A couple of weeks ago now, I settled in to watch Q & A being broadcast from my home town, Toowoomba. The Empire Theatre, which I work in regularly, was shown off in all its glory. I can’t say that I was surprised by what followed: a glimpse into the psyche of the regional Downs. Twitter and Facebook was awash with comments crying outrage and shame. I posted one of them. The many moments of xenophobia, and the sinking feeling that Barnaby Joyce won over the crowd, were two of the main reasons why so many of my lefty-pink-faggy-woman friendly arts friends were pissed off. At least I think it was them. There’s a good chance that immigrants had hacked into their accounts. They’re stealing our jobs, after all, why not our social media?
Perhaps most troubling was the moment where homophobia reared it’s ugly head about two thirds of the way through the show. When the middle-aged man got up and started talking about homosexuality, I mistook him for a gay man. My assumption was quickly reprimanded. He put forth the now famously ridiculed ‘slippery slope’ argument. Won’t allowing gay marriage in turn allow polygamy, bestiality and legalised pedophilia? He was laughed at by the entire crowd and the entire panel. Immediately following this question, a brave young man enquired about the ‘gay panic’ defence. Still legally sound in Queensland (the only state to not get rid of it), people under trial for physical assault can put forward the ‘gay panic’ defence. ‘He came onto me. I panicked, so I bashed him.’
The national staging of these two questions presents a bizarre dichotomy at the heart of the current gay marriage debate.
In one sense, this episode of Q & A was an absolute triumph for gay rights. It presented those against civil unions as deranged, desperately afraid, and grossly mis-informed. While the homosexual community was presented as insightful, intelligent, and calm. The crowd, which before and after this moment showed itself as immensely conservative (and that’s putting it mildly), universally shunned the ‘slippery slope’ argument. This uplifting but surprising reaction is what drew me to raise an eyebrow. Why was that question allowed to be presented at all?
The media is hounded, now more so than ever, to present ‘two sides’ to every argument. Too often, in the age of democratisation of knowledge, this means a second side is invented. This appears to now be true for gay rights. The overwhelming majority of Australians have little to no issue with civil unions. Gay marriage beyond that is getting increasing support. The change to full acceptance of homosexuality is inevitable. So why are we still being presented with moments like Q & A? Q & A did its journalistic job by presenting two sides of the argument. The only problem was, one side is a myth. The audience and panel’s reaction proves this to be true.
I blame Wikipedia. (Just keep with me for a tick.) The internet’s ability to now have everyone voices heard and presented as equal flies in the face of common sense. Truth is now marginalised in favour of keeping everyone’s say ‘equal’, even when what they’re saying deliberately shuts down others rights to equality. The wikipedia entry for ‘Civil Unions’ is constantly edited to make room for bickering arguments. It’s governed by the desire to present ‘both sides’, even when one is in a gross minority. The same is true for so many points of information where Wikipedia is the first stop for countless students. ‘William Shakespeare’ and his biography, for example, presents the authorship question as a flat playing ground, despite outsiders claims to Shakespeare’s authorship being considered in the scholarly mainstream to be ridiculous. The ‘moon landing’ page includes a section detailing those that have claimed it to be a hoax. Free speech is a beautiful thing. But we have encountered a bizzarre 21st century problem because of it’s ramifications in an increasingly online world. Fringe discussions and opinions are being brought into the mainstream. A discussion of ideas based on meritocracy and genuine expertise is being dangerously eroded.
If there are two sides to this argument, than they need to be reflective of the current zeitgeist: right and wrong. Toowoomba’s Q and A, consciously or not, did just this. In a live moment, we caught the inherently dangerous notion that all truths are potentially untrue. When we look up into the sky, most of us see it as blue. As true as this is for most people, most people also accept that the past happened. We landed on the moon. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Most people also accept that the future will happen. Gay rights are important, and should be equal, in every sense to those enjoyed by heterosexuals. Arguments to the contrary should be placed where they belong: the fringe. If we don’t do this, we undermine the notion of truth, and journalism will stand on thin air.