Lismore is internationally known for the acceptance and inclusion of its gay population. It’s perhaps something anti-same-sex marriage advocate Peter Madden should have been aware of before parking his heavily bannered truck in Cathcart Street, Lismore on Saturday night, in a suburb that is popular with gays and lesbians.
The president of Sydney-based Heal Our Land Ministries Inc was on the campaign trail heading up to Queensland and has been holding prayer groups along the way as part of the campaign.
A contingent of straight and gay protesters gathered around the truck overnight, stopping traffic in both directions. ‘Love’ graffiti was added to what onlookers saw as hate propaganda. On the banners, headed ‘the dark side of gay marriage’, were images and wording insinuating that paedophilia is connected with same-sex marriages.
Two of the protesters were so incensed by the presence of the inflammatory banners they chained themselves to the truck. One, Fairy Princess Amber, donned a wedding dress for the occasion before placing a bicycle lock around her neck and attaching it to the truck. She was visibly distressed by the discriminatory banners of the truck and pleaded with the police to have them removed.
When he returned to the truck after a night spent in a nearby motel, Mr Madden attempted to engage with the protestors. It was interesting to witness the dialogue that took place when he began voicing his beliefs.
‘If we start messing with marriages, we will affect future families for many generations. Our ministry is to protect the age-old construct of marriage between a man and a woman for the nurture of the children,’ he said.
Having many friends in same-sex relationships rearing beautiful children, I tried to stay objective and question Mr Madden over the failures of this arrangement.
‘I’m not saying that I am against same-sex partners being with children. That is what I have been accused of. I am against the marriage component, the legal construct,’ he stated. Once you change the laws surrounding the marriage of a man and woman, it will change a raft of legislations associated with that.’
Punita, a proponent of same-sex marriage, responded positively to this comment. ‘Well about time. We would like to see the laws changed to represent people equitably across the board,’ she said.
Another area that Mr Madden’s group is targeting is education. Currently, the Department of Education is attempting to educate local children about homophobia, partly in an effort to reduce bullying in this area.
Mr Madden started the discussion on this topic by saying ‘homosexual men can have a penchant for young boys. So you are creating an environment where men in their 20s (gay men who educate children about homophobia) are with 12-year-old boys. This is creating a meat market where homosexual men are coming in contact with sexually conflicted teenage boys.’
Abuse of power is seen in all areas of community: it has played out in religion, hobby groups and education to name a few. As one example, I asked Mr Madden about heterosexual male teachers giving 12-year-old sexually conflicted girls sex education. ‘Of course there are many places where this can happen, but I want to stop another one from happening.’
Troy, the other protester who chained himself to the truck, commented, ‘I have been part of homophobia training in high schools. We know that 97 per cent of convicted child sex offenders identify as heterosexual, so Peter’s figures are complete myths and are not based in fact. So statistically, your children are safer with same-sex-attracted people!’
Mr Madden said that his wife, a public school teacher, disagreed with ‘celebrating’ homosexuality in teenagers. Troy offered her some advice: ‘How dare they say that same-sex-attracted youth don’t deserve the same support as opposite-sex-attracted youth. The Department of Education is answerable to anti-discrimination laws, so maybe she should work for a Christian school where they are exempt from these laws.’
In response to sex education for 12-year-olds, Punita made the point that ‘12-year-olds are questioning and exploring their sexuality, and some do end up taking their own lives because they haven’t had any support or are bullied because of their sexual orientation. These children come across this kind of hate mentality that we see on this truck and they get the message that it is wrong to be gay. We are here to say that it is not wrong and don’t fight against it or you will have a miserable life.’
Freedom of speech is part of the fertility of this region, yet the vilification used in this campaign is clearly not acceptable. The messages on the truck and from its driver more than just oppose same-sex marriage; they demonise it.
Consider this: a huge truck rolls into town with massive banners showing a father protecting his son and bearing the slogan ‘The Dark Side of Religion’. Then the truck driver gets out and preaches that all religious gatherings are just meat markets for paedophiles, and that there should be no religious teachings in public schools. I am not sure whether that truck would get very far up the highway. Opposition is acceptable, demonisation isn’t.
Melissa Hargraves is not anti-same-sex marriage and not anti-religious.