Piers Akerman – Dinosaur Extraordinaire


Godzilla, by Ian Myles

The Creation Museum has it right! Dinosaurs and humans co-exist! The point was proven this weekend when Piers Akerman gave his pre-historic views on same-sex marriage on the ABC TV’s Insiders.

Here are some excerpts from the segment:

Dennis Atkins:  All of the polling says people support it, anybody under 40, when they’re asked about it, say, “Why haven’t they done it yet?” That’s their point.

Barrie Cassidy:  But Tony Abbott conceded that … he said that that’s the prevalent view.

A discussion ensues about  how even Tony Abbott has softened his view on the issue,  the Liberal Party is looking at the possibility of allowing a conscience vote and how Barack Obama’s view evolved so that he now supports same-sex marriage.

Piers Akerman (interrupting the pro same-sex marriage reverie of the other panellists): Barrie! I’m sorry. This may be a big issue for the ABC, but I don’t think it’s a big issue across the country. I think it’s a very low level issue and if you ask Australians what really concerns them, gay marriage or homosexual marriage or whatever , is way down their list of priorities … It doesn’t interest me.

Barrie Cassidy:  It goes to your value system …

Piers Akerman: It does go to your value system … well, the question is, “What is a man and what is a woman. What is a marriage?”  A marriage is a man and a woman.

Barrie Cassidy:  David Cameron says it’s an issue of basic human rights, and I think he’s right.

Piers Akerman: Well I don’t think he is right. Because, if you can have all of the social benefits of a civil union without calling it marriage, why do you want to go that extra step?

Barrie Cassidy:  Because marriage is a basic civil right.

Piers Akerman: It’s a right between a man and a woman.

Barrie Cassidy:  No! It’s a basic right for anybody ….

Piers Akerman: Between anybody? Then you’re talking about polygamy, then you’re talking about anything else …

Dinosaur CityReally, I’m almost past being cranky at the likes of Piers Akerman, Jim Wallace and Bill Muehlenberg. Now I’m just embarrassed for them. They are dinosaurs. They have all the hallmarks of anti-diluvian anachronisms blundering across an unfamiliar landscape, bellowing alarmingly as they find themselves in an environment which no longer supports the bigotry which sustains their kind.

Of course, every age has had its share of dinosaurs. And, as I contemplated the ridiculous sight of Piers Akerman channelling fellow fossil, Corey Bernardi on the Insiders, it occurred to me that, in a different age, Piers Akerman would have been making similarly ridiculous arguments about other issues.

For example, Piers, arguing that “…if you can have all of the social benefits of a civil union without calling it marriage, why do you want to go that extra step?” reminded me of the dinosaurs who argued against those new-fangled horseless carriages. Why would you want a motor vehicle when you can have a perfectly good horse?

As “Royal Blend” said of those faddish contraptions in a Barcaldine newspaper in 1896:

“…  it is reckoned the whole idea will fizzle out in time like any other amusing toy invented for adults. The horseless carriages are described as clumsy to handle, awkward around corners, and utterly useless for climbing hills. To pull a tram-car that one horse can draw, an engine of six-horse power would have to be provided.” 

Yep, just like same-sex marriage, horseless carriages are a passing phase, it will never catch on.

“This may be a big issue for the ABC, but I don’t think it’s a big issue across the country,” said Piers,  suggesting that popular support for same-sex marriage is just some kind of media beat-up.

Yet, when a Senate Committee called for submissions into an inquiry into same-sex marriage they received an unprecedented 79,200 submissions – 46,000 of which supported the proposition.

Similarly, when the House of Representatives Committee launched on online poll to seek voters’ views on the issue, it received over 250,000 responses with a strong majority of 64 per cent favouring marriage equality.

It reminded me of how the dinosaurs of times past talked about another ‘very unimportant matter’.

“It appears to me that when Parliament meets the first thing to be considered will be women’s suffrage, and a lot of valuable time will be wasted on a (very unimportant) matter,” complained “Locus Standi” in a letter to the editor of the South Australian Chronicle on 2 June, 1894:

“Women’s suffrage is certainly not required at the present. Will 30 per cent of those who signed the petitions vote? … The temperance parties, who are considerably in the minority, are only asking for it. Then why should the minority rule the majority?” 

And, like Akerman’s objections to same-sex marriage, “Locus Standi” had good reason to oppose the shocking idea of women being allowed to vote!

Opposed_to_suffrage“If women are given the power to dabble in politics things will soon come to a pretty climax in South Australia. Would it not be most unbecoming to see women with infants in their arms (especially on a wet day) wending their way through mud and rain to the polling-booth, and in nine cases out of ten give an informal vote? … Who will cook the dinner, clean up the house, prepare the children for school, and attend to a score of other things that require looking after every day in a well-conducted and regulated house? If such a ridiculous thing were permitted it would be a severe blow against society … Some of the noisy election meetings ,would not be a fit place for women to attend ; home darning socks would suit them much better, leaving political matters to their husbands to look after.”

Yes, there have always been dinosaurs who have been happy to argue on moral grounds against granting equal rights to others.

As Piers suggests, allowing same-sex marriage is just the start of the slippery slope to total moral decay. He would, no doubt, have found a soul-mate in “Locus Standi” who reasoned:

“…  if women are to be placed on the same footing as men as regards political matters, they should also be allowed the privilege of occupying seats in Parliament. That is what it must certainly come to in the end. Now is the time to have it nipped in the bud.”

In The Queenslander on 9 June 1866, for example,  “Australasian” fears that if the Americans grant suffrage to ‘negros’,  who knows what liberties might be given to non-Anglo-Saxon Australians!

Coloured rule“… As well give the suffrage to apes … The common sense of the Anglo-Saxon revolts against it … No white Australian wants to sit in Parliament with John Chinaman, or wishes to discuss the tariff with an aboriginal member from the Murrumbidgee.  Negro suffrage involves the necessity of negro representatives in Congress, and at the very mention of such a phenomenon your religious emancipationist starts back in horror.”

Ah yes, no good Christian could countenance sitting next to a coloured person on the parliamentary bench. It would be like … like … well, like allowing homosexuals to get married! Unchristian, ungodly and unthinkable! Whatever would Jesus think about policies which seek to include those on the fringes of our society – women, people of colour, homosexuals? Well, we know, don’t we. Just consider how he treated those who were discriminated against in his own time – lepers, tax-collectors, gentiles, prostitutes. Oh, oops, that’s a rather an inconvenient analogy isn’t it?

sea bathingYou see, for all the arguments that might be made about the basic civil rights of homosexual couples to marry, the bottom line, for Piers, is that it is as morally repugnant as polygamy, bestiality or incest. I couldn’t help but imagine Piers as one of the dinosaurs who so vehemently opposed the unthinkable practice of mixed-sex bathing on Australian beaches. As “Reformer” argued in Adelaide’s “The Register” on 13 November 1916:

“… what may be  the result, afterwards, of their being in one another’s company while there is but a single layer of thin fabric separating them from complete nudity? … I maintain that mixed bathing should be abolished. Although the young people may exercise restraint while in the water; they have received the incitement to evil.- The result or effect of mixed bathing is the evil and the only way to remove the effect is to remove the cause.”

“…  the question is,” growls Piers, “’What is a man and what is a woman? What is a marriage?’”

Answering his own question he asserts: “A marriage is a man and a woman.”

Dinosaurs like Piers Akerman have always argued that equal rights cannot be granted to others because … well …. because those people who say they want to be equal are just not the same as us. Take those female upstarts from the women’s lib Women's Libmovement of the 70s who thought women should have equal rights and equal pay. As DP Kenny of Nedlands, Perth pointed out in the Women’s Weekly of 6 December 1972:
“As a mere male, may I say that Women’s Lib. is doomed to ultimate failure. It is founded on the fallacy that women,were they but given the opportunities, could be man’s equal. Why the disgruntled advocates of this movement should want to emulate men remains a mystery. Men, it seems, have no ambition to be other than masculine, as God made them. Women, todav, are becoming more and more ungodly in their irrational determination to get rid of their femininity – their most formidable weapon in the time-honored battle of the sexes.”

We can learn a lot from history. There have always been arch-bigots and arch-conservatives who have tried to stay the tide of progress. All have failed. Today, their foolish bigotry is preserved in the archives like insects preserved in amber. We can read their humorous arguments against horseless carriages, women’s suffrage, racial and sexual equality and marvel that anyone could have been so short-sighted, so prejudiced and so narrow-minded. Just so, in the not too distant future, there will be those who, long after same-sex marriage is as commonplace and uncontroversial as horseless carriages and women’s equality, will stumble across the rantings of a long forgotten blowhard called Piers Akerman and think, “Ah yes, just another dinosaur. How very wrong he was. Silly, silly man.”

Chrys Stevenson

About the author

Chrys Stevenson is a freelance writer, speaker, blogger, historian and secular and skeptical activist, better known online as Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear http://thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com/. She has a BA and first class honours degree in Australian history, literature and cultural studies.