LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Australian campaign ad that claims same-sex marriage laws would lead to school children acting out gay relationships and boys wearing dresses in class drew widespread fire on Wednesday.
The advert was aired on Tuesday by the Coalition for Marriage, a group that opposes equal marriage laws.
It said that legalizing same-sex marriage would usher in education programs that rob parents of the right to chose how children learn about sexuality.
The adverts - the first national televised campaign for the ‘No’ vote in a September referendum on same-sex marriage - misled viewers about what is at stake, according to Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
“Look, there is only one question on the ballot paper, that question is: ‘Should same-sex marriage be allowed in Australia?,'” Birmingham told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“It is patently ridiculous to suggest that allowing same-sex couples to marry is somehow going to see some new sway of teaching reform sweep across the country,” he said.
Parliamentarians including opposition leader of the Labor party Bill Shorten and Liberal Party MP Tim Wilson have also condemned the adverts as inaccurate.
Australia is one of the only developed English-speaking countries not to have legalized same-sex marriage, despite strong popular support and the backing of most lawmakers.
Same-sex marriage is supported by 61 percent of Australians, a 2016 Gallup opinion poll showed.
The Coalition for Marriage, a group of 28 mostly religious organizations led by the Australian Christian Lobby, said it stood behind the advert’s accuracy and expects it to air until November, when postal voting ends.
The advert featured three unidentified women voicing concerns that legislation allowing same-sex marriage would lead to changes in the way children are taught about sex.
In the ad, a mother is heard to say: “School told my son he can wear a dress next year if he felt like it.”
Another complains that 13-year-olds could be asked to role play same-sex relationships.
Monica Doumit, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Marriage, defended the first woman in the advert, whom she identified as mother-of-four Cella White, after the principal of her son’s high school in Victoria said the event never occurred.
LGBT rights groups Equal Love and the Australian Marriage Equality campaign said the ad offered no evidence that schools, including faith schools, would have to change their teaching.
“It is very upsetting to see opponents of marriage equality stoop to such lows in their campaign against same sex marriage by resorting to scare mongering and straight out lies,” Anthony Wallace, campaign director of Equal Love, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Australians will begin receiving postal voter forms on September 12 and will have until November 7 to return them.
Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org