Recent attempts (also here and here) to vilify Tony Abbott for his views on gay marriage are shameful, especially when the same views held by Julia Gillard are generally ignored. The one thing advocates seem to want is a conscience vote for Coalition MPs and a party room vote for Labor MPs. I guess that advocates for gay marriage consider that such an arrangement maximises the chance of changing the law, but it does seem more than a little hypocritical.
It is not homophobic to oppose gay marriage. To be homophobic (in the sense of the word ‘racist’) is to consider a group of people (in this case, gays) as somehow subhuman. One of the disappointing aspects of public debate is the tendency to gradually widen the definition of words which have strong negative connotations and then use those words to label an opponent. The misuse of such powerful words then provides a justification to silence those ‘evil’ people. The general public, it is argued, shouldn’t hear from racists and homophobes.
This tendency of ad hominem attacks demeans the English language – there is a rich vein of words in the English language which can precisely describe actions, behaviours and viewpoints.
The practice also silences debate – accuse your opponent of being a homophobe and there is no longer a need to critically analyse his or her arguments. This is not to suggest that the meaning of words shouldn’t change – that is one of the wonderful aspects of the evolution of the English language. Rather, my concern is with the deliberate and inappropriate use of certain words which have strong connotations (and powerful impact) and which seem to rule out some topics from public debate and reduce one’s freedom of speech.
There are many appropriate uses of the words racist and homophobic, such as with members of the Ku Klux Klan and those who advocate the imprisonment (or even capital punishment) of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
But to suggest that opposing gay marriage is homophobic is ridiculous. I oppose gay marriage for a number of reasons, but would support a state-certified gay partnership with equal status.
I think this moralising originates in the United States, where (despite, or perhaps because of the 1st amendment to the US Constitution), free speech is inhibited by such things as ‘diversity policy’ which make it illegal to offend anyone Many US university campuses use ‘diversity policy’ to put limits on free speech arguing that one shouldn’t be offended (although offending people who are opposed to diversity policy is apparently fine).
Penn and Teller make this point better than I can.
Like many post-modern constructs which achieve the opposite of their stated intent, diversity policy leads to less diversity.