The debate on gay marriage in our Parliament produced all kinds of knicker-twisting episodes, but the one I want to focus on is the reporting of what Senator Cory Bernardi said in the two television news broadcasts I watched, those of Channel 9 and the ABC. In each case I thought the news-reader said, or implied, that Senator Bernardi believed that homosexuality would lead to bestiality. It seemed unlikely to me that any sensible person would think so.
What Senator Bernardi actually said was something like this (we only got the usual 20-second grab): ‘(if this bill is passed) what will happen next? Will we get three people coming forward and saying that we love each other, so we would like to get married too. And there are a few creepy people out there who, er, think that, er, well there can be love between humans and animals, and who say that we love each other. Will we be asked to approve that too?’
I don’t have any recording device where I am at the moment, but I think that was the gist of what he said. As I’ve set it out, Senator Bernardi was offering a ‘thin edge of the wedge’ argument as his reason, or perhaps part of his reason, for opposing the bill.
But that is not the message that the viewer would have received, which was that he really thought that homosexuality was itself a slippery slope, that would lead those so involved to bestiality. The Senate chamber was close to empty as he spoke, but it wasn’t long before his words were everywhere. Mr Abbott gave him a good dressing-down, and fired him from the Coalition’s front bench. He seems to have been prone to injudicious remarks, since he was dressed down about his remarks about Muslims a few months ago.
I’m not sure that going down his chosen verbal path was the wisest journey that Senator Bernardi has recently taken, but if I heard him correctly he was not guilty of much more than speaking before thinking – and he has many parliamentary colleagues who do that on a daily basis. No doubt he will learn from his experience.
I don’t much care, one way or the other, about gay marriage. In fact, I feel about it much as I do about the possibility of Australia’s becoming a republic: one day it will happen, enthusiasts will cheer, and life will go on pretty much as before for the rest.
But I do care a lot about the way news is presented, because it is important for everyone that what they hear is the case actually is the case. That wasn’t so in this matter, at least as I sat, watched and listened. It was as though the journalist or the news editor heard what Bernardi had said, and jumped to a conclusion before the man had even finished.
I rather gathered that those who were fulminating about him within Parliament had done the same. Righteous indignation is in plentiful supply in Australia, and what does it matter if you actually didn’t hear correctly? The error – in thinking that you know what someone is going to say – happens all the time. We all do it, when we finish sentences for others, but sometimes our helpful addition is not what the speaker actually intended to say.
I will read Senator Bernardi’s speech in full, when I can do so. If there is more to the incident than I heard on the news, then that might change my view. But at the moment it seems a lot of fuss about nothing.