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Marriage Equality. How Tolerant?

Today marks another year of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Malcolm Turnbull will be the first Prime Minister to attend the Mardi Gras. Our Prime Minister will be smiling and waving at the very people he denies the basic right of marriage to. A right that he himself enjoys.

This blog post is about a question of tolerance and if the widely accepted norm of tolerating opposing views is regressive and harmful to our progress in this debate and if there should be any debate at all. To argue to maintain tolerance of the anti-marriage equality stance, we need to recognise that democratic societies are not pure and that there is an imbalance of power in debates for progress. I will discuss this further in this piece.

In an earlier blog post “The biggest consequence of marriage equality” I said this:
Tanya Plibersek believes that the vote should be binding within the Labor Party. As a member of the Labor Party; I fully support this. I support this for the reason that it is discrimination. I listened to Anthony Albanese (Albo) on ABC Qanda on 1 June and he indicated in his response we need to tolerate and respect the views of others to bring them along with us. I question whether this is a necessary patience or a subconscious accommodation for the class of people who understand discrimination well enough in other contexts; but not when it involves stamping out discrimination for something they fear. The same class of people who use religion and/or prejudice as a shield to ward off progress. As a progressive, I do not feel I need to respect groups or individuals who actively fight against progress and who uphold discrimination.

To me, asking me to respect people’s opinions against marriage equality, is like asking me to respect people who are for racism, ableism, and sexism. I don’t respect that. It is not a question of conscience. It is a question of enabling discrimination.

I look forward to a world where I am not asked or expected to respect people who actively uphold discrimination and who stifle progress.

This, of course, triggered much debate about freedom of speech and also if I considered myself a bigot. A person intolerant of other points of view. These were confronting yet important questions. This led to much soul searching and subsequent researching and this has led me to Marcuse’s work on repressive and discriminate tolerance. Marcuse is a post-Marxist philosopher, socialist and political theorist.

Repressive and Discriminate Tolerance

Repressive tolerance argues freedom of speech as underpinned by the constructs of (small l) liberalism exists to share ideas and have those ideas respected unless those ideas cause harm. Marcuse believed that even in the 1960’s that the tolerance of ideas that were harmful to society encouraged a repressive society rather than enable a progressive one.

Discriminate tolerance is framing and setting aside the ideas that should not be tolerated in a debate towards progress. We already do this as a society. We do not have complete indiscriminate tolerance, as those ideas will harm society. Our national security legislation is one example. Another example is Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act which makes hate speech unlawful.

Those who sit on the right wing and the extreme right, the Conservative-Liberals and the Libertarians argue for complete indiscriminate tolerance. They argue that unless they can be completely indiscriminate, this impedes their freedom of speech, even if that speech is harmful.

Marcuse does not argue for complete indiscriminate tolerance, but discriminate tolerance where we tolerate ideas unless they are harmful. The harmful ideas should be framed and set aside. His argument is that unless this is done, we are tolerating for the sake of being tolerant and impeding progress of the Left.

Marcuse argues that indiscriminate tolerance is indeed beneficial in many forms of debate, however “But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.”

So what of Truth?

In a democratic society, democracy is not pure. Debate exists within an unequal framework. The institutions of Government and the media as two examples, have privilege and power to define what is ‘normal’ for the majority and what is not. These entities have the power to stigmatise groups of people and spoil normal identity (see Erving Goffman). They have the power to place minority groups in the place of ‘weird and unacceptable.’

This imbalance of power in our democratic society frames truth in a frame that there is only one rational and objective truth. However, there is strong argument supported by the theory of relativism, constructivism and phenomenology as examples, that there are multiple truths and multiple realities.

The inclusion of the opposing view in the framework of this debate shrinks the space around the voices of the people who are the centre of this debate. As the voices of anti-marriage equality are given more space in the media and enabled by the laws of Government the opposing voices are enabled to take up more space, allowing less consideration for the lived experience of LGBTI people and their arguments for the right to marry.

Indiscriminate Tolerance and Harm

When we tolerate the words and actions of the anti-marriage equality voices, we also enable harm. A clear and recent example of this was on Qanda on Monday 29 February, where Lyle Shelton (Australian Christian Lobby) was putting forth his opinion that the children of same-sex couples are a stolen generation. Dr. Karen Phelps (Former President of the Australian Medical Association and prominent LGBTI commentator) retorted to Lyle Shelton “You know I am sitting right here?” His words were clearly offensive and hurtful.

The observable phenomena of LGBTI couples that they consistently reinforce to society the longevity of their relationships during debate; appears to me from the outside looking in, that they feel the need to justify or qualify their relationships in a way that heterosexual couples do not. This is an indication to me that this group is treated as a ‘lesser’ group in society in terms of relationship rights.

The toleration of the actions of anti-marriage equality protesters, the narrative, the physical symbols of anti-LGBTI propaganda, their fight for exclusion, even marriage equality marches are reminders that there is no equality and that LGBTI people are seen as ‘others’ in a world of ‘normals’ by a significant and influential group which the institutions, Government and media give space to in the debate. The inequality these institutions create for minorities is that they are powerful influencers of distributors of information, swayers of opinion and the makers of laws of the framework we must work within.

Should we discriminate?

The question of “Should we use discriminate tolerance” can by understood by identifying the multiple truths in the debate. The decision of discriminate tolerance would negate the need for a plebiscite.

The major identified truth that I have personally observed for the Pro-Marriage Equality side is that they suffer from legal discrimination and this needs to be redressed. The exclusion of the right to marry has harmful consequences to individuals, and as a group within society. If objective reality is applied to this truth, the practicalities for this is that this can be determined through logical, rational and empirical evidence. This is indeed an objective and rational truth and these individuals do suffer from legal discrimination and do suffer harm.

The wider consideration of harm to society is this: The denial of the right to marry enables critical information to be excluded from considered arguments for societies progression. For example, there is limited data (qualitative and quantitative) on single parents who have exited a same-sex relationship. The rational objective truth is that when Government is developing a policy to ensure that laws exist to ensure a fair and just life for single parents, if LGBTI single parents are excluded from the data considered, then decisions are made with the active exclusion of one group of single parents. This is harmful as it does not enable an inclusive, progressive society.

The major reality or truth that I have identified for the anti-marriage equality side is mainly identified as insular, as in how marriage equality will change the meaning of their marriage.” If the objective reality is applied to this truth, the practicalities for this is that marriage equality does not change anyone else’s marriage.

When the words of those tolerated are transferred to deed (what Marcuse argues is where harm occurs) we have inequality for a significant proportion of people in our society. We remain servants to discriminating legislation which causes harm to those affected and also to those who witness this harm as parents, friends and allies. We enable discrimination.

The much uglier reality or truth that I have identified for the anti-marriage equality side, is that LGBTI people are perverse or deviant, that marriage equality will harm children and other abhorrent arguments linking marriage equality to paedophilia and bestiality. If the objective reality is applied to this truth, the practicalities for this is that LGBTI people are not perverse or deviant and are indeed born as LGBTI people and this is as natural as being born a heterosexual. There are significant studies and empirical evidence that marriage equality has no links to paedophilia or bestiality.

When the words of those tolerated are transferred to deed through protests, visual signs, symbols, movements, vocal commentary on prominent TV Shows on the National Broadcaster and also as from the lawmakers themselves – the members of Government, these words and accusations create the stigmatisation of one group of people. This stigmatisation can have the most harmful of consequences including suicide. Through this tolerance, we enable harm.

What of progressive Government? It is time to get serious.

The overarching question is should the Government use discriminate tolerance to redress the discrimination caused by the current Marriage Act? A tolerant, intelligent, critical thinking and progressive Government would do so. They would not tolerate a public plebiscite, they would analyse the legal framework and vote on redressing discrimination, regardless of conscience. They would bind their party to this vote.

In the framework of an unequal democracy, the imbalance of privilege and power and indiscriminate tolerance, minorities are expected to fight harder, to be louder, to be more aggressive to overpower the dominance of the oppressive voices. This is seen consistently where workers have had to fight for the rights of workers, women have had to fight for the rights of women and where people of colour have had to fight for the rights of people of colour. These fights continue to this day within this same framework of inequality of voice, privilege and power.

A Government already has the power to work with the aggrieved group to measure the harm of the existing law or societal norm and use their power to redress that discrimination and to enable equal rights.

A Government which thinks deeply and critically and considers their privilege and power, the privilege and power of the media, the privilege and power of the free market economic system and how this shapes the opinion of dissenters; can place this debate in a framework to use discriminate tolerance and apply the rational outcome of redress.

A Government which thinks deeply and critically about the individuals within this framework and extends care to all people in that framework who are harmed can use their power to provide leadership to change laws which will underpin and enable the necessary societal change and mitigate or eradicate stigma.

If discriminate tolerance was enforced to frame and set aside repressive ideas and people who have stigmatised LGBTI people as others from the beginning of time, then LGBTI people would have been developed in society’s view as non-stigmatised ‘normals.’

The Marriage Act would have been developed as inclusive of heterosexual and same-sex relationships from the beginning of time. Any attempt to change this, such as in 2004 by the Liberal Party would not have been tolerated by society and this change to exclude LGBTI people from the right to marry would have been viewed as an abnormal and perverse view.

Am I a bigot? No. I am a leftist thinker who uses discriminate tolerance where thoughts words and actions cause harm. I encourage our next Prime Minister Bill Shorten to do the same and support Tanya Plibersek and lead a binding vote for Marriage Equality.

Originally published on Polyfeministix


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  1. Mercurial

    Thank you Trish. It’s not a debate about beliefs, it’s a debate about whether we can continue to discriminate against some members of society.

    Cultural enlightenment has meant that we no longer deny people the right to marry someone of their own choosing, we no longer deny people the right to marry someone of a different colour, so why do we persist in denying people the right to marry someone of their own gender? None of these scenarios has any effect on other people’s marriages, yet we – in Australia at least – continue to deny this basic human right. It’s just plain selfish.

    We aren’t asking permission to marry dogs, or our siblings, just each other.

  2. kerri

    Trish Corry your cognitive skills awe me! Thank you!

  3. trishcorry

    Thanks Mercurial. Thanks Kerri.

  4. Kyran

    The basic issue here seems, to me, to be whether or not we are a secular state.
    The separation of church and state is, to my mind, a valid and worthwhile criteria in any discussion. Marriage is, in the modern era, a legal construct, not a religious one. Whilst it may have had its genesis in religion, it has, for centuries been a legal doctrine as much as anything else. The state has an obligation to ensure equality on an absolute basis, not a selective basis.
    Various churches have an objection to a woman’s right to use contraception or access abortion clinics. These are rights that are enshrined in legislation. If a church chooses to instruct its followers against utilising those rights, that is their prerogative. The fact that many women choose to participate in both merely highlights the increasing irrelevance of churches as they fail to adapt to modern society.
    The state has an absolute obligation to ensure equality is a basic tenet of society. If a church wishes to instruct its followers not to accept those freedom’s in making their choices, that’s their prerogative.
    “marriage equality does not change anyone else’s marriage.”
    Well said, Ms Corry. Take care

  5. Kaye Lee

    One of the jobs of a government is to protect the rights of minorities. Why they would abrogate this responsibility in favour of what the majority wants is beyond me. Whilst I believe the majority are in favour of marriage equality, it should not be their decision. Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of personal beliefs. It is illegal.

    I too am sick of being tolerant of other views on this. As Trish has pointed out, this legislation would harm no-one. The argument that children will be harmed is fallacious and an entirely different discussion anyway. To those who think their own marriage will be somehow diminished if they allow others to show the same loving commitment, I say rubbish. If your relationship is that tenuous, built on a “definition”, then you have no idea of what marriage really means and your commitment to your partner is false.

    Accept difference, embrace diversity, and strive for a society where everyone can grow and feel safe, regardless of where they were born, regardless of how, if at all, they choose to express their spirituality, regardless of their anatomical bits and regardless of who they love.

    “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
    — Mahatma Gandhi

  6. Deanna Jones

    This “respecting everyone’s views” trope originated with those inclined to bigotry in the first place. If your view just happens to neatly align with the interests of the dominant classes then it already has respect by default. It can withstand not being respected by those whose voices carry less weight. That non respect has no institutional power backing it up and transforming it into real experiences of discrimination for real people.

  7. Trish Corry

    Exactly Kaye. Great quote.

  8. Michael Taylor

    A lot of people have suggested that Jerry Hall would have only married Rupert Murdoch because of his massive wealth. I don’t know. For all we know she could be madly in love with him. But it has happened in the past. We often see stories pop up of a stunning 25 year old beauty marrying an 80 year old lizard who just happens to be worth a few billion. Personally, it sickens me. But they’re allowed to do it. It’s odd them that a gay people in love are not allowed to marry (in this country at least), whereas it’s quite legal to marry someone for money.

  9. Trish Corry

    Thanks Kyran. Yes, a separation of church and state is a must from my perspective.

  10. Kaye Lee

    And if marriage is for the purpose of procreation, Jerry and the Pacemaker will be hard pressed to fulfill their duty. It doesn’t matter which of the arguments used against marriage equality you look at, none of them make sense.

  11. Trish Corry

    Hi Deanna. Thanks for your comment. I expects bigots would have a problem with the view I have put forward here. I did struggle with this for a while now, as I had a few people call me a bigot after my last marriage equality post and I frequently say how intolerant I am of views that can have the consequence of harm to people. I am so glad I came across Marcuse in my studies. I have studied many philosophers all around Marcuse and I am flabbergasted, I have not come across his work. He even expanded on Heidegger, whom I studied for phenomenology. His linked paper is well worth the read.

  12. Trish Corry

    So true Michael and Kaye. I also don’t know how parents cope either. If it was my child not allowed to get married I would be so angry, as there is nothing I could do to help them. This has to change now. It is completely ridiculous, antiquated and discriminatory.

  13. Michael Taylor

    But having said that, I guess I’d let my daughter marry Rupert Murdoch. ?

  14. Deanna Jones

    Hundreds of thousands were at the parade last night and I would say a record number were at the after party, including plenty of straights. Critical mass is building around the issue.

  15. margcal

    I’d say marrying Rupert takes prostitution to new heights (or depths!!). Yuk!!

    I volunteer for an LGBTIQ organisation – as a straight person I am welcomed unreservedly … I love my colleagues.
    I see at first hand that, quite apart from marriage, young people are “still” suffering. There is a long way to go. The tide is turning but it’s damnably slow.

  16. mark

    Jerry and the pacemaker. Won’t forget that.mark

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