Hypocrisy in the Age of the Postal Survey

Between 1905 until the section was repealed in 1955, The Aborigines Act 1905 (WA), (entirely repealed in 1964), specified that our First Nation Peoples in WA could not marry a non-Aboriginal person without permission from the so-called ‘Chief Protector’ (Between 1905 and 1936, this only applied to Aboriginal women marrying non-Aboriginal people, after 1936 it applied to all Aboriginal peoples marrying in WA).

The position of Chief Protector was held by a man named A. O. Neville between 1915 to 1940 – who is portrayed in the film Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and who had a primary goal of racial eugenics (genocide).

A friend of mine has a copy of a letter received from Neville by his ancestors after they wrote a letter to him respectfully pleading with him to ask if they could marry.

The answer was no.

It’s not a unique story – such letters are fragments of numerous archives, collections, and museums, which bear witness to some of the best and worst of our lot.

Aside from reminding us of the proximity of such horrid human rights violations in our local history, it challenges the broad assumption that ‘marriage has always been between a man and a woman’.

For my friend’s ancestors – marriage was not between a man and a woman, because they happened to live in a jurisdiction within a historical period where the laws of the state explicitly aimed to erase their existence – which included control and regulation over how Aboriginal people could marry.

This is one example – but marriage and other similar unions hold different meanings in different places, and have changed throughout history.

Historians of sexuality will excitedly tell you that the concept of ‘love’ as being central to marriage is a new development in the last few centuries, and marriage has often been (and in some parts of the world continues to be) about economic exchange and the tying together of alliances and family bloodlines.

It’s difficult to qualitatively say much about what human beings are like – but it’s clear that our sense of self is developed through our interactions with one another.

The opportunity to give rise to new ways of meaningfully engaging with one another, or to reform old ways into the new, sustains what it means to be human.

Marriage equality will give more people the opportunity to enter into a contractual relationship with the state in a way that is socially and culturally meaningful, and which allows the maintenance of some particular economic, civil, and social rights. Put like that – it’s fairly boring. We’re not exactly reinventing the wheel here.

And this is part of what has been most bizarre about the apparent ‘debate’ over marriage equality. It’s a fairly small, but symbolically pertinent, change that our democratically elected parliamentarians are apparently unable to decide.

Our Prime Minister can alone decide if we are to go to war, but has decided that the appropriate use of public funds is to burden the ABS with sending out postal surveys to people on the electoral roll to tell us what consistently monitored public surveys have already been showing us for the last decade.

But it’s not just the sickening and reductionist notion that ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ that has been the most frustrating (which only became a legal norm for Australia in 2004, by the way).

I can tolerate that some people hold a set of beliefs held together on the basis of some misinterpretations of the bible. But what has disgusted me beyond tolerance is the hypocrisy in the notion that religious freedoms are under threat in Australia.

What exact religious freedoms do people feel that they don’t have in Australia? Freedom, by the way, does not give you the authority or power to dictate how people might live on a day to day basis. Section 116 of our Constitution says;

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

This section not only prevents any religion from becoming state-endorsed (you can stop complaining, Ms. Hanson), it also stops the state from interfering with people’s free exercise of their religion. So much for losing your religious rights – you can still attend your gatherings and get on with your life.

Not only that, religions are allowed to discriminate against me and my queer siblings in some circumstances: The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) was amended in 2013 to include anti-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status. However, religious bodies, including religious hospitals and religious schools, were explicitly excluded.

What else do you need? Why do you spend so much time crying out about persecution while defending or covering up your most pernicious practitioners of moral violence? (The George Pell’s of the world, for example).

Why do you hate us queers so much, that you cannot see the inherent goodness in the pursuit of the state-sanctioned union of two people? Are your freedoms predicated on the suffering or misfortune of others?

In the last few years, scholars at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health, and Society at La Trobe University – the birthplace of the Safe Schools Coalition – have received death threats for daring to promote sexual and gender diversity training to teachers, numerous senior politicians have made public comments about LGBTIQ+ people that for me, are reminiscent of the traumatic bullying I experienced at high school, and we continue to see our queer siblings across the globe being subjected to violence, torture, and even genocide.

While no one’s religious rights are under threat in Australia, my queer comrades are struggling to survive.

And then there’s this fucking survey.

Anthony K J Smith


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