Book burning has been an historical practice which aimed to destroy books which were deemed to be subversive or posed a threat to the prevailing ideology in the location which the book was published. Today it seems burning books occurs far too late, because it is carried out after the book has been published and its ideas have already reached many people. These days a threatening book must not even be allowed to be published or at least not be available for purchase.
This has been the story with the recently released book by Dr David van Gend, Head of the Australian Marriage Forum, called ‘Stealing from a Child: The Injustice of Marriage Equality’. Given that Australia looks likely to resolve the issue of same sex marriage via a plebiscite in February 2017, it would seem reasonable that those who favour keeping the existing definition of marriage would be wanting to put their case forward to the public. Publishing a book with all the arguments for traditional marriage contained in the one place aiming to inform the public to help make up their minds seems like an appropriate way to communicate their viewpoint.
However we are no longer living in a country where both sides of an argument are allowed to be heard, particularly with the issue of same sex marriage. The advocates of same sex marriage don’t view their opponents as people who simply disagree with them, they view them as evil, with the public turning into a violent gay bashing mob if their arguments are ever heard by people. Their most common claim currently is that hearing opposing arguments to same sex marriage causes gay people to kill themselves, so free speech in a democracy is basically not allowed.
The book is proving to be a bestseller for the independent publisher Connor Court Publishing despite the best efforts of activists to sabotage it. First the company that had first agreed to print the book and had until this point had a long relationship with the publisher, McPhersons Printing Group, suddenly refused just as the book was to be released, citing the subject matter. Connor Court luckily found another printer so that the book release could proceed, but this action shows just how speech can be suppressed even by private companies. I’m sure McPhersons have printed thousands of books from a range of political points of view, why all of a sudden have they decided they will have a selection criteria now? They are only the printer, and if a book held such an unpopular point of view then surely it would be the publisher who would suffer from not many copies being sold?
No doubt McPhersons was partly intimidated by the trend of gay activists targeting companies who either oppose same sex marriage or facilitate events by groups that oppose same sex marriage. We saw this as recently as two weeks ago with an event held by the Australian Christian Lobby at the Accor Hotel in Sydney discussing same sex marriage, which was cancelled after advocates threatened and harassed staff at the hotel for hosting the event and wrote abuse on their Facebook page. The launch of the van Gend’s book itself in Brisbane was attended by 40 protesters from a gay rights organisation called “NOH8”, which despite its name yelled hateful things at attendees at the sold out event. The national book tour will continue however with Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra launches.
A lot of these boycott and protest campaigns are organised by the alleged satirist Pauline Pantsdown (real name Simon Hunt) via their Facebook page. She (he) believes that these traditional marriage organisations are evil and dangerous therefore they cannot be heard. She accuses them of child abuse and threatening the safety of gay people with their events. By using this extreme rhetoric and instructing her followers to bombard any organisation which associates with traditional marriage groups with abusive complaints, she is proving to be very effective.
Of course part of a free society is that any organisation is free to associate with who they want. So if a printer or hotel refuses business from a company they have that right. However it is clear that these companies are not doing so out of any principle, they are doing it out of fear. This is due to people like Pantsdown and her (his) followers using strongarm tactics to bully organisations into adhering to their demands. This is not free association working, this is a manipulation of free association, a small minority of troublemakers deciding how organisations will deal with each other. Part of a free society should also be that members of the public should have access to information to make informed decisions about important issues in our society such as the definition of marriage.
The author van Gend however is not one to be intimated, it’s not the first time he has faced censorship. He tried to air an ad on behalf of his organisation Australian Marriage Forum during the 2015 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras broadcast on the taxpayer funded SBS outlining the case for traditional marriage. But SBS refused after first agreeing too, despite SBS as a taxpayer funded organisation being required to be balanced.
I do not agree with all of David van Gend’s views, but I welcome this book as an addition to the public debate on the definition of marriage. The publisher itself has published both points of view, earlier in the year it published Faith, Love and Australia: The Conservative Case for Same Sex Marriage by former Tony Abbott speechwriter Paul Richie believing that both sides of the debate should be heard. I would encourage even supporters of same sex marriage to read the book and inform themselves of the opposing arguments. This will challenge their own position and allow them to better make their own case in the lead up to a likely plebiscite. We should oppose this new method of the suppression of controversial literature. The current state of affairs of only one side of marriage debate being allowed to have their position put forward is not good for our democracy nor our society based on a culture of free speech.