Tell me, are resistance and stupidity the same?… Discrimination and the ACL

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the Australian Christian Lobby want exemptions from anti-discrimination law so that they can debate marriage equality.  Inevitably — almost boringly — this has caused the ‘free speech’ clanging to echo again.

The usual caveats on this discussion.  I’m conservative, thoroughly dismissive of the ‘right’ to ‘free speech’, and very much in favour of s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  Given that I’m not the knuckle-dragging kind of conservative, I am yet to find anything intellectually serious about the Australian Christian Lobby.  They are cowards who refuse to engage in discussion, cloaking their prejudices behind ‘rights’ to vandalise public discussion.  There is no dialogue that you can have with them because they’re not playing in the same sandpit as the rest of us.

Going through their position shows, I think why we need the opposite: an extension of ss 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act to cover a wider range of discrimination than only racial.

The ACL says that they want a public, open forum to discuss marriage equality.  They perceive anti-discrimination laws to be prejudicial to their capacity to engage in public discussion, because they might discriminate against somebody while arguing that homosexuals should be given a reduced range of rights.

We could charitably argue that their position is not that they want to discriminate against homosexuals.  Rather, we could say that their argument is that they are worried that legal challenges will be brought against them when they skirt the line between discrimination and non-discrimination.  Dullards refer to this as the ‘chilling effect’: the self-censorship that people undertake because they do not want to expose themselves to the risk of crossing the line.  The chilling effect inhibits the fullness of public debate because people are cautious that they will say something ‘wrong’.

The ‘chilling effect’ goes by a few other names, like ‘maturity’, ‘decency’, and ‘respect’.  The phrase ‘chilling effect’ was invented so that white collar workers wouldn’t have to use the red neck phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’.

The chilling effect is actually a good thing.  People should be forced to think twice before airing their shitty opinions.  And it’s always the same kind of people who are worried: white people who suffer no social repercussions for stating flatly obnoxious and offensive things about minorities.

This is the point.  The resort to offence is the way that the privileged police minorities to make them remember that they are always second class and not able to avail themselves of all their social privileges.  Sure, we’ll let you live in White Australia, but we’ll always remind you that we don’t really think you’re One Of Us.  We will teach your kids that you’re not really One Of Us.  We will give you a pamphlet with smiling multicultural faces telling you about your rights, and then we’ll let shock jocks on radio broadcast diatribes about how you should be sent home for speaking up.

And this gets me back to ss 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.  The two sections are inseparable.  Together, they say that if somebody is going to offend, humiliate, or insult you on the basis of race, they need to have a justifiable reason for doing so.  s 18D says that s 18C won’t apply if it’s done in good faith for a set of reasonable purposes.

If ss 18C and 18D were extended to cover a range of different topics — sexuality, gender, religion, political beliefs — then people would know precisely where they stood: if you’re going to do something that the reasonable person would consider offensive, insulting, or humiliating, then you’re going to need to provide a reason to the person you’ve marginalised.

If the ACL can’t engage in a civilised discussion about marriage equality, then they shouldn’t be given a platform.  Media organisations who give them attention are aiding these vandals.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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