Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Australian Religious Right Uses "Stolen Generation" Rhetoric to Condemn Same-Sex Couples

Why do so many voices from the Religious Right try to legitimize their activism by comparing their cause of choice to racial injustice? Increasingly, American anti-abortion voices have compared abortion to horrors endured by indigenous peoples. For example, in a video for TheEstherCall, Lou Engle compared abortion to the Trail of Tears. At TheCall Detroit, Engle used "shedding of innocent blood" to refer to both abortion and violence against Native Americans. At the 2011 Response Rally, Doug Stringer used similar rhetoric, condemning abortion and injustice against Native Americans in the same breath. Moreover, an anti-abortion display at the University of New Mexico framed abortion as a threat to Native Americans, with slogans such as "Color the redman gone" and "Today an Indian Boy was killed the Indian way".

Anti-abortion activists using such rhetoric neglect the fact that Native American women are less likely to have access to reproductive health services, but more likely to experience unintended pregnancies than their white counterparts. To boot, Native American women have been the targets of proposed legislation curtailing reproductive health funding. The irony of anti-abortion activists citing Native Americans is mind-boggling.

The Religious Right down under has also started using indigenous peoples as symbols for its political agenda, in this case to oppose reproductive technology use by same-sex couples. Voiced from Australia's Religious Right have condemned not only same-sex marriage, but also the use of in-vitro fertilization and donor conception by same-sex couples who wish to start families. More and more, however, they warn that same-sex marriage and same-sex couples use of reproductive technologies will result in another "stolen generation" of Australian children.

The term "stolen generation" refers to an estimated 100,000 children of Australian aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander descent who were taken from their biological families and placed with white families. Under an Australian government policy from 1910 to 1971, tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were placed with white families in order to assimilate them into white society, according to Time Magazine. Mixed race children children were most commonly targeted. The result was personal trauma for the thousands of children and families impacted by the practice, as well as cultural trauma for Australia's indigenous communities.

In a move of questionable taste, some Australian Religious Right figures warn that same-sex couple's use of reproductive technologies will create another "stolen generation". For example, the "stolen generation" analogy has been used on the Australian Family Association's website to argue against same-sex marriage in Australia. Tim Cannon, a voice from the Australian Family Association, wrote in a 2009 column in News Weekly that same-sex marriage would result in children being conceived by one biological couple but raised by another, same-sex couple. He warned that such arrangements would create pain and a sense of abandonment for any children created, comparing it to the trauma of the "stolen generation".

Such rhetoric is not limited to the Australian Family Association. In a 2011 commentary at the Courier Mail, David van Gend of  the Family Council of Queensland argued that gay men raising children would create a "gay stolen generation" by robbing babies of mothers.

Voices from the Australian Christian LObby are also fond of the "stolen generation" analogy. In June 2012, Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace used the analogy to condemn a court decision recognizing two men as the parents of a baby born through surrogacy.
"Love is not the issue here. Of course two men can love a child but they can never be a mother, no matter how hard they try," Wallace said in a statement. "The adoptive parents of many of the indigenous stolen generation also loved the children placed in their care but it was still a mistake to remove them from their biological parents."
In August 2012, Mark Brown, the Tasmanian director of the Australian Christian lobby, criticized Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings' support for same-sex marriage by using the "stolen generation" analogy.
"I cannot understand why the Premier cannot see the link between forcing children to be removed from their biological parents between the 1950s and 1980s and gay marriage which also sets up a framework for children to be raised by someone other than their parents? ... “In 20 or 30 years, we will have a generation who will say, `who made the decision I should never have had a mother or father?"
To demonize same-sex parenting by speaking of it in the same breath as a human rights violation against Australia's aboriginal community is tasteless in the extreme. It trivializes the trauma of forced adoption by using the "stolen generation" as a cheap political symbol. Furthermore, it ignores the many same-sex couples who have raised happy, healthy children from prior relationships, adoption, or reproductive technologies.

To the Religious Right on both sides of the Pacific Ocean: stop using indigenous people as political symbols for your agendas. Stop trivializing human rights violations against indigenous communities by using them them to demonize abortion or same-sex marriage. Show respect not only to same-sex couples, but also to the survivors of cultural trauma and their descendants.


  1. Ahab, I think this speaks of another disgusting refinement of their strategy to present highly-localized and targeted messages to sway the local population. They've realized that a one-size-fits-all message isn't quite as emotionally effective as one that uses the micro-culture.

    In a way, that just further demonstrates how far they are from a solid foundation. For example, you don't have to go that localized math or science to prove them. They are appealing to emotion, not to truth.

    By the way, that was pretty messed up for the original "stolen generation," huh? I hadn't heard of that before.

    1. Wise Fool -- I hadn't considered the microculture angle -- thanks! Religious Right activism is much like any advertizing campaign in that it tries to appeal to the emotions of its target audience. Both American and Australian RR voices are trying to stir their respective national audiences by referring to emotionally powerful tragedies. The problem is, it's tasteless and insensitive.

  2. That breaks my brain. Do the AFA really not see a difference between children taken from their family without consent, and sometimes without the knowledge, of the parents and (often) placed in orphanages or used as cheap labour, and children born or adopted into a consensual situation to people who want to be parents?

    I came here via a link from Love Joy Feminism, whose author once wrote an interesting article on "acceptable" sex from the viewpoint of religious conservatives and progressives, pointing out that religious types do not understand the concept of informed consent. This failure of understanding on the part of conservatives, particularly religious ones, makes the leap between accepting gays and legitimising things like paedophilia logical and even inevitable, but to progressives that leap makes no sense at all. This attempt to liken the Stolen Generation to the issue of gay marriage and childraising seems to me to be a similar problem - they fail to understand that informed consent of the biological parent/s is the factor which makes all the difference in the world to whether or not a child is "stolen", with all the trauma associated with that particularly nasty bit of our history. No families are broken up or genocide of cultures committed in order for children to be born by surrogacy or donor to gay (or straight, infertile) families. On the contrary, such a child is demonstrably desired and planned for from before conception, and only exists because they were wanted so much that several people were prepared to help make their birth a reality. Hardly the same as ripping children from already existing homes and families by force or deception with no legal recourse.

    1. Mogg -- Welcome! You'd think the difference between tearing children from their horrified parents and same-sex couples consensually bringing children into the world would be obvious. You're right -- things like informed consent and justice aren't considered when the Australian Religious Right uses "stolen generation" rhetoric.

      I hadn't considered the parallel between the "stolen generation" analogy and the Religious Right's anemic sexual ethics. Thanks for the observation!

  3. Typical RW hypocrisy. They take groups they typically marginalize and pretend, for the purposes of marginalizing another group, that they care deeply about the former groups. Once they're done using the Native Americans, the Aboriginals, etc, they'll go right back to ignoring them (at best) or actively oppressing them.

    1. Buffy -- It's great to see you here again. What you wrote is true -- I doubt that these groups truly care about justice for indigenous communities. American anti-abortion activists's use of the Holocaust as an analogy for abortion is one particularly disgusting example of disingenously using a marginalized group as a symbol.

  4. Ahab, I think the attempt of the Religious Right -- either American or Australian -- to link such things as abortion and same sex marriage to ethnic and racial violence and persecution borders on the obscene. Not only is the analogy logically fallacious, but making it distracts from the real suffering of those who underwent ethnic and racial violence.

    Thanks for a heads up on what's happening Down Under.

    1. Paul -- It's a huge distraction from indigenous people's historical suffering. I doubt that these groups care about indigenous people; they just know that referring to them makes for strong rhetoric.


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