The debate topic was “Same Sex Marriage Should Not Be Legalized”. The venue was the Sydney based St. James’ (Dubious) Ethics Centre on 29 May 2012, hereafter identified as the (D)EC. Watching the debate would be a few hundred people on site, and (later) a broadcast audience of 70 million internationally via the BBC. The was confident that integrity, honesty and fairness would not be a priority and the speakers appointed confirmed this intention.
The St. James’ Ethics Centre brand would be enough to fool most, yet I wanted to see just how the distractions and limitations would be woven.
The ‘debate’ was unethical and dishonest. Let us count the ways.
Note: In the interests of fair play, you can see Same-Same’s report of the event here.
A 3-on-1 Format
The (Dubious) Ethics Centre assembled a 3-on-1 tag team for this debate.
In the red corner where the ‘marriage should be changed’ team, comprised of politician Clover Moore, the seasoned, political chameleon and talented strategist Mark Textor, plus for good measure, mega-feminist, queer theory writer, anti-establishment, anti-marriage and pro-gay rights lesbian academic Professor Annemarie Jagose.
In the actual blue corner, standing alone for the ‘marriage should not be redefined’ team was Catholic Ethics Professor Nick Tonti-Filippini. That’s how it would have looked if they were honest, but for this debate, Professor Annemarie was put into the blue corner and told to wear the same blue jersey as Professor Nick.
Even before round 1, the promoters had staged the event well.
They Chose to Not Invite Many Qualified Speakers
Amongst those not invited were Bill Muehlenburg (a published authority on the sexual diversity agenda), Jim Wallace (Director of the Australian Christian Lobby) or Peter Madden (who has risked life, finances and reputation to encourage honest analysis of SSM’s impact on children and education). They also didn’t approach Peter Stokes (Salt Shakers) or David Phillips (Family Voice Australia). Any of these players would have made the debate intelligent, entertaining and legitimate.
But that (very likely) wasn’t what the goal.
The Charade Began with the Topic
Even a high school debater knows that topics should not be framed in the negative. The Ethics Centre ???
(Ahhh, maybe they don’t understand the conventions of fair debating).
Let me explain. As a debate topic, “The ocean is blue” is good; “The ocean is not blue” is bad! The second topic (the ‘not blue’ option) is bad because it requires mental gymnastics: the ‘For’ team must argue against the ocean being blue, and the ‘Against’ team must argue for the ocean being blue. Confused?? That’s why the convention exists.
Why did they not follow it? You decide.
It was a crafted deception that was insulting and duplicitous in both intention and delivery
Had they framed the topic conventionally, with a topic such as “Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legalised” they would have increased the likelihood of the debate being seen as the propaganda exercise that it was.
In a similar way, using a topic such as “The meaning of Marriage should remain as a voluntary union of one man and one woman for life, to the exclusion of all others’ would have given license to far reaching and honest debate; it would not however have favoured the marriage change lobbyists.
Low Substance and High Fluff
For these and other reasons (which I will explain) this debate was a meal of little meat, bland salad and lots of fluffy desserts. It was a crafted deception that was insulting and duplicitous in both intention and delivery.
About twenty minutes into the debate I noticed something else was missing: debate! The pens and paper on the speaker’s desks were barely touched, the usual debaters expressions of perplexed and deep thought were missing and furious scribblings in preparation of defending an argument were not being made. Then I realized – there was to be no opportunity for rebuttal. It wasn’t even a debate! It was a speech session. Even if Professor Nick wanted to rebut he couldn’t; he had been positioned as first speaker. For him to respond to any falsehood or error he would need someone to ask him a ‘Dorothy Dixer’ question from the floor, and in this audience, he had few friends.
Structured this way, the debate was be as open to manipulation as a typical “Q&A” infotainment episode from the ABC. It would also stay as light on substance as another ABC classic; namely “Play School”.
So with loaded teams, no formal opportunity for rebuttal this was already pathetic. But it got worse.
This speech-fest also discarded with traditional 3-on-3 format for the 2-plus-2 one already explained. Then, to add further insult to this masquerade, the time given to each speaker was shortened. We were told this was to allow more questions from the crowd, however I humbly suspect more devious motivations.
With small teams and short presentations, both the lack of substance in the ‘marriage change’ argument could be hidden and truckloads of science, research, logical and democratic freedom problems could not be discussed.
- “text-align: justify;”>With their combined 30 minutes, the marriage change team was able to pull on heart strings, stand on self-righteousness, sound off selfish philosophies and vilify opponents … and them politely sit down unchallenged before they ran out of fluff.
- “text-align: justify;”>With his ten minutes, and hampered by his Catholic and academic roots, Professor Tonti-Filippini needed to stay away from issues involving child safety or sexual development, community values, science, sociology or standards. With limited time, a hostile audience and the shadow of sexual abuse still hanging over the Catholic church, it was a tough challenge. Despite these challenges, the Professor did very well.
The loaded speaker bias, deceptive framed question, short presentation time and 2-plus-2 format were no accident. They were manipulations for effect. The science, sociological research and verifiable evidence against marriage change would once again not get air time, just as they do not get air time in the mass media or in parliament.
Praise Where it is Due
When the speeches ended, people queued behind six microphones placed around the amphitheater. It was only a few minutes into the floor comments that I realized how well this would play into the goal of producing a deceptively pro-gay-marriage presentation. The profound, the emotional, the opinionated and the downright embarrassing would all took their 1-minute of fame – but ultimately the guy with control of the microphone always wins.
The BBC got some great material! Sadly, I am confident that most of the moderate and reasonable comments will end up on the cutting room floor, yet the more embarrassing will be included to portray marriage defenders as bigoted and unreasonable.
Deceit is, after all, how this war is being fought and won.
Amidst the floor contributions, there were more than a few bright lights and I want to praise two young men amongst them.
The first simply said that where the protection of a child is threatened by the aspirations of an adult, the child should be protected – and then he calmly sat down. That effort, I expect, will end up on the cutting room floor, but well done!
The other “Good on ya’ son!” goes out to the young man who politely challenged Clover Moore to answer the question she had earlier dodged from Peter Madden. He then also respectfully challenged Mark Textor to stop calling himself a ‘liberal conservative’ as a cloak for his true philosophies. Not surprisingly, Clover and Mark both deftly sidestepped and let the challenges go through to the keeper.
They did however invest time and position to belittle the young man. By my assessment, the target of their rants demonstrated more strength of character and courage than both of them put together. (For the record, Mark should call himself an economic conservative and a sexual freedoms liberal. Unfortunately however, such honesty is rarely seen.)
Not surprisingly, Clover and Mark both deftly sidestepped and let the challenges go through to the keeper.
The integrity of event moderator Dr Simon Longstaff is also worth noting. He made honest effort to follow a ‘for-then- against’ order in questions from the floor. He also had the integrity to present the debate’s bias from the outset, giving blatantly one-sided introductory comments. He mentioned nothing of the world-wide fight, victories or arguments against same-sex marriage while speaking broadly of the campaign’s conquests and its premises.
He didn’t pretend to be even handed; I respected that. He was the moderator for a pre-staged ‘macavalian marketing event’ and he didn’t pretend otherwise.
The Results of the Debate
In the pre-debate poll, 75% of the audience supported changing the definition of marriage, 10% were undecided and 15% wanted the definition to remain as it is. This was no surprise. The event was mostly marketed within the gay community, the tickets were priced beyond the reach of the average family man or woman, and it was a mid-week event in the heart of highly gay-culturized and populated Sydney.
Wow! Professor Nick had won 5 % over to the ‘leave marriage alone’ side while outnumbered, outmaneuvered and strategically hamstrung. This was an amazing outcome.
Amazingly however, even after a shamelessly manipulated and biased event, the final results were 73% supportive of change (down 2%), 7% undecided (down 3%) and 20% opposed it (a 5% increase). Wow! Professor Nick had won 5 % over to the ‘leave marriage alone’ side while outnumbered, outmaneuvered and strategically hamstrung. This was an amazing outcome. Truth’s light had been given just a few moments to expose a lie or two. In that brief flash of light, even amongst a hardened and polarized audience, the same-sex marriage arguments collapsed for some.
I was greatly encouraged by the event. Disgusted but also encouraged.
If even here, under these circumstances, 4-5% could change their mind, what could happen if the 80% of the nation who don’t know the broader issues were to find out?
The challenge remains however: how will they??