In the past week the election campaign, now blissfully over, reached its (perhaps inevitable?) Dante stage, with a discussion of whether or not gay people will go to hell. It’s the sort of thing that would be embarrassing if we had to explain it to an alien race, or even just a visitor from New Zealand.
“Why are politicians being asked if they believe gay people go to hell?” the visitor asks. “Because a man who is very good at football said they will,” we answer. Makes perfect sense.
Thanks to Israel Folau, it came up this week via a question from a couple of perspicacious reporters on the hustings.
On Monday, in Perth, The Australian Financial Review’s Tom McIlroy asked if Morrison’s views on same-sex marriage had changed, and James O’Doherty of Sky followed up with: “What’s your belief, do gay people go to hell?”
Morrison didn’t answer directly. “I support the law of the country and I always don’t mix my religion with politics and my faith with politics,” he said.
In fact, Morrison has been accused of mixing his faith with politics, notably when he allowed himself during the campaign to be photographed in worship at his Pentecostal church, Horizon Church, in Sutherland.
Morrison told 7.30’s Leigh Sales on Thursday night that the church’s pastor, Brad Bonhomme, was the one who made that decision.
As it happens, I had written a feature story on Horizon church for Good Weekend magazine, published that Saturday. The church had refused all interviews for the story and had no idea what was in it. But it knew it was going to run that weekend.
It was a cute answer from Morrison to Sales, as there was only one reason why cameras would want to film Horizon’s Sunday worship, and he was it. Morrison admitted he had no problem with the pastor’s decision to allow cameras in.
Morrison’s failure this week to immediately clarify that he didn’t believe gay people go to hell (which he did later, unequivocally) left enough of a vacuum for Bill Shorten to opportunistically fill.
“I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell,” Shorten told reporters in Tasmania on Tuesday.
Morrison countered that Shorten’s remark was a “desperate, cheap shot”, and in the following days there was a lot of media coverage about whether or not Morrison had politicised his religion or whether it had been wrongly politicised for him.
It got all tangled up with the religious freedom debate, which seems less a “debate” in the public sense and more a minority concern which is being blown up by people with loud voices.
In this country, while the rest of us have been getting on with our lives, homosexuality has caused a great deal of trouble on the conservative side of politics in recent years, and the same-sex marriage postal vote was the culmination of the tension.
The pro-SSM lobby and many ordinary Australians, gay and not, hold a grudge against the Coaltion for forcing us through a painful and expensive postal vote process just to avoid a split in its own party room.
Many will remember the refusal of some of the main proponents of the survey, notably Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, to participate in the parliamentary vote once the question had been decided by the people.
Both men have used the same line to defend their failure to show up in the chamber that day, despite their electorates voting “yes” (Warringah had a 75 per cent “yes” vote; in Cook it was 55 per cent).
Both Morrison and Abbott say they showed their respect for the democratic result by not blocking the reform. It is a peculiar logic.
Morrison has said the issue is resolved, and the nation can now move on. He obviously dislikes being asked about it.
But, actually, the same-sex marriage result will have lasting effects beyond the obvious consequence of gay and lesbian people being able to express their love through marriage, and give their children the stability of that institution. There are two other knock-on consequences.
The first is that the survey led to so many young people enrolling to vote, and young people overwhelmingly vote for progressive and left-wing parties.
The second is the legacy left in the form of the religious freedoms review led by Philip Ruddock, which was the consolation prize given to the marriage equality “losers”, the social and religious conservatives within the Coalition.
That review led to the argument over whether religious schools and other organisations should be allowed to refuse to hire gay teachers, which itself led to wider claims about the alleged inhibition of religious freedom in this country.
Jacqueline is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.