The "No" campaign's focus on anything but the issue of whether two people of the same sex can get married in the debate surrounding Australia's postal survey is a deliberate tactic to "dehumanise" LGBTI people, the "Yes" campaign's Tiernan Brady has said.
The High Court has given the green light for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to begin sending out survey forms from next week asking all Australians on the electoral roll whether they believe the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Now the court challenges are over, the focus has turned to the campaigns that will be waged.
The first advert and email campaign material put out by the Coalition For Marriage and the groups under that umbrella organisation — the Australian Christian Lobby and Marriage Alliance — focuses on religious freedom, the controversial Safe Schools program, and "political correctness".
When the High Court judgment was handed down on Thursday, those on the "No" side of the debate were straight out of the blocks saying what they thought the campaign will be about.
This is a deliberate strategy, according to Brady, the executive director of the Equality Campaign.
At the National Press Club this week, with Pinnacle Foundation CEO Janine Middleton, he laid out the case for the "Yes" campaign just one day before the High Court decision.
Brady — an experienced campaigner who worked on the successful Irish referendum on same-sex marriage — said that by going down what he called "rabbit holes" of topics that had nothing to do with same-sex marriage, the "No" side was attempting to "dehumanise" LGBTI people.
"It becomes frustrating, too, because, of course, our opponents are out there and they are active and what's so similar to Ireland as it is here is you can just see it is the same rule book here as it was in Ireland," he said.
"If you want to discriminate against someone, the first thing you have to do is dehumanise them, you have to stop allowing people to realise this is a 'who', not a 'what' and start pretending it is a strange idea in the corner.
"We have seen that over the last few weeks here in Australia. References to 'political correctness', 'political elites' and 'culture wars'. That's all a very clever strategy because it's all about making us not look like people, to start thinking of it as an alien idea."
Brady warned that there would likely be more of this in the next two months as survey forms are mailed around the country.
"Instead of the simple, straightforward discussion about whether the members of our family and our friends and neighbours and work colleagues, who just happen to be gay, should be allowed the same dignity and status in law, instead of that simple question, we will hear a red herring a day about classrooms and bathrooms, political correctness," he said.
The "Yes" campaign, for its part, is focusing on the personal stories -- individual LGBTI Australians convincing their friends, family, and neighbours of the need for the law to change. But the campaign didn't kick off with that message to that start.
The Equality Campaign's very first TV ad focused directly on the Coalition for Marriage's advert.
Did that draw more attention to the ad than it otherwise would have received? Potentially, but the Equality Campaign has indicated to BuzzFeed News that it was important to call out the first ad. Brady told the National Press Club that similar rebuttals could happen in future.
"It became incredibly important, straight out of the traps of the campaign, to make clear and remind people this is about real young people who just happen to be LGBTI and they deserve the same dignity, respect and the same status and standing in law as everyone else," he said.
"We are prepared for it and whilst we are committed to respectful debate, we will call out when people are deliberately misleading. Because this is about people's lives and they have to go through this journey," he said.
Legislation is likely to hit parliament next week that will seek to put restrictions on advertising during the postal survey that would be similar to the rules that govern advertising during an election campaign. But as BuzzFeed News has previously reported, this would likely not see monitoring of the ads that go to air. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News that there would not be major limits on the ads.
"During the course of exercising freedom of speech and freedom of political expression, some people will disagree with others. So you do not want to put inappropriate limits on the freedom of political expression and the expression of opinions, as you would not do in the course of an election campaign," Cormann said.
But he added that there would be "appropriately targeted protection from misleading and deceptive conduct" and authorisations would need to be put on ads so people can see where they are coming from.
The TV networks have also told BuzzFeed News that while they are prepared to accept ads from both sides of the debate, the ads will need to comply with TV standards on classification and vilification.
BuzzFeed News has sought comment from the Coalition For Marriage.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at email@example.com.
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