This past week, Barnaby Joyce used the word “decadent” to describe how marriage equality in Australia would be viewed by our Asian neighbours. At first I wanted to believe that he meant to use a word like “ostentatious” or “superfluous” – like he thinks marriage equality is something akin to having a chandelier or a rear spoiler. Something to offend utilitarian sensibilities. The fact that he chose this word and not something else says a lot about the Coalition and how they view marriage equality.
Decadence signifies decay through excess. Like, real fall-of-Rome level shit. Orgies and private militias and sex slaves. The word is supposed to conjure images of the Emperor bathing in honey while people starve and kill each other in the streets below. You might have used it to describe a death by chocolate sort of scenario in which the dessert menu is placed in front of you and you exclaim, half-heartedly, “no, I shouldn’t, please, no, stop.” I’m not going to be that guy who tells you that words don’t mean what you think they mean. (Did you know that decimate really only means to reduce in size by one tenth? Sorry.) But, if you’re going to apply the word decadent to the dessert menu, that menu would need to be written by the Marquise de Sade and result in actual death. THAT is decadence.
So when old mate Barnaby says marriage equality is decadent, what he means (whether intentionally or not) is that allowing same sex couples to get married will lead to the downfall of our society. The walls of our temples will crumble, wolves will roam the streets and the children will all join Gay ISIS.
I’m sorry, that was a humourous example in which I exaggerated Joyce’s beliefs in order to show how ridiculous they are. What I should really say is that the Coalition maintains that the rock-solid traditional values they believe in are essential to Australia’s prosperity. “Decadence” is used quite literally in this case. There will be no wolves at the door when my male friend can marry his boyfriend, but we will see the first plot hole in the story they keep telling us.
The Abbott Government’s greatest fear isn’t that society will crumble around them if marriage equality is legally enshrined – it’s that it won’t. When we all wake up the day after the laws are changed, probably a little hungover, and things are still okay, it will mean it wasn’t our “traditional values” that were holding the country together in the first place. China and Japan will still buy our shit. You can still get a decent amount of beer for a decent amount of money. Society will continue to function. At this point, someone will notice that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and not because there’s an orgy going on.