Australia

Bitter row erupts over bible, beers and gay marriage

Pulled prior to launch: "Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light"

Scenes of two conservative politicians discussing marriage equality over a beer and a bible are not often used as a backdrop for consumer marketing campaigns, even in the reddest of American states below the Mason-Dixon line.

Though apparently it’s perfectly fine in South Australia, where Coopers Brewery’s “Keeping it Light”  series, in partnership with the Bible Society, debuted this week.

The 154-year-old Adelaide brewer has been a long-time supporter of the Bible Society, Australia’s oldest continuing organisation, which “distributes, translates and encourages active engagement with the world’s best-selling book”.

It had also hoped to release a limited-edition commemorative light beer as a “gift” to the society to mark its 200th anniversary this year, with cans emblazoned with Bible verses. 

But that plan is now in tatters as the brewer fights a growing boycott of its beers across Australia—and now in some establishments in New Zealand.

The video showed a host, two Liberal party MPs—one a gay agnostic and the other a Christian conservative—at a table outside Parliament House in Canberra. Also in view were two bottles of Coopers Premium Light and a bible. On the agenda was a “light-hearted” discussion about the intricacies of same-sex marriage.

On the campaign’s website, the Bible Society had written, apparently before the current furore: ”Australia's national conversation had become fraught with shallowness and contempt for those who have a differing opinion.

To bring more depth to this conversation, it said it had “teamed up with Coopers Premium Light to ask Australians to try 'Keeping it Light’—a creative campaign to reach even more Australians with God's word—and this time we're doing so in a rather unexpected way.”

There is confusion over whether Coopers had backed the video. In its first response to criticism, the brewer called it a “light-hearted but balanced debate about an important topic within Australia”.

As a mature community it's a debate we need to have but in a good spirited and good natured way,” Coopers added, claiming that the video had not been intended “to push religious messages or change your beliefs”.

But in a second corporate response the brewery said it had nothing to do with the campaign. 

We want you to know that Coopers did not give permission for our Premium Light beer to feature in, or ‘sponsor’ the Bible Society’s ‘Keeping it Light’ video,” it said in a statement.

As things got even worse, two senior members of the Cooper family were put before the cameras to explain their side of the affair.

We would never, and did not approve the making or release of the Bible Society video ‘debate’,” said Tim Cooper, the managing director.

Melanie Cooper, director of finance and corporate affairs, said Coopers “supports marriage equality” and was “deeply sorry” that “offence has been taken by our recent involvement”.

The federal politicians, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie, have also since been criticised for the overt commercial promotion that accompanied their appearance. They ended the chummy video chat by agreeing to disagree on marriage equality with a clink of their Coopers bottles.

When asked if he knew beer would appear so heavily in the video, same-sex marriage supporter Wilson told Fairfax Media: "I don't know or care.”

Hastie, for his part, he had "no issue" with the video and highlighted the tradition of brewing in the evangelical movement.

Many beer drinkers, however, have been quick to express their anger at the video, although it is not certain what many are protesting over, beyond Coopers’ decision (or not) just to be part of it. 

Using the hashtag #BoycottCoopers, supporters of gay marriage have taken to social media to offer their opinions, while some bars have taken Coopers beers off sale.

The Old Bar in Melbourne tweeted that its boycott of Coopers would be permanent: “Unfortunately we will no longer be purchasing any stock from Coopers. It's a sad day for us as over the many years we have built a strong relationship, yet after recent events it is very obvious that our values are at odds.”

Announcing that it would stop serving Coopers Pale Ale, after “our current kegs are blown, the Union Hotel in Sydney told Facebook: “It seems [Coopers’] views on marriage equality are at odds with not only those of our staff, but our locals and the broader community of Newtown.”

The Bible Society, which has taken down the video, has come out in support of Coopers’ latest stance, saying it was “entirely responsible” for the video. 

It was not sponsored by Coopers,” it said in a statement. “No money has changed hands between Bible Society and Coopers in regards to this campaign.

The interest from the public in this campaign reinforces the message of the video—that it is important for Australians to have respectful conversations about serious issues—‘keeping it light’.”

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Comments (1)

Gerhard Reuter - 16 Mar 2017 | 02:52

Freedom of expression

Australia used to be a free country, but in the last decade or two we have increasingly turned into a country where a leftist media and leftist parties are dictating what is and what is not politically correct to their politics.

16-Mar-2017 at 02:52 GMT

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