When the offended decide to go on the offensive

Being an Aussie living in the UK sometimes leads to bizarre experiences. Like when I’m talking to a Brit, and he or she makes a joke based on the premise that Aussies are descended from criminals. That, in itself, isn’t a bizarre experience (usually the joke is quite witty and droll, in true British style). The bizarre experience comes when the person who made the joke, about 5 seconds later, apologizes to me because they’re afraid they’ve offended me.

I try to explain that Aussies are proud of being descended from convicts; indeed, if you can trace your ancestry back to the first fleet, you’re virtual aristocracy Down Under. Our de facto national song, Waltzing Matilda, is about a bloke who stole a sheep and got chased by the police. Our former Prime Minister, Keven Rudd, is descended from underwear and sugar thieves, and forgers. And he’s proud of it. Go Kev! The British joke-tellers never quite believe me, though. They seem to think I should be ashamed of being a member of the criminal classes. Bizarre.

But I’ve come to discover that there’s a reason why people might be so afraid of offending me. It seems that their joke about my convict heritage might, in fact, be against the law. You see, if I decide that the joke has offended me (even if they didn’t intend to offend me), then I might be able to initiate proceedings against them. This atmosphere of hyper-vigilance isn’t just a joke. It seems that proceedings have indeed been initiated against a blogger here in the UK for causing offence by carrying the following ad for the Coalition for Marriage:

The blogger in question (who styles himself on my favourite Archbishop), says:

Apparently there have been a number of complaints about one of the advertisements His Grace carried on behalf of the Coalition for Marriage. He has been sent all manner of official papers, formal documentation and threatening notices which demand answers to sundry questions by a certain deadline. He is instructed by the ‘Investigations Executive’ of this inquisition to keep all this confidential.

Since His Grace does not dwell in Iran, North Korea, Soviet Russia, Communist China or Nazi Germany, but occupies a place in the cyber-ether suspended somewhere between purgatory and paradise, he is minded to ignore that request. Who do these people think they are?

[…]

He is informed:

We intend to deal with the complaint as a formal investigation, which means it will be considered by the ASA Council. We will then draft a recommendation for the Council based on your response to us. Once the Council has made a decision, the adjudication will be published on our website.

…We require you to explain your rationale for the ad and comment specifically on the points raised in the attached complaint notification…

They need to see ‘robust documentary evidence to back the claims and a clear explanation from you of its relevance and why you think it substantiates the claims. It is not enough to send references to or abstracts of documents and papers without sending the reports in full and specifically highlighting the relevant parts explaining why they are relevant to the matter in hand’.

Of course, I would be a hypocrite if I, too, didn’t endorse the views of the Coalition for Marriage. In my colonial homeland, I am an Anglican Minister, and I have conducted quite a few weddings using these words from An Australian Prayer Book, “A Service for Marriage (second form)”:

Our Lord Jesus Christ said of marriage that ‘From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’

Marriage should be honoured by all, and is not to be entered into lightly or carelessly, but with reverent and serious respect for those purposes for which it was instituted by God.

Marriage is a gift from God for the well-being of humanity, and for the proper expression of natural instincts and affections with which he has endowed us.

It is a life-long union in which a man and a woman are called so to give themselves in body, mind, and spirit, and so to respond, that from their union will grow a deepening knowledge and love of each other. In the joys and sorrows of life, in prosperity and adversity, they share their companionship, faithfulness, and strength.

In marriage a new family is established in accordance with God’s purpose, so that children may be born and nurtured in secure and loving care, for their well-being and instruction, and for the good order of society, to the glory of God.

I guess that now I have also displayed the ad (in this case, gratis), and reproduced the words of An Australian Prayer Book, I may have offended somebody. Please be assured that I am not intending to offend; I am simply seeking to endorse a campaign that is, quite transparently as far as I can tell, attempting to engage in a current and important political debate. This particular debate has been ignited by certain actions of members of Her Majesty’s Government. The various voices on the debate deserve to be heard. The Coalition for Marriage is one voice in this debate. It is a voice which clearly has popular support, and which I endorse. If you agree with me, sign their petition. If you disagree with me, don’t sign their petition. And disagree with me. And offend me too, if you like. That’s how a modern liberal democracy is supposed to work.

However: if any Brits do decide to be offended by this blog post, it might interest you to know that I am seeking to return from the UK to Botany Bay, in Sydney, New South Wales, in just under two months’ time. If you would please time your prosecution accordingly, I would be grateful. That way, you might get me a free trip to Botany Bay, and the opportunity to return home as a convict, which would enhance my reputation enormously in my colonial homeland. It might even mean that I have a chance at being Prime Minister one day.

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