If it weren’t for issues like same-sex parenting and gay marriage, few in the mainstream would have heard of him. But for gay rights foes both moderate and extreme, Heard has come as a God-send: a homosexual who shares all their worst fears and reservations about society recognising same sex families and letting gays enter the mainstream.
Wherever they find themselves accused of bigotry or closed-mindedness they can point to John and exclaim, "See – I’m not a homophobe! A homosexual agrees with me too!" and Heard has skilfully used this value to boost himself into the mainstream and the pages of The Australian and Herald Sun newspapers in the process.
However, very few of Heard’s mainstream readers would have any idea of how out of step with the rest of gay Australia he really is.
Before his notorious 2006 appearance on SBS’s Insight, few in the gay community would have heard of him either.
Heard is a man who believes that transsexuals suffer serious mental disorders, who opposes divorce, abortion and condom use, and who considers sex even in the most committed of gay relationships to be sinful and "intrinsically disordered". Ask Heard simple questions about his personal views on an issue and he’ll refer you to the relevant Vatican document.
With that in mind, it begs the question of why mainstream newspaper editors consider him a representative voice for the gay side of this debate – could it be that there’s so little opposition within the gay community on this issue that he’s the only voice they can find?
Heard’s most recent salvo at the push for same-sex marriage was entitled "Gays don’t want marriage" and was carried by the Herald Sun and News.com.au.
In it he made the bizarre claim that the push for gay marriage in Australia was the work of a tiny group of a few "self-appointed" activists that claimed to speak for gay and lesbian Australia when the vast majority had no interest in the right to marry at all.
Anyone with a real knowledge of the gay community in Australia would have baulked at this first simple declaration. If anything the opposite has been true, with the marriage issue opposed and stiffed from the start by ideological radicals who saw it as a push to conform with what they see as retrograde "heterosexual norms" – with marriage proponents frequently attacked as "wannabe straights".
If not for this, the issue of marriage equality would have raised its head much sooner in Australia, in line with events in Europe, South Africa and North America.
New South Wales saw the most resistance, with the State’s Gay and Lesbian Lobby refusing to admit there was any real interest in the issue for over a year after groups in the rest of the country had accepted its reality – leading to a major split in the community and a series of blow ups between the Lobby and the Greens, who’d already begun to champion the issue.
It wasn’t until the Lobby conducted an extensive survey that found almost universal support for the right to marry among participants – even from those who had no wish to marry themselves – that it conceded the issue.
The NSW survey echoed the results of a Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Survey the year before which found 79.8 per cent of respondents wanted marriage rights.
So from whence comes Heard’s special knowledge of the minds of a supposedly silent majority of gay men (he ventures nothing of the wants and wishes of lesbians)?
Heard has been quoting the same set of statistics from La Trobe University’s Private Lives: A Report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTI Australians since its release in 2006. It’s something of a Bible for Heard – he quotes it on AIDS, he quotes it on parenting, he quotes it on marriage; he quotes it on TV, in print and on the airwaves.
And each time he quotes it, either wilfully or through a failure to understand its methodology, he misrepresents its findings. Most of all he mistakes it for an opinion poll when it was a public health survey and nothing more.
As a result, Heard has claimed time and time again that Private Lives shows that the majority of gay men in Australia are in no "kind of relationship at all, let alone one that would conform to basic community ideas about … marriage", and asks us to take from this that they would never want to be.
Heard believes this to be the case because 52 per cent of male participants (average age 34) were not in a relationship at the time the survey was taken.
Their opinions on future relationships or what sort of recognition they might like should they start one were not sought and there is nothing in the data that implies these men are against marriage or monogamy or committed relationships. All it states is that they were single when asked. Nothing more.
Moving on to those in the study that were in a relationship, Heard claims: "When actually asked … most of the gay partners surveyed indicated that they had no intention of ever ‘formalising’ their relationships."
The questions that Private Lives asked of participants who were in relationships dealt with their current relationship only and did not cover opinions on future kinds of relationships they might have with other partners or at a different stage in their lives.
Asked about the relationships they were in, 5.1 per cent said they’d already undergone some form of commitment ceremony, 5.5 per cent hadn’t but planned to, 20.3 per cent hadn’t made plans but would like to, and another 17 per cent had yet to decide whether their relationship needed that sort of formal commitment.
This means over 30 per cent of those surveyed in their current relationship, had, planned or would like to seal that commitment in a formal way, while another 17 per cent would not rule out feeling that way at a later date.
52.1 per cent (Heard’s big majority) said they had no intention for a commitment ceremony in their current relationship. They were not asked whether they might consider it if they were in a different kind of relationship with another person, or what plans they had for later in life.
Many people at some point in their lives date someone they don’t see as marriage material. This doesn’t mean they will never date someone they see as marriage material or that they disagree with the idea of marriage.
I think if you asked many heterosexual Australians of a similar age about their current relationship you’d get quite similar answers.
Instead Heard would have us believe that this data shows that Australian gay men are commitment-phobic, poly-amorous serial shaggers.
Certainly some are, and few would deny that a significant minority of gay men and lesbians do see little worth in the push for gay marriage.
And they have their reasons – many have lived their entire lives with societal disapproval of their relationships and see no need for approval now, others may have witnessed the breakdown of their parents’ marriage or the marriages of friends or relatives, and for some, the highs of unshackled male libido are simply too much to give up for the stability and affection found in enduring commitment.
But few of these would see their opposition to marriage in their own lives as a reason to stand in the way of this right being granted to others.
And Heard’s own views on gay marriage couldn’t be more different than those he claims to champion – to him gays and lesbians getting married is a perverse "celebration" of "the insertion of the sex organs of one individual into the digestive tract of another" that forms part of a secular "culture of death". Hardly mainstream opinions in the Australian gay community.
So have no fear. Wherever there is disquiet or unease about homosexuality and finishing the job on gay rights in this country, John Heard will be there – a speedbump on the road to equality.
And once we finally get there, Heard will have outlived his usefulness, and his mainstream interest will shrink back once again to that of a mere contrarian oddity.
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