Sophie York, the official spokesperson for the Coalition for Marriage which is leading the ‘No’ campaign against marriage equality, is a part-time lecturer at the University of Sydney.
York, who is a longtime friend of Tony Abbott and formerly sought preselection for the Liberal party in the federal seat of Bradfield, lectures in jurisprudence for the Law Extension Committee, a division of the University that teaches professional legal courses.
The Coalition for Marriage is a group of 28 organisations that includes the Australian Christian Lobby, Marriage Alliance, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and Christian Federation. The coalition has been formed for campaigning purposes in the lead-up to the marriage equality postal plebiscite, uniting under the view that “we are the silent majority”.
York authorised the Coalition for Marriage’s recent TV ad, which features three mothers claiming that school curricula would be radically revised if marriage equality were to be legalised.
According to the Coalition for Marriage, “This ad will play an important role in helping Australians understand that saying ‘yes’ to gay marriage would mean saying ‘yes’ to radical gay sex education in schools.”
Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education, criticised the ad after it aired last week.
“It is patently ridiculous to suggest that allowing same-sex couples to marry is somehow going to see some new wave of teaching reform sweep across the country,” he said. “That’s just not going to happen. This is a simple issue, and it should not be conflated with other issues.”
The Coalition for Marriage is asking its supporters to contribute donations to support the $35,000-a-day cost of keeping the ad on air.
In an email to Marriage Alliance supporters, York wrote that: “the ‘Yes’ campaign has been aggressively vilifying us, trying to make us out as the ‘bullies’ and ‘bad guys’ for opposing same-sex marriage… it is THEIR campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote that threatens to destroy our entire Aussie way of life.”
The Yes campaign: threatening to destroy our entire Aussie way of life! pic.twitter.com/E7rdoFfIkJ
— Lane Sainty (@lanesainty) August 31, 2017
A University spokesperson indicated to Honi that the University had no plans to discipline York.
“The University would encourage any student who feels intimidated or harassed to report the matter to the Student Affairs Unit”, the spokesperson said.
According to a University website, Law Extension Committee members like York are appointed by the University Senate from candidates who have been nominated by “the University, the Chief Justice of New South Wales, The NSW Bar Association and Law Society, and the Faculty of Law.”
For its part, The University of Sydney has taken a neutral stance in the marriage equality debate, setting itself apart from universities like RMIT that have formally supported the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Martin Bean, RMIT’s Vice Chancellor, wrote that his university “proudly supports marriage equality and believes it’s a basic right that people, regardless of who they choose to love, should be recognised equally by law.”
By contrast, in a message to staff, USyd Vice Chancellor Michael Spence wrote “I do not believe it appropriate for us to adopt an institutional position. In saying so I want to stress that I do not mean to sound insensitive to the very real pain experienced by those currently unable to marry under Australian law. But I think… Universities in the secular liberal tradition are essentially fora for debate in which ideas can be freely expressed and discussed.”
Meanwhile, USyd has used positive imagery of same-sex marriage as part of its branding in its new Unlearn marketing campaign, which states, “We believe that a diverse, inclusive community is a stronger one”.
Sophie York had not responded to Honi’s request for comment at the time of publication.