A letter to Dr Dennis Jensen, MP for Tangney

April 27, 2014

April 27 2014

Dear Dr Jensen,

I wish to convey a concern of mine that affects the residents of Tangney.

First, allow me to reflect on some themes from your first speech to Parliament, nearly a decade ago, in November 2004.

You spoke of your past, growing up in a harsh Apartheid South Africa, and how it influenced your perspectives:

Having spent my youth in an authoritarian nation, I have long cherished the notion of the rights of the individual, freedom of choice and expression, and the right of people to succeed in their business, unencumbered by government red tape and restrictions.

I hear the utter despair in your voice as you relate the neglect that erodes the happiness and welfare of so many children of failed marriages.  You point the finger at those parents whose relationships, married or otherwise, crumble:

There are many issues that, on a family by family basis, completely overshadow policies relating to global geopolitics. One of these issues relates to family breakdown. The particularly high rate of breakdown in marriages today means that one out of two marriages will end in divorce. This is painful enough for the adult parties concerned but it is worse for the children of these adults. Where the break-up is acrimonious, things are far worse. Far too frequently the children are used as weapons. Custodial parents all too often blatantly ignore access provisions to punish the non-custodial parent, ignoring the pain that this causes the children. We must not allow these acrimonious break-ups to cause any more pain than is absolutely necessary for children and non-custodial parents.

As a fellow science graduate from RMIT, I am rewarded to see your displeasure at those who challenge our long-standing institutions yet fail to substantiate their claims with hard, reproducible evidence:

Being an analytical person, I tend to take a dim view of sacred cows that are not backed up by verifiable facts.

I note your appreciation for those who put their faith in your ability to represent them fairly and further, your strong desire to increase their well-being:

This leads me to conclude that during this term of the Howard government we should be focusing on positive solutions to the many challenges which we face. I wish to sincerely thank the people of Tangney for voting for me and thereby bestowing this significant honour upon me. I do not take this honour lightly and I assure the people of Tangney that I will do my utmost to see to their best interests.

I trust that the sincerity of your message to Parliament, to the people of Tangney and to all Australians that day in 2004 has not only persisted, but has increased year on year.

With this background on the table I wish to address my concern about a number of claims I’ve seen in the media, attributed to you, that bother me deeply.  Essentially they are about marriage, but also about families.

In 2011 you authorised a letter from your office indicating your opposition to supporting marriage equality on the basis of “overwhelming” opposition from voters in Tangney.

Whilst there may be some opposition to marriage equality in your electorate, I challenge you to substantiate the degree that “overwhelming” actually reflects any form of majority.

The basis of my challenge is the hard evidence that in 2010 News Ltd conducted a poll of voters in Tangney on “same-sex marriage” and found that 41% were in favour, 39% were against and 20% didn’t care.

What this means is that 61% are not opposed to “same-sex marriage”.  Conversely it also means that 59% are not in favour of it.  Whichever way you look at the numbers, there is no simple way to interpret the 39% against as being an “overwhelming” opposition, when on the day of the poll it was closer to a minority view.

Anecdotally I understand, via your then staffer Anna Ogilvie, that you had not actually polled the voters in Tangney on this matter and so you have no actual scientific evidence for the level of support or otherwise for marriage equality in your electorate.

In this letter from your office you state of the amended legal definition of marriage that it “simply recognises marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of society, which is the basis for forming families and which is underpinned by tradition.”

To me that sounds very much like a person talking about a sacred cow.  You refer to marriage as a “bedrock institution”.  As of 2007, using figures from the ABS, about one-third of Australian children were born outside traditional marriage and at that time around one-third of marriages ended in divorce.  To a lay person who does not have your substantial expertise as a PhD materials scientist this “bedrock” looks more to me like “quicksand” if not “clay”.

It would be helpful to understand exactly which verifiable facts helped you form this assertion about marriage.

Last year the media reported you as having said gay marriage was a “social experiment” and would lead to the “dismantling of society as we know it.”

You proudly claim you have “the highest scientific qualifications of all MPs and Senators”.  Indeed, a notable fact.  I therefore ask of you, Dr Jensen, to explain in detail this “social experiment” to me, and supply those verifiable facts you demand that lead you to claim so forcefully that “gay marriage” will be just so calamitous.

I return to your concern about those crumbling marriages that harm so many children.  At present if a person is to get married in Australia, the only option they have is to marry a person of a sex that is a biological binary (male/female) opposite.  Intersex people are not even able to marry a person not of their choice.

Now, you’ll appreciate that in many cultures marriage is valued very highly, which means that for a multitude of reasons, including the happiness of their parents and any subsequent inheritance, people will get married, more so if they plan or are expected to have children.  Can you see where I’m going here?

Because a same-sex option or a non-biological binary option is unavailable, people who need to get married for the aforementioned factors will marry irrespective of whether it is what they would do if they had other options open to them.  Let’s call this “for reasons of convenience”.

So to your concern that you wish to reduce the harm to children who find themselves at the fractious end of a marriage (or other type of expected relationship), allow me to suggest that if the parents are married for convenience due to a lack of alternative and socially acceptable marriage coupling options, perhaps offering the parents a gender-neutral Marriage Act might go a long way to mitigating this harm that deeply troubles you.  It’s a no brainer.

A standard line against marriage equality is that non-heterosexual marriages don’t produce children, or that those that do don’t offer their children double biological parentage and all associated happinesses, etc (“all things being equal”).   Increasingly there is evidence that not only do the children, biological or otherwise, of these same-sex parents not suffer because of the gender of their parents (although they may suffer due to intolerance from others due to it…) but that sometimes these children actually do better.  I know this because I have read the research (and met the children).  I talk of credible, respected research.  Unlike that heavily discredited Regnerus “study” that others who share your views rely on.

In May last year you addressed Parliament on the topic of marriage equality.  You were not kind to the topic to say the least.  You spoke of outcomes and even of “all things being equal”.  In an ideal world, where all things are equal, perhaps we will have perfect outcomes.  But as a scientist and a person reasonably well versed on human conflict, you will know that we don’t live in a perfect world where all things are equal.  In fact, we live in a world that is far from it.

I ask of you, Dr Jensen, how you can ask the people of Tangney to take you seriously, when you repeatedly say one thing on one hand, and something opposite on the other hand.

Things like wanting to reduce the harm to children in broken marriages, but wish to deny those who need to marry the right to marry the person of their genuine choice; or as a scientist asking for verifiable facts, yet peddling tired bigotry solely designed to fear-monger.

You are a scientist who stakes your professional reputation on your academic credentials.  Yet you lower yourself to the level of the ignorant and uneducated when you make those ill-informed assertions about same-sex marriages, same-sex parents, children of same-sex parents and anything that challenges this “sacred cow” “bedrock institution” you romanticise about as if it were a reality.

I implore you Dr Jensen to undertake a rigorous unbiased scientific poll of your electorate on the topic of marriage equality, and publish these results transparently.  Do this in the name of science and of “freedom of choice”.  Do this for the welfare of the families and children of Tangney.  Do this for your children.  Do this for yourself, your career and even for your reputation.

Lastly, I ask you do it for me, so I can marry my husband Gregory, here in Australia.  We married in New Zealand in January because he asked me last September to marry him and he was impatient, mostly because he loves me so much.  All that, plus my parents want to celebrate our marriage (again), this time on home turf.

I should add that Gregory has two adult children, both financially and residentially dependent on him (and emotionally dependent on him and their mother).  I should also add that his children were victims of a marriage breakdown that was a result of a marriage that occurred due in part to family and cultural expectations, and a lack of options.

Gregory and I are not going to be starting a family, so please bear this in mind when you consider telling me that the children of our marriage will suffer because of the gender of their parents.

Most sincerely,
Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, Victoria.


Interview on the Manny Waks Hour, Feb 13 2014

February 15, 2014

Interview on the Manny Waks Hour on J-Air, Feb 13 2014.

“Manny Waks talks Education with Yossi Goldfarb. He talks to Michael Barnett about being gay and Jewish. Devorah Leah Waks calls from Israel for (The Waks Effect) segment.”

Skip to 29 minutes in to hear me, aptly just after the Barbra Streisand song.


Remembering Simon

December 24, 2013

Australian Jewish community leadership abandons concern for persecution of gays

December 21, 2013

In Australia the Jewish community leadership has abandoned concern for persecution of gays.  It does not show it cares about persecution of minority groups around the world, only demonstrating interest in its pet topic of anti-Semitism.

An increasing number of regimes such as Russia and Uganda are persecuting homosexual people and the Jewish community basks in its own self-importance, issues platitudes about how much it must speak out against such terrors, says Never Again and then buries its head in the sand saying la-la-la-la.

Take this fine message from the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (and current Chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Right Commission) John Searle:

It is up to us to play our part in ensuring that another holocaust never occurs. Be it attacks against Jews, blacks, homosexuals or political rivals, we must be ever vigilant in bringing the message to the world – never again! We must educate our children; help them to understand that we cannot turn a blind eye, not to racism, not to stereotyping, not to suffering, not to prejudice of any form, not ever. We must send the message, that racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.

Sounds good.  And yet, computer says no.  Silence is all we get.  Just silence.


It’s sometimes the small things that say so much

November 7, 2013

Last night I dropped in to see my parents and while I was there my dad told me about a little Tim Tam biscuit he had been given, as was his wont.  Being a fan of Tim Tam biscuits I asked if I could have one and he said sure and went away to get one.  While he was out of the room Mum told me that there was only the one biscuit, which she had brought home from work for him.  Not realising this was the situation I was upset that I had asked for the only biscuit my dad had to offer.

I called out to him saying I was happy to leave it for him and not to worry, but perhaps he was out of earshot, because he didn’t respond.  Mum said to me that it really wasn’t a problem, and that “he would do anything for me”.  I was deeply touched by this sentiment, despite feeling so bad that I left my dad without his Tim Tam biscuit.

The next minute, he returned to the room we were in, with a bite-size biscuit delicately placed on a tissue, serving both for presentation and function.  I accepted this gesture of kindness, father to son, and proceeded to enjoy it.  Really, it was wonderful.  Dark chocolate with a little sliver of biscuit inside.  I did remark to my father, who didn’t eat chocolates on principle, that there was in fact more chocolate than biscuit, so it probably broke his rule.  We laughed.

In this brief interchange with my father, over a tiny chocolate biscuit, I felt a connection with him in a way I hadn’t in a long time.  It was a special moment for me in our relationship.

Thank you Dad.  You’re the best.  :)


Jewish Community Council of Victoria says “Gay is OK”.

November 1, 2013

This really is a revelation.  For the first time ever, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria has actually acknowledged that it’s ok to be gay.

JCCV says it's ok to be gay (Nov 1 2013)

A lot more needs to be said, but this is a start.


Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic | ABC Religion Report

October 30, 2013

Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic

Wednesday 19 May 1999 8:30AM

This week on The Religion Report.

The Pope’s visit to Romania begins to heal the thousand year rift with the Orthodox.

The religiously backed conservative coalition in Israel has been defeated at a general election.

And, the newly elected world leader of the Salvation Army declares the movement should be more flexible about its rigid non-sacramentalism.

Transcript

The Religion Report 19th May, 1999

John Cleary: Today is about fundamental change, from Melbourne to Romania.
SFX: POPE IN ROMANIA

Last week, the Pope made an historic trip to Bucharest, the first time in a thousand years the Roman Pontiff has walked Orthodox streets as a religious leader.

Also today, the Salvation Army has elected a new world leader who signals fundamental change in this worldwide religious and charitable movement; Salvationists may soon be taking the sacraments.

But first to the pressure of change closer to home, and the issue of homosexuality in religion is once again the cause of a deepening split, this time in the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria.

Orthodox members of the Council are maintaining their rage over moves by a gay Jewish organisation called ALEPH Melbourne, to join. While ALEPH has so far failed in its bid to be an affiliate member, there are renewed threats from Orthodox groups that they’ll quit in protest is ALEPH is accepted.

And today, a provocative invitation for the JCCV, (Jewish Communities Council) President, Dr Phillip Bliss, to step down over his very support of ALEPH.

Toni Hassan spoke to Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky and the head of ALEPH, Michael Barnett, and prepared this report.

Ronald Lubofsky: The JCCV was very seriously threatened by this. There are a number of organisations that would have possibly seceded from the board had this been successful.

Michael Barnett: These are the sorts of attitudes that really do the most damage to people who are having troubles dealing with their sexuality. That’s why we have such a high youth suicide rate.

Ronald Lubofsky: There are certain things which they don’t like talking about, but they have done now because it’s forced into the open and is sort of they want to enter into Jewish schools, into sex education. And this is something which will ring the alarm bells with Jewish parents.

Michael Barnett: There’s nothing whatsoever in our organisation’s objectives or ideals to say that we are going to infiltrate or we’re going to convert or we’re going to subvert or whatever. We’re just a very straightforward support group and social organisation, we don’t have a hidden agenda.

Toni Hassan: Some of the high emotion echoed at a recent meeting of the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria. On one side is ALEPH Melbourne, a group whose objective is to provide assistance, support and companionship for gay and bisexual Jewish men. Michael Barnett is the group’s President.

Michael Barnett: The objection to our application was that a homosexual or gay organisation is contravening Jewish law because homosexual practice is one of the forbidden acts in Jewish law. In Leviticus 18, 22 it says -

Toni Hassan: Well that’s commonly argued. How do you get around that?

Michael Barnett: It’s not an issue for me. I mean I’m not a religious Jew and if I was, it wouldn’t bother me either way I don’t think, because that’s me as a person doing what I want to do. But that doesn’t come in to our organisation. Our organisation isn’t set up for the practice of homosexuality, it’s for the support of homosexuals, which is a slightly different issue, very subtle.

Toni Hassan: And do you think the Rabbis, the conservative Rabbis who rejected your proposal, do not see that distinction?

Michael Barnett: Oh well, they may see it, but they choose to ignore it I believe. They are very stubborn people, they stick to the letter of their law and it may be a guise for homophobia, it may not be. But either way it has no bearing on the JCCV, it’s not an issue as far as I’m concerned, or our members are concerned.

Toni Hassan: Ronald Lubofsky is Rabbi Emeritus at the St Kilda Synagogue. For him the inclusion of ALEPH amounts to tampering with the Ten Commandments.

Ronald Lubofsky: The core of the philosophy, the religious philosophy, the political philosophy of being Jewish, is in the written word. The Christians call it the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some would reduce it to the Ten Commandments etc. and that excludes the notion of homosexuality, and as a consequence it’s a contradiction in terms. You simply cannot consider the two ideals as being compatible. So true enough, the members of this group are Jewish and it may well be that they are secular in their intent, but I’m afraid that as a group, as an organisation, they cannot claim parity as individuals absolutely. This is a point which I and others have made, that Jewish gay people, lesbian people, they can join synagogues, they can join the organisations which are represented under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, they can be the Presidents of those organisations, but as an organisation, as an ideology, they’re not compatible.

Toni Hassan: Doesn’t the JCCV, the Council in Victoria, recognise sporting organisations, many voluntary organisations of that nature?

Ronald Lubofsky: Yes, what you’re saying in actual fact is a point of view which many espouse, but there is simply no comparison. You’re talking here of fundamentals of life, you’re not dealing here with a sporting organisation where people make a choice to do this or to do that. These are individuals who do not produce families, these are individuals who perform sexually in a way which is aberrant, to say the least, with regard to Judaism. It is something which runs counter to the fundamentals of Judaism, that is the family unit. It’s not simply playing a sport.

Toni Hassan: What’s really got under the noses of Orthodox groups affiliated with the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria is the public support given to ALEPH Melbourne by the Council’s President, Dr Phillip Bliss. Without his support, the matter wouldn’t not have seen the light of day. Rabbi Lubofsky.

Ronald Lubofsky: If he followed the Westminster rules, he should resign, because it was something that he espoused, it was a motion that he himself moved. He now indicates he’s prepared to take it further. He’s going to endanger this organisation as a result of his monocular vision.

Toni Hassan: Are you calling on him to resign?

Ronald Lubofsky: No, I’m not, I’m just saying that he should. That would be a normal procedure in any other organisation. If there’s something which the President wants his organisation to follow and he is prepared to go as far as he was, knowing how controversial the whole thing was, and that it could well have his organisation disintegrate, and he was roundly defeated under those circumstances I’m surprised that he’s still there.

[unrelated content deleted]

Thanks to Toni Hassan and John Diamond for production.


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