The Breakdown: What’s Going On in an Australian TV Ad Opposing Gay Marriage?

Those “are a package deal — you’ve only got to look at the people who march under the rainbow flag and banner,” Mr. Shelton said on the radio station 3AW on Wednesday. “I think it’s all part of the same rainbow-political movement. It’s a consequence of redefining marriage.”

Critics have called the ad a “red herring,” wondering why the debate on consensual adult marriage is being conflated with cross-dressing.

“The people behind this ad know that Australians believe everyone should have the same opportunity to marry, so they are deliberately resorting to misleading people,” said Tiernan Brady, the executive director of the Equality Campaign in Australia, which supports same-sex marriage.

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A sign promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage in a shop window in Sydney, Australia. Credit Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Fear that parental rights will erode

It’s a “think of the children” argument: Three mothers share their fears that schools will promote behavior that they disapprove of. A program they might have in mind is a government-financed initiative run by Safe Schools Coalition Australia. Mr. Shelton and some other opponents of same-sex marriage have called it a “radical L.G.B.T.I. sex education program.”

What does the program involve? According to the website, it aims to “help schools to be safe and more inclusive for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.” The website provides tools to guide teachers on topics like running school dances and affirming students who are transitioning from one gender identity to another. The initiative also includes a classroom unit called All of Us, which teaches seventh- and eighth-grade students to “build an understanding of diversity in the community.”

After the television ad was released, Safe Schools Coalition Australia issued a statement stressing that participation in these programs was voluntary. “No schools are forced to join Safe Schools or use any of the resources,” the coalition said. “And schools looking to become formal members need to have parental consent.”

On 3AW, Mr. Shelton said he believed that if same-sex marriage were legalized, such programs would be made compulsory. He said of the ad, “These are the views of three mothers who have had firsthand experience with so-called Safe Schools program in Australian schools.”

Other countries are warnings, not inspiration

While advocates of a “yes” vote point to the legalization of same-sex marriage in countries like Britain, Canada, Ireland and the United States as indicative of Australia’s lag, opponents hold those places up as warnings.

“When same-sex marriage passed as law overseas, this type of program becomes widespread and compulsory,” one woman says in the ad. In other words, legalization would catalyze an assault on parental freedom.

Mr. Shelton has cited the case of the Canadian dentist Steve Tourloukis as an example. In 2012, Mr. Tourloukis sued a primary school board for not allowing him to remove his children from classes on human sexuality. Last year, a justice in Ontario Superior Court ruled against Mr. Tourloukis, saying that the values of inclusivity and equality were more important than accommodating individual religious beliefs. Christian advocates are using that decision as an example of how religious freedom will be curtailed if same-sex marriage is legalized.

It’s worth noting that similar arguments were aired, on both sides, in other countries, particularly in a 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland. In that case, those against the vote produced advertisements that also centered on the well-being of children. They were so distinctive that one YouTube channel created a satirical take.

[embedded content] A satirical take on television ads that opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland.

In that referendum, 62 percent of voters supported amending the Irish Constitution. The nonbinding, voluntary postal survey in Australia gets underway in mid-September and runs to early November. We’ll know then whether the television ad and other campaign materials helped sway enough minds to determine the outcome.

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