The Politics    Thursday, July 2, 2015

Own goal

By Sean Kelly

Own goal
Eric Abetz does same-sex marriage a favour

In a long and silly interview with the ABC this morning, Senator Eric Abetz argued the case against same-sex marriage with his typical John Cleese-like stiff upper lip. It’s safe to say same-sex marriage came out looking better than he did.

Abetz did same-sex marriage campaigners three favours in that interview, though he didn’t mean to.

The first was to show how hollow the prime minister’s lines on this matter are. Tony Abbott, whenever he is asked about same-sex marriage, returns to the theme of what the government’s focus actually is. For example: “My point is that the government will remain absolutely focused on the things that we were elected for — to produce more jobs, to get economic growth up, and to secure our nation against the various challenges that we face at home and abroad.”

Until now, the villains dragging attention away from these serious matters and towards the light and trivial matter of equal rights have been obvious: same-sex marriage campaigners, with dastardly assistance from the beastly media.

But Abetz did not have to go on ABC’s AM program. He certainly didn’t have to give a lengthy interview. He absolutely did not need to make the idiotic arguments that he did. In doing all three he has succeeded in dragging much of the day’s political focus to the issue he apparently detests: same-sex marriage.

It is now clear that if Abbott is sincere in his desire that the government focus on jobs, the economy, and “securing our nation” – and personally I’d advise the PM against conceding that his government is incapable of doing absolutely anything else at the same time – then his best bet would be to get the same-sex marriage debate over, stat.

The second good deed Abetz did was to undermine his own argument that the media are only interested in giving airtime to pro-same-sex-marriage arguments, by persuading the media to run his arguments that the media are only interested in giving airtime to pro-same-sex-marriage arguments.

Bluff called.

The third and final favour was to make clear, with the weakness of his arguments, how desperate the anti-same-sex-marriage campaign has become.

Abetz said that if you “undo” the institution of marriage by redefining it for “the latest fad” you open a Pandora’s box – of polyamory. As soon as you hear a “thin edge of the wedge” argument in politics, let alone one involving polyamory, you know a politician has given up actually arguing the issue in question. So much so that they’re trying to make the argument about something else entirely. In this case, Abetz knows nobody will listen to him on same-sex marriage, so he’s trying to convince people that voting for same-sex marriage is the same as voting for polyamory. Cory Bernardi tried this a while back with bestiality. It’s offensive, but it’s also vapid. Future politicians can have their own debates about polyamory if they want to. Let’s focus on the question before us.

He also said the Labor Party loved talking about the Asian Century, and so why didn’t we do what Asia was doing on same-sex marriage, i.e. nothing? I don’t think I need to answer this, but just in case: because acknowledging the growing importance of a region is not the same as saying we should do everything that the region does.

Finally, the good senator argued that the community must be fully informed of what’s happened in Canada, where, he says, opposition to same-sex marriage is likely to land you before the courts. This argument has become popular in some odd corners of the conservative press. Its most famous proponent is probably Franklin Graham, the American evangelical known for his descriptions of Islam as “evil” and his questioning of US President Barack Obama’s Christianity. While having odd rhetorical bedfellows doesn’t automatically make you wrong, it can be a pointer that your argument may not be all you hoped it was. I look forward to Senator Abetz making his case with impregnable examples (that was sarcasm: I doubt we’ll hear about it again.)

Sometimes, in life, you achieve what you set out to do. Other times, you console yourself with the adage that it’s the thought that counts. That’s probably what Senator Abetz will be telling himself this evening. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I’m not sure there was a lot of thought involved.


Today’s links

  • The story of the cross-party same-sex marriage bill. Will the PM allow a free vote for his MPs?
  • Joe Hockey’s legal battle with Fairfax might not be over yet. And Ray Martin will conduct an audit of Q&A.
  • Niki Savva on Abbott: “He is performing with greater confidence, no doubt about it. But will he ever learn to speak to us like adults? One grown-up to a flock of others, rather than as some authoritarian father figure determined to keep his children afraid of going outside, even in broad daylight — or as a character straight out of Mad Max, all studs and spikes, with a hi-tech blunderbuss, programmed to bludgeon rather than persuade.”
  • The Climate Change Authority has urged the Abbott government to take much, much, much stronger action.
  • Gillian Triggs has said the new detention centre secrecy provisions are worrying.
  • The Greek crisis limps along. Think piece authors everywhere wonder what on Earth can be left to write about.
  • Some analysis of Hillary’s Clinton emails for those of us who can’t be bothered reading the originals. I am personally taken with the image of Mrs Clinton engaging “in a protracted struggle to get her fax machine to work”.
  • Donald Trump trumps (almost).  

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is the author of The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison, a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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