Telstra and Catholic bullying

Yesterday brought the news that Telstra has quietly withdrawn its support for the marriage equality campaign, following a threat by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney to take their business elsewhere.

St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney (Sacha Fernandez, Creative Commons License)

My own contract with Telstra is tied up in personal business: my phone is on a discounted friends-and-family plan via my ‘ex-boyfrang’ who worked for them.

It’s in my name and I signed and pay for it, but recently, when I went to get a SIM replacement, the Telstra store told me their records show I don’t have authority ‘on’ (over) the account.

To get it changed, I had to get back in contact with my ex-partner.  I needed him to co-sign a form authorising a ‘change of ownership’.  I’m lucky that my ex is a reasonable guy, but someone leaving an abusive partner who refused to sign would be liable to continue paying for the phone.

So I e-mailed the form… and then nothing happened.  After ten days I followed up by e-mail, then twitter, who asked me to try Telstra’s 24/7 live chat, who (after 30 minutes) asked me to call Billing.

My experience on that call demonstrates why it’s a problem that Telstra caved-in to Catholic bullying on its support for a movement to recognise the equal value of same gender partnerships.

I am not fussed about gay marriage.  My politics are queer, I’m single, when partnered I prefer open relationships, and with David Warner, I view marriage as the top rung of a hierarchy of social status that denigrates single people, sexually adventurous people, and people who do sex work.

On the phone I spoke to a worker in a call centre in the Philippines who could not have been more keen to help me out.  They were incredibly courteous.

But the Philippines is one of the world’s most Catholic countries, and they kept tripping over the fact my ex-partner is male.  They kept calling him ‘she’ and correcting themselves.  They asked if the transfer was from a female friend who is also listed on his account.  That great signifier of heterosexual discomfort, ‘your friend’, got a workout.

Highlighting Telstra’s systemic problems, they reported that the transfer request had been cancelled on their system without any reason being recorded.  When I offered to send the co-signed form to restart the process, they said I’d need to try again with a new form.  When I threatened a complaint to the Ombudsman, they called my ex to get permission.

This is one argument for same gender marriage: it provides access to legislated procedures to manage the division of property and the disentanglement of legal affairs at the end of a relationship.  Without these, gay people depend on institutional employees’ discretion.

Catholic doctrine treats sex and romantic love as things that should only be allowed in the context of a single monogamous lifelong relationship.

That’s why the Church opposes divorce, and why there is such a debate over access to Communion without annulment – a theological procedure that declares the marriage never existed, for the purposes of ‘clearing the slate’.

It’s fine for Catholic people to believe that, but there is no reason why their views should be reflected in the policy of the state — governing people whose lives and views and relationships are different, including non-Catholics, divorced people, and people who love people of the same gender.

The action of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney shows that when they can’t, by strength of argument and belief, persuade others to adopt their views, they are willing to throw their weight around, as a sizeable consumer and provider of services, to impose those views on the community.

This is why Catholic providers shouldn’t be running homeless shelters or youth services: under exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation, they are permitted to (and routinely do) exclude same gender attracted, sex and gender diverse people from care.

Those exemptions must be overturned.

And as soon as I ‘own’ the phone account I signed and pay for, I’ll be leaving Telstra.