After my blog yesterday on Prime Minister Gillard’s belief that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, I became embroiled in several robust Twitter fights. One of the points of contention was that the PM, like anyone else, is entitled to her personal beliefs. I was threatened with Voltaire, told belief does not require any knowledge, described as intolerant and blind to the mote in my own eye, and finally accused of risking the downfall of the government and an Abbott ascendency, by criticising Ms Gillard’s personal belief about same-sex marriage.
While there’s a good community here at Sheep, Rupert Murdoch I’m not.
Be that as it may, the fights led me to thinking about belief. While I agree that everyone is entitled to their beliefs, I don’t agree that everyone is entitled to act on those beliefs to the detriment of others. Once a belief is extrapolated from the personal realm and used to determine the lives of others it is no longer personal, it is political.
Personal belief can legitimately determine the course of one’s own life. If you don’t believe same-sex marriage is right, for example, then don’t make a same-sex marriage. Nobody in our country will force you into an arrangement that powerfully disturbs your moral sensibility.
What disturbs me, however, is the argument that personal beliefs ought to be set apart from the interrogations we are at liberty to apply to all other human processes. The personal belief is elevated to the sacred, inspiring respect and reverence simply because it is a personal belief, and regardless of its substance. While I find this bizarre, hinting as it does at some transcendental exterior governance, I have little problem with it, as long as the belief remains in the realm of the personal. When it becomes prescriptive, I argue that it is no longer protected from scrutiny and critique by reverence.
Tony Abbott, for example, holds a personal belief that abortion is wrong, as well as being opposed to same sex marriage. In this article titled Rate of abortion highlights our moral failings Mr Abbott explores his personal beliefs about this procedure, including his belief that abortion is a lifestyle choice made to suit the mother’s convenience.
Of course Mr Abbott is entitled to hold these beliefs. Anyone can believe anything they want. He is not entitled to impose his beliefs on others. When he does, the belief has ceased to be personal, and has become political.
If I am expected to unquestioningly respect Ms Gillard’s personal beliefs on homosexual marriage, I gather I am also expected to respect Mr Abbott’s beliefs on abortion and refrain from challenging them?
What about Hitler, because no argument about belief is complete without a reference to Hitler. Hitler’s personal belief was that human beings who did not fit his ideal didn’t deserve to exist. Including homosexuals. When Hitler’s personal belief burst out of his private realm, millions upon millions of human beings were starved, tortured and murdered. Yet Hitler’s personal belief ought to have gone unchallenged because personal beliefs are sacred?
I could go on with endless examples of the dire repercussions of actions based on personal beliefs, but I know you’ve got my drift.
Perhaps a belief can be considered sacred only as long as it remains personal. Once it affects anyone other than the believer it is no longer personal, and no longer entitled to protection from interrogation.
Were I to be given the chance, I would ask Ms Gillard if she has reasonable, plausible evidence for her core belief that homosexuals should not marry. I use the term core belief because I’m assuming that the PM has actively thought about her position on same sex marriage and has come to a state of justified true belief. Otherwise we would be dealing with something more akin to superstition, of the kind practised by Jim Wallace and the ACL.
The reason I care about this has nothing to do with marriage, about which I personally give not a toss. It has to do with the right all homosexuals have to be treated equally. It is about the right homosexuals have to be recognised as being as fully human as heterosexuals, and as entitled to participate in our institutions to precisely the same degree. This is not, in my opinion, a matter for anybody’s personal beliefs to determine. It’s a matter of human rights.