Guardian Australia’s marriage equality event Why Knot in Sydney on Thursday.

Responding to a questioner who asked him to rule out allowing bakers not to sell cakes to gay weddings, Shorten said Labor would oppose such discrimination law exemptions and repeal them at the earliest available opportunity if they passed.

“It’s not allowed now under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”

Shelton has summed this up as “cake makers and wedding service providers losing freedoms”. Furthermore he frequently refers to Senator James Paterson to reinforce the “loss of freedoms” consequence. The Guardian recently reported in part;

Parliament must decide how to protect religious freedom if same-sex marriage is legalised, and cannot wait until the marriage equality postal survey is finished, the Liberal senator James Paterson has said.

The Victorian senator has called for an overhaul of anti-discrimination law to allow service providers to refuse gay weddings, telling a religious freedom forum in Perth on Thursday there will be no time to deal with the issue after the survey is finished.

Constantly, along with Shorten and Paterson, Mr. Shelton will also mention Alex Greenwich to complete his trio of politicians whose individual conduct apparently confirms the consequence of eroded civil liberties.

A staple discrimination consequence often presented to Australians is that of Irish cake makers Daniel and Amy McCarthy. In 2014 bakers at the family run company, Ashers, refused to make a cake with the slogan Support Gay Marriage, above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. The customer was gay rights activist Gareth Lee. By May 2015 a Belfast High Court ruled the company guilty of unlawful discrimination based on grounds of sexual orientation. Ashers paid £500 plus court costs.

Nonetheless in a few weeks the UK Supreme Court will hear arguments over two days to consider the initial judgement. One must wonder however just how much consideration will be placed on the argument that certain messages in icing pose a risk to the soul. As Pink News reported last May;

The bakers claimed in a legal brief that God considers it a sin to make cakes with pro-gay messages on, but multiple courts have upheld the decision against them.

Now with the UK Supreme Court taking an interest this apparent consequence may prove inconsequential to those who are essentially discriminating against others. The attention has already resulted in a significant increase in profits. As of last May Ashers reported an increase of £200,000.

Another “consequence” raised by Mr. Shelton is truly a case of having your cake and eating it too. He’d have his audience believe Oregon couple Aaron and Melissa Klein are innocent bakers that had their right to protect their beliefs crushed. However it was the decision of the Klein’s to not serve same-sex customers due to religious beliefs, then close their shop and move their business to home. The attention to this case led to a Wikipedia page, Sweet Cakes By Melissa.

In July 2015 Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries confirmed in a final order an administrative court’s decision to fine the couple. They were fined $135,000. However along with a number of other news outlets, Pink News reported in March this year the couple wanted to overturn the judgement. There also appeared to be strange activity around the finances raised;

The Christian bakery in Oregon that waged a court battle against anti-discrimination rules are now trying to avoid paying legal costs – despite donors giving them several times the full amount.

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa came to national attention when they claimed it would be “sinful” to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, launching a legal battle against the state’s equality laws.

After losing the long-running court case last year, bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein were ordered to pay $135,000 in costs and damages .

More than  $400,000 was raised online after the anti-gay American Family Association (AFA) rallied its supporters to donate to Sweet Cakes to cover the fine.

It could still be several weeks at least until the appeals judges hand down a ruling.

Mr. Shelton loves to tell us of the consequence that befell 71 year old Washington grandmother Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts. Stutzman refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding based on her religious beliefs. A lower court found she had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Last February Washington’s state Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling. Robert Vischer argues here that the court erred in its decision. The Attorney General outlines his case below (bold mine);

Fighting discrimination before the state Supreme Court

I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I had another opportunity to uphold our anti-discrimination laws recently, this time before the Washington State Supreme Court.

My office filed the lawsuit in 2013 against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner and operator, Barronelle Stutzman, for discrimination over the refusal to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers, a service she and her business provided to opposite-sex couples.

Last year, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that Stutzman’s actions violated the state Consumer Protection Act. Before I filed our lawsuit, I sent a letter to Ms. Stutzman asking her to agree to stop discriminating, in which case my office would not seek fines or penalties. Ms. Stutzman declined that offer. She lost the ensuing lawsuit and pursued an appeal, which the Supreme Court heard in November.

Washington law is clear: Businesses cannot discriminate. If you serve opposite-sex partners, you must serve same-sex partners equally.

Recently there has been a development that reinforces how tenuous this case is to the argument of “consequences” coming from Shelton. Indeed the development itself suggests that the ACL is at best sloppy and at worst deceptive with the full import of its claims. On July 14 this year, The Daily Signal reported;

Less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration because of his religious beliefs about marriage, lawyers asked the high court to combine it with a similar case involving a florist from Washington state, The Daily Signal has learned.

On June 26, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012, after refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration, he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and charged with violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The case of baker Jack Phillips is also listed on the ACL website. One hopes if the reviews are successful that this consequence will be accurately reflected on the website.

We constantly hear from Mr. Shelton that in Canada, father Steve Tourloukis lost the right to remove his children from “radical sex education programs which became compulsory after marriage was redefined”. It is reported that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice upheld the School Board’s decision to deny permission to remove children from class to avoid what Tourloukis had labelled “false teachings”. It is reported in part;

The Board took the position that it was not possible to know, in advance, what does or does not amount to a “false teaching”, and that permitting the applicant’s children to be withdrawn from classes where certain topics are taught would be contrary to the values of inclusion and student well-being that underline a number of Ministry and Board policies, including the Board’s Equity Policy. The Board also argued that granting the accommodation requested by the applicant could lead to feelings of exclusion by students, including the applicant’s children.

Another “consequence” of same-sex marriage legislation that Shelton has on high rotation is that Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven wants priests and pastors who refuse to wed same sex couples to “find another job”. Shelton opens a June 27th blog post with;

With Australian same-sex marriage activists saying there are no consequences to changing the definition of marriage, the Swedish Prime Minister (pictured) has warned priests to perform gay marriages or “find another job”.

Interestingly the quote “find another job” is part of a link to an article that doesn’t present such a dismissive phrase. Because Löfven didn’t say this. This hasn’t stopped Shelton claiming so constantly on TV and radio. What the Swedish PM actually said in this regard is reported as follows in the article Shelton links to;

We Social Democrats are working to ensure all priests will consecrate everyone, including same-sex couples,” Lofven told Kyrkans Tidning magazine.

“I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests,” he said.

Another constant from Shelton is the London based Jewish Vishnitz Girls school. He tells his audience that it faces closure “because it won’t teach its students that gender is fluid”. The Independent reported in part on June 26th, 2017;

A private faith school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

Inspectors visiting Vishnitz Girls School in north London last month said the Orthodox school does not give pupils “a full understanding of fundamental British values”, The Telegraph reported.

[…]

Ofsted makes clear that schools are not expected to “promote” ideas about sexual orientation or gender reassignment, but they are expected to “encourage pupils’ respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act”.

Perhaps one of the most strikingly misleading claims from Lyle Shelton is a post in the ACL blog headed, You Won’t Believe The Latest Consequence Of Same-Sex Marriage In Canada.

A new law in Ontario, Canada, threatens to take children from “abusive” parents who do not agree with them changing their gender.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton warned that if the gender diversity requirement was removed from the Marriage Act, pressure would build for similar law here.

Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau said his Bill 89, passed last week, designated parents who did not agree with their children’s chosen gender as “abusive”.

The wording here is designed to mislead readers into believing that a new law has been passed solely to label parents who do not agree with their child’s gender change as “abusive”. And that should parents not agree with the gender change there is a risk the children will be taken. But is this really what Bill 89 is claiming? The Explanatory Note includes;

The paramount purpose of the Act — to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children — remains unchanged from the current Act.

The additional purposes of the Act are expanded to include the following:

         To recognize that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that respects regional differences wherever possible and takes into account,

                physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons;

                a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and

                a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.

         To recognize that services to children and young persons and their families should be provided in a manner that builds on the strengths of the families wherever possible.

The Bill in total is extensive. 352 sections (containing subsections) within 13 parts. After the preamble the second reference to gender, for example, is mentioned (in the Bill proper) in Paramount purposes and other purposes. It is found in Part 1, Section (1), subsection iii, as below;

Part 1 (1)  The paramount purpose of this Act is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children.

(2) The additional purposes of this Act, so long as they are consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, are to recognize the following:

(3) Services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that,
[…]
iii.  takes into account a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,

The term “abusive” does not appear in the Bill copy to which Shelton has linked. There are 16 matches to “gender” and 35 matches to “abuse”. It is quite clear from reading the text surrounding these terms that removal of children would be from a demonstrably abusive environment. Exactly what constitutes abuse is well defined. Merit for Shelton’s claim that children would be taken from parents who simply do not “agree” with their child’s gender is lacking.

I find it concerning that Shelton makes this contention in such a fickle manner. The psychological challenges experienced by LGBTIQ adolescents subject to unwanted gender bias or bigotry are well documented. As are many tragic outcomes in some cases where proper support is denied. Society itself must be confident that the rights of children and adolescents will be protected in this regard.

Fortunately this Bill strives to build on the strengths of families “wherever possible” and seeks to promote “the best interests, protection and well-being of children”. It is patently clear that reference to gender identity and sexual orientation is a very small part of what makes up a child’s or young person’s identity. Australia has nothing to fear from Canada’s protection of children because the nation has same-sex marriage legislation.

A number of the other “consequences” listed above are to be revisited by Supreme Courts and one is presently subject to appeal. Others demonstrably discriminate. Indeed there will always be those seeking to draw attention to themselves, or as was said in the case of “Washington grandmother” Barronelle Stutzman, seeking her fifteen minutes of fame. Shelton constantly embellishes and misleads to create the illusion of unjustified, socially restrictive “consequences”.

Shelton’s manufactured concern about a “package deal” and demonstrably unlikely “consequences” is puerile and immoral.

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