Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In Your Own Words


From July 17 to 31, 2016, I conducted a survey of the LGBTIQ community, and our allies, to ascertain views about Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed plebiscite on marriage equality.


Specifically, the survey asked whether we should:


  • Block it, if possible
  • Accept it and fight to win, or
  • Wait to see the details.


Based on 1,140 responses, including 840 from within the LGBTIQ community, the survey’s main finding was unambiguous: 69% of people wanted to block the plebiscite, compared to only 11% who believed we should accept it and another 20% who would like to see more details before making a final decision.


For full results of the survey, including breakdowns by different demographic groups, see Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1.


The survey then asked two open-ended, text-based questions.


The first asked: “Please explain why you chose that answer (for example, I think we should block the plebiscite because…/I think we should accept the plebiscite because…/I think we should wait and see because…)”.


The second invited respondents to make additional comments (“Do you have any other comments about Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite?”).


In this post, I will attempt to summarise the responses to these two questions, broken down by their primary answer (Accept, Wait & See or Block).


Given the large number of responses for Block, I have also included separate sections for responses from LGBTIQ parents, trans people and non-LGBTIQ people (the latter to see whether responses varied depending on whether someone was inside or outside the community).


I have also included the raw data for each of these groups – both their ‘reasons’, and their ‘other comments’ – as attachments. I strongly encourage you to download these documents and read them, some of the answers provided are particularly powerful.


If you do download these documents, you will note that they have been lightly edited. This includes removing expletives, abusive language or threatening comments, as well as comments that name individuals or provide identifying information. Responses in ‘other comments’ that stated ‘No’, ‘Nothing further to add’ or simply referred to their previous answer providing ‘reasons’ have also been removed.


As you will see, typos and other grammatical errors have been left intact, as have several answers which refer to the need (for Prime Minister Turnbull) to ‘show some balls’. While I have chosen to leave these in for now, I would like to make a request for people to find an alternative, non-gendered way to call for courage, or call out cowardice, in the future.


Finally, it should go without saying that I do not necessarily agree with, or endorse, the answers below and/or attached. But they are important responses to read, and to share – because they demonstrate, in your own words, what you want to see happen with the plebiscite and, most importantly, why.




Accept it, and fight to win


The first group I will analyse are the 123 people who responded to the survey by nominating Accept.


In response to the question “I think we should accept the plebiscite because…” there were a number of pragmatic responses, primarily focusing on the belief that a plebiscite is the only way forward on marriage equality during this term. These responses included:


“Given the reelection of the government I think the plebiscite is going to happen so we need to face reality and get campaigning for a yes just as the no side is actively doing now”, and


“Even though I prefer the passing of a parliamentary bill, I think we should accept the plebiscite and fight to win. This is because I don’t think the LNP will introduce marriage equality legislation without the plebiscite. Without the plebiscite, I think a bill on marriage equality will be put on hold ad infinitum. If Labor or any of the cross-benches introduce marriage equality legislation after having blocked the plebiscite, I think the LNP will oppose it and the proposed legislation won’t be passed. My attitude is, therefore, get it done asap no matter how it’s done.”


However, there were a significant number of responses expressing serious concerns about the possible harms of a plebiscite, including:


“I think the plebiscite is the clearest way forward now. But the campaign coming our way is scary. We need to not only fight to win, but fight clean and support our own!”


“I want the public debate to be over as soon as possible and believe the Australian public will support same sex marriage. However, I am extremely concerned about the harm that will be caused to LGBTQI community and the children of our community including my own, by those opposing the change. I believe it should be a vote in parliament and I do not support such a huge amount of public funding wasted on appeasing those who are opposed to it based on their personal and religious beliefs, as they are not the people affected by the change.”


“I think that we should accept the plebiscite because we have been waiting so long already. Though it will be a ‘bloody fight’ against the religious groups and I am sure there will be some hurtful lies told, I believe that the support is out there from the community to get it over the line. We must all band together for what is right and fair.”


“I would prefer s [sic] parliamentary vote but as the is not likely I accept a referendum but I ask the Govt to show leadership is [sic] stopping hateful comments against LGBTI people”


Other phrases which featured in these responses (and remember, these are people who actually said the plebiscite should be accepted) include:


“I do worry about the hate that will ensue.”


“Worried about harassment of LGBTQI people.”


“Yes, it would be unfair and risk hurting people during the process, but it could lead to marriage equality sooner than blocking it outright on the grounds of it being unjust (which anyone can see that it is)…”


“…[t]here has never been a time when bad things have not been said about our community. We have overcome in the past we will overcome this too”


“If we can get marriage equality through even if it’s a painful stupid process I think it’s important to push for it.”


“I am concerned about the harm to our community and frankly think its rediculous [sic], but if the alternative is not legislating then I’d rather fight to win.”


Ultimately, even those who answered that we should accept the plebiscite would nevertheless prefer a parliamentary vote: “Ideally it would be better for it to be passed without the plebiscite but that doesn’t seem to be an option.”


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Reasons


In response to the question “Do you have any other comments about Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite?” answers from this cohort included the following:


“Malcolm Turnbull continues to disappoint and is constantly bowing to pressure from the right in the LNP. Why he is still doing this after winning the election with a House of Reps majority is beyond me. He needs to stand up to the right and take confidence in the fact that he is secure as leader.”


“Waste of money – it’s a glorified opinion poll that gives voice to fear-mongers to disparage LGBTI fellow Australians. Malcolm just be a leader” and


“It is truly unnecessary!!! Malcolm is putting us through hell for no good reason. Howard didn’t need a plebiscite to change the marriage act in 2004, we don’t need one now!!”


Even more disparagingly: “He’s opening a can of worms he’s totally unprepared for. There will be lives lost, and blood on his hands if this is done wrong; which it will be.”


And perhaps most simply, and starkly: “It’s frightening.”


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Other Comments


As can be seen from the above, many of the people who answered the survey “Accept it and fight to win” did so begrudgingly, and still harbour serious concerns about the plebiscite, including the harm that will likely be inflicted on LGBTIQ Australians as a consequence. These themes are even stronger from respondents in other categories.




Wait to see the details


231 survey respondents indicated that they wanted to see more details of the plebiscite before deciding whether to support it, or to block it. Their responses to the question “I think we should wait and see because…” were varied. Obviously, a major theme was that there was currently insufficient information on which to make a decision, such as:


“Because the plebesite [sic] may be worded in a way or have exceptions that will clearly make it biased toward being unsuccessful. I fear this would be very emotionally and psychologically damaging for the LGBTQI community. If it [is] a straightford [sic] Yes/No vote for or against Marriage Equality, then I feel confident Australia will vote clearly in favour of equality.”


“I think we should wait for the wording and conditions applied -Regrettably the plebiscite may be the shortest pathway but ONLY if the question and results are not ‘set up’ for it to fail or to provide unreasonable exemptions that would further discriminate against the lgbti community. The preferred pathway of a free parliamentary vote is the best way forward”


“My original position was to support the plebiscite because it does appear to be the clearest and quickest path to marriage equality. That said, there is growing unease amongst my friends that the plebiscite will create a divide within the Australian population… I’m frustrated that politicians have the power to pass the legislation themselves, without wasting tax-payers money on the plebiscite, and I don’t trust the coalition to word the plebiscite in such a way as it will be easily passed… so at this stage, let’s wait and see how they handle it, whilst maintaining pressure on them so the issue isn’t put aside for a later date.”


“I think we should wait and see. The wording of the question of the plebiscite is crucial. If the wording is acceptable, we should fight to win, as it may be our only option. Blocking the plebiscite now doesn’t stop the homophobic/biphobic/transphobic comments, as they have already begun. The sooner this is over with, the sooner people can move on with their lives.”


“I think we should wait and see because the government itself seems to be in a lot of speculation about what to do, and are themselves unsure of what decision they want to make with the plebiscite and what decision they want to make for marriage equality. I believe waiting until they are certain of their decisions will be the safest and most logical course of action.”


A number of Wait & See respondent’s reasons indicated they wanted to see specific details before making up their minds, including:


  • Whether voting would be compulsory (“If it is compulsory to vote, then it has a good chance of passing. If only optional voting, then it is set up to fail and should be rejected”) and
  • Whether religious exceptions would be expanded (“Our community has suffered a long time fighting for our rights, we can keep up the fight a little longer if we need to. If there is Anything in the wording to continue exclusionary provisions other than a churches right to not Have to marry a couple then we block it.”)


Several also indicated a desire for the result of the plebiscite to be binding (for example: “I think we should wait and see because the way the question is worded is very important. If they make it binding, and don’t give hate speech exemptions then it is very different to a non-binding vote”), although this is unlikely to be reflected in the enabling legislation.


Another common theme was a distinct lack of trust in the Liberal-National Government generally, and Prime Minister Turnbull specifically, to ‘do the right thing’ in designing the plebiscite fairly, or respecting its result:


“Because the bloody Liberals can not be trusted to word it in such a way that is acceptable – I don’t trust them”


“The Liberal government is untrustworthy. The outcome may not be adopted regardless. If that’s the case the money expended will be wasted. It’s also offensive for all Australians to have a say in a minorities ability to choose the life they lead.”


“I’m deeply concerned that we might – even reluctantly – support a plebiscite only to find that the question has been designed by the hard-right of the Liberal party to ensure an anti-LGBTIQ victory.”


“I need to see the details. I like to think Malcolm Turnbull will engineer a plebiscite to have the best chance of getting up with a minimum of ugliness. I do expect to be disappointed.”


“If the plebiscite is the only way marriage equality can happen in the short term we should have it, however if it is deliberately designed to fail it should be blocked as it will do more harm than it is worth”


A significant number of respondents specifically referenced the failed 1999 Republic referendum (which also featured a certain Malcolm Turnbull, albeit in a very different capacity):


“If the referendum on the republic is anything to go by, the way the question is asked and other details can mean success or failure.”


“Still slim chance sensible free vote in parliament will pass legislation. And I will campaign if plebiscite forced upon us but am cautious about conservative liberals ‘gaming’ the question & circumstances of the process. Fearful marriage equality will follow failed Republic referendum.”


“Australians hate change, opportunities come up to be heard rarely and if the option is no plebiscite and no marriage equality we could be waiting decades. See the republic debate and what happened to that. However how it is framed is important. My preference, just bloody legalise it!!!”


Many respondents in the Wait & See group also explicitly reserved the right to block the plebiscite if it was deemed to be biased against LGBTIQ Australians:


“I think we should wait and see because there is a chance, tho [sic] very small, that the question and process will be fair. Fair would mean by simple majority vote of the whole electorate, with the question posing the option of two people regardless of sex or gender, and the recognition of foreign marriages on the same basis, and no concessions to religious prejudice beyond the current Marriage Act provision for religious celebrants. Realistically this almost certainly means we will be urging our allies to block it.”


“I think we should wait and see because, although the plebiscite is a waste of money and the government should simply grant equal rights to the LGQBTI community, it may be the only way forward at this time. By the same token, the community should not accept any question that does not unequivocally guarantee their rights without pandering to any religious institution”


“I think we should wait and see because it may potentially be beneficial, however we should have the option to veto the plebiscite”


“It is important to have all the facts when deciding what impact a Plebiscite may have. While I agree it is a vast waste of money and may be damaging to our community, if we believe there is sufficient support by individual MPs then there is a chance it will be passed. However if the wording is biased in anyway that confuses the public as to how to answer then I wouldn’t agree to holding the Plebiscite.”


As with respondents who indicated we should accept the plebiscite, many people who answered Wait & See were nevertheless worried about the harms of holding such a national public vote:


“We need more information but a plebiscite is the worst way to change the law. We don’t need a hate campaign. No plebiscite was needed when the Howard government last changed the marriage act.”


“I wory [sic] about possible hate campaigns against communities and the effect that could have on the community and their children. I have a lesbian friend who is really worried about the effect possible negative media could have on their family and especially their children.”


“I personally would like to see no plebiscite. LNP reps have already said they won’t pay any attention to the result but will vote how they want anyway. What’s wrong with a conscience vote? I do not want my family to be subjected to the inevitable torrent of homophobic rhetoric that will be unleashed upon as a part of this plebiscite.”


“The high court has ruled that we can already have same sex marriage it is a waste of money but no one should have to wait 3 years to get permission to get married and the campaigning would be disgusting and maybe very hurtful”


“Although I am fearful of the damage to the emotional wellbeing of myself and others from the debate which I have no doubt will be abusive, I’m hoping that it will bring a larger proportion of my community together to fight this injustice”


“I think the plebiscite is not the ideal path to follow and could give license to people from extreme groups to be quite hateful towards us. However, blocking the plebiscite is likely to delay the marriage equality at least until next election or longer, so I feel we should take advantage of the opportunity even though not ideal. It all depends though on how the plebiscite is worded and the regulations that govern the debate and the advertising guidelines. If these could lead to hateful attacks on LGBTIQ people then I think I would want it blocked.”


“I am honestly worried about how devisive [sic] an issue this could be and that we will see a race to the bottom, but I have to wait to see what the question is before I can decide whether to support it or not. Having said that I am fearful that it will do more harm than good.”


“It’s so difficult to answer this question – it is such a grey issue. Unfortunately the plebiscite may be the quickest path to equality however if it is not binding then it is a waste of time and effort and I suspect that the path to a plebiscite will raise ugly and damaging propaganda from those opposed to equality. Sorry this is not a clearer answer.”


I found this parent’s answer to be particularly compelling:


“I’m a parent of a trans child. I am worried about how our rainbow kids will be used as ammunition for the right wing / no vote. I am already very stressed and upset by the constant attacks on Safe Schools. These monsters are demonising my 5 year old kindy kid for their own political agenda. My heart is breaking every day. On the other hand, I believe with all my broken heart that we ALL have the same rights and our law should recognise that.”


It is no wonder that some respondents believe we should be preparing support services for those who would be adversely affected by the plebiscite campaign:


“Our community should be investing now to mobilise the community towards two things – to fight to win through a neighbourhood street-by-street engagement strategy, and second to ensure people likely to be impacted by a negative campaign (which let’s face it, is most of us) have accessible peer supports. On this latter point, there’s possible value in normalising the understanding of potential for damage and increasing accessibility to support by LGBTI people, by working to embed as a standard feature of reporting the plebiscite debate the usual “if this has raised issues you can contact….””


Based on these responses, many of the one-in-five survey respondents who indicated they want to see more details about the plebiscite before deciding whether it should be blocked or not, start with serious doubts about its details, and its potential benefits. Many also hold seemingly well-founded fears that a plebiscite will cause harm to the LGBTIQ community.


Therefore, while supporters of the plebiscite might see this group as ‘persuadable’, in my view the attached answers (see below) indicate they are more likely to be in favour of blocking it once the final details are revealed.


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Wait & See – Reasons


Similarly strong concerns were also expressed by this group through their ‘other comments’:


“I hate it, I am totally opposed to it. It is unwarranted and he has sold his soul to his right wing. We are already seeing hate mail in letterboxes and it will only get worse. But we as a community need to stand united and come out in huge numbers to support marriage equality”


“Just pass the law already. We don’t need a plebiscite. We just need to do the right thing and pass the law so marriage equality is available for al [sic]. The Government is out of touch with community attitudes on this issue. I am not gay but believe gay people should be free to marry if they choose to. The money could be better spent on other things like education and health care.”


“I feel that Malcolm Turnbull, nor many members of his government can truly ever understand the hurt, stress and anxiety this process is putting on our community. I fear for the wellbeing of our daughter. I don’t want her bullied or to be made less than normal. If we have to go through with it, then at least make it fair.”


“It’s unnecessary. There’s no constitutional need for it. In the current climate of increased rascism [sic] and intolerance the last thing we need is a vehicle legitimising homophobes’ prejudice”


“I genuinely believe any plebiscite will be VERY devisive [sic] and harmful to the psychological wellbeing of LGBTIQ people.”


“its stupid, it’s unnecessary, it’s not something an ally would do, and we’ve been trying to tell you, through various forms of media that this isn’t going to be a positive experience for us, so why do you keep pushing forward with it, I’m beginning to doubt that actually you don’t care about LGBT+ people.”


And two final pleas:


“Just pass the damn thing and let everyone get on with their lives!” (amen) and


“Malcolm I live in your electorate as a gay, single Foster dad of two amazing kids. I deserve the same rights as your other constituents”


We can but hope that the Prime Minister, and his Liberal-National colleagues, listen to their concerns.


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Wait & See – Other Comments




Block it, if possible – General


786 survey respondents indicated that they want to see the plebiscite blocked because of the potential harm it will cause members of the LGBTIQ community, even if that risks delaying marriage equality by three years (or more). 725 of these respondents provided written answers to the question “I think we should block the plebiscite because…”


Given the size of this cohort, I have chosen to break these answers down by demographic group. Subsequent sections of this post will focus on the reasons given by LGBTIQ parents, trans respondents and non-LGBTIQ respondents.


This section will therefore analyse those reasons provided by lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and/or queer people who do not have children (although the attachments will include the reasons and other comments from ALL respondents who believe the plebiscite should be blocked).


There were of course a range of general comments, highlighting the unnecessary nature of the plebiscite – and the inappropriateness of holding such a vote with respect to an issue of fundamental human rights:


“We should not encourage the idea in our society that the rights of a minority group should be decided by the majority. We should demand our government ensures the equality of every Australian before the law.”


“It’s unnecessary, non-binding, and it’s only purpose is to prevent marriage equality and give voice to damaging homophobic hate speech. Our dignity is not a matter of public opinion.”


“I believe that we should block the plebiscite because it will be costly, it will give a platform to the right-winged conservatives to slander the LGBTIQ community- causing severe stress and harm to all LGBTIQ people and their families and even if the plebiscite was to go in favour of Marriage Equality for all Australians there is a chance that the government will not change the law and it will all be for nothing.”


“The plebiscite costs money, costs our integrity, and will cost young people’s lives.”


A number of answers referenced the fact Prime Minister John Howard and his Liberal-National Government did not require a plebiscite to ban marriage equality in 2004, meaning Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his own Liberal-National Government do not need to hold one now:


“I think we should block the Plebiscite, my human rights should not be the subject of a costly non-binding opinion poll. John Howard petulantly changed the Marriage Act in 2004 to explicitly prevent Marriage Equality, and did so without benefit of a Plebiscite. We SHOULD undo Howard’s cowardly vandalism by the same process – Parliament should DO IT’s JOB. Save the cost, save a divisive debate, save the dignity of GLBTQI+ (G.A.Y.) Australians.”


“No plebiscite. Dangerous, divisive, unwelcome intrusion into people’s lives. A plebiscite was not needed in 2004 when Howard changed the definition of marriage, it is not needed now.”


There was also a frequent focus on the wastefulness of the proposed plebiscite – throwing away $160 million that could be better spent elsewhere:


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will allow hate speech, affect LGBTI+ people and their families, as well as and especially the young people. It will cost a stupid amount of money, there is no point!”


“The fact that the government has zero legal requirement to accept the outcome of the plebiscite renders it entirely pointless. All that it would do is allow anti-gay conservatives a clear platform to spread further hate, extremism and harm; while costing Australia millions better spent supporting those in need.”


“I find the whole thing unnecessary & a huge waste of $$$. Besides, it’s ridiculous, insensitive & hurtful to be voting for something which should not even be an issue. Did heterosexual people need to vote for themselves to have the right to marry?”


“The majority should not be voting via a $160M+ opinion poll on the rights of a minority. Equality can be achieved via a free vote by our parliament. The damage the No campaign will affect on the LGBTQI community will ripple on for years to come and I don’t believe we will really ever unite the general population after ab [sic] Us and Them theme emerges during the campaign.”


“It is a huge amount of money to spend on something that could be easily decided in parliament, and an overwhelming vote of support for marriage equality via plebiscite still does not compel conservative politicians to support it. I’m also deeply concerned about the negative impact of homophobic campaign groups will have on young people in the LGBTIQ community”


But by far the largest number of comments concerned the potential harms that will be inflicted on members of the LGBTIQ community as a result of a 6-month campaign, with a public platform given to extreme elements of society who wish ill on anyone who is not cisgender and heterosexual:


“WE SHOULD BLOCK THE PLEBICYTE [sic] BECAUSE LGBTI PEOPLE FACE ENOUGH HOMOPHOBIA, PREJUDICE AND ABUSE WITHOUT a licence for homophobes to express their discriminatory and bigoted views in a public forum.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because I worry about the impact a very negative public debate will have on the mental and physical well being of vulnerable members of the LGBTQI community.”


“I think that the plebiscite is divisive and dangerous. I believe it is probable the plebiscite will result in violence against GLBT people and their children. This is unacceptable, even though I believe the plebiscite will likely win a YES for marriage equality.”


“It opens the door to hate-speak which will make me and my relationship seem unnatural and illegitimate. There is no reason why marriage equality shouldn’t be lawful – we don’t expect religious institutions to have to perform ceremonies. No one is pressuring them to do so. I just want to have the same right to marry a woman as I have to marry a man. Love is love.”


“Block, even though I am 66 and another 3 yrs wait or longer is unacceptable. I will marry in May next year, here if possible, if not in the US. The date is set. Public votes are very divisive, and there will be so much harm done, even if we win, that I simply cannot support it. It also sets a very dangerous precedent, subjecting people’s rights to a vote.”


In fact, many comments appear to have come from older LGBTIQ people expressing their concern about the impact of the inevitable homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia that will arise during the campaign on younger members of the community. If people believe that the idea of community is dead, these comments comprehensively disprove it – the ethic of care on display here is beautiful, and reassuring:


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it is unnecessary, wasteful and divisive. The homophobic and transphobic debate that precedes it will cause real harm to young and vulnerable LGBTI people. Parliament should do its job to protect them from, rather than expose them to, abuse.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will be extremely hurtful to all LGBTI people to have to listen to the spiteful and hateful comments by the ACL etc at a time when young LGBTI people need support not the world telling them they are less than worthless”  


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it gives the ‘no’ campaign too much validity “to be heard”, which is detrimental to young queer kids who are having enough trouble and mental health issues on their own. We already know how the majority of Australians feel about marriage equality, why waste this money just to prove what we already know???”


“We should block the plebiscite because the process will cause serious damage to young SSASGD. We already know that these young people are harming and killing themselves at unacceptable numbers due to the impact of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. Any decent government that is concerned for the welfare of its citizens should rubbish this idea immediately.”


“If I were bombarded at 17yrs by the kind of rhetoric we are likely to see spouted in the lead up to the plebiscite, I likely would have killed myself. We are killing ourselves fast enough without extra help.”


“I believe the rights of a minirity [sic] group is not something that should be voted on by the majority. The rainbow community and the 100s of kids who are not yet “out” are already such a vulnerable group (particularly at the moment after Orlando) and a plebiscite is opening us up to potential harm.”


“I’m really concerned about the effect of the plebiscite on young people. Already we’ve seen the LGBTI community be dragged through the mud by conservative politicians, this creates a really unsafe atmosphere in schools. I run an anti-bullying organisation [Identifying information redacted] and we hear everyday the way that these conversations are negatively impacting young LGBTI people who quite simply don’t feel safe being themselves.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because of the welfare of our youth comming [sic] to terms with their sexuality. I feel the negetive [sic] impact from the opinions of the far right will increase the suicide rate. I also think it will be tough on the children of GLBTI parents and promote bullying within schools. It is also a waste of money which could be put into health, education and human rights.”


Some longer explanations for why respondents chose Block neatly capture many of the main arguments presented above:


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will encourage hate speech, it may lead to violence against homosexual couples and their children, it may cause even more same-sex attracted teens to contemplate suicide, it will be a waste of money, and even if the vote is overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality, politicians still have the option to vote against it so it’s not legally binding and doesn’t actually mean anything anyway.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it would be divisive hateful & hurtful to the LGBTIQ community. The right wing would vote against marriage equality even if the majority wants it. It would be a total waste of $160 million dollars & is only a delaying divisive tactic on the part of the LNP! NO Plebiscite!! Give me Equal Rights!!! Asking you to give me EQUAL RIGHTS implies they are yours to give. Instead, I must demand you give me the rights all people deserve!”


“The plebiscite is a blatant delaying tactic by the hard right conservatives who will never accept homosexuality as a normal part of human experience, through fear and self-doubt. Allowing or even considering a plebiscite (or even a binding referendum) gives legitimacy to their view that non-heterosexuality is deviant, dangerous and unhealthy. Additionally, a plebiscite (or even a binding referendum) is totally unnecessary, a total waste of public money, and will produce dreadful public vindictive upon us from these people, which will further fuel insecurity – both external (abuse or bashings) and internal (lack of confidence or self-hatred).”


“I believe that holding a plebiscite is likely to increase the rifts within Australia. We have seen the increase in extremist right movements and attitudes against diverse communities such as LGBTIQ and CALD in recent years, and I fear that holding a plebiscite will give further platforms for these voices. I see these voices coming from a minority but worry about the impact on people who fall within the LGBTIQ rainbow, whom as a population are already more vulnerable than those who are not LGBTIQ. I also see the plebiscite as unnecessary and ineffective. Unnecessary because large surveys have shown that the majority of Australians support marriage equality. Ineffective, because it is non-binding on the parliament to follow the outcome.”


“A plebiscite will bring homophobia out into the open even more so than already is. Public debate on this topic is not only unnecessary but downright insulting as it’s nobodies business who people choose to marry. However, public debate will very negatively impact on the mental health of lgbtqia+ young people. block the plebiscite, get politicians to do their jobs and pass marraige [sic] equality rather than wasting money on a vote that many of them have said they’ll ignore anyway.”


“Marriage equality is inevitable, thanks to the hard work, fighting and campaigning of our community! So while I’m not in a rush to get married, I know when I want to it will be a reality. I fear for the younger people only starting to realize their sexual identity that already encounter horrible prejudice and subliminal hate in Australian culture. I view the plebiscite as a government sponsored hate campaign, a delay tool and a political chess piece. To the government these young kids are merely the pawns, a small minority easily sacrificed for their own agenda. I feel for the people that may not have the time to wait to marry but I worry more about the kids who may end up having thier [sic] time cut short”


“I think we should block a plebiscite because it is unnecessary, expensive, divisive, non-binding and potentially dangerous. While I hold serious concerns about Marriage Equality being taken off the table should the potential plebiscite be blocked, ultimately the responsibility of amending the Marriage Act will rest with elected politicians regardless of the outcome. I am also concerned about a potential backlash should we force the Australian public to pay for and participate in this glorified opinion poll. If we read the existing polls, it’s clear that we have majority support already. I believe that all Australians should be treated equally under the law – and so should our politicians. A plebiscite is transparently a stalling tactic introduced by opponents. We are yet to know how the question would be phrased and although I am confident that we have majority public support, should it for some reason be voted down, it’s clear that it would be off the table for discussion for longer than 3 years. I believe that marriage should be a civil right extended to all consenting adults, but an equally important right is that our LGBTI children be spared any unnecessary hate campaign.”


As you may have noticed, there is one argument that has only appeared very sparingly in the comments above (featuring in the very last one) – and that is the fear that the ‘Yes’ case might actually lose the plebiscite. That’s because, of the 725 reasons given (see the attachment below for complete responses), only 17 either explicitly or directly cited the potential for a majority of Australians to vote against marriage equality.


Therefore, while opponents might like to believe the LGBTIQ community is interested in blocking the plebiscite for this reason, it is clear that the primary motivating factor is a legitimate concern about the homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic campaign that they will unleash on us. The ‘fear of losing’ barely rates a mention.


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block – Reasons


The ‘other comments’ calling for the plebiscite to be blocked also emphasised the same themes – that it should be opposed both on principle, and because of the harm it would cause, especially towards young people:


“I think it is naive to think Australian can have a reasonable public debate on this issue, as evidenced by the safe schools attack. The issue should be resolved like all other sensitive issues, through a vote of parliament.”


“Opponents are sitting on the wrong side of history, and will be remembered for their reluctance to allow a section of Australians full equality under the law. The Howard Liberal Government didn’t need a plebiscite to amend the Marriage Act in 2004, and we don’t need one now.”


“There is no longer even a thin veil of legitimacy to the plebiscite. Public commentary from Turnbull’s peers makes clear that this is a tactic to remove pressure on the LNP to legislate for marriage equality – delaying it. What the LNP appear not to understand is that when we speak of marriage equality as ‘inevitable’ what we mean is that nothing will convince us to stop fighting for it – this has already been a war of attrition for some 12 years. Our political movement will outlive theirs.”


The fear of vilification is widespread:


“I think the fact that the ACL can’t make their case without hate speech is rather telling.”


“If the plebiscite was to go ahead I am afraid as to how much vitriol will be targeted toward LGBTI people and the effect this will have on young people. Nevertheless if a plebiscite does go ahead we must fight for a positive outcome for LGBTI people.”


‘Think of the LGBT+ youth that would be affected through dialogue surrounding this issue. Questioning/struggling youth need to hear words of support, not words of hate.”


“It’s like Brexit. It’s a waste of money, and there will also be a lot of economic cost. The transphobes and queerphobes will attack minorities, and vulnerable people like I was when I was living with family, or vulnerable people who have to engage with conservatives will be unsafe.”


This longer answer sums up what a lot of people are apparently feeling:


“Even though I think we would probably win the plebiscite I against it for three reasons. One I don’t trust the conservatives whose idea the plebiscite was in the first place, it is fundamentally now a stalling exercise and some in the government will never “play fair” when it comes to marriage equality. Two, despite what Turnbull says, having the majority vote for the rights of a minority is not “democratic” and sends a bad message to Australia about what human rights are, who should give them out and who should withhold them. Three, a plebiscite will be divisive and empower people who despise the LGBTI to denigrate us. This will especially dangerous for young and vulnerable LGBTI people and is too big a price to pay for marriage equality. I would rather see equality stalled for three more years.”


And two simple pleas to conclude:


“Everyone should be allowed to marry the person they love. And their marriage is no one’s business but theirs.”


“We don’t want it, we don’t need it, we just want to be treated equally under the law.”


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block – Other Comments




Block it, if possible – LGBTIQ parents


In recent months, and especially post the Federal election on July 2, the Australian Christian Lobby and others have stepped up their campaign against marriage equality, with a much greater focus on rainbow families – specifically, by campaigning against LGBTIQ parents, including referring to children being born to these loving families as somehow comparable to the ‘Stolen Generations’.


It is therefore entirely to be expected that some of the most compelling reasons to block the plebiscite have come from LGBTIQ parents. In doing so, many have also highlighted fears for their children, and the harm that they may endure (over and above the potential for harm to the parents themselves).


And, in case Lyle Shelton, the Australian Christian Lobby or others opposed to rainbow families might read this, they should take note: this – expressing care for your children – is what ‘family values’ looks like in practice:


“We should block the plebiscite because the harm done in debating the validity of our relationships, our families and our existence is greater than the harm done by waiting for a free vote.”


“I don’t think we need it we should just legalise now our children deserve for their parents marriage to b [sic] recognised”


“I worry about the plebiscite will unleash a barrage of harmful hate-speech – purely for political reasons. I don’t want to subject myself or our rainbow families to this kind of antagonism. Once there is misinformation and slander against the LGBTQ community, it is impossible to “unsay” these words, even if we win the plebiscite…”


“The harm that it will cause my children and family is not worth the potential to be married. The concept of the majority voting on a minority’s rights is appalling and it is highly offensive, even if it passed with 100% approval, it creates the wrong message.”


“A plebiscite will create so much hate propaganda towards our community, and towards our kids. We don’t need a plebiscite – society wants the change…”


“I think we should block the plebiscite as it means ugly hateful speach [sic] against my family, For something that should be dealt with by parliament, and not a majority voting on a minority’s rights.”


“I think we should wait because I am worried about the negative arguments and how they will effect my kids”


“I think Howard changed the legislation so easily and without a plebiscite so why do we need a plebiscite to change the law again? I think a campaign for a plebiscite puts LGBTIQA lives under the spotlight as no others are and I don’t think that’s acceptable. I also worry about the impact of a plebiscite on our children”


“I don’t want my family to be affected by the discussions that are going to occur while people NOT involved in my family make decisions ABOUT my family! I would rather wait until someone worthy is willing to just make the decision to give us the equality that we DESERVE!”


“Because I don’t think, even if we have the plebiscite, that the current government would follow through on the publics wishes if it was to allow marriage equality. I also believe [the] plebiscite will cause a lot of unnecessary distress to myself and my partner and our son”


As is often the case, the more personal the story, the more persuasive the argument:


“I do not want to give a platform to people who will turn this into a debate about whether society wants the children of gay and lesbian people. For some weird reason this is exactly what happens every time they start to have their say. My children are 11 and 8 and it is hard enough as it is being the ‘gay mums’ kids in their suburban school. It would be good if the legislation was passed, but I do not want the debate as it will injury [sic] my kids’s sense of being wanted in society”


“I want marriage equality. But the plebiscite will almost certainly increase bullying, violence and mental health (inc suicides) in our community. I have a 7 year old at school and no one will tell me how they plan to protect her from the plebiscite. But more than that, there are countless young people whose lives could be destroyed by the plebiscite, especially in rural, isolated or highly religious communities. And we already know that even a positive plebiscite result might not lead to marriage equality anyway.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will not definitely give the desired outcome even if the result is that a majority support changing the law to allow us to marry. Also I do not want my 5 year old son to be exposed to the negativity and hate that the opposing side will broadcast in the lead up to a plebiscite…”


“Block it because it is unnecessary, expensive and not binding. But mostly because I have three kids and they will be the focus of the ‘no’ campaign. I am extremely fearful of the effect it could have on their mental health and general well-being.”


“It’s enough that my wife and I aren’t legally recognized by the Australian government, we constantly face discrimination daily, but to give the horrible people who are hell bent against my family a platform to spread their hate is ludicrous. Why should I have to explain to my 3yr old that his family is as valid as any other?”


“I think the plebiscite is an expensive, invasive process. I don’t like the idea of my human rights being put to a public vote, and I fear the negative impact a public opinion poll on same sex relationships could have my 4 year old daughter and other children like her raised in rainbow families”


“I think we should block the plebiscite if possible. My teenage daughters will both be affected by anti-gay comments surrounding a plebiscite and it isn’t fair to put them through that.”


These concerns – about the potential for harm to the children of LGBTIQ parents – are widespread: “I don’t want my children to suffer”, “I think it will be harmful for our children who will see our family being openly discriminated against”, “It is absolutely clear the plebiscite will unleash a torrent of abuse against our community in general, but even more importantly, at our children” and “I am concerned that an anti plebiscite, i.e. anti same sex marriage, campaign would harm my children.”


The following answers pointed out exactly how the plebiscite will impact on their children – through public debates focusing on whether their families are ‘real’ or ‘normal’, or otherwise:


“I do not want my children to be a target of a campaign, any form of a campaign. can anyone involved here imagine if their children to be subjected to debates about whether their families are real or not? can we all take a moment and think about this? we all know that the NO side will target children as an argument. please do not subject our children to torture, do not harm our families.”


“I don’t want my kids exposed to the hate campaign that will be ramped up by the Christan [sic] Lobby – saying my family is disgusting and we are wrong……”


“We have 2 young children & I do not want them exposed to the hate propaganda of us not being defined as a real family in the lead up to a plebiscite vote.”


“I think we should block it because of the negative effects it will have on my children’s perception of their selves and their family. We are a happy family and they feel normal compared to their peers. A plebiscite campaign can only adversely affect them by making them question their own worth and whether or not their family is welcome in society. Also it is unnecessary. This is simply a tool by those who oppose equal marriage to block reform, or at least do as much damage as possible to our community in the process. I’d prefer to wait another 3 years. We’ve waited this long anyhow.”


This parent is considering taking drastic action in an effort to protect their children:


“I think we should block the plebiscite because the discussion about it and the views that have been already expressed by those opposing marriage equality are very harmful and hateful towards our same-sex family. I greatly fear for the safety and wellbeing of my children and what they might be subjected to or exposed to during such unnecessary plebiscite debate!!!! I’d even consider taking my family and young children out of the country while the debate is taking place to keep them away from hatred, ignorance and abuse which the plebiscite may lead to.”


This final comment perhaps best summarise the ‘reasons’ why many LGBTIQ parents are so strongly opposed to the plebiscite:


“I would rather wait for real equality than expose my 3 young kids to a hate campaign about their families. The hate campaign by the ACL etc already is having a negative impact on my 9, 8 and 6yo kids. I do not want a full on, federally funded hate campaign that we all know is going to be aimed at children. It is wrong. It is not a price I am willing to pay to get marriage equality”


Of course, there are many other ‘reasons’ provided by LGBTIQ parents to block the plebiscite that I do not have space to include here. Please download the attachment below and read them for yourself [and I dare any member of the Liberal-National Government to do so and still argue that the plebiscite is the best way forward on this subject]:


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block LGBTIQ Parents – Reasons


The same themes, including general harm to the community and specific harm to rainbow families and above all their children, also dominate the ‘other comments’ of this cohort:


“It will be extremely damaging to a significant section of the community as misinformation and hate speech fire up radicalised fundamentalist bigots. The psychological damage alone to GLBTIQ youth will be phenomenally large and also be a drain on public health services funding.”


“For us marriage equality is not only about marraige [sic] it is about equality. This is our life. This bill is about us and we should not be politicised for political gain. You have a choice just as every other leader before you. You could make a difference for the better. The choice is yours how you want to be remembered.


“As a queer parent and community member I fear the potential repercussions of the plebiscite. Our community already suffers so much as a result of everyday prejudice and discrimination. A public debate on the legitimacy of our relationships will open a whole new level of bigotry and hatred and the media will lap it up. This is going to end lives, it’s that serious for us.”


“It is sad that in this dsay [sic] & age Australia is one of the last 1st world countries to enable same sex marriage. We don’t need a plebiscite that will be harmful to our child – we just need to be able to marry under the law. It is not a religious matter, it is a human rights matter.”


“Massive waste of money, he has NO IDEA how it will feel to have the right-wing conservatives telling us how terrible we & our family are. Feel like hiding until it’s all over.”


This respondent emphasises exactly how important their relationship is to them – but, despite this, they are unwilling to risk the harms of a plebiscite to see it recognised as equal under secular law:


“I think Turnball is gutless. I would dearly love to see him stand up to the right wing of his party and do what is just and fair. My partner had a cardiac arrest 3 years ago but extraordinarily luckily for us she was brought back from the dead virtually unscathed. We know now though how precious every minute is. We would dearly love to get married as soon as possible but I would rather wait another 3 years than witness the debate in the lead up to the plebiscite.”


Finally, and most simply: “Please spare my children the divisive debate about if we are good enough


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block LGBTIQ Parents – Other Comments




Block it, if possible – Trans respondents


It is perhaps unsurprising that trans respondents, who for most of 2016 have been the subject of some of the worst, and most hateful, comments about the Safe Schools program (with religious fundamentalists, and News Corp columnists alike, complaining about ‘gender fluidity’ and ‘radical gender ideology’), would have some of the most powerful answers to the question “I think we should block the plebiscite because…” These include:


“As a visible member of the transgender community I believe the plebiscite will be used by homo/bi/transpobic bigots to spread hate which will have a direct impact on my safety. I have experienced verbal and physical harassment in the recent past as a direct result of hate speech in the media and link it to an anti safe schools television debate the night before. Visible trans, gender non conforming and queer people will be most at risk if the ACL is given a fee [sic] for all platform. Its easy to say yes to the plebicite [sic] if your [sic] not at risk of experiencing violence.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it gives angry fringe members of a powerful majority a soapbox to use to hurt our most vulnerable members. Marriage equality is important, it’s our right and we know that having it improves the mental health of queer people, but we also know that young and questioning members of our community are more at risk than many people old enough and secure enough to be thinking about marriage. Young people trying to come to terms with their identities, struggling to accept themselves and cope with school and life, do not need powerful wealthy leaders in society telling them that they are wrong and do not deserve human rights or basic human decency. These are people who have been proven time and time again to be at high risk of mental illness and suicide, and we have to stand up for them and protect them. As sad as it is, it is worth forgoing our right to equal marriage, if it protects the young and vulnerable members of our society. It is worth holding off until we can all be validated equally. And so it is not worth giving these bigots an opportunity to attack us.”


“Firstly, I believe it is absolutely offensive that the entire country should have to vote on whether or not I should have the same rights as my heterosexual friends and neighbours. Secondly, we are already seeing the damaging consequences of creating a platform, via the plebiscite, for homophobic hate speech. Violently homophobic flyers are already being dropped in letterboxes all over the country, and this is only the beginning. I fear for the safety of myself, my partner, and my friends. I fear for the safety of LGBT youth. And for what? A plebiscite will not even bind the government to action. Turnbull promised us equality, and he has utterly failed to deliver on that promise.”


“We’ve already seen misleading, hostile, and homo/transphobic attacks from the Australian christian Lobby and other extreme groups in relation to issues like Safe Schools and the Federal Election, including distribution of defamatory and misleading materials. If given a budget and platform to do this on an even bigger scale, the impact on LGBTI wellbeing will be enourmous [sic].”


“I don’t want to have slander spread about us like what is happening in the US with the bathroom bills- implying that all trans people are sexual predators. I don’t want to have to walk past billboards saying marriage equality will be the death of families and will lead to bestiality- Christian political parties are already letterbox dropping flyers full of hateful mis-information and it will only get worse.”


Their reasons also feature explicit fears about acts of violence against LGBTIQ people, as well as the potential for an increase in self-harm:


“Block the plebiscite because the mental well-being of the GLBTIQ Community (especially the youth) will suffer greatly and it will cause hate and violence towards the GLBTIQ community.”


“The plebiscite is an unnecessarily expensive venture that will open up the flood gates for hate speak and acts towards the LGBTQIA community. It’s dangerous, end of story.”


“This plebiscite, and its accompanying advertising, will give bigots open season on people like me. This plebiscite will cause deaths.”


“I think the damage done to people over the “no” campaign will be too severe. People will kill themselves over this stuff … I would rather wait, until there is a parliamentary vote instead”


“I think we should block it because it will be a license for hate speech and will lead to a massive spike in queer suicides, particularly amongst young people”


This respondent was also concerned that, as well as negative comments for the duration of the campaign, it will have a longer-lasting impact in terms of greater organisation amongst anti-LGBTIQ organisations and individuals:


“We should block it, because the mobilisation and organisation of far-right-wingers that will result from their campaign of hatred will not end with the plebiscite. The cruellest people of our society will unite on this issue, and then forever have their own union of psychopaths that they will use to attack us all day, every day, forever.”


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Trans – Reasons


These same themes – that the plebiscite will cause harm, and will directly impact on some of the most vulnerable sections of the LGBTIQ community – are repeated in the ‘other comments’ of trans survey respondents:


“I honestly fear for my one life and mental health during this time of political football over LGBTI people and human rights. I am scarred [sic] of what it will do to the vulnerable youth, the elderly, the rainbow families and the culture of Australia. I deeply fear for my own safety and sanity and that of my husband, during any proposed plebiscite” and


“It is a garbage waste of time, it is harmful at best and murderous at worst, and if it passes the blood of every queer person driven to suicide by the rhetoric of the queerphobic right will be on the hands of a man whose electorate is one of the queerest communities in Australia. Shame on you for having no spine Malcolm Turnbull.”


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Trans – Other Comments




Block it, if possible – Non-LGBTIQ respondents


As was seen in Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1, there was majority support to Block the plebiscite across all major demographic groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and trans respondents, as well as LGBTIQ parents.


The proportion of people selecting Block was also very remarkably consistent – with only one group showing significantly lower (although still high) opposition: people who were not LGBTIQ. This cohort ‘only’ reported 62.7% support for Block compared to 71.2% within the LGBTIQ community.


The following answers are included to illustrate whether the reasons provided by this group were also different. This includes general answers such as:


“I believe we should block it because nobody should have a say on whether or not two people can get married. I don’t agree that I should have to vote on another persons right to marry at all.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because we already have more than enough polling evidence of the majority support by the Australian public for marriage equality. There is absolutely no reason to hold another poll on this that will cost an enormous amount to the Australian public and will only serve to give voice to the hatred and bigotry of the minority. We will only look back on the period where we discriminated against our gay community with the same shame that we do for once not treating people of colour or women as equals. The time has come for Australia to join the rest of the progressive, secular world and end discrimination against our gay community. We don’t need a plebiscite. We need leadership from our government to do what is right.”


“I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to have a plebiscite on this matter – we elect politicans [sic] to vote on issues that are relevant to our community, they should do that job without wasting time and money on a plebiscite. There have been no plebiscites about other ‘difficult’ community issues, like abortion, and I see no reason why there should be one on this matter. It should be treated like any other. Further, it is merely a political stunt pulled by conservative politicians to try to delay or end the movement towards marriage equality. In addition, there is not even any certainty that if the plebiscite went in favour of marriage equality the conservative politicians would vote for it in Parliament. Finally, it will be divisive and encourage anti-LBGTIQ abuse during the lead-up to the vote. It is an all-round appalling idea.”


Some family members or friends of LGBTIQ people expressed their concerns about the possible harms caused to the people around them:


“While waiting another three years will inevitably cause direct harm to LGBTIQ people, I believe that the outpouring of violence and hate that will be stirred up in the wake of the plebiscite will cause longer term damage to more people. Block it because of the vitriol, hate and lies that will ensue, and the harmful impact it will have on LGBTIQ people. And personally, I just don’t see the fairness of people voting on my daughter’s right to marry her partner.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because It gives people a campaign to spew hate. The liberal government cannot control what their own party have previously said Let alone control the terrible things my children and friend will have to endure and witness if it goes ahead”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will open the door for groups such as the ACL to spread their uneducated hate speech and will add to the negitivity [sic] within society to the LGBTIQ COMMUNITY and as a parent of a trans child I will not take this risk with the safety of my child or other trans and queer youth”


A number of comments focused on the issue of harm more generally:


“I think it should be blocked because it will unleash a wave of vilification and hatred that will be masked by the term ‘debate’. Politicians are elected to make decisions. So get on and make the decision to have a conscience vote in parliament and be done with it.”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it is unnecessary and will give media space to bigots homophobes causing pain and suffering to people who have been through enough. Marriage equality is a no brainer, Australia will not be able to hold out forever. We can only hope that they catch up sooner rather than later to save themselves the international embarrassment of being the last to the table.”


“A plebiscite will open the doors for a horrible storm of public homophobia, and in the destructive and divisive political environment in which we currently find ourselves, that risks very severe harm to queer people…”


“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will cause more harm and pain to the LGBTIQ community. It will give those with hateful views a platform to express them publicly, and I think this has the potential to cause so much harm – particularly for young people and children with LGBTIQ parents. I am a teacher and I see the battle being fought every day. We are starting to make progress, let’s not go backwards.”


“…The hate speech that it will encourage in the lead up to the plebiscite will be extremely taxing on all LBGTIA people but I especially worry about the most vulnerable in that community- in particular young people who are struggling with their identity, social acceptance, and any mental health issues.”


In contrast to the responses from other groups (including members of the LGBTIQ community generally, and LGBTIQ parents and trans respondents specifically), however, I would suggest that the focus on harm was slightly less dominant amongst non-LGBTIQ respondents.


However, one argument that was expressed more consistently, and passionately, by people outside the LGBTIQ community was that the plebiscite will be incredibly wasteful:


“We should block because it is a waste of taxpayers money. The estimated $160million would be better spent on funding mental health care. After all it is the mental health of some lgbt folk which will be damaged by a hateful campaign staged by those who oppose. The marriage act was changed in Parliament without consultation, and now the government should have more than enough evidence for the support of marriage equality without the need of a plebiscite.”


“I think the plebiscite is a total waste of money. At this stage we are not aware of how it is to be framed, however millions of dollars will go into promoting it (which the Govt could spend on pressing matters) and apparently it still will not be binding on MPs. And in the process there will be space for public vitriol against LGBTI citizens.”


“We do not need to spend $160 million dollars on a non binding divisive opinion poll” and “Such an unnecessary expense, especially considering the Coalition have stated they won’t necessarily pay attention to the result”


The following three answers perhaps best summarise the views of non-LGBTIQ people who oppose the plebiscite:


“I think we should block it because it’s both a waste of money and a threat to the LGBTQIA community. What’s the point of having a plebiscite if several MPs have come out and actively said they will choose to ignore the outcome (even though their duty is to do what is right by their constituents)? Not to mention the (already occurring) mental, and potentially physical, harm a slur campaign will have on the lives of those this issue affects.”


“I believe a plebiscite should be blocked for two reasons. Firstly, if it goes ahead, we open the door to legitimise homophobic views in the public domain through various panel discussions, editorials and opinions pieces, social media posts and even advertising to garner support for one side or the other. The negative aspects of these public conversations will be so damaging to the health and well being of homosexual people and their family and friends. Secondly, the money used to fund a plebiscite could be spent on so many pressing social needs instead, including; mental health services and support, the environment, reduction of national debt, development of infrastructure, jobs and growth, or any of a myriad of things we could do to improve the country as a whole.”


“I think it should be blocked: a) as it a massive waste of money when we already know that the majority of Australians support marriage equality. b) It is likely that some angry, homophobic voices will be allowed to be heard that may cause unnecessary damage to vulnerable families, particularly kids of LGBTIQ parents. c) Even if majority of Australians choose to support marriage equality, the government can still legally choose not to be influenced by the outcome of the plebiscite!”


As can be seen from the above, even where non-LGBTIQ respondents did not express a direct connection to the LGBTIQ community, they nevertheless understood that:


  • the plebiscite is likely to cause harm to LGBTIQ Australians, and
  • given it costs $160 million, it will be an incredible waste of money.


There is absolutely no reason why our 226 Federal parliamentarians, LGBTIQ and non-LGBTIQ alike, cannot reach the same conclusions, and spare the LGBTIQ community, and the Commonwealth Budget, the inevitable ‘costs’ of a plebiscite.


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Non-LGBTIQ – Reasons


These same concerns – harm and waste – were also prominent in the ‘other comments’ of non-LGBTIQ people who want to see the plebiscite blocked, even if it carries the risk of marriage equality being delayed by 3 years or more:


“Please don’t do this. Think of the children and young vulnerable people in the LGBTIQ community. They are already at risk they do not have to live a yes and no campaign. It is damaging”


“Waste of money, clearly a deliberately divisive move.   Why should people unaffected by this push for equality have a say? Nothing changes for them, denying anyone respect and equality as an Australian citizen is unfathomable.   Enough hurt, descrimination [sic] and unnecessary anguish has been caused. I don’t want to see bigots allowed a voice to preach hate against my fellow Australians.”


“Marriage equality should not just be a phrase, it should be a reality. Don’t make me ashamed of my government by asking me to decide something that is none of my business. I was not asked to decide if murder was a crime. I was not asked to decide if heterosexuals could marry. Some things are just self evident.”


“We should campaign against the plebiscite and for an actual political vote and then campaign for a conscious vote for everyone, and then campaign heavily to help our politicians see that allowing same sex marriage is not going to negatively impact on any one but has the potential to improve the lives of many (not just the adults getting married but also their already existing children). We should ensure that it is made obvious that gay marriage is unlikely to increase the numbers of kids born to same sex attracted parents, it just means those kids will be better protected.”


“Malcolm’s plebiscite is an insult to LGBTIQ people. Joe Blow in the street should not have the right to say whether a couple he doesnt [sic] know should marry or not, its none of his business and doesn’t effect him. What a waste of time and money. Who’s life is it anyway Malcolm?”


Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Non-LGBTIQ – Other Comments






I had initially planned for this post to be a much shorter summary of the reasons and other comments submitted through the plebiscite survey. However, as you have seen above, there were so many powerful contributions to the debate that it was very difficult to leave quotes out (although all still feature in the attachments).


What has been made clear through this process is that, as well as being strongly opposed to the plebiscite (with 69% in favour of blocking it), the reasons given for this preference are also incredibly strong.


Unfortunately, they are going to need to be. Entirely coincidentally, this post is being published on the same day that Prime Minister Turnbull has ‘announced’ (or leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, which is essentially the same thing), that he intends to hold the marriage equality plebiscite in February 2017.


Of course, just because he has said that he will hold it, doesn’t automatically mean it will proceed. He still needs to negotiate with the Senate – and secure the support of at least one of the ALP, Greens or Nick Xenophon Team.


On the other hand, we will need to convince all three groups to block it. Given the consequences of this decision – the likely delay to marriage equality for another three years – that is obviously a big call to make.


But, as you will have observed in the comments highlighted above, and in the attachments provided, we have the most passionate, and most persuasive, arguments on our side. Now we just need to make sure that those three groups hear them, loud and clear, before the enabling legislation is voted upon.




If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat (3pm-midnight everyday) or
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14,

Why I’ll be watching tonight’s AFL Pride Game

I was an unlikely AFL fan – growing up on a cattle property in Central Queensland in the 1980s, following rugby league would have been the more logical choice. Despite this, during primary school I became increasingly interested in the ‘Southern’ football code and, when my (dearly-departed) Brisbane Bears entered the league in 1987, I was officially a fan.


That interest grew during the 90s, including playing a few games (very badly) while at uni. My fandom reached a peak during the glory days of the ‘merged’ Brisbane Lions (2001-2004) and the years I lived in Melbourne (2003-2008).


It is fair to say my active interest was waned a bit since then – probably the result of a combination of the abysmal performance of my team (only making one final series out of the past 12) and the fact I have moved back ‘North’ (first to Canberra, and then to Sydney).


Nevertheless, this Saturday night I will be sitting down to watch an AFL game between two teams that are not my own – the Sydney Swans and St Kilda Saints. The reason? Because tonight’s first ever AFL Pride Game is a historic occasion, and means a lot to me, not just as a footy fan, but also as a gay Australian.


The Pride Game demonstrates that the most-attended sporting code in the country understands (at least some of) the challenges that are presented by homophobia – both across society generally, but also the specific challenges facing Australian rules football.


The most obvious of these is the fact that, for a competition that started as the Victorian Football League way back in 1896 (before Australia even formally existed), there has still never been an out player at elite level[i].


As part of the build-up to the Pride Game, the League has publicly re-iterated its support for current players who may decide to come out, and its commitment – to build a supportive environment to allow them to do so – does seem sincere[ii].


Perhaps even more encouraging has been the fact that the AFL appears to understand that this is about more than simply accepting one or more gay players, it is actually about changing the culture of the sport, including the institutions that surround the game and the media that commentates on it.


In this respect, Australian rules does seem to have its fair share of, how should we put it, stupid people saying stupid things. From Jason Akermanis – who famously called for gay players to stay in the closet so that others could safely enjoy the ‘homoeroticism around football clubs’, including ‘slapping blokes on the bum and just having a bit of fun’[iii] – to commentator Brian Taylor – who described a player as a ‘poofter’ live on TV just two years ago[iv] – and controversy-generator Sam Newman – who, as well as describing Michael Sam kissing his partner as an “annoyingly gratuitous act”[v], has previously said that Melbourne did not need “mincing, lisping, parading people wandering all over the country” and warned of “having the whole state [of Victoria] infested with people we don’t actually want”[vi] – there are plenty of candidates for (re-)education about the real harms caused by homophobia.


The need to change the sport’s culture also includes ensuring that fans are not subjected to a homophobic environment. A widely-reported[vii] incident from earlier this year, where homophobic slurs at a North Melbourne-Fremantle fixture were apparently met with smiles from security guards, demonstrates that this is still a serious problem in 2016[viii].


On the positive side, however, the League responded relatively swiftly by updating its ticketing conditions to state that “no person… shall acts towards or speak to any other person in a manner, or engage in any other conduct which threatens, disparages, vilifies or insults another person (the person vilified) on any basis, including but not limited to a person’s race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, special ability/disability or sexual orientation, preference or identity.”[ix]


The comments by St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis, in the lead-up to tonight’s game, demonstrates that (at least some) senior figures within the League genuinely understand the need for inclusivity:


“People shouldn’t feel ashamed to hold their partner’s hand at the footy. People shouldn’t feel uncomfortable because they might hear a homophobic slur… It’s really important to say everyone’s welcome at a Saints game… The footy hasn’t been the most welcoming place for everyone so we think we can do our bit.”[x]


Hopefully, both at tonight’s historic Pride Game and in all the games that follow, Australian rules football does become a genuinely more inclusive place, for players and fans.


Of course, the challenges faced by the AFL, and the steps that it is taking to address them, is not happening in isolation. In recent years, there has been growing focus on the issue of homophobia in sports more broadly.


This includes the ground-breaking Out on the Fields[xi] study, which found that:


  • 80% of participants have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport
  • 75% believe an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event, and
  • 50% of gay men and 48% of lesbians have been personally targeted.


Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that 70% of young respondents (under 22) still believe youth team sport is not safe for gay people. Full results here (source: Out on the Fields):




A number of major Australian sporting codes (including the AFL, NRL, ARU, FFA, Cricket Australia, Swimming Australia, Waterpolo Australia, Basketball Australia and Golf Australia) have also taken steps to tackle homophobia through the Pride in Sports Index[xii] and related initiatives.


These are all important measures in changing sporting culture. But it is perhaps tonight’s AFL Pride Game that has most publicly caught the collective imagination. And that isn’t particularly surprising, given how closely ingrained ‘footy’ is in the fabric of Australian life (for many people anyway).


Which is also the opportunity of tonight’s game – to help overcome homophobia in all parts of society, not just in those traditionally considered to be more ‘gay-friendly’. The Pride Game will reach some people who would never even consider attending, or watching the highlights of, the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (which ends near the SCG, home of the Sydney Swans) or Melbourne’s Pride March (held in St Kilda). In addressing homophobia everywhere, we need more vehicles like this.


One of my favourite stories of the past week reveals just how much cultural influence Australian rules football can exert, and also how much potential for change the Pride Game has. It involved former player Nicky Winmar, who famously stood up against the racism he was experiencing from AFL fans by visibly showing he was a proud Indigenous man, now showing similar pride in his gay son Tynan:


“I’m proud I can do this for him, and his friends and others out there – if you’re gay, be proud of who you are,” [Nicky] Winmar said. “I was proud to stand up for indigenous people in sport and now it’s time to stand up for these guys. Life is too short.”[xiii]


Stories like this are what culture changes looks like.


And if we were in any doubt about that, the backlash from some has merely confirmed it. This has ranged from 3AW’s Tom Elliot’s ill-informed contribution in the media (“Not a single professional AFL footballer has come out and admitted he is gay, speaks volumes. Footy is simply that, footy, why make it bigger than what it is? I don’t want to be lectured, I don’t want a political message”[xiv]) to religious fundamentalists distributing homophobic flyers criticising the AFL’s decision to hold the game[xv]. Both responses indicate that this game matters, and that its message of inclusivity matters.


For all of these reasons, and despite the fact my beloved Brisbane Bears/Lions aren’t playing (which is possibly a small mercy, given the way they’re playing they’d likely lose badly against both), I will definitely be watching tonight’s first ever AFL Pride Game. The code, and the two teams involved, are showing leadership and that leadership should be rewarded.


Oh, and there is one final aspect of tonight’s game that I applaud – the inspired choice to hold it on the anniversary of Howard’s homophobic ban on marriage equality. It shows that even our largest sports reject the discrimination imposed through that abhorrent Act – and that they stand with the majority of the community in believing all Australians should have the same rights, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. It’s time for our politicians to catch up.




[NB I acknowledge that this post primarily focuses on male team sports, rather than female team sports, which have a history of more out players, in Australia and globally, and is arguably more inclusive of differences in sexual orientation. I have done so because, at least for time being, the AFL is a male competition (although like many others I look forward to next year’s inaugural AFL national women’s league[xvi]) and also because, given the disproportionate media attention given to male team sports in Australia, they consequently have a disproportionate capacity to affect cultural change.

I also note that this post largely addresses issues of sexual orientation, rather than those of gender identity or intersex status (which share some elements – in terms of abusive comments and behaviour – but which have additional challenges, such as being excluded from participation on the basis of that identity/status). Both the Out on the Fields study, and to a lesser extent the Pride in Sports Index, provide greater emphasis on the inclusion of lesbian, gay and bisexual athletes than transgender or intersex participants. This has also been reflected in the build up to and media coverage of the Pride Game itself, which has focused almost exclusively on gay men. Obviously, as on many subjects concerning LGBTI rights, there is a long distance yet to go in terms of addressing trans and intersex inclusion in sports.]



[i] Of course, the AFL is not alone in this absence – of the four major men’s football codes in Australia (Australian rules, rugby league, rugby union and soccer/football), there has only ever been one openly gay elite player, rugby league star Ian Roberts, who came out more than 20 years ago. The fact nobody has joined him since both underscores the barriers that continue to confront gay and bisexual players today, and highlights how courageous he truly was.

[ii] There is some debate about whether the amount of discussion of this issue, including multiple public comments by League officials that gay players would be welcomed, has in fact increased the pressure on players considering ‘coming out’. Possibly – but this is still a preferable approach to the alternative, which would be for the AFL to remain silent on the topic, leaving players in greater doubt about whether they would be accepted or not.

[iii] Full quote: “But some or my, the homoeroticism around football clubs… what workplace would you be able to see 20 men nude all the time if you wanted to? When you’re slapping blokes on the bum and just having a bit of fun, what would that [having an out player there] do to a man in there when you actually work out, “Oh wait a second, wait a second. I don’t know if I can handle that guy.” Aker defends call for players to stay in the closet, May 20, 2010, The Age.

[iv] AFL commentator Brian Taylor slammed for homophobic slur on Geelong’s Harry Taylor, July 14, 2014, ABC Online.

[v] NFL Draftee Michael Sam’s kiss ‘annoyingly gratuitous’: Sam Newman, May 15, 2014, The Age.

[vi] Newman anti-gay comments slammed, December 8, 2004, The Age.

[vii] AFL to change ticket policy after homophobic slurs, April 19, 2016, Star Observer.

[viii] On a personal level, while I witnessed a significant number of homophobic incidents at games in Melbourne, I haven’t observed the same behavior at the few games I have attended in Canberra and Sydney, and have comfortably held my partner’s hand and kissed him too, without incident.

[ix] Despite this positive step, the terminology used (preference) and the terms that have been excluded (gender identity and intersex status) show there is still some way to go.

[x] St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis thrilled about St Kilda and Sydney Pride Game, August 11, 2016, Brisbane Times.

[xi] Website:

[xii] Website:

[xiii] Nicky Winmar making a proud stand for his gay son Tynan, August 10, 2016, Herald Sun.

[xiv] Despite criticism, AFL Pride Game set to be life-changing, August 11, 2016,

[xv] St Kilda, Sydney targeted in protest against AFL’s first gay pride game, April 30, 2016, The Age.

[xvi] Eight teams named for inaugural women’s league, June 15, 2016, AFL website.

The More Things Change…


I met my fiancé, Steve, eight years ago tonight. It’s fair to say a lot has changed in the time since.


The Oxford St nightclub we met in no longer exists (thanks lock-out laws). The hotel we went back to – romantic, I know – is currently being converted into apartments (thanks housing bubble).


We’ve moved cities – for Steve twice, the first to Canberra to be with me (if that’s not love I don’t know what is), the second when we moved to Sydney together a few years later.


We’ve changed careers – again for Steve multiple times.


We’ve bought into the Great Australian Dream (or the Modern Australian Nightmare), taking out an insanely-large mortgage to buy an apartment. But we’ve made it our home.


Our families have changed too. We met one week after my brother’s wedding. They’ve since had two children. My sister and her husband have had another, while Steve’s sister and her partner have two more. From having no nieces or nephews between us, we’re now uncles to five. Although, less happily, Steve has also lost his grandfather.


Obviously, we’ve changed a lot as people too. We’re both older, and hopefully wiser (and truth-be-told probably a bit wider, and with a little less hair too).


Just like any relationship there’s been plenty of ups and downs in those eight years – thankfully there have been many, many more of the former.


But, despite all the things that have changed since the night that changed my life for the better, forever, in August 2008, there have been a few things that have stayed the same.


First, and above all else, is the love between us, apparent from the earliest days of our relationship, and still going strong 2,922 days later.


Second is the fact our relationship continues to be discriminated against under Australian law.


I asked Steve to marry me in January 2010, just under 18 months after we met (what can I say, I knew then he was a ‘keeper’), and was incredibly happy when he replied “Of course I will.”


And yet, more than six and a half years later, and unlike my brother and sister who have both had the opportunity to marry their respective partners, the law continues to say that our relationship is somehow ‘unworthy’.


Which brings me to the third thing that hasn’t changed over the course of the past eight years – that our elected representatives continue to let tens of thousands of couples, just like Steve and me, down.


We’ve had a revolving door of Prime Ministers during that time – Rudd, Gillard, Rudd again (briefly), Abbott and now Turnbull.


None have found the time to overturn John Howard’s homophobic ban on marriage equality, which has its own 12th anniversary this Saturday (13 August). Indeed, outside Rudd’s ‘lame-duck’ second stint as PM, none have even bothered to try.


Their collective failure means that tonight Steve and I will spend our 8th anniversary sitting down to answer the census – we really are the kings of romance – and marking down our relationship status as de facto, rather than married.


In fact, we’ll be doing exactly the same thing as we did on our 3rd anniversary – the 2011 census also fell on August 9 – having to formally document the 2nd class treatment of our relationship.


But it feels different, and much, much worse, this time around. Maybe it was the fact we had only been engaged for 18 months, or perhaps that we still had hope Parliament might quickly see that love is love and that’s all that maters.


Whatever it is, the prospect of giving exactly the same answer – that we are still not married – five years later is incredibly depressing, and profoundly disillusioning with my country and especially its politicians.


That’s five years of Australia making absolutely no progress on this issue.


Five years in which Denmark and Brazil and France and Uruguay and New Zealand and England and Wales and Scotland and Luxembourg and Ireland and the United States and Colombia have all managed to recognise that marriage should be open to all, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.


Five years, full of sound (the empty words of our elected representatives) and fury (ours), ultimately achieving nothing.


All we need is 76 members of the House of Representatives, and 39 Senators, to find it in their hearts to finally determine that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and our relationships, are equal.


All we need is for a leader to, you know, actually lead and just Get. It. Done. Already.


Get it done because we’re done with the delays, and we’re done with the excuses, and we’re done with a Parliament that can’t even pass a simple law, defining marriage as the union of any two people.


Get it done because we’re done with politicians who will stand among us at Mardi Gras but apart from us in Canberra. Who, when we need them to stand up against homophobia, remain firmly seated.


And so, on the morning of Steve and my 8th anniversary I make this personal plea to you, Malcolm Turnbull – when Parliament resumes in three weeks’ time, please make the time to debate and vote on marriage equality.


Not on enabling legislation to hold an unnecessary, wasteful and ultimately harmful plebiscite, one that seemingly no-one outside the Australian Christian Lobby, The Australian newspaper and the extreme right of your Party Room wants.


I mean a debate and vote on real-life, life-changing marriage equality.


If you do, it could be passed by October, and Australian LGBTI couples could be married before the year is out.


The choice is yours. Please make the right one.


Because, as you can probably tell by now, I’m done with spending yet another anniversary having to write down on yet another census that my and Steve’s relationship does not deserve the same recognition as the relationship between you and Lucy.


It does. And you have the power, and the responsibility, to just Get. It. Done.


Belvoir image

Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1


How do you solve a problem like Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite?


It was clear within days of the July 2 Federal election that Mr Turnbull’s Liberal-National Government had been re-elected – albeit more narrowly than had been anticipated (with final counting giving it 76 seats, to the Labor Opposition’s 69, and 5 others).


The outcome in the Senate was far less clear. Indeed, it was only after the final ‘button press’ in each state, over the course of the past week, that it was confirmed the ALP (26 seats), Greens (9) and Nick Xenophon Team (3) will together have enough votes to block Government legislation, including the Bill required to hold the plebiscite.


What remains completely unclear, almost 12 full months after they first adopted it as Coalition policy, and five weeks after an election in which it was a prominent part of their platform, is what, exactly, the plebiscite will look like. Key features – such as the wording of the question, the criteria for success and the extent of religious exceptions it will provide – remain in doubt.


In this context, it has been a challenge for many marriage equality activists, myself included, to determine what our approach should be to this issue. Should we be ‘principled’, and continue to reject a plebiscite because it is unnecessary, wasteful and will cause harm to the LGBTI community?


Should we instead be ‘pragmatic’, acknowledging that Turnbull’s re-election means a plebiscite is the most likely way to achieve marriage equality in the next three years? Or does the lack of information about the plebiscite mean it is in fact too early to decide, either way – in short, should we continue to wait and see?


In order to resolve this issue, I decided to survey the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer (LGBTIQ) community to determine what they believe we should do next. The remainder of this post will detail the methodology used for this survey, the demographics of respondents, the overall results, as well as results by category where a minimum of 50 people answered. I will then make some concluding observations.




An eight-question survey was designed on online platform Typeform. It asked for information about status, including whether someone was LGBTIQ or not. Members of the LGBTIQ community were then asked for relationship status, as well as whether they had children.


People outside the LGBTIQ community were asked whether they were family members or friends of LGBTIQ people, or allies of the LGBTIQ community and supporters of marriage equality.[i] All respondents were asked their age bracket.


The only compulsory question in the survey required people to identify their preferred approach to the plebiscite, with three options presented:


  • Block it, if possible – Because it is unnecessary, wasteful and will cause harm to the LGBTIQ community, even if there is a risk marriage equality will not be passed for another 3 years as a consequence.
  • Wait to see the details – Because the plebiscite may or may not be acceptable, depending on the question asked, the criteria for success and the extent of ‘religious exceptions’ that are included.
  • Accept it, and fight to win – Because, following the re-election of the Turnbull Government, holding the plebiscite may be the clearest path to achieving marriage equality, despite the potential for harm to the LGBTIQ community.


Respondents were then provided with two optional ‘free-text’ questions, the first to explain their choice, and the second to provide any additional information they wanted.


The survey was open for a two-week period, from Sunday 17 July to Sunday 31 July. It was publicised via:


  • The post “To plebiscite or not to plebiscite?” on my blog
  • My personal twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as the No Homophobia, No Exceptions Facebook page
  • Direct contact with individual trans, intersex and rainbow families activists, to ensure these groups were adequately represented in the sample, and
  • A small amount of paid Facebook advertising, both general, as well as specific ads to encourage responses from lesbians, and younger members of the LGBTIQ community.


Demographics of respondents


The survey attracted 1140 complete responses[ii]. This included 840 members of the LGBTIQ community, and 300 from outside the community[iii].


From within the LGBTIQ community, the respondents were as follows:


  • Gay – 342
  • Lesbian – 293
  • Queer – 207
  • Bisexual – 151
  • Transgender – 77, and
  • Intersex – 9[iv].


Their relationship statuses were relatively diverse:


  • Single, or in a relationship and not currently intending to marry, but want to be able to choose whether to get married or not in the future – 290
  • In a relationship and waiting to be married under Australian law – 282
  • Not interested in marriage for myself, but supportive of marriage equality for others – 165
  • Married overseas but not married under Australian law – 58
  • Married (here or overseas) and recognised as married under Australian law – 33, and
  • In a relationship that is affected by forced trans divorce provisions – 11[v].


288 LGBTIQ respondents indicated they had children, while 551 said they did not[vi].


From outside the LGBTIQ community, survey respondents were as follows:


  • Friend of an LGBTIQ person – 143
  • Family member of an LGBTIQ person – 95, and
  • Neither a family member nor friend of an LGBTIQ person, but an ally of the LGBTIQ community and supporter of marriage equality – 57[vii].


All respondents were asked for their age, with:


  • Aged 30-54: 765
  • 18-29: 205
  • 55 or above: 154, and
  • Under 18: 11[viii].


Overall result


The overall result of the survey was unambiguous:


  • Block it, if possible: 786 or 69% of respondents
  • Wait to see the details: 231 or 20%, and
  • Accept it, and fight to win: 123 or 11%


This is a remarkable, and remarkably clear, result. Just 1 in 9 respondents were willing to accept a plebiscite, despite it being arguably the most direct path to achieving marriage equality in the current Parliament.


Even with the addition of a ‘wait & see’ option – which, given key details are still to be resolved, is a perfectly understandable approach – almost 7 in 10 people believe we should block the plebiscite if we are in a position to do so.


786 respondents were willing to risk a delay of at least three years in this reform being passed, despite the fact it has already been 12 long years since Howard’s homophobic ban was first introduced.


On the basis of this result, I would argue that the people have spoken, and they have said, quite clearly, #NoPlebiscite.


Results by Category


In designing the survey, I expected there might be some differences in approach to this issue across the community, depending on personal characteristics. In analysing the responses across respective categories, however, I was surprised by how consistent the results were, with only minor differences depending on the group (although some of those differences were nevertheless interesting).


In terms of the LGBTIQ community, the responses were as follows:


  • Gay: 227 (66.4%) block, 71 (20.8%) wait & see and 44 (12.9%) accept
  • Lesbian: 221 (75.4%) block, 40 (13.7%) wait & see and 32 (10.9%) accept
  • Queer: 157 (75.8%) block, 35 (16.9%) wait & see and 15 (7.2%) accept
  • Bisexual: 105 (69.5%) block, 34 (22.5%) wait & see and 12 (7.9%) accept, and
  • Transgender: 55 (71.4%) block, 14 (18.2%) wait & see and 8 (10.4%) accept[ix].


Overall, the differences between these categories were not large (with the proportion marking block located within a narrow range, 66.4% to 75.8%).


However, it is interesting to note gay respondents were both slightly more willing to accept the plebiscite, and slightly less willing to block it, than other groups, especially queer, lesbian and trans people. This may be due to lesser prejudice experienced by gay men in particular, a larger proportion of lesbians being parents (see below) as well as wariness on the part of the trans community following recent attacks on gender diversity (eg the Safe Schools debate).


In terms of people from outside the LGBTIQ, the responses were as follows:


  • Friend: 82 (57.3%) block, 41 (28.7%) wait & see and 20 (14%) accept
  • Family member: 64 (67.4%) block, 21 (22.1%) wait & see and 10 (10.5%) accept, and
  • Ally/supporter of marriage equality: 38 (66.7%) block, 15 (26.3%) wait & see and 4 (7%) accept.


Given the small numbers within these categories, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions. However, when looked at overall, the proportion of people who are not LGBTIQ calling for the plebiscite to be blocked – 62.7% – is lower than the equivalent figure within the LGBTIQ community (71.2%)[x].


This may indicate that, even among family members, friends and allies or other supporters, there is less awareness of the potential harms of the plebiscite – and therefore that, if the LGBTIQ community is indeed to call for Labor, the Greens and Xenophon to oppose the enabling legislation, these harms will need to be explained in more detail (helpfully, the higher proportion of non-LGBTIQ people who marked ‘wait & see’ suggests that they are persuadable about these dangers).


There was even less difference according to relationship status:


  • Single, or in a relationship and not currently intending to marry, but want to be able to choose whether to get married or not in the future: 203 (70%) block, 64 (22.1%) wait & see and 23 (7.9%) accept
  • In a relationship and waiting to be married under Australian law: 201 (71.3%) block, 43 (15.2%) wait & see and 38 (13.5%) accept
  • Not interested in marriage for myself, but supportive of marriage equality for others: 121 (73.3%) block, 31 (18.8%) wait & see and 13 (7.9%) accept, and
  • Married overseas but not married under Australian law: 43 (74.1%) block, 7 (12.1%) wait and see and 8 (13.8%) accept[xi].


Interestingly, people already married overseas had the highest proportions of both block and accept[xii], although the sample size is smaller than for other categories.


The following is the summary of LGBTIQ respondents depending on whether they had children:


  • Children Yes: 211 (73.3%) block, 51 (17.7%) wait & see and 26 (9%) accept, versus
  • Children No: 387 (70.2%) block, 102 (18.5%) wait & see and 62 (11.3%) accept.


Perhaps the biggest surprise to me in undertaking this survey was that the margin between these two groups was so small – while LGBTIQ parents were more likely to call for a plebiscite to be blocked (presumably because of legitimate fears about the impacts of a prolonged hate-based campaign against themselves, and especially their children), the final difference was only about 3%, which is much lower than I had previously anticipated.


Finally, there was also minimal variation according to respondents’ ages:


  • Aged 30-54: 536 (70.1%) block, 151 (19.7%) wait & see and 78 (10.2%) accept
  • 18-29: 140 (68.3%) block, 42 (20.5%) wait & see and 23 (11.2%) accept, and
  • 55 or above: 103 (66.9%) block, 35 (22.7%) wait & see and 16 (10.4%) accept[xiii].


To me, this consistency, not just across age groups, but also relationship status, parental status and LGBTIQ attributes, demonstrates that, far from being divided by the plebiscite, the LGBTIQ community is remarkably united – roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of every group believes the plebiscite should be blocked, even if that means a potential delay to marriage equality being passed.


As noted above, the only significant difference in approach was actually between people who marked LGBTIQ and those who responded ‘None of the Above’, although, as the debate about the plebiscite continues, and its inherent unfairness and potential danger attracts greater scrutiny, there is room for ‘growth’ in the proportion of non-LGBTIQ people supporting calls for it to be blocked.


Concluding Observations


I found this to be both an interesting exercise to undertake (and hopefully for you to read about), and a valuable one in resolving what my approach will be to the plebiscite in coming months.


It should also be noted that the findings of this survey are similar to those of a poll which was conducted by PFLAG Australia (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and new organisation just.equal, in late July[xiv]. Based on 5,500 responses, it found that:


“Almost 85 per cent of LGBTIQ Australians remain opposed to a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, with 10 per cent in favour, and 5 per cent undecided. In addition, a majority said they were against a nationwide vote even if it means no change to the law.”


Full results of their survey can be found on the just.equal website.


Of course, there are limits to both surveys – these are complex questions, with the potential for unintended consequences in any approach that we ultimately adopt (for example, blocking the plebiscite could cause a delay of much greater than three years, or the Liberal-National Government could be returned with a larger majority at the next election, meaning a plebiscite goes ahead irrespective of the position of Labor, Greens and Xenophon Senators). And it is likely that stopping the plebiscite, potentially delaying equality, will be seen as a win by our opponents.


It is also possible that, even if the LGBTIQ community calls for the Senate to block the enabling legislation, at least one grouping out of the ALP, Greens or Nick Xenophon Team will instead agree to the Government’s demands to hold the plebiscite, as a ‘circuit-breaker’ on this issue.


Given these factors, it is both rational and reassuring that Australian Marriage Equality is currently focussing on lobbying to ensure that, if a plebiscite is held, its format is as fair as possible (please sign their petition calling for no public funding for the Yes and No cases, thereby preventing the Australian Christian Lobby receiving money from our taxes to campaign against us: sign here).


It is also absolutely vital for Australians 4 Equality – a national umbrella organisation – to lay the groundwork to fight a Yes campaign should the plebiscite turn out to be unavoidable.


However, on the basis of both my survey, and that of PFLAG and just.equal, my own primary focus in the next few months will be on pushing for a parliamentary vote, rather than plebiscite.


The responses to both polls mean we can and should be bolder in our demands – that parliament must deal with this issue in the ordinary way, rather than by holding an extraordinary national vote. Now it is time to make sure Bill Shorten, Richard Di Natale and Nick Xenophon listen.


Nick Xenophon

Nick Xenophon, and his Party’s 3 Senate votes, will be crucial in deciding whether the plebiscite goes ahead.


One final note: While the answer to the main survey question – whether to block, wait & see or accept the plebiscite – was interesting, perhaps just as valuable were the ‘write-in’ responses to the two free-text questions, including respondents’ personal explanations for why they opposed the plebiscite (or not). I will publish a summary of these responses in the week beginning Monday 15 August. Please check back then for more information.



[i] It also allowed people outside the LGBTIQ community to indicate that they opposed marriage equality. If they answered yes, survey logic then excluded them from remaining questions. 14 people did so.

[ii] Excluding two responses that did not answer the primary question (to block, accept or wait & see), and the responses identified in endnote 1, who indicated they were opposed to marriage equality and were therefore discarded.

[iii] 6 respondents indicated that they were at least one of LGBTIQ and ‘None of the Above’. For ease of analysis they have been treated as being outside the LGBTIQ community.

[iv] Numbers add up to more then 840 because people were allowed to mark as many of LGBTI and/or Q as appropriate.

[v] Numbers add up to less than 840 because this question was not compulsory.

[vi] Numbers add up to less than 840 because this question was not compulsory.

[vii] Numbers add up to less than 300 because this was an optional supplementary question for people who indicated they were ‘None of the above’ rather than LGBTIQ.

[viii] Numbers add up to less than 1140 because this question was not compulsory.

[ix] With only 9 responses from people who marked intersex, this sample size is deemed insufficient to draw any conclusions. In raw numbers, 3 intersex respondents marked block, 4 selected wait & see while 2 answered accept.

[x] A full comparison:

  • LGBTIQ: 598 (71.2%) block, 153 (18.2%) wait & see and 89 (10.6%) accept, versus
  • Non-LGBTIQ: 188 (62.7%) block, 78 (26%) wait & see and 34 (11.3%) accept.

[xi] There were two categories with insufficient responses to draw any conclusions, although their raw numbers are as follows:

  • Married (here or overseas) and recognised as married under Australian law: 23 block, 6 wait & see and 4 accept
  • In a relationship that is affected by forced trans divorce provisions: 7 block, 2 wait & see and 2 accept

[xii] It is perhaps unsurprising that people who have taken matters into the own hands, by choosing to marry overseas rather than wait for the Australian Government to eventually catch up, would be less ‘undecided’ about this issue, include a minority willing to accept the plebiscite to have their marriages finally recognized domestically.

[xiii] With only 11 responses from people aged under 18, this sample size was also deemed insufficient to draw conclusions. In raw numbers, 5 respondents who were <18 marked block, 2 selected wait & see and 4 answered accept.

[xiv] The PFLAG and just.equal survey did not start until Thursday July 21 – four days after my survey had commenced – and I was not aware it was being conducted until after my poll was already in the field.

What’s Wrong With the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act?


This is the fourth in a series of posts looking at Australian anti-discrimination laws and analysing how well, or in many cases how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination and vilification.


The first three examined the anti-discrimination frameworks operating in Victoria, NSW and the Commonwealth, assessing their coverage in terms of protected attributes, religious exceptions and anti-vilification provisions.


With the Northern Territory election scheduled for later this month (Saturday 27 August), now is an opportune time to do the same with respect to their Anti-Discrimination Act (‘the Act’).


Protected Attributes


Sub-section 19(1) of the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act sets out the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited, including “19(1)(c) sexuality.”


Sexuality itself is defined in section 4 of the Act as: “sexuality means the sexual characteristics or imputed sexual characteristics of heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or transsexuality.”[i]


On a positive note, employing this definition means the Act does offer protection to lesbians, gay men and bisexual people (something not all state and territory laws do – for example, New South Wales does not cover discrimination or vilification against bisexual people). Although arguably it could still benefit from the more inclusive definition of ‘sexual orientation’, as featured in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[ii].


However, there are significant problems in terms of the Act’s application to discrimination against transgender people. First, because it includes ‘transsexuality’ within the term ‘sexuality’, when it is in fact about gender identity.


Second, and more importantly, by using the word ‘transsexuality’ rather than transgender (or including the term ‘gender identity’[iii] as its Commonwealth equivalent does, which would be preferred), it is likely that the Act fails to protect transgender people who are not ‘transsexual’ from discrimination, which is clearly a significant failing.


Another significant failing is the complete absence of protection against discrimination for intersex people. Once again, the Northern Territory Act would be improved by adopting the protected attribute of ‘intersex status’ direct from the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[iv].


The Act does include an explicit function for the NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner “to research and develop additional grounds of discrimination and to make recommendations for the inclusion of such grounds in this Act” (sub-section 13(1)(e)). Remedying these inadequacies, especially around transgender and intersex discrimination, should therefore be a priority for the Commissioner, and, hopefully, for the next Territory Government.


Summary: The Act does cover discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual Northern Territorians (although it could be further improved by adopting a more inclusive definition of sexual orientation). However, by using the term ‘transsexuality’, and including it within the term ‘sexuality’, it is likely the Act does not cover all transgender people. It also fails to offer any protection to intersex people. These shortcomings are serious, and should be addressed urgently by incorporating the protected attributes of gender identity and intersex status from the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act.


Religious Exceptions


There are some positive, but also several negative, features of the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act in terms of the special rights it grants religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTI people.


The primary provision establishing ‘religious exceptions’ is section 51:

“This Act does not apply to or in relation to:

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(b) the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of people to perform functions in relation to, or otherwise participate in, any religious observance or practice; or

(d) an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice.”


The drafting of these exceptions is actually relatively narrow when compared with those that exist in other states and territories.


For example, while the first two paras above (section 51(a) and (b) are identical to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 section 56(a) and (b)), the NSW legislation subsequently goes much further, allowing discrimination in relation to:


“(c) the appointment of any other person in any capacity by a body established to propagate religion; or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”


In contrast, the primary Northern Territory provision appears to more closely target the appointment of ministers of religion, and the celebration of religious ceremonies.


Indeed, depending on the scope of ‘any religious observance or practice’, and how this phrase has been interpreted by the judiciary, the NT provision is arguably more justifiable on the basis it seems to be concerned with religious freedom, rather than providing religious organisations with carte blanche to discriminate against LGBTI people.


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of other sections of the Act. Section 37A provides an incredibly broad exception to religious schools:


“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”


In effect, any religious school in the Northern Territory can discriminate against any employee or potential employee solely because they are LGBTI, irrespective of the role and no matter how qualified they may be. This is simply unacceptable and must be removed.


The section covering discrimination against students is not as broad. Sub-section 30(2) provides that:


“An educational authority that operates, or proposes to operate, an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may exclude applicants who are not of that religion.”


However, it should be noted that this approach is similar to that which was recently introduced in Tasmania, where concerns were expressed about the use of such a power to discriminate against LGBTI students, or the children of rainbow families, on the basis that they did not fit within the doctrine of particular religions.


Therefore, the operation of this provision should be monitored to determine whether it has had a detrimental impact on LGBTI students and/or families, and if it has, it should be repealed.


The other provision that grants special rights to religious organisations to discriminate is sub-section 40(3), in relation to accommodation:


“A person may discriminate against a person with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under this Division if:

(a) the accommodation concerned is under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes; and

(b) the discrimination:

(i) is in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned; and

(ii) is necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion.”


If discrimination in relation to the appointment or training of ministers of religion is already allowed under section 51(a) and (b), which would presumably include the facilities used for housing these ministers/trainees, it is difficult to see how this particular section would be justified. As a result, it should be repealed alongside section 37A.


Summary: The main religious exceptions offered under the NT Act are modest when compared to some other states and territories. Provided that ‘any religious observance of practice’ has been interpreted to mean religious ceremonies and little else, section 51 may not require substantial amendment.


However, there is no justification for discrimination against LGBTI employees or potential employees in religious schools, meaning section 37A should be repealed as a matter of priority. Sub-section 40(3), allowing discrimination in relation to accommodation, also appears excessively broad, while sub-section 30(2) should be monitored to ensure it is not used to discriminate against LGBTI students or the children of rainbow families.


Anti-Vilification Coverage


The Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not prohibit racial vilification. In which case, it is perhaps unsurprising that there are no prohibitions on vilification against LGBTI people either (the definition of ‘discrimination’ in section 20(1) does include “harassment on the basis of an attribute”, however this falls far short of the usual standard of ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’[v]).


Obviously, if the next Northern Territory Government is to introduce vilification protections of any kind, these should include coverage for LGBTI people in addition to other groups.



NT Opposition Leader Michael Gunner, who appears on track to win the August 27 election. Will he fix the NT Anti-Discrimination Act?



[i] It should be noted here that these concepts (heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality) are not further defined in the legislation.

[ii] Section 4: “sexual orientation means a person’s sexual orientation towards:

(a) persons of the same sex; or

(b) persons of a different sex; or

(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.”

[iii] “[G]ender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.”

[iv] “[I]ntersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.”

[v] For example, sub-section 18C of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 provides that:

“(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people…”


Submission re Queensland Bill to (Finally) Equalise the Age of Consent

The Queensland Government has introduced a Bill to, amongst other things, finally equalise the age of consent for anal intercourse.


This legislation – the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 – was referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee for detailed consideration. The details of their inquiry can be found here.


The following is my submission:


Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee


Friday 22 July 2016


To the Committee


Submission re the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016


Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission about the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’).


In this submission, I will focus on Part 2 of the Bill, namely those provisions seeking to amend the Queensland Criminal Code.


Specifically, I write to support the long overdue equalisation of the age of consent for anal intercourse in Queensland.


I do so as a gay man who was born in Queensland in 1978, and who lived there until 1996, although now lives in Sydney.


The above dates mean that, for the first 12 years of my life, homosexual acts were criminalised I my home state – and I recall being vaguely aware of this fact, that ‘gay = criminal’, as I grew up in Central Queensland.


I am also old enough to remember, in slightly more detail, the historic passage of legislation in 1990 that decriminalised sex between men.


Indeed, it was only a couple of months later, when I first arrived at the religious boarding school in Brisbane that would be my home for the following five years, that I first started to realise that I was gay myself.


What I didn’t fully comprehend for another couple of years – but had certainly figured out by the time I turned 16 – was that the Goss Labor Government, and Queensland Parliament more generally, had left the important job of decriminalisation only half-done.


While they decriminalised sex between adult gay and bisexual men, they had also introduced a new form of discrimination – with the age of consent set at 18 for anal intercourse (which they referred to as ‘sodomy’), and 16 for everything else.


Admittedly, this new law technically applied to anal intercourse between anyone – meaning that 16 or 17 year old cisgender heterosexual people engaging in this form of sex were also criminalised – but it is clear they were not the real ‘targets’.


The Parliament knew it. The media knew it. The LGBTI community knew it. And this (then) teenage gay boy, even though he was still deeply entrenched in the closet, knew it too. This law was primarily concerned with prohibiting same-sex activity among teenage males.


For the years 1994 to 1996, while I was aged 16 and 17 and still living in Queensland, I was fully aware that the law treated me differently simply because of my sexual orientation.


For whatever reason – whether it was blatant homophobia, personal distaste or ‘squeamishness’ about anal intercourse, misguided beliefs about health risks or malicious stereotypes about homosexual ‘recruitment’ – my state’s lawmakers had decided to single me, and people like me, out as being lesser than our peers.


It was just one more reminder of the societal homophobia surrounding me, everywhere I looked, and one more factor that made it extremely difficult to come out to my family and friends.


I also believe it contributed to the lack of any LGBTI sexual health education during my time at high school (although obviously the religious nature of the school played a part too), something that was actually a health risk (especially given these were the peak years of deaths from AIDS-related illness in Australia, before the advent of life-saving treatments).


Of course, my story is by no means unique – there have literally been tens of thousands of young gay and bisexual men who have grown up in Queensland since the passage of the unequal age of consent in 1990. And, just like me, many of them have experienced adverse consequences due to these discriminatory laws.


Indeed, the explanatory memorandum of the Bill notes that “[s]ome in the community have identified the inconsistent age of consent for anal sex in the Criminal Code as a barrier to young people accessing safe sex education regarding anal intercourse, with gay and bisexual youth being denied peer acceptance and community support.”


It further observes that “[t]he panel [convened to consider this issue] noted that young people in same sex relationships may feel compelled to withhold information about their sexual history from their health practitioner for fear of the possible legal consequences, whether for themselves or their partner. This may have implications in terms of the young person’s access to appropriate medical treatment and also has the impact of stigmatising their relationship.”


Finally, “[t]he expert panel considered that using the term sodomy may stigmatise this form of intercourse, and homosexual relationships in particular.”


In my view, these are all compelling reasons to equalise the age of consent between anal intercourse and other forms of intercourse, and to update the language that is used in the Criminal Code to be more accurate and inclusive.


What is disappointing, even distressing, is that it has taken successive Queensland Governments more than 25 years to agree with this position and to finally take steps to remedy this injustice.


That’s a quarter of a century of prejudiced provisions, in the state’s criminal law, applying to young gay and bisexual men.


A quarter of a century sending a message to people that they are not equal simply because of who they are.


A quarter of a century limiting the sexual health education provided to young gay and bisexual mean.


A quarter of a century undermining the ability of tens of thousands of people, just like me, from accessing health services without fear of discriminatory treatment.


A quarter of a century of the Queensland Government and Parliament telling the LGBTI community, in yet another way, that is was not worthy of their respect.


And so, while I congratulate the decision by the Palaszczuk Labor Government to introduce this Bill to belatedly equalise the age of consent, and look forward to it being implemented later this year, I cannot help but take this moment to also reflect on, and condemn, the failure of previous Governments – from the Goss Labor Government, to the Borbidge Coalition, Beattie and Bligh Labor and Newman Liberal-National Governments – to remove these abhorrent provisions from the Queensland Criminal Code.


Their inaction on this issue has undeniably been to the detriment of generations of young gay and bisexual men, and it should not be forgotten.



Alastair Lawrie


Wayne Goss

Former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, whose election victory in 1989 led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality 12 months later. But, for 16 and 17 year old gay and bisexual men, full decriminalisation has taken another quarter of a century.


Letter to Paul Lynch re LGBTI Anti-Vilification Reform

In June, NSW Shadow Attorney-General Mr Paul Lynch MP introduced the Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016. Details of the Bill can be found here.


In short, the legislation seeks to implement the recommendations of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s 2013 Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in NSW.


Importantly, in doing so the Bill ignores the Report’s (implicit) approach to treat racial vilification differently from the other forms of vilification currently prohibited by the Anti-Discrimination 1977: namely homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification.


Just as importantly, however, the Bill fails to update the definitions of these grounds, and also fails to extend anti-vilification coverage to bisexual and intersex people in NSW.


The following is my letter to the Shadow Attorney-General about his Bill, sent before the return of State Parliament next week (Tuesday 2 August 2016).




Mr Paul Lynch MP

Shadow Attorney-General

100 Moore St

Liverpool NSW 2170


24 July 2016



Dear Mr Lynch


LGBTI Anti-Vilification Reform


I am writing to you about your Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’), currently before NSW Parliament.


Specifically, I am writing to congratulate you on what is included in the Bill, while also encouraging you to amend the Bill to address other inadequacies within the NSW anti-vilification framework.


First, to the positives. I welcome the fact that the Bill removes one of the more bizarre and, in my opinion, completely unjustifiable aspects of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (‘the Act’) – that the penalties for the offences of serious racial and HIV/AIDS vilification are different to, and slightly higher than, the penalties for the offences of serious homosexual and transgender vilification.


By consolidating these offences in one place – the proposed new section 91N of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 – your Bill would ensure there is no difference in severity in how these offences are treated by the Government, and therefore avoids sending the signal that some forms of vilification are worse than others.


I also welcome the fact you have avoided one of the key pitfalls of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in NSW, which, given it exclusively focused on racial vilification, only suggested changes to the laws surrounding one of the four existing attributes that attract anti-vilification protection.


Were these recommendations to be implemented in their entirety (and no other changes made), it would exacerbate, rather than remove, the inequality in treatment between serious racial vilification and the three other current grounds (homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).


I further support the substantive amendments proposed in your Bill, including:


  • Removing the requirement for the Attorney-General to give consent to prosecution for any vilification offence
  • Extending the time within which prosecutions for vilification offences must be commenced from 6 months to 12 months (addressing a flaw in the current Act highlighted by the case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2-13] NSWSC 44)
  • Adopting the recommendation of the Law and Justice Standing Committee report that recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to vilify
  • Clarifying which public acts constitute unlawful vilification
  • Providing that vilification applies whether or not the person or members of the group vilified have the characteristic that was the ground for the promotion of hatred, contempt or ridicule concerned, and
  • Ensuring that the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board refers vilification complaints to the Commissioner of Police where the President considers that the offence of serious racial, transgender, homosexual or HIV/AIDS vilification may have been committed.


In terms of the proposal to replace ‘incitement’ with ‘promotion’ within the definition of vilification itself, while I have not had the opportunity to examine this amendment in great depth, on a prima facie basis it appears reasonable.


Finally, I agree with your decision to relocate the offence of serious vilification to the Crimes Act 1900, for the reasons outlined in your Second Reading Speech:


“Certainly, the legal effect of a provision should be the same whether it is located in the Crimes Act or in the Anti-Discrimination Act. However, there is significant symbolism in the provision being located in the Crimes Act in the new section 91N. And symbolism, as everyone in this Chamber knows, is important.”


Now, I will turn my attention to the shortcomings of the Bill and, unfortunately, in my opinion they are significant.


Specifically, while what the Bill includes is to be welcomed, it is flawed because of what it excludes. It fails to address one of the main problems of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which is that it only protects some parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and not others.


As I have detailed elsewhere (see “What’s wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?”), the out-dated terminology used in the Act means that only lesbian, gay and transgender people are protected (and even then not all transgender people are covered).


Meanwhile, there is still no anti-vilification protection for bisexual people, or for intersex people, in NSW (with the absence of Commonwealth LGBTI anti-vilification laws only compounding this problem).


In my view, the limited coverage offered by the NSW anti-vilification framework is an even greater problem than those issues identified by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law.


As such, I believe this issue should be addressed before, or at least simultaneously to, those provisions contained in your Bill. Otherwise, the differential treatment of groups within the LGBTI community would only become further entrenched.


For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to consider amending your Bill to ensure that all sections of the LGBTI community are protected against vilification. To achieve this, you may wish to incorporate the definitions included in the historic Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013.


This would involve:


  • Replacing the current protected attribute of homosexual with ‘sexual orientation’ (and which would therefore cover bisexual people)
  • Amending the protected attribute of transgender to the more inclusive term ‘gender identity’, and
  • Introducing the new protected attribute of ‘intersex status’.


If you are interested in pursuing these changes then I also encourage you to consult with the LGBTI community, and its representative organisations, beforehand (to ensure that any consequential difficulties are avoided).


To conclude, and despite the issues described above, I genuinely welcome the provisions contained in the Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016. However, by extending the scope of vilification offences to protect bisexual and intersex people, I sincerely believe you would significantly improve your legislation.


Thank you for your consideration of this letter. I am of course happy to discuss any of the issues raised at the contact details provided below.



Alastair Lawrie



NSW Shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch