COMMENT: The MQ Liberal Club have organised a SSM debate. But is there any point?


Words || Angus Dalton

The Macquarie University Liberal Club are hosting a debate about marriage equality on campus tomorrow. Fahad Ali, founder of Muslims for Marriage Equality, will speak in favour of legalising marriage equality, and Dr Jeremy Bell, a philosophy lecturer and author for Catholic Weekly, will be representing the No side.

But is there any point in having this debate when the vast majority of eligible people have already returned their votes, or at least have made up their minds?

That’s not to say that a debate of this nature, generally speaking, isn’t a good thing – universities should absolutely be a place of fierce political discussion. However, marriage equality is a particularly personal political issue, and the debate has already been damaging for the queer community thus far.

Mental health groups ReachOut and Orygen have already raised concerns and reported spikes in queer young people approaching them for help, and there have been increased instances of harm as the no campaign becomes increasingly strident. It’s for this reason that Grapeshot has already stated we would be publicly supporting the yes vote rather than entertaining both sides of the debate.

The Macquarie University Queer Collective have condemned the event in a statement, for the reasons that: ‘the ‘No’ side of the marriage equality postal survey have consistently misrepresented Australian queer people, a public debate on the issue is an indignity, and the ‘No’ Campaign’s tactics have largely been based on misinformation, fear of the unknown, and have put a heavy strain on the mental wellbeing of queer people, of all ages, and nationwide.’

As for the speakers, is there any point in listening to two men speak from a religious point of view about changing of the constitution when the majority of Australians support the separation of Church and State? Recent figures show two thirds of Australians believe religion does more harm than good, and even religious Australians reject the view that their beliefs should be imposed on other people. Evidently, this opinion isn’t shared by Dr Bell, who has written: ‘Marriage traditionalists, Catholic or otherwise, should not feel any compunction about seeking to “impose their values” on others by campaigning to have their understanding of marriage enshrined in law.’

Bell has previously been in a long-term same-sex relationship, but in 2012 converted to Catholicism and ‘regained an interest in women’.

He’s written and spoken about marriage at length, but his only point against same-sex marriage is hinged on the belief that marriage is totally centred on raising your own, biological children. He said in an interview:

‘… it’s a tragedy when a couple are naturally infertile and, yes, the fullness of marital love and marital joy are not available to them. Someone might say “Well, they can adopt children.” But it still isn’t quite the same thing.’

He said in the same interview:

‘I would say that the natural affection between homosexual partners is a good thing; in the same way that the affection between friends is.’

And: ‘…it is a bad mistake to think that you shouldn’t say “homosexual acts are gravely sinful and there is nothing intrinsically good in homosexual relationships as such”. That has to be said. It should be said.’

Notwithstanding that archaic homophobia, from Bell’s writings it’s already clear that he’ll just be railroading the point that marriage’s sole purpose is to create biological children. He won’t be engaging well on any other level – in the interview quoted from, he dismisses any counter arguments as ‘secondary issues’.

Basically, if Fahad Ali doesn’t agree that marriage is the lawful union of two people exclusively for the purpose of churning out babies, these guys will be talking on two wildly different levels. The question at hand is the one written clearly in black ink on the survey forms: ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’

Anything that doesn’t engage directly with this point isn’t worth noting. As countless commentators have already pointed out, the no side of the campaign knew they lost this debate years ago. That’s why they’ve made it about anything other than a simple adjustment in the law that dozens of other developed countries have already carried out.

This debate was organised by secretary of the MQ Liberal Club, Damien Pace, who has spouted the oft-cited conservative view that legalising same sex marriage will lead to polygamous unions, as it is the case in approximately zero other countries. The Liberal Club also has a history of anti-LGBTQI sentiment that it might like to shake; former Vice President of the Club, Edwin Nelson, stepped down from his position last year when, according to Buzzfeed, he compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality.

In summary, in a situation where public debate has already been raging for months, and with two speakers unlikely to engage with each other on a logical level, this just seems like an opportunity for a bit of philosophical flexing to the detriment of an already exhausted queer community at Macquarie.

Perhaps I will be wrong and the debate will be worth the audience’s while. I hope it is. I also find it strange that this is the first debate organised exclusively by the MQ Liberal Club this year. There have been so many other issues to discuss; why has a straight, anti-marriage equality executive member chosen this topic in particular to pour so much energy into?

Dr Jeremy Bell once ended an anti-equality article in the Catholic Weekly with a quote by G.K. Chesterson: “life is a fight, and not a conversation”.

I wonder if we can trust him to be civil.