Australia is set to hold a nationwide postal survey next week about whether same-sex couples should have the legal right to marry. Though the plebiscite has been challenged in court, anti-gay conservatives are nevertheless wasting no time in churning out debunked propaganda to convince people to side against marriage equality. The arguments in these ads sound very familiar to the scare tactics that were widely employed in the United States and other countries that have since embraced marriage equality, but some also include some new spin on old classics.
The first ad to go viral over the past week was a 30-second spot by the Australian Christian Lobby on behalf of the so-called “Coalition for Marriage.” The Coalition, which is advocating against marriage equality, describes itself as “the silent majority” fighting to “defend freedom of speech and religion.”
The ad features several moms warning about consequences that kids will experience if same-sex couples can marry, but despite the scary music, their claims largely amount to schools acknowledging LGBTQ people exist and respecting them:
The video’s claims have already largely been debunked. For example, one of the moms, Cella White, claimed her son’s school told him “he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it.” The principal of his school explained that no such conversation ever occurred and that her claim is “untrue.”
Another one of the women in the ads is Pansy Lai, head of the Australian Chinese for Families Association. The group has been accused of promoting anti-gay conversion therapy, but while she has denied those claims, she has personally said such treatments are not harmful. The American Psychological Association has found, after reviewing all available research, that such treatment is ineffective and likely to be harmful.
A response ad from Kerryn Phelps, former president of the Australian Medical Association, calls the Coalition’s ad misleading and insists, “The only young people affected by marriage equality are young gay people who, for the first time, will have the same dignity as everyone else in our country and they deserve that.”
Another anti-gay ad stirred controversy this weekend after its creator, a group known as Dads4Kids, claimed that the Father’s Day-themed ad had been banned from television broadcast. In reality, the ad simply didn’t have the legally required authorization tag (similar to the “…and I authorize this message” tag required in U.S. ads for political candidates). Former prime minister Tony Abbott, one of the most vocal opponents of marriage equality, responded to the controversy by claiming that the “banning” of the ad was an example of what the “thought police” would be like in the “brave new world of same-sex marriage.”
The ad contains a bunch of dads (with wives) singing “Hush, Little Baby” to their children, including the lyric, “Your mommy and I are a perfect team.” It also references the children’s future marriages and having children of their own.
Although Dads4Kids insists the ad wasn’t designed to be political, BuzzFeed Australia reports that the group has a history of advocating against marriage equality. The group was funded by Warwick Marsh, head of Australian Heart Ministries, and it regularly distributes a document that claims homosexuality is a “gender disorientation pathology” that can be cured.
One more source of propaganda has been a gay couple that this weekend got their 15 minutes of fame by boasting about their opposition to marriage equality. Ben Rogers and Mark Poidevin, who’ve been together for 15 years, were featured in an ABC Australia report about opponents who claim they’re the victims of intolerance for their views.
“If we make one exception for one community, that being the same-sex couples, where does it stop?” Poideven asked. “Do we then see other cultures being allowed to have multiple marriages? Do we see the age of consent being lowered for another group of minorities? That is my concern, of where it would lead.”
It’s long been claimed that allowing same-sex couples to marry will somehow lead to polygamous marriage or child marriage, but never been demonstrated.
While the debate is playing out, many marriage equality advocates are trying to prevent the plebiscite from happening. The Human Rights Law Centre was at the High Court of Australia Tuesday morning to argue that the government doesn’t have the power to spend money on the postal survey and that the Australian Bureau of Statistics doesn’t have the authority to collect this kind of information. The government has argued that the country cannot legalize marriage equality without collecting the citizens’ input first — essentially putting civil rights up to a popular vote.
If the survey proceeds, the results are expected to be finalized by November 15. The Court could rule as early as Wednesday afternoon on whether it can happen at all.