Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum
South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi was recently forced to resign from the Opposition front bench, where he served as Parliamentary Secretary, after delivering an apparently controversial speech staunchly opposing the Marriage Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2012.
The Private Members Bill was intended to legalise so-called “gay marriage” at a Commonwealth level, and therefore throughout Australia. Bernardi, an outspoken and committed Conservative, has been a voice for traditional values ever since his election to the Senate. His speech became the cause of outrage among progressive quarters within the Government, Opposition, minor parties, the media and elsewhere.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott (who himself has a strong profile as a Catholic Conservative politician, and according to recent opinion polls, has a fair chance of unseating the Gillard Labor Government at the upcoming federal election) accepted Bernardi’s resignation shortly after the speech was made, and immediately after the resulting controversy erupted over the news cycle.
Those parts of Senator Bernardi’s speech which incited the greatest furor were his references to the possible unintended consequences of such legislation, including the manner in which the constant pushing of moral boundaries may lead to more and more egregious demands from various subversive lobby groups. Among other things, Senator Bernardi stated that:
Marriage is accorded a special place in our society because it is a union that is orientated towards having children, thereby ensuring the continuation of our population and civilisation. Society benefits from marriage, so marriage is accorded benefits by society. At the base level marriage is concerned about what is best for society, rather than being concerned about the so-called rights of the individual. Changing the definition of marriage would indeed change the focus of the institution itself. It would put the focus on the desire of adults, as opposed to having the focus on the production and nurturing of an environment for the raising of children for the benefit of society.
I know that not every marriage has children but marriage is a foundation for the family unit upon which our society is built. It has proven itself as the most sustainable and effective social support and training environment for our future generations. I recall columnist Miranda Devine quoted a UK Family Court judge in 2010 in which he noted that family breakdown is the cause of most social ills and that, despite its faults, marriage should be restored as the gold standard and social stigma should be reapplied to those who destroy family life.
The proponents of same-sex marriage, and I do not mean to generalise but this is about many of the proponents of same-sex marriage, ask for one step and they think that is all they want or they say that is all they want and they will be satisfied when this has been achieved—’Just this one thing; give us that and that will be okay and all inequality will be diminished and everyone will be equal and it will be fair’. But the harsh reality is that there will never be equality in society and there are always going to be people who feel that they have got a raw deal or have been discriminated against or do not have the same access to opportunities or advantages as others do, and to pretend any differently is really to deny reality. But history demonstrates that once those who advocate for radical social change, which I consider this to be, achieve it in any way, shape or form, there is then another demand and another demand and another demand and they slowly chip away at the very foundation of what provides our social support, stability and cultural mores and we are left with a replacement that is somehow vastly inferior to the wisdom of successive generations.
I recall that in this place only a few years ago people pushed for the same entitlements and benefits for all relationships that were then held by married couples. This was achieved. I opposed it at the time because my point was that just because people are in a sexual relationship that does not mean that they should be afforded the same rights and privileges as society affords those in traditional marriage, and I have outlined some of the reasons for that. Indeed, I advocated at the time that if it is about genuine equality and interdependency then we should advance this to interdependent relationships in which there is no sexual engagement. There are any number of those relationships, including people who live together and share bank accounts and expenses and who, for all intents and purposes, share their lives without having a sexual or physical relationship. But that was rejected, I suspect because it was not really about equality. It was not about interdependency and it was not about sharing your life with someone; it was about chipping away at the institution of marriage.
The legislation got through and I lost that debate—you win some and lose some in this business. At that stage I was one of many saying this was another step that would undermine marriage. Today we see the next step. This is another push—it is not the first time and it will not be the last time—for same-sex marriage.
If we are prepared to redefine marriage so that it suits the latest criterion that two people who love each other should be able to get married irrespective of their gender and/or if they are in a sexual relationship, then what is the next step? The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society—or any other type of relationship. For those who say that I am being alarmist in this, there is the polyamory community who were very disappointed when the Greens had to distance themselves from their support for numerous people getting together and saying they want to enter into a permanent union. They were disappointed because they were misled that this was about marriage equality and opening up marriage to all people who love each other.
There are even some creepy people out there—and I say ‘creepy’ deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union.’ It is extraordinary that these sorts of suggestions are put forward in the public sphere and are not howled down right at the very start. We can talk about people like Professor Peter Singer who was, I think, a founder of the Greens or who wrote a book about the Greens. Professor Singer has appeared on Q&A on the ABC, the national broadcaster. He has endorsed such ideas as these. I reject them. I think that these things are the next step. As we accede to one request we will then have the next one which will be for unions of more than two people. We will have suggestions for unions of three or four people. I notice the Greens are heckling, but the point is that they misled their constituent base and there was an outcry about this. Where do we go then? Do we go down the Peter Singer path? Those that say this is the end of the social revolution have no history of being honourable about that. They continue to push and challenge our social and cultural mores.
SydneyTrads is uncertain, however the UK Family Court Judge that Bernardi referred to (through journalist Miranda Devine) may have been Sir Paul Coleridge of the High Court’s Family Division. The Mail Online reported on 29 April 2012 that Sir Paul recently launched a foundation dedicated to the promotion of marriage:
Tomorrow, a High Court family judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, will launch a foundation to promote marriage and to warn of the catastrophic consequences of family breakdown.
This has gone hand in hand with a galloping increase in elective lone parenthood and cohabitation, whose own high rate of breakdown has poured petrol on to the flames of mass fatherlessness.
An appalling 3.8 million children are now caught up in the entrails of the family justice system, with as many as 320,000 new children each year being sucked in.
Sir Paul does not mince his words. As he so rightly says, family breakdown is the ‘scourge of society’.
Families do not recover from the fundamental shock it administers.
Children dragged into such cases may never recover from the emotional upset, and the cost to society of clearing up the mess is calamitous.
Yet as he also says, obtaining a divorce is ‘easier than getting a driving licence’.
How refreshing to hear someone in public life so robustly tell the un-PC truth like this. As a family law specialist barrister for some three decades before becoming a judge in the family courts, Sir Paul has personally stared into the heart of this particular darkness.
At the core of this devastating social problem is that what should be regarded as a misfortune to be avoided has become reconfigured as lifestyle choice — one which is immune from criticism.
This has normalised the free-for-all of family breakdown and caused a rising tide of damage and misery for men, women and, above all, children. For more than three decades, lawyers and judges have led the way in bringing about this seismic cultural shift by progressively liberalising the practice of family law.
Judges declared they could not ‘look into people’s souls’ to decide who was actually to blame for the breakdown of a marriage.
So the courts in effect decided that no one was to blame.
As the restrictions on divorce or fatherless families fell into legal disuse, law reformers and politicians then proceeded to bring the law into line with changing attitudes — and their new laws were in turn liberally interpreted by the courts, creating pressure for further liberalisation.
The institutionally liberal Law Commission recommended one liberalising family measure after another, such as easier divorce, ending the stigma of illegitimacy or establishing equal rights for cohabitants, both gay and straight.
At the same time, New Left thinking about radical and non-judgmental ‘lifestyle choice’ swept through the intelligentsia. One baleful result was that supposedly objective research itself became corrupted.
The Marriage Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2012, which Bernardi was responding to in his speech to the Senate, had been sponsored by Labor’s Stephen Jones MP and aggressively promoted by the Greens, in particular former Green leader Bob Brown. The liberalisation of marriage laws to accommodate demands from militant homosexual organisations has been part of the Greens’ policy platform since at least the publication of the party’s manifesto by Bob Brown and Peter Singer in 1996. Bernardi’s concern about the ‘slippery slope’ of social policy reform, in particular his disconcerting references to bestiality were the focus of most of his detractors’ complaints.
The protest against Bernardi’s comments broadly centred around the view that any collective association of homosexuality with bestiality is wrong, incorrect and offensive. Yet few in the mainstream commentariat have taken it upon themselves to inquire about Bernardi’s sources, which is odd, because these sources are freely available in the public domain. Writing for Nerve in 2001, it was Peter Singer who categorised “bestiality, homosexuality, fetishism and other non-reproductive acts” together, and referred to them with the term “unnatural” in scare-quotes (suggesting perhaps that he did not in fact believe them to be unnatural). In that same piece, Singer wrote that:
[…] there are many ways in which we cannot help behaving just as animals do — or mammals, anyway — and sex is one of the most obvious ones. We copulate, as they do. They have penises and vaginas, as we do, and the fact that the vagina of a calf can be sexually satisfying to a man shows how similar these organs are. The taboo on sex with animals may, as I have already suggested, have originated as part of a broader rejection of non-reproductive sex. But the vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held, its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals.
But sex with animals does not always involve cruelty. Who has not been at a social occasion disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop.
Nine years later, on a programme hosted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Singer again made reference to his 2001 article. His boast did not rouse even a skerrick of opprobrium from either the host of the programme, Tony Jones, or the Opposition Senator Helen Coonan (who was supposedly invited onto the programme as a contrasting voice to the other liberal panelists) all of whom instead found the whole topic rather amusing:
Peter Singer: Since I wrote this piece, I’ve had people, sex therapists come to me, and say they have had patients who were tortured with guilt because they got some sexual satisfaction from contact with their animals, and their lives were miserable. And they gave them the article because it helped them to see other people were doing the same thing, and here was somebody who was saying, “This is not a sign of terrible moral evil.”
Tony Jones: Helen Coonan, parliamentary sitting week up coming up, would you like to get on the record on this?
Sen. Helen Coonan: Thankfully, I don’t answer questions, I ask them. I won’t be asking this one, Tony. I agree, that’s seriously off. I can’t imagine… I have two beautiful golden retrievers, and <pause, laughter> Sen. Helen Coonan: I can’t imagine.
Peter Singer: I thought your party stood for individual freedom.
Tony Jones: Amidst the hilarity, I don’t think everyone heard Peter saying he thought your party stood for individual freedom.
Sen. Helen Coonan: I think it’s off the wall. Put it this way, I’ll continue to find the nice patch under my doggy’s ear that he likes, that’s all I’ll do.
Tony Jones: I’m sorry to say, we have run out of time.
“I can’t imagine” indeed. Perhaps it is this lack of imagination, and capacity for foresight, that keeps conservatives almost perpetually on the back-foot in the culture wars. Readers will notice two things about the above exchange. The first is Singer’s paralyzing appeal to “individual freedom” which Coonan was incapable of responding to in any way. The second was the profound unseriousness with which Singer, and his genuinely creepy ideas were dealt with by the panel, the host, and the audience.
According to The Australian (online) of 20 September, Opposition leader Tony Abbott claimed that Bernardi’s recent comments were “repugnant to many people” and “was just singularly inappropriate under the circumstances”. On the contrary, Bernardi’s comments appear to have been quite apt in light of the above, and there is no better “circumstance” to air these concerns than in a speech opposing the further deconstruction of sexual morality via legislative fiat. As far as is known to SydneyTrads, Abbott has not taken this opportunity to condemn Singer’s comments as “repugnant to many people”, nor has he questioned just how much influence this individual has on the Greens and their social agenda. This of course, would be the most appropriate circumstance to do so. Instead, what the leader of the Opposition has done is elevate Senator Arthur Sinodinos to the position vacated by Bernardi. We remind readers that Sinodinos made this perplexing comment in his Maiden Speech to the Senate late last year:
If we are all one, then there is no basis for discrimination on the grounds of colour, creed, gender or other human constructs.
The promotion of a Senator who believes gender is socially constructed should be welcomed by Singer, Brown and their supporters in the fetishist extreme left. It is a blow to Australian Conservatism and a powerful reminder that Conservative voters should stop offering their electoral support on a tribal basis, but take more care in knowing just who they are putting into Parliament when they cast their ballots during election time.
Sinodinos was an adviser and confidant to former Prime Minister John Howard, who has often been acknowledged as one of, if not the most Conservative PM in Australia’s history. Coonan, too, was a senior Howard government member and nominal conservative (after defecting to the ‘Right’ as a result of being bypassed by the party’s left faction during an internal Senate selection process). How such politicians develop a reputation as leading champions of the ‘right’ is in many respects a mystery. There are few people in similar positions of authority who have the courage to take the stand that Bernardi has time and again proven willing and able to. In his recent and fateful speech to the Senate, Bernardi acknowledged his supporters, concluding:
These people have, in some instances, put aside their fears of being branded as intolerant, uncaring, heartless or in support of inequality by those people who profess to be tolerant of other points of view and who, in my view, look to degrade the notion of marriage. These people who have stood up against same-sex marriage in the face of a very vocal campaign are to be commended in this current culture of political correctness, where those who apparently disagree with the wisdom of the elites are somehow howled down and demonised publicly.
I am sure there are millions more Australians who share these sentiments irrespective of whether they have spoken publicly about it. I will continue to stand with these Australians and to fight for traditional marriage because I believe it is what the people of Australia want. More importantly, I think it is the right thing to do both for our children and for our society.
It is telling that Singer can write in a manner that is easily interpreted as an apologia for bestiality, and write with confidence, without fear, get published and continue to be upheld as a moral authority by the bien-pensants of the mainstream intelligentsia, while Bernardi suffers ostracision for drawing inferences based on Singer’s own evidence and testimony. Bernardi’s experience appears to be a lesson not only in the power of political correctness, but the apparent cowardice of the mainstream Conservative establishment. One does not have to agree with or accept the register of Bernardi’s concern, but to suggest that it is not open for him to express it, is simply foolish, and dangerously so.
The defeat of “gay marriage” legislation is not a time to show weakness or sit idly by while a conviction Conservative is thrown under the train of leftist rage. There is nothing repugnant of wrong about articulating and promoting normative theories of man, society and life. It is a time to remind the public that the real extremists are those who seek to re-engineer man by redefining core human institutions; if such re-definitions can be made on a whim, then it is not inconceivable that what we feel is repellent today may be on the horizon tomorrow. That was Bernardi’s point, and it was perfectly legitimate to make in the nation’s highest House of Review.
Senator Cory Bernardi is the Chairman and founder of the Conservative Leadership Foundation, which has published two of his recent books, As I See It – Thoughts of a Conservative (2009) and No Left Turn – More Thoughts of a Conservative (2011).
– SydneyTrads Editors