Do you need a moral makeover? Maybe you’re the leader of a clapped-out political party whose public image desperately needs some spit and polish. Or perhaps you run a global bank and, conscious that bankers are about as popular as syphilis, you’re on the lookout for a bit of rebranding. Or you could just be your average Age-reading consumer of Fairtrade coffee, and you want to give your wholesome persona a shot of adrenaline, to remind people (as if they could have forgotten) what a virtuous person you are.
Well, fear not, seekers of moral renewal. For there’s a really easy way to ‘make yourself over’.
Support gay marriage. That’s it. Seriously, it’s like a magic pill. If we were in a 1950s TV commercial, an excitable American voiceover would kick in right about now: ‘Tired of being looked down on? Tired of being thought of as evil? Tired of not being in the In Crowd? Then you need GAY MARRIAGE. One application and all your problems will fade away!’
Ignore those who say gay marriage is today’s Selma-style struggle for civil rights (yeah, right, where are the water cannons?) For in truth, gay marriage is a secular version of the old Catholic Church’s indulgences, when people would be absolved of their sins, and redefined as good, for the right price.
Across the world, politicians and institutions are ingesting the gay-marriage pill in the hope of being remade. Here in Australia various political actors are so desperate for a bit of the magic gay-marriage rub-off that they’ve started squabbling among themselves. It’s a clash of gay-marriage glory-hunters, as politicians vie like crazy to be The One — the one who made gay marriage a reality and is therefore morally spotless.
In the Green corner we have Sarah Hanson-Young, who, in the wake of the ‘Yes’ vote in the Irish referendum brought forward the Greens’ same-sex marriage bill in the Senate. In the words of the Guardian, she wants to ‘capitalise’ on the Irish situation. Capitalise, meaning to ‘take advantage of, make profit from, exploit’, being the operative word: this is a see-through attempt by a party that’s losing votes and clout to cosy back up to the inner-city virtuous.
In the Red(ish) corner we have Bill Shorten, who basically wrote a gay-marriage bill on the back of a fag packet. When he introduced it in parliament most of the benches were empty, save for a few fellow Laborites nodding meaningfully as Shorten did his best Martin Luther King impression and said we have the ‘opportunity of a generation’ to show that Australia is ‘generous, smart, modern [and] diverse’. What he meant is that HE is generous, smart, modern and diverse, because he supports gay marriage, the most generous, smart, modern and diverse thing you can do today. Warren Entsch was right to say that Shorten, bereft of anything sensible to say about the economy or anything, is trying to ‘create credibility’ via gay marriage.
And in the kinda yellow corner, we have David Leyonhjelm, still pushing his Freedom to Marry Bill, the weirdest named bill in Oz history considering everyone over the age of 18 already has the freedom to marry. Leyonhjelm was stinging about Shorten, saying ‘he saw the train leaving the station and wanted to hop onboard’.
Yet for the libertarians who hang around Senator Leyonhjelm, gay marriage is also a needy cause. Finding it tough to face down the vast nannying-and-nudging state that has grown up in Australia and across the West in recent years, libertarians cling to the bumper of the gay-marriage juggernaut, hoping this one issue will prove that liberty lives in this otherwise finger-wagging century.
What none of them can explain is why so many noted non-liberals — from Obama to the French government — are lovers of gay marriage. Best not to think about it. Best not to ask why Western states not known for their respect for freedom are bending over backwards to institute gay marriage. Just shut the hell up and feel the ‘freedom’. For the liberty lobby, gay marriage is as much a flimsy feelgood boost, an injector of momentum into their lives, a way of avoiding hard arguments about the state of freedom today, as it is a credibility-creator for Shorten.
It’s an unedifying spectacle, this clash of the gay-marriage glory-hunters. But it’s useful, for it exposes the cynicism of the gay-marriage phenomenon. In these jaded times, when politicians are sneered at and snark is widespread, gay marriage is held up as the one cynicism-free zone, a pure and righteous campaign. Please. The motley crews ‘capitalising’ on gay marriage give the lie to this notion.
Goldman Sachs has flown the rainbow flag at its Wall St headquarters in support of gay marriage. Hillary Clinton stuck a gay couple who want to get hitched in her presidential launch video (translation: vote for me, I’m moral). In Britain, the Tory leadership’s effusive embrace of gay marriage was explicitly done as a means of ‘detoxifying’ the party brand. It was a way for Tories to ‘shed their image as exclusive, extremist and out of date’, said one observer.
This is what is being done by all the massive corporations and political parties who can’t even spell the word liberty who are embracing gay marriage: they’re trying to shed their old images and cover themselves in the pink glory that comes from backing the now incredibly mainstream, stiflingly conformist idea of gay marriage.
When all the West’s business, political and cultural bigwigs transform gay marriage into a moral barometer, into the means through which any old banker or has-been politico can re-signal his alleged virtue to the world, there’s a terrible knock-on effect: anyone who fails to nod along, anyone who dares to think about gay marriage and adopt an actual moral position rather than a flimsy ‘look at me’ one, is instantly written off as lacking virtue. And so is the world divided anew, between the Good (who back gay marriage) and the Bad (who don’t). A cynical-free issue? Come off it. The glory-hunting of the gay-marriage backers, and their demonisation of non-backers, make this possibly the most cynical political campaign in the Western world today.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of Spiked and a regular contributor to the Speccie