If you’ve just awoken from a coma, or perhaps live overseas with absolutely no access to the news, you might not be aware that Australia is in the middle of a giant stand-off over marriage equality, the right of gay couples to be legally married.
Admittedly I have lived most of my adult life not really giving two tosses about marriage – it was a straight gig with religious overtones that wasn’t my thing. But things have changed. Now I’m engaged to the woman of my dreams, and I actually do want a wedding – not a civil ceremony or any other substitute, but the real thing – confetti, rings, cake and of course an official certificate.
Successive governments here have dragged their feet over this issue. We are now the only English-speaking democracy left on earth without marriage equality. Our current government seems to be under the sway of a small group of right-wing conservative religious types who really hate the gays, and have done as much as possible to avoid doing anything about SSM since they’ve been in charge.
They promised a plebiscite on the issue, which was not a popular option at all and was voted down in the Senate. Now, having been forced to address the issue again by a dissenting MP, they again tried to push a plebiscite. Again it was voted down by the sensible Senate. And now, the piece de resistance, they have announced a postal “plebiscite” which is actually a survey being conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And today they announced that Australians had just 15 days to register to vote in it! That fact alone will mean a huge number of young people will miss their chance to vote. And by the way, the result is completely non-binding and would still have to be voted on in the parliament, so even a “Yes” result does not mean automatic SSM.
Sound nuts? Oh I left out the bit where it will cost $122 million dollars to send out all the little envelopes and count up all the returned votes…..by a bureau that doesn’t normally do this sort of thing and has already said it may not be equipped to roll it out.
If you can’t see anything wrong with this whole set-up, stop reading now and go and take a course in logic. I mean, this plan has so many holes in it you could sell it as a crocheted tea cosy.
I’m just going to set out the reasons why a plebiscite (which I will just remind you a postal survey is not) is the wrong thing to do here, and is based purely on bigotry.
1. The idea that 2 people can get married is a very old one. Marriage existed long before organized religion, certainly well before Christian faiths existed. So the argument that marriage needs to follow the rules of any particular religion is flawed. What about atheists? We supposedly live in a secular society, and although our politicians lately have been banging on about how our society is based on Judo-Christian values, one could easily argue that these values exist in plenty of other faiths, and simply reflect a set of ethics rather than a belief in a particular deity. Marriage has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with love.
- Same sex relationships are completely legal in Australia, and it is actually illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender. In my eyes, asking the opinion of every person in the street about whether I’m allowed to do something that the rest of the population is already allowed to do is discrimination. Pure and simple. Why would I need permission from anyone to get married? It’s none of their business! Allowing everyone a say about the rights of a particular group of people is in fact a way of “othering” that group, making us feel like second class citizens.
- There will be many people who will vote “No” due to their religious beliefs, which brings me back to the fact that we are a secular society, and we should not be ruled by anyone’s religion.
- There will be people who will vote “No” who don’t really care about the issue or are ignorant of the issue but don’t like change of any sort.
- There will be people who will vote “No” because they hate the gays. Sorry, please tell me why their view is valid?
- If it’s illegal to discriminate against us, how can the government encourage a public discourse examining our rights?
- This issue is one that should be settled by our elected parliamentarians, which is precisely their job. The government should not make decisions by conducting expensive opinion polls (did I mention the $122 million?) and nor does it in other important spheres. I don’t remember being asked my opinion on whether we should set up offshore concentration camps for asylum seekers, or invade Iraq, or freeze the medicare rebate, etc., etc., etc.…..
- People who argue that marriage has always been enshrined in law here as being between men and women are forgetting something. The Marriage Act was changed to read “between a man and a woman” in 2004 by the then Prime Minister John Howard. Before then it simply referred to consenting adults. He didn’t ask the Australian population for permission to change the wording then. No plebiscite required. No referendum. Not even an opinion poll. Or a postal survey. He just changed it because he knew best. Our current Prime Minister does not apparently have the same fortitude.
- This is an issue that will only affect same sex couples. Straight people’s marriages will not suddenly become less valid. Straight married couples will not be mistaken for being gay (a possibility that Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby was rather worried about apparently). In fact, gay marriage will boost the economy with the enormous demand for wedding cakes, outfits, and let’s not forget the glitter!
- The only arguments in favour of a plebiscite that I have seen are from people in categories 3, 4 and 5 above. Which pretty much sums up my argument that the plebiscite is a nasty, bigoted attack on me and my community.