Sydney, Australia — In the lead-up to a vote on legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia, vitriolic campaign materials, including fliers calling homosexuality “a tragedy of a family,” circulated this week in Melbourne and Sydney.
The fliers, the latest salvo in a heated national debate that has involved politicians and religious leaders, were denounced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday.
People will “often say things that are hurtful and unfair and sometimes cruel, but that is part of a debate,” Mr. Turnbull said after same-sex marriage activists called on him to condemn what they described as “vilification.”
“I deplore disrespectful, abusive language whether it is directed at young gay people, or other religions or other races,” he said.
The Catholic Church, also this week, threatened to fire any lay employee who married his or her same-sex partner if gay marriage were legalized.
Australians have until Thursday to register for ballots in the voluntary postal vote, approved this month after the Senate rejected opening the polls for a mandatory, in-person vote.
Proponents for same-sex marriage say the vote, which is being challenged in the High Court and whose outcome is not legally binding, exposes gays and lesbians to a bruising campaign for no good reason.
“This $122 million exercise is an amazing waste of money,” Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said on Monday, referring to the cost of the postal vote in Australian dollars. “And it will trigger and give license to some really horrible things to be said.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage, including Tony Abbott, the former prime minister, have said that legalization threatens religious freedom.
The national vote, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is not considered a formal election, so most normal campaign rules do not apply. Provisions in the electoral act, for example, would govern the publication of material during an election campaign.
This week, some voters in Melbourne reported spotting a poster that listed statistics from what the news media described as “widely discredited” research. Others posted on social media about anonymous fliers circulating in mailboxes in Sydney that read, in English: “Homosexuality is a curse of death in terminating the family line.” In Chinese, it urged people to spread the message on WeChat, the dominant messaging app in China.
Dr. Pansy Lai, leader of the Australian Chinese for Families Association, which opposes same-sex marriage, said that many Chinese were worried about the outcome of the vote.
“Many in the Australian Chinese community are extremely concerned about the potential impact same-sex marriage will have on parents’ rights and freedom of speech,” Ms. Lai said. She said the association had no involvement with the fliers.
“It is a shame that everyday moms and dads are being called bigots and haters simply for their genuine belief that marriage is between a man and a woman,” she said.
The circulation of anonymous fliers and posters, like those seen in Melbourne and Sydney, “really shook the nation,” said Sally Rugg, the marriage equality campaign director at GetUp, an activist group.
“We’re seeing this really distressing imagery and language vilification of L.G.B.T.I. people,” she said.
Australia Post said this week, after the reports of hateful campaign materials, that its employees could refuse to deliver mail that they deemed defamatory or offensive.
Correction: August 24, 2017
An earlier version of this article misquoted Sally Rugg, the marriage equality campaign director at GetUp. She said that the circulation of anonymous fliers and posters “really shook the nation,” not “really shoot the nation.”
by Jacqueline Williams
Source – The New York Times