Not reasons, prejudices

LYNN MacLAREN is a Fremantle-based Greens MP in WA’s Legislative Council. She wasn’t impressed by controversial academic Professor John Finnis’ lecture at Notre Dame University recently.

The recent visit to Notre Dame University by a controversial academic, Professor John Finnis, might have passed unnoticed had it not been for the resolute Equal Love campaigners.

They quickly staged a noisy protest to coincide with the public lecture opposing same-sex marriage and dying with dignity laws.

After speaking to the small but vocal group assembled at the entrance of Tannock Hall about the right to freedom of opinion and expression and my commitment to marriage equality, I took a seat in the third row to hear a notorious though credentialed Professor Finnis espouse his views from a perspective of “faith and reason”.

I didn’t hear one compelling argument from either perspective.

I was shocked the professor, a frequent guest of the campus, relied on scant evidence, including quotes from friends, discredited research, and only an occasional Biblical reference.

To justify his conservative views he referred to “unprecedented protests” in France. Maybe he hasn’t heard about Bastille Day.

In response to the chancellor’s query for evidence backing his claims that children were somehow worse off with same-sex parents, the professor struggled to substantiate his points, asking the audience to check back in 50 years. He did eventually name one source, a former student of his, Mark Regnerus, whose latest research is almost universally discredited.

He was then questioned about the difference between homosexual sex and protected, non-procreating sex occurring in heterosexual marriage. His blinkered response was it shouldn’t happen; instead, couples are directed to abstain for a week a month, preaching the debunked Catholic rhythm method of family planning.

Question time revealed he was at least consistent in his approach to research and texts of faith: Each was approached through selective reading. In his response on polygamy, he stated the Old Testament doesn’t always count, and advised the inquirer to learn how to read the Bible properly.

When questioned about his views on a social gender identity versus a biological sexual identity, Professor Finnis stated there is no such thing as gender identity. He asserted every human being is born either a man or a woman and there are distinct differences. He made the claim this is “common sense”, completely disregarding and disappearing the trans- community.

Three of four points opposing same-sex marriage dealt with the impact it would have on children, especially children raised in same-sex households. He couldn’t substantiate evidence to support his claims that children of same-sex parents grow up with a general lack of moral teaching and are at risk of suicide, wild behaviour and depression. There is no scientific or social evidence to support the claim that heterosexual parents are any better at raising children than homosexual parents.  He stated same-sex couples adopting a child is not inherently evil, stating it should be a last resort when abandonment is the only other option, relegating gay couples to slightly better than the option of nothing.

I felt the Dean of the Law School was off the mark when he thanked Finnis for his “scholarly and erudite” speech. He quoted Articles 18 and 19 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on freedom of thought and expression. The Dean acknowledged the audience afforded the speaker quiet attention while admonishing the audible protestors whose chants outside competed for attention for half an hour.

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion carries responsibilities. Freedom to manifest one’s religion may be limited to, “protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”.

That is exactly what the protestors were saying outside: Their fundamental rights and freedoms are just as important. And they loudly demanded that these rights be respected. They pointed out that using a scholarly setting to proselytise inequality is damaging to us all.

I understand why the Dean sought to make a distinction between the respectful silence inside the hall and the angry chanting outside. However, I was not alone in wishing the university had shown respect for the protesters’ point of view, by acknowledging the offence caused and, as I have suggested, responding by hosting a Catholic scholar with alternative views.

Perhaps it is the first article of the UNDHR that demands attention: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” While the professor’s right to express his views was asserted, the university clearly did not act in a spirit of brotherhood towards the LGBTI community.

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