By Dylan Sahlin
Let me start off with a confession: I drink Coopers and I will for however long I live in Australia. Its Pale Ale is the best beer in Australia. This doesn’t make me somebody who enjoys Coopers though. In the past few weeks, this has made me a furious homophobe with a suppressed craving for the blood of homosexuals. No joke.
Encircled in a raging media firestorm following news they had funded a Bible Society video discussing both the merits and faults of legislated gay marriage, Coopers has copped it hard from the left. Labelled among other things a “deliberate troll” and accused of “hating queers“, the backlash has been swift and heavy. There is no doubt that a corporate entity using its financial sway to discredit and attack the LGBTQI+ community is unacceptable. But, contrary to how the situation has been represented by certain media groups, that’s not even close to what Coopers have done.
The video in question involves a conversation between two federal Liberal MPs, mediated by a Bible Society representative, discussing the issue of marriage equality over a couple of beers. The segment is called “Keeping it Light”, not as a sly to the ‘lightness’ of the issue like many have claimed, but to highlight the product being advertised – a new iteration of Coopers Light beer. Each given equal airtime, openly-gay Liberal MP Tim Wilson argues in favour legislated gay marriage while Liberal MP Andrew Hastie claims Australia won’t be better off with gay marriage. There was no judgement made. No advantage given to Hastie. The video gives a snapshot of contemporary Australian discourse surrounding gay marriage – a segment of passionate support and a community segment still resistant to change. And the Bible Society representative sat back and listened, not even gracing us with a single line of opinion – only making sure the Coopers beers were front and centre.
There is no doubt legislation giving marriage rights to our gay community is well overdue in Australia. Marriage is not a Christian institution, nor should it be an institution based upon a bedrock of discrimination. But to deny there is a significant portion of our community who don’t view marriage that way, and are openly uncomfortable with the concept of marriage being extended beyond a man and a woman, is denying our very tangible reality. Despite there being a very strong argument behind it, marriage equality is an inescapably divisive issue.
When you reverse long-held historical (and especially religious) traditions there is inevitably going to be a sensitivity among certain portions of the community. Heterosexual marriage has been a fixture of Australian life since colonisation. To argue we should change the definition to be more inclusive of new social dynamics is a logical line of reasoning, but to claim that the issue isn’t even worthy of debate and discussion, like many on the left have done, is ignoring the political diversity of our community.
Andrew Hastie wasn’t a mouthpiece of homophobic hatred: he was voicing concerns of members of his electorate and his personal view informed by his Christian faith. As backward and idiotic as the left may think that is, he has just as much right to represent the views of Australia’s conservative community as Wilson has to represent that of Australia’s progressive movement. Ignoring community concern, bottling up different attitudes and labelling them as worthless because they’re based upon a different moral foundation, will not ensure political progress: it will splinter, alienate and make the discourse surrounding gay marriage even more vitriolic.
Rather than rushing to condemn a beer company because they dared to frame what is still a divided discourse in Australia, progressive activists should openly address conservative concerns rather than boycott a beer company that happens to have a different opinion on a justifiably divisive issue.
Tim Wilson, a homosexual, and Andrew Hastie, a heterosexual, were able to accept each other’s differences – the rest of Australia needs to learn to do the same.