Marriage Equality, Religious Freedom, And Tibet: The Connection Only John Madigan Can See


The Senator sees a parallel between the repression of Tibetans by China and opposition to an anti-marriage equality booklet. The Greens don’t. Max Chalmers reports.

Independent MP John Madigan doesn’t normally go full fire-and-brimstone, but the sedate Senator appears to have found his voice.

In an unusually passionate display the former Democratic Labor Party member has lashed out at the Greens in the senate, denouncing the party for “hypocrisy”, “political mischief” and “toxic sanctimony”, and comparing them to the agents of George Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ who “lie and distort… condemn and vilify.”

The issue? Debate over an anti-marriage equality booklet distributed by the Catholic Church to high schools around the country.

Madigan was left fuming after the Greens raised objections to the Don’t Mess With Marriage pamphlet, and Tasmanian candidate Martine Delaney lodged a complaint with the Tasmanian Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

new matilda, don't mess with marriage
An image from the booklet.

Yesterday evening he hit-out at the party, as well as advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality.

“Yes, of course, where we find hypocrisy and political mischief-making, where we find toxic sanctimony, we invariably find the Greens,” Madigan said. “How long did it take for the newest member of the Greens in the Senate, Senator McKim, to jump on the train? In a speech earlier this month, Senator McKim called the church booklet, which had been distributed to members of its congregation, ‘offensive material’.

“He said there was a danger of the gay marriage debate being hijacked by a small but well-resourced lobby group. But isn’t that exactly what the Australian Marriage Equality group is – a well-resourced lobby group of indeterminate size with deep pockets and a flashy website?”

In the heated remarks Madigan appeared to compare the treatment of religious groups in Australia who oppose same-sex marriage to the repression of Tibetans under Chinese rule, reminding the Greens of comments made by former leader Bob Brown.

“Senator Brown was a staunch defender of religious freedom – be it in China, Tibet, Australia or elsewhere. He saw it as a fundamental right; the cornerstone of a civilised society,” he said.

Greens Senator Robert Simms, who holds the party’s LGBTI and Marriage Equality portfolio, told New Matilda he was happy to cop such attacks from Madigan on the chin.

He rejected Madigan’s claim the booklet was “not strident or hate-filled”, and said it would cause harm to LGBT families.

“It does make reference to same-sex parenting and same-sex relationships being bad for children for example, and a whole range of comments around same sex attraction in general,” he said.

The pamphlet, which caused a political storm after being sent to schools in June, says “messing with marriage” would equate to “messing with kids” and be grossly unjust to them.

“Sometimes people claim that children do just fine with two mums or two dads and that there is “no difference” between households with same-sex parents and heterosexual parents,” it says. “But sociological research, as well as the long experience of Church and society, attests to the importance for children of having, as far as possible, both a mother and father.”

In fact, research has consistently found children with same-sex parents do as well or better than their peers.

Simms described the pamphlet as “reckless” and “irresponsible”.

“It’s insulting to same-sex parents, it’s insulting to their families and friends, but it’s also potentially deeply damaging to same-sex attracted young people,” he said.

Asked a series of questions about the speech – including the impact the pamphlet might have on young LGBT children in high schools – Madigan responded with a general statement.

“My speech last night concerned freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These are values I feel passionately about. When I see the Greens one minute harping about human rights and the next trying to shut down debate by accusing others of hate speech I call it for what it is: blatant, politically expedient hypocrisy.”

During parliament’s previous sitting week Coalition MP Eric Abetz introduced a motion in support of the controversial booklet, also arguing opposition to the document’s circulation amounted to an attack on free speech.

Simms said freedom of expression had to be balanced against the rights of community groups and that Abetz’s motion had been a gross error of judgement.

“They’re trying to inject this kind of US style politics into Australia, where you have the Christian right tyring to claim they’re being persecuted,” he said.

Despite support from some crossbenchers, including Madigan, the Abetz motion failed to pass.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.