News & Commentary, Screen, TV No matter how polite, Q&A’s same-sex marriage debate was profoundly insulting to LGBTQI people By Ben Neutze | October 24, 2017 | ABC’s flagship panel discussion show Q&A can be infuriating, reductive and predictably shallow at the best of times. But last night’s same-sex marriage debate hit a new low. In the name of “fairness and balance”, the program invited on four panelists to debate whether or not Australia should remove the discriminatory provision in the Marriage Act that excludes couples of the same gender from the legal institution of marriage. The panel was invited to debate how Australia should vote in the final weeks of the same-sex marriage postal survey. Two panelists in favour of same-sex marriage, two panelists against. Three heterosexual panelists, and just one actually affected by this debate. And two clergymen. On the “yes” side was gay comedian and actor Magda Szubanski, who spoke with clarity, compassion and the knowledge of experience, and Catholic priest Father Frank Brennan. On the “no” side was Glenn Davies, the Sydney Anglican Archbishop who donated $1 million of the church’s money to the “no” campaign, and federal Liberal party vice president and Legal Aid lawyer Karina Okotel, a woman so unable to make a consistent argument on any point I’d seriously consider self-representing in court rather than accept her free legal services. The debate was framed in the most polite terms possible — taking in religious freedoms, the rights of children, legal discriminations — but was ultimately just another chance for those on the “no” side to have their insignificant grievances and hypocritical concerns heard while LGBTQI people continue to have their very humanity debated. The episode kicked off with ten minutes of discussion on the abuse faced by “no” campaigners over the last few weeks. There was, by comparison, little time given to the lifetime of abuse and exclusion faced by many LGBTQI people. The abuse and exclusion that, yes, probably makes some LGBTQI people like myself a little bit angry at people campaigning against us. Apparently being called a “bigot” for a few weeks is of bigger concern to Q&A than the kind of ongoing treatment that leads to well documented and alarmingly high rates of suicide and mental health issues among LGBTQI people. Q&A has tackled same-sex marriage at least as much as any other social issue over almost a decade on the air. Despite the constant insistence from some politicians that the majority of Australians don’t care, exchanges about same-sex marriage tend to get far more traction on social media than just about anything else from the show. But Q&A has done same-sex marriage to death. Two-thirds of Australians have already voted in the postal survey, and there are only two weeks left before the final deadline. The vast majority of people intending to vote have already done so; Australia has made up its mind, and we’ll find out which way it’s leaned on November 15. A full episode of Q&A devoted to a same-sex marriage debate can serve little purpose at this point but to stir tensions and divisions, give further platform to the side of the campaign already granted a massive media platform, and deliver a ratings boost to the program (which, big surprise, reached an impressive 617,000 viewers last night). An opportunity for LGBTQI people to talk about their experiences in a non-combative way might be useful at this point. But placing Magda Szubanski on a panel with a group of people with no personal stake and no personal experience relevant to this issue is just plain cruel. It’s cruel to even be subjecting LGBTQI viewers to this kind of debate on our national broadcaster. The postal survey process has already proven difficult for many LGBTQI people, to the point that the ABC decided it necessary to include the phone numbers and websites for Lifeline and Beyond Blue at the conclusion of last night’s episode. I’m incredibly lucky in many ways. My life has been largely free from the rejection and trauma that so many of my LGBTQI friends have faced, and my mental health is in pretty decent shape. But these last few months have been difficult and have left me with a feeling of tightness in my stomach and a sense of exhaustion whenever I think about this debate. “I suppose that’s the polite thing to do when you’re subtly dehumanising people on national TV.” Watching last night’s episode was disheartening, to say the least. Watching several hundred audience members applaud heartily in response to an argument that the law should discriminate against you is difficult to take. Watching Okotel laugh and smile in a light-hearted manner while debating your rights is infuriating. Watching somebody refer to committed, loving gay relationships as “friendships” — as Davies did — is dehumanising. By reducing relationships to “friendships”, if they happen to occur between two people who are not of different genders, Davies denies the ability of same sex-attracted people to form a romantic relationships and subsequently families. These are things that are absolutely fundamental to our humanity. Soon after, Davies spoke about how LGBTQI people have been treated poorly by religious institutions in the past, and apologised for that. Because, I suppose, that’s the polite thing to do when you’re subtly dehumanising people on national TV. One of the final questions of the night was whether the panelists would respect the outcome of the postal survey and stop campaigning. The heterosexual members of the panel all responded before the question was put to Szubanski in exactly the same manner. Szubanski said that it’s “profoundly insulting” to be living in a country that actively discriminates against her, and that for that reason she’d continue to fight in a respectful way for equality. But asking somebody “will you stop campaigning if the majority of Australians decide that you should be discriminated against under the law” is a rather different question when put to a person about whom these laws are actually made. The pressure on the ABC to be “balanced” on this issue — and treat both sides of the debate equally — totally obscures the fact that there are people whose lives are materially affected by this debate and people whose lives are not. And those whose lives are not affected have been granted an extraordinarily large platform for the last month to speak about the rights and lives of others. That, in and of itself, is profoundly insulting. SUPPORT DAILY REVIEW AND WIN TWO DECADENT NIGHTS AT MONA IN HOBART BY CLICKING HERE Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Ben Neutze Ben Neutze is Deputy Editor of Daily Review. He has previously written for Time Out Sydney, The Guardian Australia and Limelight Magazine.