Bill Shorten, It’s time to honour your commitment on marriage equality

The following is my open letter to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, ahead of the announcement of the postal survey result this Wednesday (15 November) and likely subsequent parliamentary consideration of marriage equality legislation:

 

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On 31 March 2016, you attended a panel event called ‘Why Knot?’ in Redfern, co-hosted by the Guardian Australia and Australian Marriage Equality.

 

At the end of that forum, during the Q&A session, I asked you the following question:

 

“There is a real risk that, when Malcolm Turnbull finally gets around to drafting it, his Marriage Amendment Bill will seek to include new special rights for civil celebrants and other wedding business-providers to discriminate against LGBTI couples. Just to get it on the record: Mr Shorten, will you commit the Labor Party to voting against any attempts to expand religious exceptions beyond existing provisions and, if they do somehow end up being passed and polluting the Marriage Act, will you seek to repeal them at the earliest available opportunity?”[i]

 

Your answer: “Yes, and yes.”

 

As reported by the Guardian, you went on to state: “It’s not allowed under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”

 

You were right then.

 

You were right because this reform, marriage equality, is about removing discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. One form of discrimination should not simply be replaced by another.

 

You were right because protections for ‘religious freedom’ that are only introduced when LGBTI couples might finally have the opportunity to wed should be seen for what they are: attempts to legitimise homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

 

You were right because the vast majority of LGBTIQ Australians do not want our long desired, long fought for and long overdue equal right to marry undermined by new special privileges to discriminate against us – with research at the start of 2017 confirming that:

 

“81% of the 6,352 LGBTIQ adult Australians taking part in this survey were strongly opposed to potential new laws making it legal for individuals and organisations to refuse their services to same-sex couples, based on personal conscience or religious belief.”

 

And you were right because four-in-five Australians agree, with a poll earlier this month reporting that:

 

“In response to the question, ‘If the majority vote ‘yes’ in the postal survey, should same-sex couples be treated the same under the law compared with other couples?’, 78% of respondents said yes. This figure consisted of 98% of respondents who said they had voted ‘yes’, and also 43% of those who said they had voted ‘no’.”

 

You were right then. Are you still right now? Specifically, will you, and the Labor Party, do the right thing when marriage equality legislation is likely considered by Commonwealth Parliament in the coming weeks and months?

 

I ask this question because I am extremely disappointed by reports that the Labor Caucus has already decided to support Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, describing it as an ‘acceptable compromise’.

 

This is despite the fact his draft legislation:

 

  • Permits existing civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples by nominating to become ‘religious marriage celebrants’ based on nothing more than their personal beliefs [section 39DD(2)], and
  • Unnecessarily duplicates exceptions from the Sex Discrimination Act within the Marriage Act itself, allowing religious bodies that offer wedding-related facilities, goods and services to the public to turn away LGBTI couples [section 47B].

 

Both of these provisions appear to be matters you either explicitly or implicitly rejected in your answer at that forum in Redfern just over 19 months ago.

 

I urge you to reconsider your, and your Party’s, position on the Smith Bill, not just because of your previous commitment to me and to that audience, but also because of the principle that marriage equality should be exactly that: equal. The weddings of LGBTI Australians, when they are finally made legal, must not be subject to any extra terms and conditions than those that already exist.

 

At the very least, I believe you should develop amendments to remove both of the above provisions from the Smith Bill prior to its potential passage.

 

I am sure you are also aware of reports that conservatives within the Liberal and National Parties are busy preparing their own amendments to the Smith Bill that would extend discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people across a wide range of areas of public life.

 

It is incumbent upon you, and every member of the parliamentary Labor Party, to vote against every amendment that seeks to perpetuate the second-class treatment of LGBTI Australians, our relationships and our families.

 

In this context, the debate around marriage equality legislation will be an opportunity for you to show, once again, the leadership on this issue that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will not.

 

You stood with the LGBTI community against the unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite in October 2016.

 

You stood with the LGBTI community again, earlier this year, against the equally unnecessary, wasteful and divisive (and arguably illegitimate) postal survey.

 

When the survey went ahead, you stood with the LGBTI community a third time by campaigning to help win the public vote.

 

Please stand with us now by voting to ensure any Bill that is passed represents genuine marriage equality, not just same-sex marriage subject to additional discrimination.

 

It’s time to honour your commitment, to me, to LGBTI Australians, and to every person who has voted Yes to the equal treatment of equal love.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

Bill Shorten Commitment

Will Opposition Leader Bill Shorten support genuine marriage equality?

Footnotes:

[i] I recorded the question shortly thereafter – and published it in April 2016 in the following article: In the battle for marriage equality, we must not forget to fight against religious exceptions.

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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from ALP National Conference 2015

Last month, a News Corp newspaper published an opinion piece that included the following:

 

“The personal lives and struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, for example, have been transformed. All discriminatory laws have been repealed (marriage as a heterosexual construct is not discriminatory), historical convictions expunged, parenting rights assured, and discrimination protections are in place. The population as a whole is relaxed and indifferent to gays.

 

“Gay and other sexual orientation people struggle with identity because it is so vexed. It is not society’s hetero-normative orientation that makes it so. Gays have fought for equality for a long time. And, bravo, they have won. No more to be sent to prison for buggery. But living, that is another matter.”

 

In short, a (presumably) cisgender heterosexual opinion writer has declared that, in 2016, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination and prejudice no longer exists – oh, and if LGBTI people experience any issues from now on, it’s basically our own fault.

 

To some extent, it doesn’t really matter which particular News Corp publication it was[i], nor the individual author[ii]. At the end of a year filled with relentless attacks on Safe Schools specifically and the LGBTI community generally (which contradict the author’s argument), and ongoing straight-splaining and cis-splaining that we should accept a plebiscite ‘if we knew what was good for us’, the frequent yet baseless criticisms of LGBTI people for having the temerity to stand up for our rights have started to all blur into each other.

 

But I do want to thank this particular author (no, not for the rubbish quoted above) because they went on to note:

 

“Politics is slow to adjust to this reality. Take Labor’s national platform. There are no fewer than 45 substantial references to LGBTI rights such as de-gendering government documents, transgender public toilets, free surgery for sex reassignment, outlawing “cures” for gay people and trashing “non-compliant” religious beliefs…

 

“For example, the party has vowed to “investigate amending the Human Rights Act to establish a commissioner for sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status issues… within the Australian Human Rights Commission…

 

“The commissioner will have some juicy new laws on which to pontificate because the platform states that “homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic harassment by the written or spoken word causes actual harm, not simple mere offence… Labor will consider whether current anti-discrimination law provides effective sanctions.

 

“And it will come as no surprise that Labor “will continue to support national programs to address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools. This includes ensuring gender-diverse students are able to express the gender they identify with including through preferred name and dress.”

 

It might have taken them more than 16 months, but it seems that particular commentator has finally noticed that the national platform adopted by the Australian Labor Party at its national conference in July 2015 is the most progressive LGBTI policy manifesto from a major party (Labor, Liberal or Nationals) in our country’s history.

 

In doing so, they have prompted me to finally write about my own involvement in contributing to many of these changes, as well as the only partially-successful campaign to adopt a binding vote on marriage equality (#ItsTimeToBind), and the reasons why I am no longer a member of the Party (but more on that later).

 

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The Good

 

First, for those with little or no experience in internal Labor Party politics, a description of what the National Platform is, and a quick explanation of the process involved in determining what is included.

 

The Platform is the Party’s primary policy document, setting out formal positions on a wide range of issues, from health and education, to employment and industrial relations, and other topics like climate change and social inclusion.

 

It is determined every three years or so (with a new one developed during each term of Commonwealth Parliament), with a working group preparing an initial version, which is then open to party member consultation, and finally the draft Platform, as well as proposed amendments, is voted on and adopted by the National Conference (which consists of elected delegates, union representatives and some MPs and party officials).

 

The final platform adopted by the July 2015 National Conference can be found here.

 

As you will see if you take a look through its 239 pages, there is one thing the incredibly generic News Corp opinion writer cited above got right – there are indeed a large number of commitments to address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. These positions cover a broad range of policy areas, from health and education, to housing and homelessness, and assisted reproductive technology and rainbow families.

 

And I am proud to say I had a hand in drafting a number of these, as well as contributing to the overall push that ensured a number of others were passed.

 

The first, and perhaps most important, step was setting out a clear LGBTI policy agenda almost 10 months before the Conference itself – in September 2014, by publishing my 15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015. Circulating that list so far in advance not only allowed others to ‘buy-in’ to various elements, it also served as a regular reminder in the lead-up to Conference of what was important (and not to be distracted by other issues).

 

I also wrote a comprehensive (14 page) submission as part of the pre-consultation process in May 2015 (see: An LGBTI Agenda – Submission on Draft ALP National Platform 2015). Happily, a couple of recommendations from that submission were included in the draft Platform presented to Conference – and are contained in the final National Platform, including:

 

  • Amending a commitment to reduce the rate of youth suicide in rural communities to specifically include ‘young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’[iii], and

 

  • Something I am particularly proud of, an entirely new commitment that “Labor acknowledges the young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are at significantly higher risk of homelessness, and commits to support dedicated services aimed at addressing this issue.”[iv]

 

Then, in the lead-up to National Conference, the draft Platform was released, and I had to redraft the remaining recommendations from my submission as specific amendments so that they could be moved at Conference. I also consulted with key trans[v] and intersex[vi] advocates to ensure their issues were being addressed.

 

On the weekend of 4 and 5 July 2015[vii], I attended the National Left Conference in Sydney, bringing with me multiple hardcopies of these amendments which were then able to be adopted by the working groups looking at different Chapters of the Platform. I should note that at this point, there were no formal amendments or motions from Rainbow Labor (either nationally or in NSW), so it was in effect my own personal LGBTI agenda that was being put forward.

 

In the three weeks between the National Left Conference and the National Conference (which was held in Melbourne from Friday 24 to Sunday 26 July), and given I was not a conference delegate myself, I then organised for Nick Thompson – an excellent Rainbow Labor activist from Queensland – to move, and Michael Butterworth – a friend and former colleague from when we both worked for Senator John Faulkner – to second these amendments.

 

At that point my involvement largely ceased. Many of the amendments were formally adopted by Rainbow Labor as their policy positions for conference. Many were also formal ‘Left’ positions (as a result of the National Left Conference, described earlier). Some were both, increasing their chances of success.

 

The fate of a number of these amendments was ultimately dependent on the hard work of a large number of people, too many in fact to mention them all here, although, in addition to Nick and Michael above, I would like to pay particular tribute to advocates like long-time Victorian LGBTI activist Jamie Gardiner, NSW MLC Penny Sharpe, and then-former-Senator – and now Senator-again – for Western Australia Louise Pratt. This was truly a collective effort by LGBTI people inside the Labor Party.

 

In the end, a large number of LGBTI amendments were passed, helping to make the 2015 ALP National Platform the most LGBTI-inclusive policy manifesto of any ‘party of government’. Several of these were amendments I had drafted, including:

 

  • A commitment that “Labor will continue to support national programs to address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools”[viii] (yes, the same commitment criticised in the News Corp article above).

 

  • Support for national, inclusive parenting laws: “Labor will seek national agreement on the recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex parents, based on the principle that LGBTI-inclusive couples should be able to access assisted reproductive technology, to adopt, and to enter into domestic surrogacy arrangements, on an equal basis to cisgender heterosexual couples in every Australian State and Territory.”[ix]

 

  • Expansion of inter-country adoption to include LGBTI parents: “Where adoption arrangements already exist between Australia and other countries, Labor will seek to ensure these arrangements are expanded to allow for inter-country adoption by LGBTI parents on an equal basis to cisgender heterosexual couples. Where Australia seeks to enter into new inter-country adoption arrangements, Labor will seek to ensure all new agreements treat LGBTI parents equally.”[x]

 

  • A commitment to “Investigate amending the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to establish a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status issues, with equivalent powers, responsibilities and funding to Commissioners within the Australian Human Rights Commission”[xi] (also subject to attack in the op-ed discussed at the start of this post).

 

  • A further commitment to consider how to better protect LGBTI Australians against vilification: “Homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic harassment by the written or spoken word causes actual harm, not simple mere offence, to people who have suffered discrimination and prejudice, and causes particular harm to young same-sex attracted, or gender-questioning and intersex people, and considers such harmful harassment is an unacceptable abuse of the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech and must be subject to effective sanctions. Labor will consider whether current anti-discrimination law provides such effective sanctions”[xii] – yet another paragraph to earn the ire of the News Corp columnist cited earlier.

 

  • Finally, ensuring that the human rights of LGBTI people are considered as part of Australia’s foreign aid program.[xiii]

 

There are two motions that I drafted, and which were adopted, that I am especially proud of:

 

  • A commitment to remove out-of-pocket medical expenses for trans people: “Labor acknowledges the right of all Australians, including transgender and gender diverse people, to live their gender identity. For many, this includes accessing specialist health services and for some people can involve gender affirmation surgery. Cost should not be a barrier to accessing these services and/or surgery, and Labor commits to removing, wherever possible, out-of-pocket health expenses for transgender people incurred in relation to their gender identity”[xiv] (another policy that the opinion writer above complained about), and

 

  • Importantly, a declaration that “Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum-seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of these communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them”[xv] – in effect, meaning a Labor Government cannot send LGBTI people seeking asylum to Manus Island, or attempt to resettle them in Papua New Guinea (or Malaysia for that matter).

 

Additional amendments, which I developed in consultation with intersex activists, were also successful, including:

 

  • Commitments to end involuntary and unnecessary medical procedures on intersex children[xvi],

 

  • “Support[ing] national intersex-led organisations to provide support to intersex persons and their families, and advocate on intersex issues”[xvii], and

 

  • Ensuring that the use of sex and gender markers on official documents is proportional, and allowing people with intersex variations to exercise autonomy regarding their own sex/gender markers.[xviii]

 

Overall, that’s 13 different LGBTI commitments[xix] that I drafted (including three developed in consultation with intersex advocates) that were ultimately included in the final ALP National Platform 2015. Not too shabby.

 

And, probably more pleasing than the number is the breadth of topics covered – just as I had hoped in September 2014, this was truly a broad and progressive LGBTI agenda, and hopefully one that will be fully implemented the next time an ALP Government is elected.

 

But perhaps the biggest compliment of all, in terms of my activism in the lead-up to last year’s ALP National Conference, is that about half of the policies that so incensed the opinion writer in last month’s News Corp anti-LGBTI tirade originated from the same computer I am sitting at right now.

 

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The Bad

 

Unfortunately, the 2015 ALP National Conference wasn’t all good news, either generally (for more on that see ‘The Ugly’, below), or for LGBTI rights specifically.

 

As regular readers of this blog would be aware, one of the LGBTI issues that I am most passionate about is marriage equality.

 

And, as someone who had been a member of the Labor Party since mid-2002, even having served as a Ministerial adviser in Canberra from early 2008 to mid-2012[xx], I was similarly passionate about collective action, and the principles of solidarity that underpinned it.

 

Taken together, these factors meant I absolutely believed that, as a fundamental matter of human rights, all ALP Members of Parliament and Senators should be bound to vote for marriage equality.

 

And last year’s National Conference was the best chance for this principle to become a reality, reflected in the Party’s Constitution and Rules.

 

I actually started campaigning for this change more than 12 months beforehand, with a blog post (and then article on samesame.com.au) called Hey Australian Labor, It’s Time to Bind on Marriage Equality in July 2014.

 

This campaign – which I dubbed #ItsTimeToBind – then became the inspiration for a large number of articles, especially from April 2015 onwards, leading right up to the Conference itself (see, for example, What ALP National Conference Delegates Should Hear About Marriage Equality).

 

In essence, I was arguing that not only would a binding vote in favour of marriage equality align with the ALP’s organising philosophy (namely solidarity), it would also help achieve this long overdue reform in Australia.

 

Unfortunately, the 2015 National Conference did not unequivocally endorse this view.

 

It did not adopt a binding vote on marriage equality for the remainder of that parliamentary term (which ended with Malcolm Turnbull’s re-election on July 2 this year).

 

Nor did it adopt a binding vote for the duration of the current term, which is not due to expire until the first half of 2019 (although, given recent events and the threatened ‘split’ by Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and others, an earlier election cannot be ruled out).

 

Instead, as you are probably aware, last year’s meeting of delegates voted to adopt a binding vote in favour of marriage equality only after an additional one and a half terms – or potentially up to four years – had elapsed.[xxi]

 

Frankly, it is a nonsense policy. And it seemed to be adopted for nonsense reasons, having more to do with internal deal-making than with same-sex marriage-celebrating.

 

Of the many, many critiques that could be made of this ‘half-pregnant’ approach to marriage equality, I would particularly like to note the following:

 

  • It is internally inconsistent. The principles of this issue have not, and will not, change between mid-2015 and early 2019. Either marriage equality is something worth fighting for – collectively – or it’s not. There is absolutely no rational reason why it will suddenly become worth binding on after three and a half or four years.

 

  • It imposes an unacceptable delay. The ALP has been playing catch-up on this issue for far too long – only embracing a platform position in favour of marriage equality in December 2011 (after the majority of the population had already expressed their support), and then having a conscience vote on it for another seven years plus. Ultimately, it will be an almost 15 years delay from the ALP adopting the worst possible policy (binding its MPs and Senators to oppose equality in August 2004, and for the following seven and a half years), to finally arriving at the correct one. Too many Australians have been denied the recognition of their human rights because of this tardiness.

 

  • It represents a failure of ‘the Left’. The factions and sub-factions that make up the Left of the Labor Party actually had the numbers on most policy issues at last year’s Conference, for the first time in a generation (or more). And yet that numerical superiority did not translate into the adoption of what would have actually been a moderate left-wing position – amending the rules to bind parliamentarians to vote for marriage equality, either in the remainder of the 2013-2016 term or, at the least, from the time of the subsequent federal election. This failure means that there must have been some ‘comrades’ there who didn’t consider LGBTI Australians to be their

 

On this final point, a special ‘dishonourable’ mention must go to the Member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, who, despite being notionally left-wing, repeatedly argued against binding for LGBTI rights. And he did so at several key points:

 

  • In late May, after the successful referendum on marriage equality in Ireland, and with momentum building for a binding vote within the Labor Party here, he opted to make a speech against solidarity on this issue in the House of Representatives[xxii];

 

  • At the National Left Conference in early July (mentioned above), ‘Albo’ was the only speaker who opposed a binding vote; and

 

  • Most importantly – and most unforgivably – on the morning of the last day of National Conference itself, Mr Albanese went on national television, not just to make the case for a continued conscience vote, but also to suggest that uniting to recognise the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people was somehow ‘intolerant’.

 

The full transcript of that now infamous appearance on Insiders reveals his complete absence of understanding of this issue:

 

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now on gay marriage, it seems what the position the left wants is a conscience vote this side of the election and a binding vote after that. Do you support that idea?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I support a conscience vote on these issues. I do so as a matter of principle as well as …

BARRIE CASSIDY: But not a binding vote beyond the election, so you’ll split with your own faction on this one?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I support a conscience vote on these issues. I am a strong supporter of marriage equality. I’m the first member of Parliament in the House of Representatives to bring a private member’s bill about equal rights for same-sex couples. I did that in my first term, back at the last century. And I’m of the view though that you can have that strong position, but be respectful towards people who because of their faith, have a different point of view. We need – part of what enriches our society is its diversity. That’s part of what equal rights for people who are same-sex couples is about. Now, you can’t call for tolerance and respect for diversity, in my view, whilst being intolerant. Now, I believe very strongly that it should be a conscience vote, that there should be a private member’s bill put before the Parliament this year and we should debate it, and then, of course, I think we’ll move on and people will wonder what the fuss was about. People should be allowed – people love who they love and we should respect that and it will, in my view, strengthen the institution of marriage where more people are able to participate in it [emphasis added].

 

No, Mr Albanese, requiring members of a supposedly progressive political party to vote in favour of recognising the right of all couples to marry under secular law, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, is not intolerant or disrespectful.

 

Those who do not believe in equality, for whatever reason (and let’s both admit that, for many, it is a religious one) can choose not to celebrate it in their personal lives – but that does not give them an inalienable right to deny the ability to marry to others.

 

While you may have been a leader on same-sex rights ‘back at the last century’ (your words), in the current century you have held back progress on this important reform (my words). What you did last year won’t be forgotten, and can’t be forgiven either.

 

Anthony Albanese

Anthony Albanese, who opposed solidarity for LGBTI Australians at the 2015 ALP National Conference.

 

Of course, the folly of the approach adopted not just by Mr Albanese, but by anyone inside the ALP who thought that retaining a conscience vote would convince the Liberals to adopt their own, was revealed just three weeks later.

 

On 11 August 2015, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the Coalition Party-room, did what they do best, finding a novel way to screw over LGBTI Australians, by proposing to hold a plebiscite – a mechanism that hadn’t been used to resolve a substantive matter of public policy in almost a century (and which the LGBTI community had to spend the following 15 months defeating).

 

Where did that leave the Labor Party? Hamstrung by a compromise, and compromised, policy which meant it could not fully exploit the pettiness, and downright stupidity, of Abbott, and later Turnbull’s, plebiscite – after all, how much easier would it have been to campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 election to say ‘We will pass marriage equality’ rather than the more convoluted “We will attempt to introduce marriage equality, but even if we are elected whether or not marriage equality passes will depend on the size of any majority, the final makeup of the ALP caucus that is chosen, and potentially even on whether Liberal and/or National MPs are prepared to cross the floor’.[xxiii][xxiv]

 

But, leaving such capital ‘P’ political considerations aside, there remains the underlying principle, and principal flaw, of this issue – namely, it is utterly indefensible that, given all of the issues that Labor binds its parliamentarians about (see One of these things is not (treated) like the others), the Party still refuses to compel them to vote for the equal treatment of equal love.

 

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The Ugly

 

This comparison – between the fact the Labor Party does not bind its MPs and Senators to vote in favour of marriage equality, but does bind them on all manner of other issues, including those that are far more complex and in many cases ethically challenging – is perhaps best made with what was unquestionably the worst policy outcome from the 2015 Conference (at least from a progressive standpoint): the ALP’s position on refugees and people seeking asylum.

 

In short, not only did National Conference fail to overturn the parliamentary Party’s support for the offshore processing and resettlement of refugees[xxv], it also did not support an amendment that would have ruled out future support for ‘boat turn-backs’ (effectively allowing Opposition Leader Shorten to endorse the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s increasingly abhorrent practices in this area).

 

As with the vote on marriage equality, there had been some hope of a different outcome. After all, the position adopted by the previous ALP National Conference, in December 2011, on these issues was not terrible[xxvi].

 

Instead, it was the actions of Prime Minister Julia Gillard – who restarted offshore processing in mid-2012 – and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – who agreed to the permanent resettlement of refugees in Papua New Guinea in his brief second stint as Leader in mid-2013 – that were repugnant.

 

Consequently, the 2015 National Conference was an opportunity for delegates, including those chosen by ordinary members and the union movement, to democratically overturn the Caucus’ position. And, if ‘Left’ delegates had united to oppose boat turn-backs, and to overturn offshore processing and resettlement, then either or even both of these policies could have been consigned to history.

 

But they did not seize that historic opportunity. What is left is a policy that dehumanises people who are simply seeking our help in the hope of a better life.

 

It was this particular failure, on refugee policy, that was the final straw for me in terms of my ongoing membership of the Party.

 

The awfulness of this approach – moving people seeking asylum to other countries, where they are detained, often indefinitely, in inhumane conditions, without the prospect of resettlement in countries that can effectively look after them, and, worst of all, without hope – was simply overwhelming.

 

And, yes, the fact the Party expects all of its parliamentarians to vote in favour of this position, and yet still cannot bind them to vote in favour of Steve and my wedding (with our engagement now reaching almost seven years), was an added sting in the tail.

 

So, when NSW Labor Party membership renewal notices were circulated in October 2015, I could not find a compelling reason to complete and submit mine. Meaning that, for the first time since university, I am no longer a member of a political party.

 

I should add that I do not judge others who remain inside the Party, having reached a different conclusion. There are many fine people who oppose the unjust policy on refugees and people seeking asylum, and who have chosen to stay and fight, in the hope that they can affect positive change on this issue at the next National Conference in 2017 or 2018. I applaud their dedication to the cause, and their ability to march on.

 

But, on a personal level, after the battles that were fought, and in at least two key cases lost, at the 2015 National Conference, that war will be fought without this particular ‘soldier’. I can’t see that situation changing any time soon.

 

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Footnotes:

[i] The Australian, “Brave new post-identity world of no more excuses”, Wednesday 30 November 2016.

[ii] Gary Johns

[iii] Final dot point of paragraph 68 on pages 107-108.

[iv] Paragraph 133 on page 130. And that pride survives the unfortunate typo (‘the’ instead of ‘that’), which itself survived from my original submission. Although I guess that’s one way of demonstrating that this commitment was included as a result of my submission.

[v] Including Sally Goldner from Transgender Victoria.

[vi] Especially Morgan Carpenter from OII Australia.

[vii] As an aside, attending this Conference meant missing out on travelling to Queensland to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. It was a tough decision but, in the absence of anyone taking ownership of the LGBTI agenda at this conference, I acutely felt the need to be the person to step forward on this particular occasion. I also made this decision because I have learned, over many years (and now decades) of campaigning, that it is the people who show up who actually make things change. Oh, and in case you were feeling sympathy, my father, who himself was a former political candidate, understood my decision.

[viii] Included in paragraph 46 on page 90.

[ix] Paragraph 177 on page 137.

[x] Paragraph 178 on page 137.

[xi] A new dot point in paragraph 71 on page 162 – although this was slightly watered down from the original amendment: “Labor will amend the Sex Discrimination Act to establish a stand-alone Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender identity and Intersex Status issues, with equivalent powers, responsibilities and funding to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.”

[xii] Paragraph 103 on page 165 – although the last paragraph is actually less decisive than the amendment as originally drafted: “Labor will introduce anti-vilification protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, which are based on and equivalent to existing racial vilification protections in the Racial Discrimination Act.”

[xiii] By amending paragraph 60 on pages 173-174 to read: “Labor’s overseas aid efforts will promote human rights while addressing development challenges. All people should be able to lead healthy and prosperous lives with shelter, education, food and clean water, health and sanitation, and emergency services support – regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, cultural belief, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.”

[xiv] Paragraph 73 on page 109.

[xv] Paragraph 249 on page 145.

[xvi] With the addition of the following three dot points to paragraph 72 on page 109:

  • “Ensure the deferral of non-necessary medical intervention on infants and children with intersex variations until such times as the person concerned can give informed consent
  • Prohibit modifications to sex characteristics undertaken for social rationales, without informed consent
  • Ensure that intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex assignment treatment is respected.”

[xvii] A new dot point in paragraph 69 on page 163 – although disappointingly the original version of this amendment started with ‘fund’ (which was amended to ‘support’ instead) but it is a positive development nonetheless.

[xviii] New dot points in paragraph 69 on page 163.

[xix] There are two additional amendments that were built on/modified by Rainbow Labor activists in Melbourne:

  • My suggested amendment that “Labor acknowledges that the curriculum development process has produced a National Health & Physical Education (HPE) Curriculum that excludes content that is vital to meet the needs of LGBTI students and young people. Labor commits to reviewing the HPE curriculum and producing a new HPE curriculum, that genuinely includes LGBTI students and content, and incorporates LGBTI-inclusive sexual health education” was incorporated as part of a successful resolution related to Chapter 7: “Labor believes all students – including LGBTI students – deserve to benefit from health and physical education programs that support their physical and emotional wellbeing, and development. Labor commits to commission a review to ensure the curriculum genuinely meets the needs of LGBTI students and equips all students with age-appropriate information to learn about:
    • Respectful relationships
    • Concepts of consent
    • LGBTI-inclusive sexual health education and
    • Respectful and positive portrayal of sexuality across media forms.”
  • My proposed amendment about the non-refoulement of LGBTI people seeking asylum (“Labor will not return lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum-seekers to countries which have criminal laws against any of these communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them”) was superseded by the following amendment included at paragraph 267 on page 147 in the Platform:
    • “In assessing asylum claims where the fear of persecution arises from a person’s LGBTI status, the fact that the country the person is fleeing has criminal penalties for engaging in consensual homosexual sex is sufficient of itself to establish that fear of persecution is well-founded, and any assessment of the asylum seeker’s identity and fear must take account of the very different manifestations of LGBTI identity that other cultures, especially ones profoundly hostile to LGBTI people, necessarily engender.”

[xx] First for Senator the Hon John Faulkner, and later for Senator the Hon Joseph Ludwig.

[xxi] The full wording:

Same sex marriage

  1. Conference resolves that the matter of same sex marriage can be freely debated at any state or federal forum of the Australian Labor Party, but any decision reached is not binding on any member of the Party. This resolution is rescinded upon the commencement of the 46th parliament.”

[xxii] See What Tony Burke Gets Rights, and What Anthony Albanese Gets Wrong, About Marriage Equality.

[xxiii] Needless to say, the Greens’ ‘Every vote, every time’ slogan also leaves the ALP’s current marriage equality position for dust.

[xxiv] At least the messaging at the 2019 election will be much easier – when the Labor Party can finally campaign on the promise that, if elected, it will introduce marriage equality.

[xxv] Given the decriminalization of male homosexuality in Nauru earlier this year, and remembering the motion discussed earlier that Labor will not detain, process or resettle people seeking asylum in countries that criminalise LGBTI communities, this means that a re-elected Labor Government could not send LGBTI people seeking asylum to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, but they could send them to Nauru instead.

[xxvi] Although it was not terribly consistent either, and could be interpreted in multiple ways.

Pride, Pressure and Perseverance

I am a naturally introverted person, and someone who is more likely to express an opinion about an issue of public policy, than to wear my heart on my sleeve.

 

Which means that, when it comes to something like the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, I am more likely to understand the philosophical importance of ‘pride’ – of a community coming together to express pride in who they are – than to actually feel it. Think more political expression than personal emotion.

 

But today is different. Today I definitely feel pride, deeply and sincerely, in my community, in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australia.

 

I feel pride not just because of what we as a community have accomplished, but also because of the reasons we took on the task in the first place.

 

By now you would know that, this morning, the Australian Labor Party caucus formally decided to block Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Given the numbers in the Senate, and the already stated positions of the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch and even Liberal Senator Dean Smith, that means the plebiscite’s enabling legislation will not pass the upper house, when it is ultimately voted on (whether that is in a few weeks’, or a few months’, time).

 

We have, through collective effort, killed the plebiscite. It merely remains to be buried.

 

I probably don’t need to explain to regular readers of this blog just how hard many, many people have had to work to make that happen – in the face of stiff opposition.

 

The plebiscite was the policy of not one but two Prime Ministers, and of a (narrowly) re-elected Liberal-National Government.

 

It had a vocal cheer squad across large sections of the mainstream media, and even many of those who knew it was poor public policy nevertheless urged us to accept it as a supposedly ‘pragmatic’ way forward.

 

It was, at least initially, popular in the electorate – although now, after we have spent months painstakingly highlighting the fact it is both non-binding, and extraordinarily expensive, it is less popular than Donald Trump.

 

The Government even had the easiest argument to make – ‘Let the people decide’ – despite the fact using a plebiscite to determine the rights of a minority group is a perversion of Australia’s system of representative democracy.

 

And it would have been comparatively ‘easy’ to adopt the path of least resistance, to roll over and accept the offer that was on the table, and the possibility it could have led to marriage equality by the middle of next year.

 

Given we have already been waiting so long for marriage equality, and that there are many couples who have now been engaged for many years, or even decades, waiting to simply be treated equally under Commonwealth law, that may have even been an understandable choice.

 

But it would not have been the right one. And I am proud we did not make it.

 

The LGBTIQ community decided, following much debate over the course of several months, not to roll over and ‘put up with’ a fundamentally flawed model put forward by people who clearly did not have our best interests at heart.

 

Instead, we stood up to say no to their unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

 

We stood up to say that, given marriage equality is, at its heart, about fairness, the manner in which it is recognised must be fair as well (contrary to Attorney-General George Brandis’ recent bleatings that ‘the ends justifies the means’).

 

Above all, we stood up to say that, while a plebiscite may have helped some members of our community to have their rights recognised more quickly, it would also have caused real and potentially long-lasting harm to young and vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ community, and to rainbow families.

 

And that trade-off was unacceptable to us.

 

Which means that, as well as having the right objective, we were also motivated by the right reasons – and that makes me immensely proud, too.

 

As an aside, I am also personally satisfied in the small but hopefully meaningful role I played in this much broader collective effort – whether that was by writing multiple submissions and letters to decision-makers, engaging in community education, refining arguments and messaging, conducting my own survey to ascertain community attitudes towards the plebiscite or even designing simple little memes that somehow managed to reach a wide audience.

 

As with any significant campaign, there are obviously many, many people (too many to event attempt to name here) who have all helped achieve this particular victory. I am just happy to be among them.

 

Of course, this is not the ultimate success that we crave – the equal recognition of our relationships under the Marriage Act 1961, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

Defeating the plebiscite is just another battle (albeit a significant one) on the long road towards that objective. And there are, unfortunately, plenty more battles left to fight to reach that goal.

 

Which means that, rather than being able to sit back and rest on our laurels at this point, we must keep the pressure up – just as we have done for the past 12 years.

 

We must keep the pressure up on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a man who claims to support the LGBTIQ community generally, and marriage equality specifically. Well, if that is the case, then it is his responsibility to actually demonstrate that support by providing a free vote in the Parliament, so that this issue can be resolved as quickly as possible (and potentially before the end of this year).

 

And if Turnbull is unwilling or unable to lead on this (and all indications are that he will not show the same leadership that Bill Shorten today has), then we must keep the pressure up on other MPs and Senators within the Coalition who back marriage equality, and encourage them to follow their conscience and cross the floor to support the legislation put forward by Labor and/or the Greens.

 

Hon Bill Shorten MP Official portrait 20 March 2013

In blocking the plebiscite, Bill Shorten has shown the leadership that Malcolm Turnbull sadly has not.

 

We must also keep the pressure up on the Government over their proposals, released last night, to dramatically expand religious exceptions as part of any amendments to the Marriage Act – including by providing civil celebrants with the power to effectively put up a sign saying ‘No gays allowed’, and religious-operated businesses and services to turn away LGBTIQ couples.

 

Anything beyond the existing right of ministers of religion to refuse to officiate a ceremony is unacceptable and must be rejected.

 

And we must keep the pressure up by continuing to defend our principled stance against the plebiscite.

 

It is inevitable that many within the Liberal and National Parties will now turn around and blame the LGBTIQ community, and the Australian Labor Party for listening to us, for their failure to achieve marriage equality in the short-to-medium term.

 

But that view is based on a falsehood – because, if those same MPs and Senators are genuinely interested in resolving this issue, then they should be reminded that they sit in the place where they can do exactly that, by passing legislation in the ordinary way (and in exactly the same way that our rights were denied by John Howard’s Government in August 2004).

 

For however long it takes us to achieve marriage equality, we will likely need to continue to explain our justification for saying a firm ‘No thanks’ to the plebiscite – and that is because it is unnecessary, inappropriate, divisive, wasteful, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent, radical, unfair and dangerous.

 

Right now, it remains to be seen just how long that wait will be. As indicated above, if Turnbull were to do the right thing and call for a free vote immediately, marriage equality could be passed within a matter of weeks, and LGBTIQ couples could be able to marry by the start of 2017.

 

Or it could take slightly longer, with sustained pressure forcing the Government to change its position over the course of the next 12-18 months (or compelling enough backbenchers to summon the courage to walk 12-18 feet across the parliamentary chamber to pass the Bill).

 

It may even be that we will not achieve marriage equality for another three or four years, following the possible election of a Shorten Labor Government – or the Coalition coming to its senses and abandoning the unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

 

No matter how long it takes, we know that marriage equality will eventually be recognised under Australian law.

 

Why? Not just because it is the right thing to do. But because of one quality that LGBTIQ Australians have shown, in abundance, since Howard’s unjust ban. A quality that we continue to demonstrate today: perseverance.

 

Over the past 12 years, we have been let down by multiple Prime Ministers, and Governments of different persuasions. But we have kept fighting.

 

We have been legislated against, and then largely ignored, and yet we have continued campaigning until we made marriage equality a central issue in Australian politics.

 

And we have been underestimated, time and time again – most recently about the plebiscite itself (you can bet that most senior figures within the Coalition, and indeed many people in the media, believed that the LGBTIQ community would simply acquiesce to their problematic proposal).

 

But we have persisted in arguing for what we believe is right and fair, including the fairest way to achieve it.

 

We do this because it’s personal. Because, while prima facie this is an issue simply of legal discrimination, it is about far more than that.

 

It is about who we are as people, and our fundamental right, not just to equal treatment under the law, but to dignity and respect.

 

It is about our relationships, about seeing them be recognised as being as worthy as those of everyone else – and about having the same choices as others, including whether to get married or not (rather than having that decision made for us by 226 people in Canberra).

 

It is about our families, both the rainbow families who are raising thousands, or tens of thousands, of happy and healthy – and above all, loved – children, and our parents and siblings and extended families, who share the entirely understandable desire that their family members be treated fairly.

 

And it is about generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians still to come, who have the right to grow up in a country that does not discriminate against them simply because of who they are.

 

For all of these reasons, we will continue the fight for marriage equality for as long as it takes.

 

We will persevere. Until it is finally done.

Letter to ALP MPs and Senators Calling on Them to Block the Plebiscite

Wednesday 14 September 2016

 

Dear ALP MP/Senator

 

Please Block the Marriage Equality Plebiscite

 

I am writing to call on you to cast your vote against Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s enabling legislation to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Given the public declarations by Senators from the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch that they will oppose this Bill, Labor Party MPs and Senators have the power, and I would argue the responsibility, to block Turnbull’s Bill, thereby preventing the plebiscite from proceeding.

 

Instead, it should be up to parliamentarians from across the political spectrum to debate, and vote on, a Bill that would hopefully make marriage equality a reality – using exactly the same procedure in which the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians were denied 12 years ago.

 

**********

 

Even as someone who has studied, been employed in and continues to be engaged with Australian politics, I must admit I knew little about ‘plebiscites’ before the Liberal-National Government first adopted one as their position on marriage equality on 11 August last year.

 

But there’s a pretty good explanation for that – despite the fact I am (far-too-rapidly) approaching the age of 40, there has not been an Australia-wide plebiscite, of any kind, since I was born.

 

Of course, given the Turnbull Coalition Government proposes to use this kind of national public vote to determine whether my relationship should be recognised equally under Commonwealth law, I have spent the past 13 months becoming better acquainted with this supposedly ‘democratic’ phenomenon.

 

In that period I have thought about, and written about, the idea of plebiscites generally, and the proposed marriage equality plebiscite specifically, enough to last a lifetime. And the more I have considered this issue in detail, the stronger my view has become that a plebiscite is an entirely unsuitable means to determine the human rights of LGBTI Australians.

 

From my perspective, and reflecting the multiple blog-posts, submissions and letters to politicians I have written about the plebiscite over that time, there are ten main reasons why I believe it should be blocked:

 

  1. A plebiscite is unnecessary[i]

 

The High Court has already determined that Commonwealth Parliament has the constitutional power to pass legislation introducing marriage equality. There is absolutely no need for a national public vote to be held beforehand, whether that be a referendum, plebiscite or otherwise. Instead, marriage equality should be passed in the same way it was originally banned – through a vote in Parliament.

 

  1. A plebiscite is inappropriate

 

The fact that the relationships of some people are not recognised equally under the law, solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, is a denial of their fundamental human rights. Remedying this injustice should not be dependent on ‘popularity’, thus rendering a plebiscite an inappropriate method to resolve this issue.

 

Even if the plebiscite was ‘unsuccessful’, the denial of human rights caused by marriage inequality would not disappear, perhaps explaining why LGBTI people will continue to push for the laws to be amended irrespective of the result.

 

  1. A plebiscite is divisive

 

Some people (aka Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) have argued that the plebiscite will involve a ‘respectful’ debate between proponents and opponents of reform, who, when the votes are tallied, will all accept the outcome, with the overall process bringing the nation closer together.

 

I disagree. It will instead see LGBTI Australians forced to publicly ‘beg’ for our rights, in the face of anti-equality campaigners, such as Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director, Lyle Shelton, who have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to denigrate LGBTI people and our relationships (with Mr Shelton linking same-sex parenting with the Stolen Generations on multiple occasions, comparing the introduction of marriage equality and the Safe Schools program with the rise of Nazism, and inciting ‘bathroom panic’ against trans women[ii]).

 

It is, at-best, naïve (and, at-worst, wilfully ignorant) to suggest that, after three-to-six months of divisive debate, with the worst kinds of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia thrown about by people like Mr Shelton, the passions and prejudices whipped up by the plebiscite will ‘magically’ subside.

 

  1. A plebiscite is wasteful

 

It is difficult to think of many examples where the Government, any Government, is willing to spend several months, and at least $170 million, doing something it could do for free, in a matter of weeks. That is exactly what the Turnbull Liberal-National Government is proposing, wasting time and money on a plebiscite when a Parliamentary vote could resolve the issue by the end of October. At no cost.

 

The money involved could be better spent on literally almost anything else, including:

 

  • Resettling an extra 2,297 refugees from Syria and Iraq
  • Supporting an additional 1,975 postgraduate students
  • Hiring 477 more registered nurses over four years
  • Employing an extra 578 teachers in public schools, or
  • Funding the Safe Schools program 20 times over.[iii]

 

If Turnbull and his Treasurer Scott Morrison were serious about ‘restoring the nation’s finances’, they could even use this money to reduce Government debt[iv], rather than throwing it away on an exercise that is basically a national opinion poll, one that isn’t even binding on the MPs and Senators putting it forward.

 

  1. A plebiscite is unprecedented[v]

 

I mentioned earlier that there has not been a nation-wide plebiscite in my lifetime. The last one – a multiple choice poll to select a new national anthem – was held in 1977 (although its result was not implemented for another seven years). The last plebiscite on a substantive matter of public policy was more than 98 years ago – the second of two plebiscites conducted during World War I regarding conscription. And that’s it, Australia’s entire history of plebiscites in one short paragraph.

 

There has never been a plebiscite to determine the rights of a minority group. And there is no person alive who has voted in an Australian plebiscite on an issue of substance – indeed, no-one born since Federation has ever voted in one. The decision to hold one, on the issue of marriage equality, is essentially unprecedented in contemporary history.

 

  1. A plebiscite is bizarre

 

The fact that there has not been a substantive plebiscite in almost a century means that Australia has managed to negotiate extraordinary amounts of change without the need to hold a national public opinion poll.

 

We’ve been through numerous wars (including introducing conscription, more than once), economic booms and busts, massive social reforms (such as the rise of feminism, the recognition of Aboriginal land rights and the decriminalisation of homosexuality), and revolutionary change to the institution of marriage itself (with the introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’ in 1975), all without a plebiscite.

 

In this context, it is downright bizarre that, of all the possible issues that theoretically could have been the subject of a plebiscite since 1917, Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition Government believe the simple question of whether two men, or two women, can marry is the one worth making the subject of an expensive and time-consuming public vote.

 

  1. A plebiscite is inconsistent

 

The Government’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite is entirely inconsistent with recent political history. Or, if we’re being less charitable, it is hypocritical given the actions of the Liberal and National Parties over the past 12 years. This includes not just the banning of marriage equality via an ordinary parliamentary vote in August 2004 – then-Prime Minister John Howard did not hold a plebiscite before introducing his Marriage Amendment Act – but also repeatedly voting against overturning the ban in parliament in the decade since, again without the benefit of a $170 million national public vote.

 

The only thing that seemed to change before the Coalition’s August 2015 decision to adopt a plebiscite as their policy is the fact that the numbers in parliament shifted, such that, were a free vote to be held, marriage equality would have finally passed. The inconsistent decision to adopt a plebiscite can therefore be seen as a cynical manoeuvre to do more than just shift the goalposts, but to change the rules of the game entirely, solely to avoid defeat.

 

  1. A plebiscite is radical

 

An argument regularly made by people pushing a plebiscite is that it is ‘the most democratic way’ to resolve a controversial issue. A clear implication of such a statement is that dealing with these kinds of debates in the ordinary way, via our nation’s parliament, is consequently, ‘second-best’.

 

Following this logic to its natural conclusion, whenever a controversial matter of public policy arises in future there will be calls for it to be the subject of a plebiscite – and the Liberal and National Parties will have no rational reason to reject these demands. By holding a plebiscite on marriage equality, they are opening the door to plebiscites on issues like euthanasia or, more worryingly, the reintroduction of the death penalty or even ‘banning Muslim immigration’.

 

A plebiscite on marriage equality is therefore not a conservative position – in fact, it is an extremely radical view, one that could potentially change Australia’s entire system of Government, and not for the better.[vi]

 

  1. A plebiscite is unfair

 

Another argument against the plebiscite was perhaps best articulated recently by former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, and that is to note it is a process that is inherently unfair on Australia’s LGBTI community:

 

“[I]t’s a discriminatory step. It’s a step that is designed by those who propose it in the hope of defeating and delaying equality for citizens. It’s unfair to people who are of a different sexual orientation or gender identity and it’s a bad precedent for our law-making.”[vii]

 

The imposition of a plebiscite in order for LGBTI people to be treated fairly under secular law is a hurdle that has not been placed in front of any other minority group in order for them to attain equality. Erecting this barrier is effectively singling out people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status for differential, and detrimental, treatment.

 

It is particularly offensive given the issue of marriage equality, at its core, is about fairness, fairness to LGBTI people and to our relationships. The method in which this issue is resolved should also be fair – a plebiscite is anything but.

 

  1. A plebiscite is dangerous

 

Holding a plebiscite on marriage equality is dangerous in (at least) two ways. First, and this is something that is thankfully starting to receive coverage (including by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in the Second Reading Speech of his private member’s Bill), is that the divisive debate in the lead-up to the vote will be dangerous to young and/or vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, as well as to the children of rainbow families.

 

Should a plebiscite proceed, it is inevitable these groups will be subjected to hate-speech, and personal attacks. It is sadly also inevitable that, for some, it will have a negative impact on their mental health, including causing or exacerbating depression and, tragically, possibly leading some to take their own lives.

 

A plebiscite is also dangerous because it has the potential to lead to violent attacks on the LGBTI community. No, I am not talking about a tragedy similar to the recent heart-breaking events in Orlando. But I am talking about the more ‘everyday’ heart-breaks of homophobic and transphobic assaults, as well as the rise of hate-groups opposed to the mere existence of LGBTI people.

 

Two recent examples spring to mind here. The first was a shocking incident from February this year where a young man, who happens to live in the same apartment complex as my fiancé and I, was the victim of two homophobic assaults on the same night.[viii]

 

After being ‘gay-bashed’ by a group of people nearby he was assisted back to our block by a ‘good Samaritan’ who, upon discovering he had a boyfriend waiting upstairs (rather than a girlfriend), said “you’re one of those fags ya f**king queer c**t”, turned on the young man and hit him in the face. I challenge anyone, anywhere, not to be horrified that this sequence of events could occur in 2016.

 

The second example was the counter-demonstration to the 25 June marriage equality demonstration outside Sydney’s Town Hall, where a small, but obviously well-funded and well-organised, group shouted ‘paedo scum, protect our young’ loudly and insistently across George Street. I’ve been a regular attendee of marriage equality rallies since the first anniversary of Howard’s ban, but in those 11 years have never seen anything like it.

 

In this context, when people can be the victims of multiple acts of homophobic violence on the one night, and where homophobic and transphobic hate-groups are emerging (or re-emerging), I would argue it is grossly irresponsible to hold a vote that can only inflame the situation. Turnbull’s plebiscite is the spark that could ignite an explosion of hate-crimes, and he should call it off.

 

**********

 

Based on the thousands of words I have written in the 13 months since the plebiscite was first announced, and the couple of thousand more included above, my fiancé Steve and I both arrived at the same conclusion: that the plebiscite should be blocked, even if that carries with it a risk that marriage equality could be delayed as a result.

 

We have been together for more than eight years, having met in August 2008. And we have now been engaged for more than six and a half years, after Steve made me an extremely happy man by replying “Of course I will” to my proposal in January 2010.

 

At the time, we knew that it would take several years for the legal situation in Australia to change, and therefore accepted (or at least acknowledged) that we would be ‘waiting’ some time for the day when we would walk down the aisle. On an optimistic day, we thought we would probably be married by now: on a pessimistic day, perhaps not until later this decade, or even 2020.

 

But we didn’t envisage that in 2016 we would be comparatively so close to achieving equality, while simultaneously being so far way. And by that I mean that the numbers clearly exist in Parliament for marriage equality to be passed today – but the Turnbull Government will not allow that to happen unless it holds an unnecessary, inappropriate, divisive, wasteful, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent, radical, unfair and frankly dangerous plebiscite beforehand.

 

Anyone with any amount of empathy would understand that, given the length of time we have already waited, we are becoming increasingly desperate to finally have the chance to marry our partner, in front of our families and friends, in exactly the same way that my brother and sister have already married theirs. Ideally, we want to be able to say “I do” while both of our grandmothers are still alive, and at some point before or on our 10 year anniversary, in August 2018.

 

But, we are not so desperate that we are willing to accept a fundamentally flawed process, designed by people and organisations that clearly do not have our best interests at heart, and imposed upon LGBTI Australians in a way that no other group has been forced to endure.

 

And we are not so focused on our own happiness that we are prepared to ignore the potential harms to young and vulnerable LGBTI people, who are yet to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity or intersex status in a country, and a world, in which they are still told, far too often, that who they are is not okay. And who would have to hear that message frequently, for months on end, if the plebiscite goes ahead.

 

Because Steve and I have both been that teenager, alone and in the closet, struggling to make sense of the homophobia coming from schools, and families, and politicians, and the media – and we owe it to those kids in the same situation now (as well as to our younger selves) not just to tell them that “It gets better”, but to make sure that it actually does get better.

 

That’s why we made the joint decision that we would rather wait even longer for our own right to get married if it means that these harms to others could be lessened, or even avoided altogether. And we remain proud of our choice.

 

**********

 

Of course, it is not just Steve and I who are affected by these discriminatory laws, or who would be impacted by any move to block the Government’s proposed plebiscite on marriage equality. As you are no doubt aware, there are literally tens of thousands of couples in similar situations right around Australia.

 

And the impact of any decision which has the potential to cause a delay in the recognition of marriage equality will be even greater on some of these, depending on their age, health and other factors. There are of course some couples for whom a delay will mean, tragically, they do not get the opportunity to marry their own partner before their death(s).

 

Cognisant of this fact, and recognising that calling on political parties to block the plebiscite even if this has the consequence that marriage equality may not be achieved during this term is a ‘big ask’, I decided I could not actively advocate this view to members of the new Parliament without first ascertaining the views of other members of the LGBTI community.

 

Following the federal election on Saturday 2 July, I designed a short online survey, which included a range of questions of which the central one was this:

 

“What do you think should be the LGBTIQ community’s approach to the proposed marriage equality plebiscite?

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

 

The survey was distributed, from 17 to 31 July, via my website[ix], through social media, via paid advertisements and by direct contact with networks to ensure there were responses from across the LGBTIQ community. It ultimately received 1,140 completed responses, including 840 from LGBTIQ people.

 

The results of this survey were totally unambiguous:

 

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

 

This outcome – two thirds or more of people wishing to see the plebiscite blocked, even if it meant marriage equality may be delayed – was replicated across nearly all demographic groups, including lesbian (75.4% block), gay (66.4%), bisexual (69.5%), transgender (71.4%) and queer (75.8%) respondents, as well as the parents in rainbow families (73.3%).

 

In fact, the only cohort that was somewhat lower than this figure was from non-LGBTIQ people who completed the survey – of whom ‘only’ 62.7% wished to see the plebiscite blocked, compared to 71.2% of respondents from within the LGBTIQ community.

 

Despite this, it is instructive to observe that those who have the most to gain from the recognition of marriage equality, but are exposed to the greatest risk from the process, and who have therefore probably considered the issue in the most detail, are more likely to oppose it than others who support marriage equality but who have less personally at stake.

 

Based on these results, as well as the results of recent surveys from other organisations (including PFLAG Australia, just.equal and GetUp) which have reported similar results, I have absolutely no hesitation in calling on you, as ALP members of the House of Representatives and Senators, to exercise your vote to block the plebiscite.

 

Steve and I want it. The majority of the LGBTIQ community want it. It is the right thing to do. And, I believe, it is the only fair thing to do in the circumstances.

 

**********

 

But you do not need to take my word for it. As part of my survey on the plebiscite described above I included a question inviting respondents to explain their decision – specifically, to outline why they wanted to block, accept, or wait to see the details of, the plebiscite[xi].

 

I include with this letter a document containing all of the 725 answers provided by the 786 respondents who indicated they wanted the plebiscite to be blocked:

Survey Results Part 2 Block – Reasons

 

They are passionate, thoughtful and eloquent (far more eloquent than this letter) explanations for why the idea of waiting another three years for marriage equality, even though we have waited far too long already, is a far more appealing option than engaging in a bitter and nasty public debate. I encourage you to read as many of them as you have the time to before you meet to determine your caucus position.

 

However, and noting that it is a near impossible task to choose some people’s intimate responses over other, equally-personal explanations, I will highlight a few of the answers which I found most affecting:

 

“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.”

 

“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.”

 

“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 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.”

 

These three comments from trans respondents should be mandatory reading for anyone who, in September 2016, still supports a plebiscite:

 

“As a visible member of the transgender community I believe the plebiscite will be used by homo/bi/transphobic 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 free-for-all platform. It’s easy to say yes to the plebiscite if you’re 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 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, as 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.”

 

Finally, these five answers from LGBTIQ parents demonstrate more ‘family values’ in a few short paragraphs than the Australian Christian Lobby has shown in a decade of campaigning against marriage equality:

 

“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 injure my kids’ sense of being wanted in society.”

 

“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 recognised 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 on my 4 year old daughter and other children like her raised in rainbow families.”

 

“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 is already 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.”

 

As I said earlier, these are passionate, thoughtful and eloquent reasons for why so many members of the LGBTI community want to see the plebiscite blocked. I sincerely hope that, even if you do not listen to me, you do listen to them.

 

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Given the failure of the Turnbull Government to provide any information about its proposed plebiscite ahead of the federal election on 2 July this year, LGBTI people responding to my survey indicating they wanted to see the plebiscite blocked were doing so on the basis of principle – essentially saying that, irrespective of any details that might eventually be announced, they did not believe a plebiscite was the right way forward on this issue.

 

One-in-five respondents did indicate that they wanted to see more details before making up their minds. Unfortunately, on the basis of the Government’s announcements yesterday (Tuesday 13 September) – where they finally added some flesh to the bare bones of their plebiscite – it is highly unlikely many would now be convinced to support their proposal.

 

That is because there are significant problems with the mechanism outlined by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, and Special Minister of State, Senator Scott Ryan, via their media release and press conference yesterday.

 

First of all, and the issue that seems to have attracted the most attention, is that the Turnbull Government is proposing to allocate $7.5 million to the ‘Yes’ case, and $7.5 million to the ‘No’ case (bringing the overall cost of this exercise to $170 million), despite the fact that the arguments surrounding marriage equality have been made for more than a decade.

 

The prospect of the Australian Christian Lobby, Marriage Alliance and Australian Marriage Forum being provided with taxpayer’s money to spread homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia is horrifying to many people, myself included. And the idea of publicly-funded television commercials linking rainbow families with the Stolen Generations, the introduction of marriage equality with the rise of Nazism, or inciting ‘bathroom panic’ against trans women – comments ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton has made just this year[xii] – is particularly offensive.

 

But, from my perspective, an even bigger problem with the proposed plebiscite is the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” This question does not mean marriage equality, because, based on this wording, it would not include many transgender (and especially non-binary identifying people) and intersex people who are currently prohibited from marrying but whose relationships do not fall within the category of ‘same-sex’ couple.

 

It is possible that this issue will be addressed in the amendments to the Marriage Act itself. But we have not seen the Government’s proposed substantive changes, and do not know when these will be released. Without being satisfied that all LGBTI people will be allowed to marry, I believe it is impossible for people of good conscience to pass the enabling legislation.

 

Other problems that have already emerged with the details announced yesterday include:

 

  • The proposed plebiscite will not be ‘self-executing’, nor will it be binding on any Government MP (with some indicating that they will vote against, irrespective of the result) – which means that, even after spending $170 million and wasting three-to-six months on this exercise, amendments to the Marriage Act will still be subject to a conscience vote (leaving the fundamental question, of what the point of the plebiscite is, unanswered).
  • While the Government has indicated that the ‘criteria for success’ will be 50% +1 vote nationally, it has also confirmed that results will be reported based on individual electorates and by state or territory, making it easier for MPs and Senators to vote against equality on the basis of their individual constituency, even if the nominated hurdle has been cleared.
  • The limit on tax-deductible contributions, of $1500 per individual, may prima facie appear fair but in practice disadvantages the ‘Yes’ case, because a number of religious organisations – who do not pay tax to begin with – will still be able to accept donations and spend this money on public advertising promoting the ‘No’ side, and
  • It has already been revealed[xiii] that, outside of any publicly-funded commercials, there will be absolutely no requirement for ‘third party’ advertisements to be truthful, increasing the likelihood of anti-LGBTI vilification on the nation’s airwaves.

 

These are just the problems that are already in the public domain. We are still not aware, because the Government has not made the details of its amendments to the Marriage Act itself known, whether it will introduce new ‘religious exceptions’ allowing people to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and if so how broad these new ‘rights to bigotry’ might be (noting that anything beyond the existing right for ministers of religion to refuse to perform a religious ceremony is completely unacceptable[xiv]).

 

In the same way that the more I considered the idea of a plebiscite, the stronger my personal opposition became, the more that is revealed about Turnbull’s proposed mechanism to conduct this vote, the less it is able to be supported.

 

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In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my call on you, as Labor Party MPs and Senators, to cast your vote against Malcolm Turnbull’s enabling legislation to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Please block the plebiscite because it is unnecessary, inappropriate, divisive, wasteful, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent, radical, unfair and frankly dangerous.

 

Please block the plebiscite because it will inevitably harm young and vulnerable members of the LGBTI community.

 

Please block the plebiscite in the name of thousands of couples like Steve and I, who desperately want to get married but who are prepared to wait rather than risk seeing that harm inflicted others.

 

Please block the plebiscite because the majority of LGBTIQ Australians believe that is the right course of action.

 

And please block the plebiscite, even if there is a risk doing so might result in marriage equality being delayed by three years.

 

Of course, that does not have to be the case. There is absolutely no reason why 226 representatives of the Australian people, sitting in the House of Representatives and Senate in Canberra, could not debate, vote on and resolve this issue, all before the end of October.

 

Despite yesterday’s protestations by the Prime Minister, and Attorney-General, and their attempts both to apportion blame and to speak on behalf of gay and lesbian couples around Australia, we are more than capable of thinking, and speaking, for ourselves.

 

We know who the real roadblock on the path to equality is. We are completely aware of who it is standing in the way of our relationships finally being treated fairly under the law.

 

It is a Government that, rather than vote on the issue of marriage equality in the ordinary way – in parliament – has instead chosen to engage in a $170 million glorified national opinion that will take up to six months and won’t even be binding on its own MPs.

 

It is an Attorney-General, and Cabinet, and Party-room, who have engineered a ‘mean and tricky’ process, designed to increase the chances of the plebiscite’s defeat, one which will allow taxpayers’ money to be spent on vilifying LGBTI Australians, our relationships and our families.

 

And it is a Prime Minister who claims to support marriage equality, but who is not prepared to do so on the floor of our nation’s parliament. Who says he is on our side, but will not actually do anything that demonstrates that commitment. Who is more interested in retaining his job than in recognising the rights of LGBTI people.

 

They are who I will blame, as will the vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, should the current Parliament be unable to pass marriage equality during this term.

 

So, I implore you to listen not just to me, but to the views of literally hundreds of LGBTI people who undertook my survey, who want you to block the plebiscite.

 

Please join with the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch in voting against the Government’s enabling legislation, thereby increasing pressure to resolve this issue in Parliament – the same place that prohibited equal treatment of our relationships in the first place.

 

Please, please, please block Malcolm Turnbull’s marriage equality plebiscite.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

**********

 

Hon Bill Shorten MP Official portrait 20 March 2013

Will Bill Shorten be the leader that Malcolm Turnbull clearly isn’t?

 

Footnotes:

[i] For more on the first four arguments raised, please see my submission to the Senate Inquiry which considered this issue in late 2015: No Referendum. No Plebiscite. Just Pass the Bill. https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/08/29/no-referendum-no-plebiscite-just-pass-the-bill/

[ii] For more on exactly how bitter and nasty the campaign is likely to become, please see: Lyle Shelton’s ‘Respectful’ Debate. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/09/06/lyle-sheltons-respectful-debate/

[iii] For a longer list, please see: 7 Better Ways to Spend $158.4 million. https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/12/22/7-better-ways-to-spend-158-4-million/

[iv] Please also see my 2016-17 Pre-Budget Submission: Save $158.4 million – Scrap the Marriage Equality Plebiscite. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/02/02/2016-17-pre-budget-submission-save-158-4-million-scrap-the-marriage-equality-plebiscite/

[v] The next four reasons (5-8) are based on the following post: Malcolm Turnbull’s Proposed Marriage Equality Plebiscite is Truly Extraordinary. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/05/22/malcolm-turnbulls-proposed-marriage-equality-plebiscite-is-truly-extraordinary/

[vi] An argument which at the very least has seen WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith indicate he will not vote for the enabling legislation, although so far he is alone in this position. Brisbane Times, Dean Smith: Not voting for plebiscite is a vote for parliamentary democracy, 13 September 2016. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/comment/openly-gay-liberal-senator-dean-smith-wont-vote-on-samesex-marriage-plebiscite-20160913-grf006.html

[vii] Lateline, Interview with Michael Kirby, 26 August 2016: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2016/s4527742.htm

[viii] Daily Telegraph, Gay man bashed twice in Waterloo: “I’ve never been so scared in my life and I thought I would die”, 23 February 2016. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/gay-man-bashed-twice-in-waterloo-ive-never-been-so-scared-in-my-life-and-thought-i-would-die/news-story/f269aa5cb3d623754e7e16109e0a1147

[ix] Please see: To Plebiscite or not to plebiscite? https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/07/17/to-plebiscite-or-not-to-plebiscite/

[x] Please see: Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/08/07/plebiscite-survey-results-part-1/

[xi] Please see: Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In your own words. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/08/21/plebiscite-survey-results-part-2-in-your-own-words/

[xii] Please see: Lyle Shelton’s ‘Respectful’ Debate. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/09/06/lyle-sheltons-respectful-debate/

[xiii] Guardian Australia, Marriage equality plebiscite ads run by third parties won’t need to be true, 13 September 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/sep/13/marriage-equality-plebiscite-campaign-ads-run-by-third-parties-wont-need-to-be-true

[xiv] Please see: Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill undermines the principle of LGBTI anti-discrimination. Should we still support it? https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/12/21/senator-leyonhjelms-marriage-equality-bill-undermines-the-principle-of-lgbti-anti-discrimination-should-we-still-support-it/

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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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Conclusion

 

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.

 

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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 qlife.org.au (3pm-midnight everyday) or
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au

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.

 

Methodology

 

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.

**********

Endnotes:

[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.

In the battle for marriage equality, we must not forget to fight against religious exceptions

The long struggle for marriage equality does not involve waging just one battle. Instead, it includes a range of related, and sometimes overlapping, fights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality.

 

Obviously, there is what most would consider to be the ‘central’ fight – to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to ensure all LGBTI couples who wish to can be married under secular Australian law. Victory on that particular issue is long overdue.

 

A closely-related fight is ensuring that the definition used to amend the Marriage Act is sex and gender neutral – referring to the union of two persons (replacing man and woman which is currently used in section 5) rather than referring to man/man, or woman/woman, unions. The latter would only be gay or same-sex marriage, instead of genuine marriage equality, and would continue to deny equal rights to some members of the LGBTI community.

 

Fortunately, most recent legislative attempts to amend marriage have used this more inclusive definition[i], although this is something that we will need to be vigilant about until equality is finally achieved in Australia (whenever that might eventually be).

 

And then there is the current procedural fight about how marriage equality should be implemented – with Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal-National Government intent on holding an unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

 

The $158.4 million-plus[ii] public vote appears to be supported by only the Australia Christian Lobby and other extremists opposed to LGBTI equality, while pretty much everyone else believes Parliament should simply do its job and pass a law to introduce equality (in exactly the same way then-Prime Minister John Howard entrenched inequality in the first place, way back in 2004).

 

However, there is one fight that is inherently connected to the larger battle for marriage equality that seems to be commonly overlooked – and that is the need to ensure that, irrespective of how marriage equality is ultimately achieved, no new special rights are created allowing religious organisations, and individuals, to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

These so-called ‘religious exceptions’ could take several possible forms. The narrowest version would be the introduction of a new right for civil celebrants and other celebrants, like military chaplains, who are not ministers of religion to be able to refuse to officiate ceremonies solely on the basis of the sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status of the couple involved[iii].

 

The next, more expansive type of special rights to discriminate would allow businesses that provide wedding-related services to deny those services to couples where one or both persons are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. This is the type of exception that excites Christian fundamentalists in the United States, with claims that requiring florists and bakers to sell their products to LGBTI couples is oppressive or even totalitarian in nature.

 

The broadest form of new religious exceptions would more radically change existing anti-discrimination laws, allowing all individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTI couples on the basis of their own religious beliefs, with such discrimination not restricted to wedding-related activities.

 

No matter how narrowly or broadly these new special rights to discriminate are defined, they are all completely unjustified – there is no reason why civil celebrants, businesses or anyone else operating in public life should be free to deny LGBTI people equal treatment.

 

But, just because they are unjustified, doesn’t mean they are not on the public agenda, as recent experience in the United States amply demonstrates.

 

From Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who found fame by refusing to perform the duties of her Government job[iv], instead denying service to members of the public solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, through to more recent state-wide Bills to ‘restore religious freedom’ (or, more accurately, to reinstate the rights of individuals and businesses to treat LGBTI people as second class citizens) in North Carolina, Mississippi and elsewhere, there has been a renewed push for religious exceptions to undermine marriage equality, and anti-discrimination laws more generally.

 

There seem to be three, inter-related and mutually reinforcing objectives behind the religious right’s latest homophobic ‘crusade’:

 

  1. In a practical sense, they genuinely want to prevent the equal treatment of LGBTI people – both by being legally permitted to refuse service to LGBTI couples themselves, and to encourage the broader population to do the same;
  2. In a symbolic sense, they want to undermine the equality aspect of marriage equality – if lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are allowed to marry under secular law, then Christian fundamentalists want to ensure that they are still treated as differently as possible, turned away by civil celebrants, wedding-related businesses and even public servants; and
  3. In a strategic sense, they want to use this ‘moment’, when marriage equality and LGBTI rights are being discussed across the community, to reassert the supposed primacy of ‘religious freedom’ and use it to dismantle LGBTI anti-discrimination laws where they exist – or hinder their development where they have not already been passed.

 

Before we judge our US counterparts too harshly, however, we must remember that conservative and other right-wing forces in Australia are engaged in exactly the same campaign here.

 

For example, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014, that would have introduced marriage equality (of a sort), included provisions that would have granted civil celebrants the ability to reject people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status[v].

 

Others on the ‘religious exceptions’ bandwagon include former Human Rights Commissioner, and now Liberal candidate for Goldstein, Tim Wilson[vi], as well as his former employers, the Institute of Public Affairs.

 

In addition to their outrageous calls for what limited LGBTI anti-vilification laws we do have[vii] to be temporarily suspended for the duration of the plebiscite, fringe group the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) have also repeatedly argued for any Marriage Amendment Bill to include permanent special rights for individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTI people.

 

In his own words, ACL ‘homophobe-in-chief’ Lyle Shelton believes existing anti-discrimination laws are somehow a threat to Australian democracy:

 

“The rights to a free conscience, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech and freedom of expression are the nuts and bolts of democracy. If they are to fall, then we have serious questions to answer regarding out democracy…

 

“Most fair-minded Australians would accept the right of a person to maintain their belief that gender and biology still matter to marriage and family and to always be free to give voice to that belief.

 

“Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to a flourishing society. When the definition is changed, the law will say that gender is irrelevant to the foundation of society.

 

“Those who believe gender, kinship and biological identity do matter to society’s fabric will be fundamentally at odds with the law and the anti-discrimination laws will be weaponised against them.”[viii]

 

Leaving aside the fact the ACL have been able to use their disproportionate-sized megaphone to publicly spew forth hatred against LGBTI Australians for many years[ix], without any apparent consequence, on this as with too many other issues they have found numerous supporters within the Liberal-National Government.

 

Indeed, ongoing debate on the issue of whether a draft Marriage Amendment Bill should include new ‘religious exceptions’, and if so how broad they should be in scope, is a key reason why Malcolm Turnbull was forced to back down from previous statements he would announce the timing and details of the marriage equality plebiscite ahead of the 2016 Federal Election.

 

In reporting on the decision by Turnbull to shelve the plebiscite announcement until after the poll, Dennis Shanahan in The Australian made the following observation:

 

“The key to reassuring those opposed to same-sex marriage, including conservative Coalition MPs, is not only the wording of the proposed plebiscite question changing the Marriage Act but also the protections for freedom of religion and speech.

 

“Those involved in the talks regard it as essential that Senator Brandis provide protections for those beyond the tight circle of religious and marriage celebrants who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.”[x]

 

Lenore Taylor in the Guardian Australia had earlier reported that internal tensions over the extent of these exceptions could cause the Government to delay announcing the Bill:

 

“The Turnbull government is wavering on its commitment to reveal details of its planned marriage equality plebiscite before the federal election because of deep divisions on crucial issues such as public funding and exemptions from anti-discrimination laws…

 

“[C]conservative MPs have been demanding broad exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for officials and wedding service providers, including florists, bakers and reception centres. Government sources said there were concerns that the issue would become internally “divisive.””[xi]

 

These reports confirm that the potential creation of new special rights to discriminate is very much a live option within the Turnbull Liberal-National Government.

 

This development is something that should have anyone interested in achieving marriage equality worried, especially because, as previous debates around Safe Schools and the plebiscite itself have demonstrated, the conservative and/or religious right are not shy about throwing their weight around inside the Coalition party room – and that applies just as much, if not more, under Prime Minister Turnbull as it did under his predecessor Tony Abbott.

 

The consequences of a conservative victory on this issue would be dire. On top of the practical and strategic problems identified above, the inclusion of new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI people in the plebiscite question – or its associated legislation – would make campaigning for marriage equality significantly more challenging.

 

In effect, it would ensure that the proposal considered at a plebiscite was fundamentally flawed from the beginning and that therefore many people in favour of genuine marriage equality would be forced to campaign, and vote, for something less than ideal while effectively ‘holding one’s nose’.

 

It would also tarnish the achievements of a successful ‘Yes’ campaign – instead of a unifying moment of national celebration, where true relationship equality was extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians without qualification, we would be left with a law that continues to permit discrimination in certain circumstances. In short, a ‘Yes’ result would be marred, leaving the overall job half-finished – and making it bittersweet to celebrate ‘equality-lite’.

 

For all of these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that, at the same time as we fight for marriage equality, we fight against the introduction of new religious exceptions, whether in the Marriage Act itself, or the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (or its state and territory equivalents).

 

Fortunately, we already have allies in this particular fight. In addition to the Greens, who have long campaigned against religious exceptions, the Australian Labor Party is also firmly opposed to their introduction.

 

160417 Guardian Why Knot

The Guardian Australia/Australian Marriage Equality event ‘Why Knot?’ where Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gave a firm commitment that Labor will oppose any expansion of religious exceptions – and will seek to repeal any provisions that are introduced by the Turnbull Liberal-National Government.

 

At the recent Guardian Australia/Australian Marriage Equality ‘Why Knot?’ forum in Sydney, I had the opportunity to ask Opposition Leader Bill Shorten the following:

 

“There is a real risk that, when Malcolm Turnbull finally gets around to drafting it, his Marriage Amendment Bill will seek to include new special rights for civil celebrants and other wedding business-providers to discriminate against LGBTI couples. Just to get it on the record: Mr Shorten, will you commit the Labor Party to voting against any attempt to expand religious exceptions beyond existing provisions and, if they do somehow end up being passed and polluting the Marriage Act, will you seek to repeal them at the earliest available opportunity?”

 

Mr Shorten’s answer was unexpectedly strong, and reassuring: “Yes, and yes.”

 

As reported by the Guardian Australia, he went on to note that “[i]t’s not allowed now under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”[xii]

 

It is possible that, after the Federal election, the combined votes of Labor and the Greens in the Senate will be able to block any attempt by a re-elected Turnbull Liberal-National Government to include expanded religious exceptions as part of its legislative package creating the plebiscite.

 

However, with a double dissolution election now almost inevitable on July 2nd, and the reduced Senate quotas associated with it, the final result in that Chamber will be especially hard to predict, with a range of minor parties still chances to win the 12th and final seat in each state.

 

Which means that there are now only two ways to avoid the creation of new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI Australians: for Shorten and Labor to be elected (and then implement their own policy to introduce marriage equality legislation within 100 days), or for a re-elected Prime Minister Turnbull to publicly commit to not introducing new religious exceptions in his own Marriage Amendment Bill.

 

Given his track record on LGBTI issues since taking over from Tony Abbott last September – selling the LGBTI community out on multiple occasions by ‘gutting’ the Safe Schools program and abandoning his previous personal position against holding a plebiscite – securing any enforceable commitments from Mr Turnbull will likely be an incredibly difficult task.

 

But, if we are committed to genuine marriage equality, then I believe this is a fight we must take on. Because if we don’t, we might find that we win marriage equality in the next 12 to 18 months but, instead of being able to celebrate achieving a better, fairer and more equal Australia, we are left to deal with new forms of exclusion, discrimination and state-sanctioned homophobia.

 

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[i] Although Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014 disappointingly only sought to recognize overseas marriages between “a man and another man or a woman and another woman”.

[ii] As quoted on page 22 of the Senate Committee Report: Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, 15 September 2015.

[iii] Thus providing them with the same right to ‘reject’ couples that ministers of religion already enjoy under the Marriage Act.

[iv] It is instructive to consider how people like Ms Davis would be received were they to refuse to serve African-American people, rather than LGBTI people – presumably such acts of outright racism would not be tolerated, or even celebrated, in the same way her egregious acts of homophobia and transphobia have been.

[v] For more on why Leyonhejlm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 was offensive, see “Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill Undermines the Principle of LGBTI Anti-Discrimination: Should we still support it?”

[vi] In Wilson’s opinion piece in The Australian on 6 July 2015, “Religious freedom and same-sex marriage need not be incompatible” he argued for religious exceptions to be extended not just to civil celebrants but also to a wide range of wedding-related businesses.

[vii] Only four states and territories currently have vilification laws that cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people: Queensland, NSW, ACT and Tasmania. There are no protections federally. Instead of suspending the paltry laws we do have, the Commonwealth Government should actually be introducing LGBTI anti-vilification laws of its own. See also: “Don’t limit racial vilification protections, introduce vilification protections for LGBTI Australians instead”.

[viii] From ACL Media Release, 5 April 2016 “ACL Concerned by Shorten Plan to Fine Business Owners who Disagree with Same-Sex Marriage.”

[ix] With Mr Shelton’s predecessor Jim Wallace saying that smoking was healthier than gay marriage, and the ACL under both leaders drawing comparisons between LGBTI parenting and the creation of another Stolen Generation, which is not just deeply offensive to LGBTI Australians but to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well.

[x] Dennis Shanahan, The Australian, 26 March 2016, “Federal election 2016: Same-sex marriage plebiscite pause for poll”.

[xi] Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia, 16 March 2016, “Marriage Equality: Coalition disunity puts pre-election plebiscite details in doubt.”

[xii] Paul Karp, Guardian Australia, 31 March 2016, “Shorten: Labor won’t change discrimination laws to please gay marriage opponents.”