The recent call to boycott Coopers Beer because of its association with the Australian Bible Society marks a shift in the marriage equality debate towards ensuring that no debate is even allowed.
2017 is the 200th anniversary of the Australian Bible Society, the oldest society in Australia. To celebrate the anniversary, Coopers Brewery generously planned to produce 10, 000 commemorative cans of beer with Bible verses printed on them. So far no problem.
Then, Liberal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie appeared in a Bible Society video clip where they discussed, over a Coopers beer, their disagreement about marriage equality. The point of the video was to show that people could disagree without being disagreeable, or, it is possible to have a debate about marriage that is generous and gracious.
But soon after all hell broke loose. A reactionary campaign emerged to boycott Coopers beer because of its association with the Bible Society. Many pubs and clubs like the Union Hotel in Newtown promised to cease serving the beer. News programs interviewed beer-drinkers who promised to never again drink the amber ale of Coopers. SBS even went to the effort to produce a satirical video mocking the Bible Society video clip and further indicting Coopers for its involvement with the Bible Society.
Coopers attempted to do damage control by releasing two statements denying it had sponsored the Bible Society video clip featuring its beer (see here and here). But that was not enough, the calls to boycott Coopers persisted. So Coopers CEO Dr Tim Cooper and Finance Director Melanie Cooper made a video desperately apologizing for Coopers’ association with the Bible Society, promising to cancel the order of 10, 000 commemorative cans for the Bible Society, and then engaged in what I can only call servile grovelling to Marriage Equality Australia in a desperate gesture to prove their faithfulness to the cause.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out what the Bible Society did wrong and why Coopers Brewery was harassed.
The Australian Bible Society, contrary to much reporting, has no position on marriage equality. The society works with churches that adopt a variety of views on marriage, refugees, the environment and numerous other social issues. On top of that, the Bible Society was trying to demonstrate how to have a gracious and civil discussion on marriage equality by enlisting two politicians with opposing viewpoints and showing how they exemplify respectful discussion. Surely that is a good thing (see their press release)! The Bible Society was attacked because it was simply a Christian organization suspected of holding Christian views on marriage.
All Coopers did was offer to make and sell some beer cans with Bible verses on them as a special one-off order for the Bible Society. Coopers had a campaign mounted against it, not for anything it said or supported, but simply because of guilt by association.
Former NSW premier Kristina Keneally, a supporter of marriage equality, also sensed the counter-intuitive nature of the outrage against Coopers Brewery and tweeted about it.
The whole affair should be deeply concerning to anyone who believes in a diverse and pluralistic Australia.
First, every business in Australia should be on notice that it must offer visible and demonstrable proof of its loyalty to marriage equality or else risk facing boycotts.
Second, any attempt to treat marriage equality as debatable, even in a friendly and civil manner, must be shut down.
Third, a coalition of activists, media, and even government agencies are prepared to aggressively ensure the alignment of associations and businesses with the new progressive orthodoxy on marriage.
Fourth, I wonder where we will go next? Can we expect Australian Marriage Equality to urge for a boycott of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim businesses where owners support the traditional definition of marriage? Any reason why not?
The message I’m hearing is that when it comes to marriage equality there is to be no debate, no dissent, only obedience.
I believe marriage equality will win and it will have been a long fought and thoroughly deserved victory. The question I have is how do they want to win?
Do marriage equality advocates want to win through the power of their convictions, by pricking the consciences of the electorate, and sharing the stories of LGBT people? Or do they want to win by threatening to intimidate and humiliate into submission anyone with a different view point? The campaigns against Coopers Brewery and the Bible Society suggest the latter.
For the 50-25% of Australians who believe in a traditional view of marriage, we have been warned!