What a most unusual turn of events for the Australian state that is only just emerging from the nation’s strictest COVID lockdown. Barely have we seen its restaurants reopen and their lunch tables are already abuzz with agitated talk over proposed new laws being hurried upon us through the blur of the Christmas busy-period.
Has any democracy ever seen anything quite so alarming?
Civilians are now at very real risk of being deprived of their most basic right simply to articulate a personal view about their own identity and to then seek support for it.
It is proposed that, in the state of Victoria, any person so much as questioning their own sexual orientation will be deemed to have participated in a criminal act if seeking the involvement of others. Anyone offering help could be judged guilty of causing “serious harm”, thereby facing a huge fine or imprisonment for up to ten years!
Prison for professional mental health clinicians. Prison, too, for citizens merely offering prayer when asked. Prison, not for imposing a view, but for supporting one, one not inherently offensive but now being defined as such.
Of course, no one should want to cause harm. No one should seek to offend. But do the well-intentioned concerns for the welfare of some not overcorrect in simultaneously affronting the freedoms and rights of others?
So, why should we be concerned for the prosecution of such apparently egregious ‘offenders’? Just what is at stake here? What is it about this legislation that may well warrant a sudden rush of anguished protest at the offices of Victoria’s Members of Parliament this week?
1. It threatens basic human rights
It is surely an undergirding principle of life in a civilised democracy that its citizens should have the right to freedom of opinion or belief where resulting practices do not impinge upon the similar rights of others.
Article 2 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that anyone should be entitled to basic rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind in regard to matters of sex, religion, political or other opinion, birth or other status.
Whatever one’s views may be about same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, the current draft legislation seeks to undermine an individual’s very right to hold an opinion about their identity and their right to be affirmed and supported.
2. It is fundamentally illogical
The legislation is suggesting one can justifiably claim acceptance of their sexual orientation but not their rejection of what they may previously have stated about it. They can’t even question it with another person for fear that the respondent might be incarcerated. How on earth is a person logically able to come to any position concerning identity and sexuality when they cannot even seek support?
A person offering counsel can apparently support a someone suggesting what their sexual identity is, but not then support what that very same individual might later be suggesting their sexual identity is not.
Can anyone explain how otherwise-intelligent parliamentarians (who might also be concerned for their prospects of re-election) can possibly support such a contradiction and its consequences?
3. It is simply dangerous
Does an individual now have rights to hold only certain opinions? Are those opinions now to be regulated by state authorities with force?
An evolving social standard has been the tendency for individuals and groups to claim certain opinions as unacceptable. In the same-sex marriage debate, people were routinely branded as bigots simply for holding a traditional view about the nature of marriage when more than a third of Australians actually remained opposed at the ballot box.
Let’s be clear in regard to the present issue, any conversion therapy that is forced upon anyone should be stopped since it also infringes on human rights. This does not itself mean, however, that a practice is inherently wrong even its implementation can be.
After all, many examples do indeed exist of successful change and one wonders what it is that is feared by allowing people to freely make a personal choice they believe is good for them.
This is not about having the right opinion, but the right to have an opinion.
And that fundamental right is under threat more insidiously than ever before.
It would seem that respectful and reputable practices are now being tried and found wanting. Powerful influencers so revulsed by occasional harm now overreach in their blanket condemnation of any intervention, even that which is invited.
No distinction, no debate, no respect.
The likely disbelief and inaction of many in response to this current crisis will understandably be justified amidst the December mayhem. Soon, though, it may be a little too late to take action. Too late for repeal, too late for reprieve, and too late to intervene for those whose only alternative might be to retract their caring responsiveness lest they face appalling recriminations.
Political idealogues seemingly hell-bent on engineering this mistreatment of their constituents are fast becoming zealous overlords. Jim Collins’ observes that the demise of a once-successful company is often triggered by ‘the hubris born of success’. Perhaps it is some COVID-conquering chutzpah that similarly casts a dizzying spell of presumed invincibility over certain sections of the Spring Street chambers. Perhaps, though, whatever the cause, the present audacity might be short-lived.
That eventuality will depend upon the response of free-thinking Victorians in the week – not weeks – ahead. Whether political or apolitical, religious or irreligious, democratic representation surely needs to enact its regulating impact on what is one of the most grievous injustices of our time. May the state’s upper and lower house parliamentary members be overrun with concern and correspondence in the coming days in a desperate desire to halt its surge.