In the first KYD No. 20 teaser, Connor Tomas O’Brien reflects on Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews’ Marriage Wars.
At the World Congress of Families’ (WCF) ‘regional event’ in Melbourne last August, speakers explored topics such as ‘The Link between Abortion and Breast Cancer’, ‘Sex Education Courses as Pornography’, and ‘The Pro-life and Pro-family Policies in the US and Russia’. After all the speakers were finished, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews was scheduled to take the stage, but, in the stuffy Catch the Fire Ministries worship hall, he was nowhere to be found. The ‘barbarians at the gate’ were to blame, several of the day’s speakers lamented, some more angrily than others, referring to the fact that Andrews had dropped off the roster at the last minute due to the negative media attention the conference was receiving.
Andrews’ relationship with the Congress, an international coalition of ‘natural family’ advocates drawn largely from the Catholic right, is complex. On the one hand, he serves as an International Ambassador for the organisation, and is a staple of the Congress lineup, having addressed WCF audiences in Prague, Geneva, and Amsterdam. On the other hand, when Andrews was faced with criticism in the lead-up to the Melbourne conference, his spokesperson continuously reiterated that he was only attending the event at all because it related to his portfolio, before the decision was made for him to avoid speaking at the event altogether – at which point he publicly released the speech he planned to give anyway. It seemed as though Andrews was split between his desire to retain the wholehearted support of the anti-LGBTQI and pro-life lobby, while at the same time attempting (unconvincingly) to re-position himself as a straightforward, level-headed marriage moderate. Like many ideologues, Andrews has long favoured this strategy of distancing himself from his own dogmatic ideology whenever it suits him.
I mulled all of this over while making my way through a report – written by Judith Ireland in the Sunday Age – indicating that Andrews’ relationship counselling voucher program is failing. Launched on the first of July 2014, the ‘Stronger Relationships Trial’ grants the first 100,000 couples that apply $200 to put toward relationship counselling.
As of August 2014, only 1400 couples had opted in. In the Age’s report, the explanation offered for the low take-up was the continued stigma surrounding relationship counselling. A better explanation, however, might be the odd media strategy employed by the Coalition, in which Andrews and his wife were being used as poster children for the voucher program. In May, a long-form piece about ‘Stronger Relationships’ in the Weekend Australian Magazine featured an image of Kevin Andrews and wife Margaret clasping hands on a well-worn brownish crimson sofa, with his marriage likened to ‘the modern motor car … serviced every two or three years’. For months, that article was the number one hit on Google for ‘Stronger Relationships Trial’, more prominent than any information about how to actually sign up to the program. Andrews’ ‘Will he, won’t he?’ World Congress of Families flip-flopping becomes more explicable when you consider that the success of the relationship counselling trial may be contingent on the popularity of Andrews himself. As modern heterosexual marriage personified, for Andrews to obviously associate with extremists would be to put his entire project in jeopardy.
Want to read the rest? Issue 20 will be available online 12th January! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD.
Image credit: WalterPro4755