‘That extraordinary shift in intolerance is something all liberals, like me, should be worried about. Gay marriage is not a liberal issue; it has a deeply illiberal streak.’
So said spiked’s editor Brendan O’Neill when he appeared on Australia’s leading political discussion show Q&A last week. He didn’t need to provide an example of this illiberal streak. His fellow panellists proceeded to do that for him. How else to describe the response of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari to the claim of anti-gay-marriage campaigner Katy Faust that, in America, her home country, ‘[opponents of gay marriage] felt like they could not speak up’: ‘The politician in me tells me that I should be saying that while I disagree with your views, I wholeheartedly respect them but I find that very hard… This American evangelical claptrap is the last thing we need in the debate.’ He didn’t argue with her. He didn’t tolerate her beliefs. He dismissed them. And he called for their expulsion from public debate.
The clash over gay marriage, and O’Neill’s contention that its advocacy is fuelled by something profoundly intolerant, certainly caused a stir, with the Australian, ABC News and the Daily Mail, among others, all reporting on it.
But Dastyari’s attack on Faust, his bald suggestion that some people, some views, do not deserve to be heard, merely reflected the wider political- and media-class response to the oh-so-shocking deviations from the ‘gay marriage is great’ script. The Sydney Morning Herald, for instance, called Faust and O’Neill ‘the tin-foil hat brigade’, as if questioning gay marriage is akin to the belief that The Communists are using radio waves to control our brains. And O’Neill himself was waved away, with barely a nod to what he actually said, as ‘a defender of the heterosexual sponge industry’. The SMH piece went on: ‘O’Neill, a British writer whose ability to get on your nerves is so pronounced that mosquitoes must find him annoying… like being taken hostage by an opinionated dentist… schtick… prancing shock value… ability to talk under water… he had a lesson for the ladies… a pat on the head only implied…’ As columnist Andrew Bolt said: ‘That’s not a review. It’s not an argument. It’s just a great blast of abuse to drown out an opposing view.’
Elsewhere, the Guardian said O’Neill was ‘playing the contrarian’. Because no one could seriously be criticising gay marriage, could they? Such a comment said nothing about O’Neill, who, as spiked readers will know, is passionately serious in his politics. But the doubt-free complacency of the so-called progressive set simply cannot imagine anyone wanting to dissent from their views. Such is the blindness of the smug.