It’s time for Moderate Liberals to speak now, or forever hold their peace

Commonwealth Parliament returns this week, for the final sitting fortnight of the year.

 

During the previous sitting week, on Monday 7 November, the Senate finally killed off, once and for all, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

The welcome actions of Labor, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team Senators, and even Derryn Hinch, have spared the country from what would have been an entirely unnecessary, fundamentally wasteful and inevitably divisive public vote on the human rights of a minority group.

 

In doing so, they have also ensured that the public, and political, pressure to finally pass marriage equality sits squarely where it should have been all along – on Liberal and National MPs and Senators.

 

After all, they are the ones sitting on the Government benches, meaning they shoulder the responsibility to introduce legislation to treat all couples equally, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

From now until the next federal election, likely to be held in the 1st half of 2019, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians should put pressure on Coalition parliamentarians to fix this mess.

 

More specifically, we will need to target one of the three main groupings within the Government, the cohort who are more likely to be receptive to our messages – Moderate Liberals.

 

It is difficult to see the other two ‘factions’ changing their respective tunes. National Party MPs, who are supposed to represent all people in rural and regional areas, have instead shown themselves completely uninterested in the relationships of the many LGBTI couples that live in their electorates.

 

In fact, the old ‘Country Party’ rump of the Coalition have been so determined to delay and potentially defeat marriage equality that they included the plebiscite as a core component of its formal agreement with Malcolm Turnbull when he became Prime Minister in September 2015.

 

Apparently, it is far more important to spend at least $170 million, and probably more than $200 million, on a non-binding opinion poll, than on meeting the health, education and infrastructure needs of non-metropolitan Australians.

 

The other major grouping within the Coalition – Conservative Liberals – are even less interested in recognising the human rights of LGBTI people. They would prefer just to see marriage equality blocked, and only agreed to holding a plebiscite under then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott because they saw it, correctly, as a stalling tactic.

 

With the plebiscite now dead, the terrible Tory trio of Abetz, Bernardi and Christensen, and their factional colleagues, are comfortable in seeing this issue left off the political agenda – from their perspective, hopefully permanently.

 

All of which is to say that the only hope of passing marriage equality in the remainder of this term rests with what is, in 2016, perhaps the smallest and least powerful of the Coalition groups – Moderate Liberals[i].

 

These MPs and Senators are the only ones within Malcolm Turnbull’s Government who could foreseeably take any action on marriage equality, at least in the short-term.

 

That’s because, if they are genuinely moderate in their beliefs, they are likely to understand the following three things:

 

  1. There is no justification for discrimination against people solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status under secular law – and that includes in the Marriage Act 1961.

 

  1. The plebiscite was the wrong process to achieve marriage equality. Not only was it unacceptable to the vast majority of LGBTI people, it also contravened the traditions of Australian democracy[ii], which has only ever witnessed three national plebiscites, and none on substantive policy for almost a century, and

 

  1. Most importantly, LGBTI Australians have already waited long enough (far too long actually) for their relationships to be treated equally under the law, meaning a parliamentary vote should not be delayed until 2019.

 

But, while they may understand these points, the real question is: What will Moderate Liberal MPs and Senators now do about it?

 

Will they stand up for their principles and push for a parliamentary vote, or will they continue their modus operandi from the past ten to 15 years and adopt the path of least resistance against their National Party and Conservative Liberal counterparts, by maintaining their official support for the discredited plebiscite?

 

Unfortunately, the signs to date are not encouraging. North Queensland LNP MP, Warren Entsch, who has pushed for marriage equality inside the Coalition for several years, has indicated that he is choosing right now, when we arguably need him most, to ‘give up the fight’[iii] on this issue for the remainder of this term.

 

He has, in effect, walked away from the LGBTI community rather than walking five metres across the chamber floor to vote for reform.

 

Disappointingly, few if any of Entsch’s colleagues have so far suggested they are interested in picking up where he left off.

 

warren-entsch

Warren Entsch, introducing his private member’s bill for marriage equality in 2015. Sadly, it seems he is unwilling to even vote for equality for the next two and a half years.

 

What would we ask them to do if they were ‘ready and willing’? There are two ways in which Moderate Liberals could progress marriage equality this term.

 

The first, and most challenging, path would be for them to push for a conscience vote inside the Liberal Party room (and in the absence of National MPs and Senators who, as Christopher Pyne accurately pointed out, were included by Tony Abbott in August 2015 as a means of ‘branch-stacking’ against equality).

 

Their arguments would be strong – the Government has tried and failed to implement its election policy (to hold the plebiscite), so it needs to find another way to recognise the legal equality of LGBTI relationships. A free vote also has the benefit of being far more consistent with the past practices of Australia’s main right-of-centre party than a public vote.

 

But they would also face strong resistance, led by PM-(again)-in-waiting Tony Abbott, among others, meaning it is unclear what the outcome would be.

 

If they failed, the second way in which Moderate Liberals could help pass marriage equality would be by ‘simply’ crossing the floor.

 

It would only take one or two principled Senators to secure passage in the Upper House, and probably only a small handful of MPs, perhaps half-a-dozen, to do so in the House of Representatives.

 

In the absence of a Prime Minister, Ministers or Assistant Ministers who were prepared to give up their positions of power for the sake of the human rights of their fellow citizens, they would all need to come from the backbench. And, by taking such a step, these backbenchers would know they were potentially jeopardising any future advancement within the Party.

 

It is unclear whether there are enough Coalition MPs and Senators to make that crucial difference. But, it is incredibly important that Moderate Liberals find these numbers, one way or another.

 

Not just for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, and our family members and friends, who have already endured 12 years – and counting – of John Howard’s homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic ban on our weddings.

 

It is also important for the future of Moderate Liberals themselves.

 

Make no mistake, this is a fundamental test for the section of the Liberal Party who identify as moderate, even ‘progressive’, on social issues.

 

Their ‘slice’ of the Coalition has been diminishing for decades, and their influence has waned noticeably from even the time when I was growing up.

 

On many issues, from the (mis)treatment of people seeking asylum, to the prioritisation of ‘national security’ over civil liberties, and even their growing obsession with section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, they are now almost indistinguishable from their National Party, and Conservative Liberal, colleagues.

 

So, if they cannot stand up to the rabid right-wing on this, a straight-forward question of inclusion versus discrimination – a clear-cut choice between granting human rights or actively denying them – it is difficult to see them standing up on anything.

 

If Moderate Liberals fail to ‘deliver the goods’ on marriage equality by the time the next election rolls around, it will be tempting for most Australians to reach the conclusion that they are ‘good-for-nothing’.

 

And, in my view at least, the public would be right – if Moderate Liberals cannot make progress on this issue before 2019, then they will have demonstrated that they have no place in contemporary Australian politics. It probably won’t be that much longer before they discover they have no place in Commonwealth Parliament either.

 

All of which means that, if they want LGBTI Australians to be able to walk down the aisle – and if they want to retain their seats on the ‘right’ side of the political aisle – it’s time for Moderate Liberals to speak now, or forever hold their peace.

 

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Footnotes:

[i] Irrespective of their actual factual alignment, for the purposes of this article this grouping includes the four out gay men in the Government: Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson, Trevor Evans and Senator Dean Smith.

[ii] The argument made by WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith in declaring that he could not, in good conscience, support the plebiscite enabling legislation.

[iii] Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2016, The same-sex plebiscite is dead. So what happens now?

What’s Wrong With the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991?

This post is part of a series examining the anti-discrimination laws that exist in each Australian jurisdiction and analysing how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination. Other posts in the series can be found here.

Specifically, each post considers three main aspects of LGBTI anti-discrimination legislation:

  • Protected attributes
  • Religious exceptions, and
  • Anti-vilification coverage.

Contrary to what some might expect, Queensland’s laws are at least ‘average’, and in some cases, particularly in relation to anti-vilification laws, ‘better than average’, across these three areas. Unfortunately, that says more about the major flaws that exist across most anti-discrimination laws in Australia than it necessarily does about the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (‘the Act’) itself.

There are still significant problems that must be addressed with this legislation, beginning with the issue of who is – and isn’t – covered.

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Protected Attributes

Like most of its counterparts in other states, Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act does not protect all parts of the LGBTI community from discrimination.

On the positive side, it does cover all lesbian, gay and bisexual people – with discrimination on the basis of ‘sexuality’ prohibited in section 7 of the Act (defined as “sexuality means heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality” in the Dictionary found in the Schedule).

On the less positive side, it only covers some transgender people, and not others. That is because, while section 7 also includes ‘gender identity’, the Act’s definition of this term is out-dated:

“gender identity, in relation to a person, means that the person-

(a) identifies, or has identified, as a member of the opposite sex by living or seeking to live as a member of that sex; or

(b) is of indeterminate sex and seeks to live as a member of a particular sex.”

While this does protect transgender people who were previously identified as male but now identify as female (and vice-versa), it does not include non-binary trans people. In order to rectify this situation, the Act’s definition of gender identity should be updated to reflect the definition used in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[i].

Even worse off than transgender Queenslanders, however, are people with intersex variations – while part (b) of the definition of ‘gender identity’ may apply to some intersex people in limited circumstances, there is no stand-alone protected attribute for intersex people and therefore no clear-cut protection against discrimination for them.

Again, this could be rectified with the introduction of ‘sex characteristics’ as a protected attribute in the legislation[ii].

Overall: While the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 does protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and some transgender people, from discrimination, it leaves other trans people (especially those whose identity is non-binary) and most intersex people out in the cold. This should be fixed as a matter of priority, by updating the definition of gender identity, and adding sex characteristics as a protected attribute.

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Religious Exceptions

Queensland has adopted a unique approach to religious exceptions through the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, in which case I will spend more time than normal discussing this element.

The primary religious exception is found in section 109:

“Religious bodies

(1) The Act does not apply in relation to-

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

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

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

(d) unless section 90 (Accommodation with religious purposes) applies – an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is –

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

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

(2) An exemption under subsection (1)(d) does not apply in the work or work-related area or in the education area.”

The first three sub-sections ((a), (b) and (c)) are at least concerned with the appointment of ministers of religion, or the conduct of religious celebrations, and are therefore more likely to be excusable on the basis of protecting ‘religious freedom’.

Unfortunately, the wording used in sub-section (d) – “in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned and necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion” – is incredibly broad, and permits discrimination against a wide range of people in terms of service delivery.

However, sub-section (2) is unusual and, as far as I can tell, not replicated in any other state or territory legislation. In essence, it provides that religious bodies cannot discriminate against employees unless their role is directly connected with ‘religious observance or practice’. It also means religious schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity[iii].

If section 109 was the only source of religious exceptions in the legislation, Queensland’s Act would almost be assessed as positive. However, there are other sections that complicate this assessment.

Chief among them is section 25:

“Genuine occupational requirements

(1) A person may impose genuine occupational requirements for a position.

Examples of genuine requirements for a position-

…Example 4-

Employing persons of a particular religion to teach in a school established for students of the particular religion

(2) Subsection (3) applies in relation to-

(a) work for an educational institution (an employer) under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes; or

(b) any other work for a body established for religious purposes (also an employer) if the work genuinely and necessarily involves adhering to and communicating the body’s religious beliefs.

(3) It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

Example for paragraph (a)

A staff member openly acts in a way contrary to a requirement imposed by the staff member’s employer in his or her contract of employment, that the staff member abstain from acting in a way openly contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs in the course of, or in connection with the staff member’s employment.

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.

(4) Subsection (3) does not authorise the seeking of information contrary to section 124[iv].

(5) For subsection (3), whether the discrimination is not unreasonable depends on all the circumstances of the case, including, for example, the following-

(a) whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions;

(b) the consequences for both the person and the employer should the discrimination happen or not happen.

(6) Subsection (3) does not apply to discrimination on the basis of age, race or impairment.

(7) To remove any doubt, it is declared that subsection (3) does not affect a provision of an agreement with respect to work to which subsection (3) applies, under which the employer agrees not to discriminate in a particular way.

(8) In this section-

religion includes religious affiliation, beliefs and activities.”

That is obviously a lot to take in. So here are my three key observations:

  • This section expands the religious exceptions offered under section 109, so that religious bodies can discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity against teachers and other staff in schools generally, but against employees in other religious organisations only “if the work genuinely and necessarily involves adhering to and communicating the body’s religious beliefs”.
  • In both cases this is limited by a potentially vague ‘reasonableness test’ (determining “whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions”), and
  • In both cases it is also limited by a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clause – discrimination is only permitted where “the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs” and the religious school or body cannot ask about sexuality or gender identity. This would therefore protect teachers or other staff who did not discuss their sexual orientation at their school or workplace[v].

Of course, as even the US Government and Military has eventually been forced to concede, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a terrible policy, ‘invisibilising’ LGBT people in the workplace, forcing them to deny who they are and silencing them in everyday conversations (for example, gay teachers would not be able to openly acknowledge their partners at all in the classroom or even in the staffroom). It also exposes LGBT employees to potential harassment and bullying.

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is also a terrible policy with respect to LGBT students, because it denies them visible role models to look up to, or from whom to seek relevant information.

But, and here is the extraordinary part, these exceptions – allowing religious schools and other bodies to discriminate against ‘out’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees – are actually the third-best religious exceptions in Australia (behind only Tasmania and recently-passed ACT laws), because they don’t allow these organisations to explicitly deny employment solely on the basis of sexuality or gender identity.

The other, much more unambiguously positive part of the Act’s religious exceptions is that section 25 does not apply to students – which means that, while a religious school can reject students who are not from a particular religion, they cannot reject students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.

Overall: Queensland’s approach to religious exceptions is unique, and its protection of LGBT students against discrimination is to be welcomed. However, other parts of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provide overly-generous rights to religious schools and other bodies to discriminate against LGBT employees, and people accessing services, and these should be significantly curtailed.

Specifically, subsection 109(1)(d), which allows discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity in relation to service-provision, should be repealed.

And, while the limitations on discrimination in relation to employment (including a ‘reasonableness test’ and a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clause) might mean Queensland’s legislation is better than most, permitting discrimination in such circumstances is still unacceptable in the 21st century, meaning section 25 should ultimately also be abolished.

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

Queensland is one of only four Australian jurisdictions to provide anti-vilification protections to LGBT people – the others being NSW, the ACT and Tasmania (noting that Commonwealth anti-vilification law only applies to race).

Unlike NSW, the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act treats all types of prohibited vilification exactly the same – establishing vilification on the basis of race, religion, sexuality and gender identity in the same section (124A)[vi], and creating the offence of serious racial, religious, sexuality or gender identity vilification in another (section 131A).

The same penalties apply irrespective of attribute (“for an individual – 70 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment; or for a corporation – 350 penalty units”).

Of course, given the out-dated definition of gender identity used, and the Act’s exclusion of sex characteristics, not all parts of Queensland’s LGBTI community are currently protected against vilification – although this could be rectified at the same time as the protected attributes, described earlier.

One other, relatively minor, fault that should also be corrected is that, while the offences themselves cover sexuality and gender identity alongside race and religion, the titles of the relevant Parts or Chapters do not (“Part 4 Racial and religious vilification” and “Chapter 5A Serious racial and religious vilification”).

This obviously does not impact on the substantive rights involved. However, it may be misleading to a casual reader of the legislation, and in some cases may cause people to mistakenly believe that they are not protected against vilification. As a result, it would be preferable if these titles were renamed to be genuinely inclusive.

Overall: Queensland’s anti-vilification protections are comparatively strong, but could be further strengthened by updating the definition of gender identity, adding sex characteristics, and ensuring that the titles of relevant Parts/Chapters are inclusive and not potentially misleading.

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Other Issues

There are two additional serious problems with the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, and it would be negligent to conclude this analysis without addressing them.

The first is the truly awful subsection 28(1), which states:

“Work with children

(1) It is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of lawful sexual activity[vii] or gender identity against a person with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under subdivision 1 if-

(a) the work involves the care or instruction of minors; and

(b) the discrimination is reasonably necessary to protect the physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors having full regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, including the person’s actions.”

This is genuinely appalling – the very law that is supposed to protect transgender people against discrimination implies that trans employees may be unsuitable to work with children, and could even be a threat to the ‘physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors’.

There was never a time that such a prejudiced subsection would have been acceptable, and it most definitely is not today – there is no excuse for the Palaszczuk Labor Government to leave this provision in place today.

The second additional flaw is found in section 45A, which states that the protection against discrimination in goods and services, located in section 46, “does not apply to the provision of assisted reproductive technology services if the discrimination is on the basis of relationship status or sexuality.”

Again, there can be no justification for such discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people in terms of their access to in-vitro fertilisation, artificial insemination or gamete, zygote or embryo transfer. This section must also be repealed as part of the overall much-needed updating of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

Annastacia Palaszczuk

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk needs to raise the standard of the ‘so-so’ Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 before the State election due on 31 October 2020.

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Footnotes:

[i] Defined in section 4 of that Act as “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerism or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.”

[ii] In March 2017, intersex activists issued the Darlington Statement, which called for this terminology (sex characteristics) to be used instead of the protected attribute of ‘intersex status’, which is found in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

[iii] Although section 42 does allow religious schools to discriminate against “applicants who are not of the particular sex or religion”. A similar provision allows religious boarding schools to discriminate on the basis of sex or religion as well (section 89).

[iv] “124 Unnecessary information

(1) A person must not ask another person, either orally or in writing, to supply information on which unlawful discrimination might be based.”

[v] Without looking at relevant case law, it is unclear how well, or poorly, the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach serves transgender people in the workplace.

[vi] “Section 124A Vilification on grounds of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity unlawful

(1) A person must not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race, religion, sexuality or gender identity of the person or members of the group.

(2) Section (1) does not make unlawful-

(a) the publication of a fair report of a public act mentioned in subsection (1); or

(b) the publication of material in circumstances in which the publication would be subject to a defence of absolute privilege in proceedings for defamation; or

(c) a public act, done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, scientific or research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest, including public discussion or debate about, and expositions of, any act or matter.”

[vii] The Act defines lawful sexual activity as “means a person’s status as a lawfully employed sex worker, whether or not self-employed”.

The Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is Unacceptable

This time last week, our major focus was, understandably, on ensuring Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party listened to the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community and agreed to block Malcolm Turnbull’s unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

With that particular mission (almost) accomplished – although the plebiscite’s enabling legislation won’t be ‘dead, buried and cremated’ until it is finally voted down by the Senate in November – it is time to turn our attention to another battle, and that is the issue of religious exceptions.

Last Monday night (10 October 2016), the Government, via Attorney-General George Brandis, released an exposure draft of the legislation it would put before parliament in the event the plebiscite is held, and if that vote was successful.

Since that time, a number of people have expressed their serious concerns about the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, and especially about the broad ‘rights to discriminate’ contained within. Now that I have had the opportunity to examine this Bill in detail, I am afraid I must join their condemnatory chorus.

Nearly everything about this Bill, from its title down, is unacceptable. It is far more focussed on ensuring that religious organisations, and even individuals, can refuse to serve LGBTI people, than it is about ensuring LGBTI couples are treated equally, and above all fairly, under the law. And, for the reasons that I will outline below, I sincerely believe it should be rejected in its current form.

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First, let’s start with that title, and specifically the phrase ‘same-sex marriage’, which is also used in the Bill’s long title (“A Bill for an Act to provide for same-sex marriage, and for related purposes”).

For the umpteenth time, and for the benefit of slow learners like Prime Minister Turnbull and Senator Brandis, ensuring that all LGBTI Australians can marry is not ‘same-sex marriage’, but ‘marriage equality’.

The former phrase is narrow and excludes non-binary trans people, as well as many intersex individuals. Only the latter phrase captures all couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Fortunately, the substance of the Bill actually does include all people – the primary clause would amend the homophobic definition of the Marriage Act enacted by John Howard’s Liberal-National Government in 2004 to read “marriage means the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

If that is the case, then why has the Government used the inaccurate phrase ‘same-sex marriage’ in the Bill’s title?

Perhaps it is simply politics, and the ongoing inability of the Coalition’s right-wing to acknowledge that this is, fundamentally, an issue of equality (although not referring to it as marriage equality even after the majority of the population voted for it – which is the precondition for this Bill – would seem to me incredibly petty).

On the other hand, maybe Turnbull and Brandis are right to shy away from describing this legislation as ‘marriage equality’ – because, in the vast majority of its provisions, it is nothing of the sort. Indeed, most of the Bill’s clauses are actually concerned with ensuring couples other than ‘a man and a woman’ are able to be refused service in a wide range of circumstances.

Which means that a far more accurate title for this legislation might be the ‘Marriage Amendment (Allowing any 2 adults to marry, but then allowing them to be denied service if they are LGBTI) Bill’. But, as well as being a mouthful, that might be a little too much ‘truth in advertising’ for this particular Government.

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Turning to the more substantive faults of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, and the first concerns the rights of ministers of religion to refuse to conduct LGBTI weddings.

Now, let me begin by saying that I actually agree that ministers of religion should legally have the ability to accept, or reject, any couple who wishes to be married by them through a religious ceremony (even if I personally believe that such discrimination is abhorrent).

Indeed, that ‘right’ is already provided to ministers of religion under section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961: “Ministers of religion not bound to solemnise marriage etc. Nothing in this Part: (a) imposes an obligation on an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, to solemnise any marriage…”

Which means that no amendments are required to the Act to allow ministers of religion to refuse to officiate LGBTI weddings (and none have been proposed by previous marriage equality Bills from Labor, the Greens and even last-year’s cross-party Bill from MPs including Liberal Warren Entsch). So why then does the Bill repeal section 47 and replace it with the following:

Ministers of religion may refuse to solemnise marriages

Refusing to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman

(3) A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) any of the following applies:

(i) the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister’s religious body or religious organisation;

(ii) the refusal is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;

(iii) the minister’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.”

Ministers of religion will still have exactly the same right to refuse to perform any wedding, including newly-recognised LGBTI weddings[i], that they have now. Arguably, it would provide a greater ability for religious organisations to impose their official doctrine on ministers of religion within their faith – although, as we have seen recently, imposing such views is already commonplace.

But the overall power will remain basically the same. So, why introduce these new provisions, spelling out in detail the ability to decline non- ‘man/woman’ marriages, at all?

It is difficult to see any other motivation than plain old homophobia and transphobia.

And that becomes apparent when comparing it against another issue that is also contrary to some religious views – divorce and remarriage[ii]. The Catholic Church in particular espouses an official view against both, and its ministers would therefore reserve the right to decline to officiate second (or third, fourth or even fifth) weddings.

Under both the existing, and the proposed new, sections 47 a minister of religion has the ability to reject couples in these circumstances – without it being spelled out. Just as the wording of the existing section 47 would allow them to reject LGBTI couples, were it to be retained following the introduction of marriage equality, without it necessarily being spelled out.

Which means there is absolutely no valid reason to insert new provisions that single out LGBTI couples (or non- ‘man/woman’ couples) for special, and detrimental, treatment, as part of a redrafted section 47.

Therefore, while the continuing ability of ministers of religion to decline to officiate weddings is not particularly problematic (from a legal point of view anyway), the unnecessary insertion of clauses which specify the right to discriminate against LGBTI couples – but not any other couples – definitely is.

The proposed new section 47 is homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.

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Sadly, it only gets worse from here. The second substantive fault of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is the creation of an entirely new ‘right’ to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

Currently, only ministers of religion have an explicit ‘opt-out’ clause. No equivalent provision or power exists for civil celebrants[iii] – which is entirely reasonable, given they are essentially ‘small businesses’, providing a service that the government has authorised them to, and explicitly not acting on behalf of any religion or religious organisation.

However, the Government is proposing, through this Bill, to allow even these ‘secular’ civil celebrants to reject LGBTI couples simply because of who they are (again, this is something that has not been included in most previous Bills, other than that from Senator David Leyonhjelm[iv]). Proposed new section 47A reads:

Marriage celebrants may refuse to solemnise marriages

(1) A marriage celebrant (not being a minister of religion) may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the marriage celebrant’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage.”

This is, to put it simply, outrageous.

There is absolutely no reason why someone who is engaged in small business should be able to discriminate in such a way, against people who are LGBTI, simply because of their ‘personal beliefs’. It is the equivalent of encouraging them to put up a sign saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed.’

And exactly how outrageous, and offensive, is revealed by once again comparing it to the situation with divorce and remarriage.

Despite whatever personal beliefs a civil celebrant may hold, and even after the Government’s Bill was passed, they would still not be able to formally decline to officiate someone’s second (or subsequent) wedding. Indeed, it is likely such discrimination would be unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which includes ‘marital or relationship status’ as a protected attribute in section 6[v].

In contrast, if the new section 47A was included in any amendments to the Marriage Act, these same celebrants would be able to reject LGBTI couples on the basis that they were not ‘a man and a woman’[vi], and for no other reason.

In effect, Malcolm Turnbull and his Government are saying that the religious beliefs of civil celebrants can be used to justify discrimination – but only if those religious beliefs are anti-LGBTI (and not, for example, if they are opposed to divorce).

Once again, I am forced to conclude that the proposed new section 47A is homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.

**********

But it’s not just civil celebrants who will be allowed to put up unwelcome, on multiple levels, signs saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed’. Religious bodies or organisations will also be able to do so as part of proposed new section 47B, which reads:

Religious bodies and organisations may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services

(1) A religious body or a religious organisation may, despite any law (including this Part), refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage, if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the refusal:

(i) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the religious body or religious organisation; or

(ii) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

If this provision were solely concerned with providing clarity that religious bodies were not obliged to conduct any weddings that they did not condone in their places of worship, like churches, then it may have almost been reasonable.

However, section 47B goes far beyond what would be required to achieve that limited goal. Instead, it provides a wide-ranging ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBTI couples, one that is problematic in at least three key ways:

  • It applies to more than just facilities, but also to the provision of ‘goods and services’, which, given the extent of influence of religious bodies and organisations in Australia, is incredibly broad
  • Sub-section (2)[vii] makes it clear that this right extends to religious bodies or organisations that are engaged in providing commercial services, for profit, and
  • The phrase “for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage” is vague, and left undefined, and could potentially capture a range of facilities, goods or services that are not directly connected to either a wedding ceremony or reception.

This section is also cause for concern in that it establishes a precedent whereby discrimination against LGBTI couples is encouraged. One consequence is that, while the current Bill does not allow florists, wedding cake-bakers, photographers or reception venues to refuse service (unless of course they themselves are run by a religious organisation), their voices demanding such exceptions in future will only get louder.

But again the major problem with this section is that it is singling out LGBTI couples – or anyone who doesn’t fit within the definition of ‘a man and a woman’[viii] – for special, and detrimental, treatment. And literally nobody else.

As with civil celebrants, it is only homophobic and transphobic religious belief that is preferenced here – other sincerely-held religious beliefs, for example, against divorce and remarriage, do not attract any such right. Which means that, yet again, the Liberal-National Government is expressing its support for religious freedom, but only as long as the beliefs concerned are anti-LGBTI.

The only possible conclusion is that proposed new section 47B is homophobic and transphobic, which makes it unacceptable. It must be rejected.

**********

The fourth and final substantive fault in the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is the addition of a note to section 81, which deals with the rights of Defence Force chaplains to refuse to solemnise weddings.

The new note reads: “Example: A chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman where the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the chaplain’s church or faith group.”

I am strongly opposed to allowing these chaplains to discriminate against LGBTI couples in this way. Which might be surprising to some, especially given my view, expressed above, that ministers of religion should legally have this right.

Surprising, that is, until you consider that Defence Force chaplains are public servants, paid for out of everyone’s taxes – LGBTI and non-LGBTI, and religious and non-religious, alike[ix]. Indeed, the Defence Jobs Australia website indicates that chaplains are paid over $94,200 following completion of basic training.

The same website also claims that chaplains must “administer spiritual support to all members, regardless of their religion.”

Therefore, allowing discrimination by Defence Force chaplains fails in principle on two counts:

  • As public servants they should not be able to discriminate against members of the public simply because of their personal beliefs (otherwise we are allowing the Australian equivalent of Kim Davis), and
  • In providing spiritual support to Defence Force personnel, they are expected to do so for all people, not just those who are cisgender and/or heterosexual.

Which means that, if Defence Force chaplains are to continue to be authorised to officiate any weddings, then that must include the weddings of LGBTI people.

To do otherwise is, once again, homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.

**********

There follows a few provisions that are actually positive in nature – removing the existing prohibition on the recognition of foreign marriages between two men, or two women[x] – before one final provision that establishes, clearly, that the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is more concerned with promoting homophobia and transphobia than in addressing LGBTI inequality.

That is an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act provision[xi] that currently provides an exception for conduct which is “in direct compliance with” the Marriage Act – because, for example, a civil celebrant is unable to lawfully marry an LGBTI couple.

The introduction of genuine marriage equality should lessen that discrimination, and potentially even obviate the need for such a provision to begin with.

Instead, this amendment expands the exception, by adding conduct that is “authorised by” the Marriage Act, thus ensuring that the exceptions to Australia’s federal LGBTI anti-discrimination framework, which are already too broad[xii], are broadened even further.

**********

SENATE SINODINOS DEBATE

Attorney-General George Brandis’ Bill is not aimed at achieving genuine marriage equality, and should perhaps be renamed the Marriage Amendment (Allowing any 2 adults to marry, but then allowing them to be denied service if they are LGBTI) Bill.

It is disappointing, although perhaps not entirely surprising, to observe that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government just don’t get it when it comes to marriage equality.

First, they sought to impose an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite on LGBTI Australians in order for our relationships to simply be recognised as equal under secular law.

Then we discover that their planned ‘reward’ – if the plebiscite is held, and if we are ultimately successful in their $200 million+ national opinion poll – is actually a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, that spends more time and effort in expanding the rights of religious bodies, and civil celebrants, to discriminate against us than in actually implementing marriage equality.

We all know, far too well, that the equal recognition of our relationships is long overdue in Australian law. Unfortunately, that equality, genuine equality, will not be achieved via passage of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

At its core, it is homophobic and transphobic, making it unacceptable. I believe that, just as we have campaigned for Parliament to reject the plebiscite, and adopt a better process, we must also demand that they reject this ill-conceived legislation, and replace it with a better Bill.

If you believe that marriage equality should be exactly that – equality – please sign & share this petition to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: Equal Love Should Not Be Treated Unequally.

Footnotes:

[i] It would appear that this provision does not explicitly allow ministers of religion to discriminate against trans individuals or couples where the union is between two people who identify as a man and a woman – although the catch-all ‘right to discriminate’ in 47(1) “A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this part” would nevertheless still apply.

[ii] Please note that I am not expressing support for such beliefs (against divorce and remarriage). I am merely using this example because, given many people sincerely hold such views, their differential treatment under the Bill makes it clear that the legislation is not concerned with protecting religious freedom, but instead aims to legitimise homophobia and transphobia.

[iii] Curiously, both the Attorney-General’s Media Release announcing the Exposure Draft Bill, and sub-section 2 of the proposed new section 47A, imply that civil celebrants do have such a power. This may be based on a very generous interpretation of section 39F of the Marriage Act 1961 which notes that “A person who is registered as a marriage celebrant may solemnise marriages at any place in Australia” – and in particular that the word may is used here rather than must.

However, it is just as easily argued that the fact ministers of religion currently enjoy an explicit ‘right to discriminate’ under section 47, while there is no equivalent section for civil celebrants, means civil celebrants cannot simply reject couples for any reason whatsoever.

More importantly, without an explicit power, it is likely the actions of civil celebrants would be captured by the anti-discrimination protections of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 – currently, with respect to sex and relationship status, and, if marriage equality is passed, with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (unless a new right to discriminate is inserted).

[iv] For more, please see: Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill undermines the principle of LGBTI anti-discrimination. Should we still support it?

[v] With the definition of ‘marital or relationship status’ in section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act explicitly including “(d) divorced”.

[vi] Interestingly, my interpretation of this provision means that, unlike ministers of religion, civil celebrants would not be able to reject trans individuals or couples who identify as a man and a woman, particularly because there is no other stand-alone right to refuse.

[vii] Which reads “Subsection (1) applies to facilities made available, and goods and services provided, whether for payment or not.”

[viii] Interestingly, this section would not allow religious bodies or organisations to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services to weddings involving one or two trans people where the couple identified as a man and a woman, although it is possible religious exceptions contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would make such discrimination lawful.

[ix] Of course, I would argue that the High Court should find this arrangement – the use of taxpayer funds to hire people to perform an explicitly religious function – to be unconstitutional under section 116, but that is an argument for another day (and probably for a more adventurous High Court too).

[x] Sections 88B(4) and 88EA.

[xi] Subsection 40(2A)

[xii] For more, please see: What’s Wrong With the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984?

What’s Wrong With the ACT Discrimination Act 1991?

This post is part of a series looking at Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, analysing them to determine how well, or in many cases how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination and vilification. The other articles in the series can be found here.

In each post, the laws of each jurisdiction are assessed in relation to the following three areas:

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

Based on these criteria, the Australian Capital Territory Discrimination Act 1991 was already better than average in terms of its LGBTI anti-discrimination laws. The good news is that, as a result of the passage of the Discrimination Amendment Act 2016 and the Discrimination Amendment Act 2018, the ACT’s LGBTI protections have improved further.

However, while many of the previous issues with this Act have been remedied, this doesn’t mean the ACT’s law is without faults – chief among them the ongoing broad exceptions provided to religious organisations (other than schools) allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI people.

Nevertheless, let’s focus on the positives first:

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Protected Attributes

The ACT Discrimination Act 1991 includes sexuality as a protected attribute in section 7(1)(w), which is defined in the Act’s dictionary as ‘heterosexuality, homosexuality (including lesbianism) or bisexuality’. This includes all of LGB people, and is better than some jurisdictions (including NSW, which excludes bisexuals), but could be improved by adopting the more inclusive term ‘sexual orientation’.

As a result of the Justice Legislation Amendment Act 2020, the Act’s protected attribute of gender identity in section 7(1)(g) is now defined as:

the gender expression or gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person, with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.

Note Gender identity includes the gender identity that the person has or has had in the past, or is thought to have or have had in the past.

This includes all trans and gender diverse people, including those with non-binary gender identities.

Finally, 2016 amendments added intersex status as a protected attribute in section 7(1)(k), defined as ‘status as an intersex person’ – however, intersex advocates called for discrimination protections to be based on ‘sex characteristics’ in the influential March 2017 Darlington Statement.

In August 2020, the ACT Government responded, replacing intersex status with sex characteristics, with a definition based on the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 (from the Act’s Dictionary:

sex characteristics-

(a) means a person’s physical features relating to sex; and

(b) includes-

(i) genitalia and other sexual and reproductive parts of the person’s anatomy; and

(ii) the person’s chromosomes, hormones and secondary physical features emerging as a result of puberty.

The ACT is now one of only four Australian jurisdictions to provide coverage for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse and intersex people, the others being the Commonwealth, Tasmania and South Australia, and more importantly has up to date definitions for all attributes.

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

The ACT’s vilification protections also cover all parts of the LGBTI community, with prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexuality, gender identity and intersex status (making it only the second jurisdiction, after Tasmania, to cover anti-intersex vilification – although again note the calls by intersex organisations for this term to be replaced by the protected attribute of sex characteristics).

In fact, the ACT’s LGBTI vilification protections are now the equal best in the country, given the offence of serious vilification, contained in section 750 of the Criminal Code 2002, applies to serious vilification on the basis of intersex status (the other jurisdiction with best practice anti-vilification laws is Tasmania).

**********

Religious Exceptions

On the basis of the above, it is clear the ACT now has close-to-best practice anti-discrimination laws in terms of their protected attributes (covering all parts of the LGBTI community) and anti-vilification coverage (again, protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people).

Alas, the Discrimination Act 1991 falls down (from its pedestal) when it comes to religious exceptions, aka special provisions that allow religious organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The primary religious exceptions are outlined in section 32 Religious bodies, which states that:

“Part 3 [which contains the prohibitions of discrimination] does not apply in relation to-

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

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

(c) the selection or appointment of people to exercise functions for the purposes of, or in connection with, any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act or practice (other than a defined act) of a body established for religious purposes, if the act or practice conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion and is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

As has been noted in previous posts, the first three sub-sections ((a), (b) and (c)), can potentially be justified on the basis that there is a direct connection with the appointment and training of religious office-holders, or the conduct of religious ceremonies.

However, sub-section 32(d) is effectively a blanket exception that allows any religious organisation – including religious-operated hospitals and community and social services – to discriminate against LGBTI employees, and LGBTI people accessing their services. This is clearly unacceptable.

Nevertheless, recent amendments passed by the ACT Parliament in the wake of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review have at least ensured that these religious exceptions do not permit religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI students or teachers and other staff.

The Discrimination Amendment Act 2018 abolished the specific exception for ‘Educational institutions conducted for religious purposes’ which was previously found in section 33 (see footnotes*).

Importantly, it also amended the general religious exception in section 32(1)(d) so that it does not apply to ‘defined acts’, which section 32(2) defines as:

means an act or practice in relation to-

(a) the employment of contracting of a person by the body to work in an educational institution; or

(b) the admission, treatment or continued enrolment of a person as a student at an educational institution.

In short, religious schools now cannot discriminate against LGBTI students, teachers and other staff on the basis of their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status.

The ACT Government has instead adopted the best-practice Tasmanian approach where religious schools can discriminate in terms of the admission of students and employment of teachers on the grounds of the student or teacher’s respective religious belief (although they’ve gone further than Tasmania by requiring any school that wishes to discriminate in this way to publish its policies up-front – section new section 46(2)-(5)).

However, the ACT Government has left in place – at least for the moment – the special privileges that allow religious organisations other than schools, such as hospitals, community and social services, to discriminate against employees and people accessing those services on the basis of their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status.

There can be no justification for such wide-ranging discrimination. Hopefully, with the issue of discrimination by religious schools now addressed, the ACT Government can move on to limiting discrimination by these other bodies too – although time is running out before the next election, due on 17 October 2020.

andrewbarr

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who has successfully removed the right of religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI students and teachers, but still needs to address religious exceptions for other organisations.

Summary

As a result of amendments in both 2016 and 2018, the ACT Discrimination Act 1991 now protects all sections of the LGBTI community from discrimination. It also features the equal best anti-vilification coverage of any state, territory or federal framework in Australia, and has prohibited discrimination by religious schools against LGBTI students, teachers and other staff.

However, the ACT Government still needs to take action to limit the ability of other religious organisations, including hospitals, community and social services, to discriminate against employees and people accessing their services on the basis of sexuality, gender identity or intersex status.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:

NB Footnotes [i] to [iv] have been deleted as a result of editing.

*The Discrimination Amendment Act 2018 abolished section 33 of the Act, which previously provided:

“Educational institutions conducted for religious purposes

(1) Section 10 or 13 [which prohibit discrimination against applicants, employees and contract workers] does not make it unlawful for a person (the first person) to discriminate against someone else in relation to-

(a) employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution; or

(b) a position as a contract worker that involves doing work in an educational institution;

if the institution is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings or a particular religion or creed, and the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

(2) Section 18 [which prohibits discrimination in relation to education] does not make it unlawful for a person (the first person) to discriminate against someone else in relation to the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

Malcolm Turnbull wants YOU to pay $10.83 so HE can keep HIS job

 

Some of the details of the proposed marriage equality plebiscite were finally revealed on Tuesday (13 September), more than 12 months after it was first agreed as Coalition policy under then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

 

That includes the estimated cost: a massive $170,000,000.

 

In the days since, there has been plenty of coverage of the wastefulness of this national public opinion poll, especially when the alternative – passing a Bill through Parliament, in the ordinary way – would cost exactly $0.

 

There are, of course, an almost limitless number of ways in which this enormous sum of money could be better spent, including on funding additional nurses, teachers or postgraduate students[i].

 

But we also shouldn’t forget where this money comes from: from us, the taxpayer. Or, in this context, from us, the Australian voter.

 

The Australian Electoral Commission estimates that, at 30 June 2016, there were 15,696,874 people on the nation’s electoral roll[ii].

 

Which means that EVERY AUSTRALIAN VOTER – cisgender, heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) alike – is effectively being charged $10.83 for the ‘privilege’ of participating in a plebiscite which nobody can provide a compelling justification for.

 

Indeed, there are very few people or organisations who are clamouring for the marriage equality plebiscite to be held. The extreme right-wing of the Liberal-National Government. The Australian Christian Lobby and other religious fundamentalists. And the Prime Minister, one Malcolm Turnbull MP.

 

Yes, the same Malcolm Turnbull who argued against the plebiscite in the Coalition party-room in August 2015.

 

The same Malcolm Turnbull who claims to support marriage equality, but who cannot bring himself to do so on the floor of the House of Representatives.

 

The same Malcolm Turnbull who, even as he introduced the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 on Wednesday, conceded that the cost of the vote is ‘substantial’, and that this is a ‘valid argument’ against holding it[iii].

 

So why exactly is he pushing ahead with a policy that he knows is wrong, both in principle and in practice?

 

The answer, as it nearly always is, is politics. Turnbull is tied to the plebiscite because it is only way he keeps himself tied to his job.

 

One year to the day before he introduced his plebiscite bill, and the day after he had rolled Tony Abbott to become Leader of the Liberal Party, Turnbull signed a new Coalition agreement with the National Party in which he committed to holding a plebiscite. In doing so, he signed away any principles he may have once held on this issue.

 

Even now, he is so single-minded in pursuing the plebiscite because he continually needs to appease the narrow-minded Abetz, Bernardi and Christensen, the ultra-conservative Senators and MP who, it seems, are the ones actually running the Government.

 

There is no moral justification for this pursuit – it is all about base political motivations. And so we are left to draw the following conclusion:

 

There are no good reasons to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, but plenty of bad ones.

 

Chief among them is that it is being held so that Turnbull can keep his job.

 

You, the Australian voter, are being charged $10.83 each, so that Malcolm Bligh Turnbull can stay on as our 29th Prime Minister.

 

We are all being charged a ‘Turnbull Tax’.

 

10 dollar note

Malcolm Turnbull wants YOU to pay $10, and change, so HE can keep HIS job as Prime Minister.

 

Of course, the great irony of this situation is that we are all expected to pay $10.83 so he can keep his job, despite the fact he is refusing to actually do his job (by passing legislation), and is instead making us do it for him.

 

What a wonderful system for him. And what a horrible outcome for Australia’s LGBTI community, and indeed for all those who believe people should be treated equally under secular law, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

 

Okay, so maybe the above is a little bit unfair – no, not on Malcolm Turnbull, who is after all the Prime Minister who wants to inflict an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite on the population.

 

Instead, it is unfair because there are others who are also responsible for this abhorrent policy, and who therefore should be both named and blamed.

 

As I indicated above, this includes the extremists within the Liberal and National Parties who have advocated the plebiscite as a way to delay the equal recognition of LGBTI relationships.

 

And so, just as you are being asked to pay the Turnbull Tax, you will also be contributing to the ‘Extremist Excise’ if the plebiscite proceeds (I would have called it the ‘Fringe Fee’, except that these bigots are no longer fringe-dwellers within the Coalition, they seem to be in the majority).

 

It would also be unfair to overlook the role of the Australian Christian Lobby in this mess, as one of the few non-government organisations who believe an extended national debate about the validity of LGBTI relationships is a good idea.

 

Which means that the $170,000,000 spent also represents the ‘Australian Christian Lobby Levy’ – or perhaps even the ‘Lyle Levy’, so-named after its managing director Lyle Shelton.

 

Finally, we shouldn’t forget that of this $170 million, $15 million is being allocated towards the cost of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns ($7.5 million each).

 

Except that the ‘Yes’ side doesn’t want this money. Indeed, this public funding is one of the main reasons why practically every LGBTI organisation in the entire country came together on Wednesday to reject Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite[iv].

 

Only the ‘No’ side wants it, presumably so that the Australian Christian Lobby can have a bigger platform to compare marriage equality and safe schools to the rise of Nazism, or link rainbow families with the Stolen Generations, or to incite ‘bathroom panic’ against trans people, and trans women in particular[v].

 

Mr Shelton and the ACL want your money to be able to promote intolerance against LGBTI Australians on the basis of who they are. In effect, you, me, all of us, will be paying an ‘Intolerance Impost’, on top of the Turnbull Tax, Extremist Excise and Lyle Levy.

 

I mentioned earlier that there are no good reasons to hold the plebiscite. Well, as we all know there are plenty of reasons to oppose it[vi].

 

The fact that we are expected to pay for the ‘privilege’ of participating in this pointless exercise – of paying the Turnbull Tax, the Extremist Excise, the Australian Christian Lobby Levy and the Intolerance Impost – is just one more. And it’s a reason that affects all of us – because we are all being asked to cough up.

 

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Footnotes:

[i] Mamamia, There are so many better ways we could spend the same-sex marriage plebiscite funding, 15 September 2016.

[ii] Australian Electoral Commission, Enrolment Statistics, 30 June 2016.

[iii] “The other one is the cost – and that is substantial – but then you have to ask yourself: what price democracy? So those are two arguments that are valid.” Hansard, Wednesday 14 September 2016.

[iv] Media Release, LGBTI Groups Joint Statement on the Plebiscite, Wednesday 14 September 2016.

[v] Please see: Lyle Shelton’s Respectful Debate.

[vi] Please see: Letter to ALP MPs and Senators Calling on Them to Block the Plebiscite.

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.

 

**********

 

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.

 

**********

 

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/

Submission re Tasmania’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Update 19 January 2017:

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian Government has pushed ahead with its flawed legislation to allow greater rights to vilify LGBTI people, and especially vilification by religious organisations.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 – full text here – was passed by the Legislative Assembly on 25 October 2016.

This includes an expansion of the ‘public purpose’ defence for vilification, to cover “a public act done in good faith for… religious purposes” where religious purpose is defined as “includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief.”

Disappointingly, the Legislative Council failed to refer the Bill to an inquiry, although the Government ran out of time for the Bill to be passed in 2016 – the Attorney-General, Vanessa Goodwin, stated that:

“Due to our heavy legislative agenda and given the proximity to the end of the parliamentary year, the Government does not intend to bring the bill on for debate until next year. This will allow further time for community debate and stakeholder feedback to MLCs on this important issue.”

With Tasmanian Parliament resuming on March 7, that means there’s now less than 7 weeks left to convince upper house MPs not to undermine what has been, until now, Australia’s best anti-discrimination scheme.

Original Post:

Department of Justice

Office of Strategic Legislation and Policy

GPO Box 825

Hobart TAS 7001

c/ legislation.development@justice.tas.gov.au

Friday 9 September 2016

To whom it may concern

Submission re Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in relation to the Government’s proposed amendments to Tasmanian anti-vilification laws, which are included in the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’).

I make this submission as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality, and as someone who takes a keen interest in anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, both at the Commonwealth level, and in Australia’s states and territories.

My first comment in response to the proposed Bill is to observe that it appears to be a ‘solution’ in search of a problem.

As far as I can ascertain, there seem to be two main motivations for these reforms. The first is to satisfy the demands of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who have repeatedly requested that state and territory LGBTI anti-vilification laws (where they exist) be suspended, or even abolished, in the lead-up to the potential national plebiscite on marriage equality.

The obvious response to such a demand is that, if their arguments against the equal treatment of LGBTI people under secular law require them to breach anti-vilification laws, perhaps they need better arguments rather than worse laws.

The second motivation appears to be a recent case, involving Mr Julian Porteous, following the distribution of the Don’t Mess with Marriage booklet by the Tasmanian Catholic Church that stated same-sex parents “mess with kids”, and that same-sex partners are not “whole people”. Possibly the most salient point to note is that the complaint was subject to attempted conciliation, which did not result in it being resolved, but then did not even proceed to the Tribunal.

I would argue that these two motivations – to allow the ACL to contravene vilification standards during any forthcoming plebiscite debate, and to respond to a single case that did not even make it to the Tribunal – are not sufficient justification to propose reforms that would ‘water down’ the anti-vilification protections that are currently offered to LGBTI Tasmanians.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what this Bill attempts to do. By replacing the wording of section 55, and expanding the exceptions to the vilification protections offered under sections 17(1) and 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (‘the Act’), the Bill would effectively allow greater vilification of people on the grounds of sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, gender identity and intersex (among other grounds).

In doing so, it would wind back hard-fought, and hard-won, protections introduced after the long-running decriminalisation campaign of the 1980s and 1990s. It is very hard to see, 18 years since its original passage, why there is a need to make anti-LGBTI hate speech easier in the contemporary environment.

I have two more-specific concerns about the proposed changes to section 55.

The first is to question why the exception, which would be expanded to include ‘public acts done reasonably and in good faith’ for a ‘religious’ purpose (where ‘religious purpose includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’), should apply with respect to section 19[i], which establishes the more serious offence of ‘inciting hatred’ (whereas sub-section 17(1)[ii] regulates ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’).

It is difficult to comprehend why the Act should be amended to make lawful the incitement of ‘hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’ people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual (noting that section 19 currently does not offer protection to transgender or intersex people) merely because it is done for a ‘religious purpose’.

According to advocate Rodney Croome “Worst of all is the Government’s decision to erode hate speech protections even more than people like Julian Porteous want. He has called for the law against denigrating statements to be watered down, but has said the law against the more severe crime of incitement to hatred [ie section 19] should be kept intact.”[iii]

It seems this particular ‘solution’ isn’t just in search of a problem, it is lacking beneficiaries too (although it is clear who the losers will be from such an amendment: lesbian, gay and bisexual Tasmanians).

My second concern is to question the limits of the proposed exception for vilification for ‘religious purposes’, with respect to both sections 17(1) and 19. In particular, and noting it will be challenging for the Tribunal, or courts more broadly, to determine when a public act for a ‘religious purpose’ is ‘done reasonably and in good faith’ or not, how far will religious individuals or groups be allowed to go in ‘proselytising’ a religious belief that itself incites hatred?

An example of such a belief would be for an extremist christian organisation to promote a ‘literal’ reading of Leviticus 20:13, which has been interpreted as “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”[iv].

And, before it is suggested that this example is implausible, we should recall that it is only four years since a senior figure within the Salvation Army publicly defended this belief – that gay people should be put to death – live on radio[v].

Given this, how would the proposed amended law deal with a situation where, instead of distributing the booklet Don’t Mess with Marriage, a religious school sent children home with a pamphlet entitled Gay Men Should Die (or perhaps slightly more generously, Gay Men Should Die Unless they are Celibate) conveying the ‘religious belief’ that men who have same-sex sexual intercourse ‘shall surely be put to death’?

It is reasonably clear such a pamphlet would ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’, as well as likely inciting ‘hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule’ of, people on the basis of both sexual orientation and lawful sexual activity, and in doing so contravene both sections 17(1) and 19 of the Act.

But it is also possible the proposed new section 55 would ‘excuse’ these actions because it would be a public act done in ‘good faith for a religious purpose’, as it was ‘conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’, no matter how offensive it is, to young people at a school operated by that organisation[vi].

I would argue that this would be an unacceptable outcome, and hope that the legislative sponsors of these amendments, and indeed anyone pushing for changes to Tasmania’s vilification laws, would agree.

It is particularly concerning that such an undesirable result could be achieved given we have seen above that there doesn’t actually appear to be any justification for the introduction of this Bill.

More generally, as someone from outside the State I would argue that the undermining of Tasmania’s anti-vilification regime, which is currently among the best, if not the best, law in the country, in this way would be a negative precedent for other jurisdictions.

This is especially important given only four states and territories currently have any anti-vilification protections for any sections of the LGBTI community (Tasmania, Queensland, NSW and the ACT). Nor do such laws exist federally. Even where they do exist, such as in NSW, they have significant flaws (for example, only protecting lesbians, gay men and some transgender people from vilification, and not protecting bisexuals or intersex people at all).

In my view, the Tasmanian Government should be concentrating on ensuring its anti-vilification laws are comprehensive (such as by amending section 19 to prohibit the incitement of hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of transgender and intersex people) and effective, instead of making it easier for people to vilify others because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Thank you again for the opportunity to make this submission and for taking it into consideration. Should you require clarification, or additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:

[i]19. Inciting hatred

A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of –

  • the race of the person or any member of the group; or
  • any disability of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the religious belief or affiliation or religious activity of the person or any ember of the group.”

[ii]17. Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules abother person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16(e), (a), (b), (c), (d), (ea), (eb) and (k), (f), (fa), (g), (h), (i) or (j) in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.”

NB This covers sexual orientation (16(c)), lawful sexual activity (d), gender identity (ea) and intersex (eb).

[iii] The Mercury, Talking Point: Green light being given to homophobia and any bigot with a bible’, 31 August 2016. http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-green-light-being-given-to-homophobia/news-story/00ffb213c903540b1febfdb94dbef243

[iv] Of course, such a position would overlook the inherent contradictions of adopting a ‘literal’ interpretation of some sections of the bible, while rejecting literal readings of others, a double standard which has been perfectly encapsulated by the now famous ‘Letter to Dr Laura’ (responding to a US radio host’s bible-based description of homosexuality as an ‘abomination’):

dear-dr-laura

[v] Huffington Post, Andrew Craibe, Salvation Army Official, Implies Gays Should be Put to Death in Interview, 26 June 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/andrew-craibe-salvation-army-official-gays-put-to-death_n_1628135.html

Joy 94.9FM presenter Serena Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.

Ryan: So we should die.

Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.

[vi] The only question is whether the public act was ‘done reasonably’, although I would suggest there is a risk at least some Tribunal members or judges may view the promotion of any religious belief, no matter how offensive, to be reasonable provided that belief was sincerely held.

Lyle Shelton’s ‘Respectful’ Debate

 

Two months after the federal election, and one week after the first sittings of the new parliament, we are still no clearer on whether there will be a plebiscite on marriage equality this term – the Turnbull Government is committed to pursuing it, the Greens (albeit possibly sans Senator Hanson-Young), Nick Xenophon Team and even Derryn Hinch are committed to blocking it, while Labor is yet to officially declare a position, although appears to be leaning towards opposing.

 

Perhaps the only thing that is clear is that the majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians are firmly opposed to a plebiscite, and want to see it blocked, even if that may lead to marriage equality being delayed by three years (see Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1).

 

This position, and the strength with which it is being advocated, seems to have caught many by surprise, especially mainstream media commentators. A large number – not just at News Corp, but at more reputable newspapers too – have expressed confidence that, not only will marriage equality be successful at any plebiscite (which I probably agree with), but also that the debate beforehand will be respectful (which I highly doubt).

 

They seem perplexed that LGBTI Australians could be fearful that an extended national conversation, notionally about whether our relationships should be treated equally under the law, but in reality about whether LGBTI Australians and our families are worthy of dignity and respect or not, will inexorably lead to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

 

There are many ways in which we could explain why we hold this genuine fear. People who responded to my survey have already done so very eloquently (I encourage you to read their answers: see Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In Your Own Words). Buzzfeed[i] has also taken a look back at the issue of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Tasmania in the 1990s as an example of how disrespectful the plebiscite debate may ultimately become.

 

Another way we can explain these concerns is simply to highlight what those who are opposed to marriage equality are already saying – and then spell out that a plebiscite will ensure their comments will be more frequent, broadcast more widely, and, as the vote approaches, likely become even more extreme.

 

The most obvious ‘spokesperson’ to consider is Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) – which is ostensibly a lobby group to represent issues affecting Christians, but in reality is obsessed with denying LGBTI equality[ii] (despite the fact the majority of Christians favour marriage equality). Which means that, for the remainder of this post, I will focus on quotes which Mr Shelton has already made, and explain how they are deeply offensive to many people, and not just to those who are LGBTI.

 

But first, a compliment – probably the only one I will make in this article – which is to acknowledge that Lyle Shelton is far more disciplined and deliberate in what he says than his predecessor, Jim Wallace. He seems to speak far less ‘off-the-cuff’ than Mr Wallace did, which means he has avoided some of the more stupid mistakes he made – like this infamous 2011 ANZAC Day tweet:

 

“Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!” @JimWallaceACL

 

Or this 2012 comment:

 

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – [included] higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide… it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years… The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”[iii]

 

However, just because Mr Shelton is less impulsive than Mr Wallace was, doesn’t mean that what he says is any less offensive. Indeed, given he appears to carefully construct his public statements, you could argue that he is even more accountable for what he puts into the public domain.

 

The most obvious example of this – and, in my opinion, the most offensive thing said by anybody in the history of Australia’s marriage equality debate – is Shelton’s continual comparison between same-sex parenting and the Stolen Generations.

 

This includes a media release issued by the ACL in May 2013, criticising then backbench MP Kevin Rudd for expressing his support for marriage equality. The release, which was even called ‘Rudd’s change on marriage sets up a new stolen generation’, featured this statement “Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said Kevin Rudd’s overnight change of mind on redefining marriage ignored the consequence of robbing children of their biological identity through same-sex surrogacy and other assisted reproductive technologies”, as well as the following quote from Mr Shelton:

 

“The prime minister who rightly gave an apology to the stolen generation has sadly not thought through the fact that his new position on redefining marriage will create another.”[iv]

 

More than two years later, which is plenty of time to reconsider his views, he did not back down from this outrageous analogy. In an extended interview with Buzzfeed[v] in April 2015, Shelton said:

 

“I think the effect on children is the same, yes. You’re removing a child from its parents. The context of that comment was [former prime minister] Kevin Rudd’s backflip [to supporting same-sex marriage]. This was the man who quite rightly apologised to the Stolen Generation. But how can you say on the one hand that it’s wrong to remove children, then create public policy which does the same thing? Those are the dots I was trying to connect… I’m sure it’s very difficult [for same-sex parents to hear this]. I don’t doubt their love for their children at all. I do not bring that into question. But the fact is, every child in a same-sex family structure has been taken from its biological mother or father. Now we have to ask as a society, is that right to do that?”

 

Most (in)famously, Mr Shelton reiterated his Stolen Generations comparison in February of this year when he appeared on ABC’s QandA[vi]:

 

Tony Jones: So you can deny it if you like: “The fact is every child in a same sex family structure has been taken from its biological mother or father.” Is that correct? Is that what you said?

Lyle Shelton: Yeah, it is actually, Tony”

 

And later on the same program:

 

Tony Jones: … Are you talking about a kind of stolen generation.

Lyle Shelton: Well, we did take Indigenous children and babies from their mothers and give them to loving families but the error that we apologised for was taking them from their biological mother and father. Now, through assisted reproductive technology, we are taking the child from their biological father or their mother and giving them to someone else.”

 

160906 Lyle Shelton qanda (source new matilda)

Lyle Shelton on QandA, repeating his offensive comparison between LGBTI parenting and the Stolen Generations (source: New Matilda).

 

Mr Shelton has made the same offensive comparison on (at least) three separate occasions, over the span of three years, and in three different forms (media release, interview and TV appearance). It is clear that, when he says same-sex parenting is like the Stolen Generations, he means it. But what does he mean?

 

Essentially, he is comparing the mere existence of rainbow families, many of whom thoughtfully and deliberately cause children to be brought into the world to be part of a loving home, while others foster or adopt children who do not have a home of any kind, with a policy that instead saw children stolen from their own loving families, many literally taken direct from their mothers’ arms.

 

In short, Mr Shelton is saying that allowing LGBTI people to have children is the contemporary equivalent of the worst Australian Government policy of the 20th century[vii], one that was aimed at the genocide of a people. Making such a horrific claim, repeatedly, is the antithesis of ‘respectful’ debate.

 

Lyle Shelton is deliberately taking aim at rainbow families, and, despite his protestations, I do not believe he cares who is hurt in the process, whether that be the parents or, especially, the children (imagine being told that your parents, who have done nothing but love and care for you, have instead ‘stolen’ you).

 

But it is not just LGBTI Australians who are offended by this wanton disregard both for historical accuracy and for the welfare of others – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have also called out Mr Shelton for inappropriately co-opting the history of the Stolen Generations for his own base purposes.

 

In response to his first statement, in May 2013, the CEO of Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (a Stolen Generations service for Indigenous men and their families), Pastor Ray Minniecon made the following comments[viii]:

 

“As a representative organisation for the Stolen Generations, we are deeply concerned by the comments made by Lyle Shelton on behalf of the Australian Christian Lobby comparing former Prime Minister Rudd’s support for marriage equality with creating another Stolen Generation… The assimilation policy of forced removal of children from their homes and the subsequent abuse of those children is no way comparable to the desire of a loving couple to have a child and have the relationship recognised.

 

“It is disrespectful to the current Stolen Generations, their history and their families… It is also dehumanising and demonising of gay couples and their desire for marriage and family. We call on Lyle Shelton to apologise to the Stolen Generations and to the gay community for this comparison.”

 

It is a very poor reflection on Mr Shelton that, far from apologising to Mr Minniecon, people affected by the Stolen Generations and the LGBTI community (as requested), he has instead chosen to repeat the same comparison on multiple occasions. It is worrisome to consider, if he is so willing to disrespect Aboriginal people in this way, the extent to which he is prepared to disrespect LGBTI people and their families should a plebiscite proceed.

 

**********

 

Of course, his Stolen Generations comments are not the only examples of Lyle Shelton demonstrating he does not consider himself bound by the ordinary limits of ‘respectful’ debate. We have seen similarly extreme comments made during discussion of the Safe Schools program, which has dominated much of 2016 (and indeed has been going much longer, albeit attracting less publicity).

 

In fact, Mr Shelton and his colleagues at the Australian Christian Lobby[ix] have made so many offensive comments about Safe Schools it is difficult to select just a few – but I will try nonetheless. For example, in 2015 he described what is an effective anti-bullying program thus:

 

“Dressed up as an anti-bullying program, it encourages children to cross-dress at school and demands the school accept this. Children are presented with information that downplays the danger of sexually transmitted diseases and introduced to concepts every thinking parent hopes they won’t Google.”[x]

 

More recently, he has written[xi] of his concerns about ‘an avalanche of homosexual and transgender material’ flooding schools as a result of marriage equality and Safe Schools:

 

“But one of the big consequences of any possible change in the definition of marriage – homosexual sex education in schools – is already proving a major distraction from the government’s election agenda. Hardly a week goes by without revelations of a new program designed to teach children that their gender is fluid or that they might be same-sex attracted.

 

“It seems that children are never too young to be inducted into the bright new world of rainbow sexual concepts. An avalanche of homosexual and transgender material is flooding into the curriculum from high school to pre-school – all without parent’s knowledge.”

 

The logical conclusion one can draw from these statements, and especially the reference to ‘homosexual sex education’, is that Mr Shelton would prefer school children – of any age – not learn anything about sexual and gender diversity.

 

This is despite the fact that decades of research (and the life experience of far too many LGBTI Australians, myself included) shows that imposing a ‘silence’ about sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status harms LGBTI young people, adversely affecting their mental health, and leaving them ill-equipped to take control of their sexual and physical health.

 

Presumably, Shelton would like to see non-cisgender, non-heterosexual youth go back to being ‘invisible’, like the good old days, before we started making such a nuisance of ourselves, demanding things like the right to appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive health education.

 

But what could be motivating this ill-informed and, frankly, dangerous, opinion? It is only when you consider Mr Shelton’s broader views on sexuality, and gender identity, that a clearer picture emerges. From the April 2015 Buzzfeed interview referred to previously:

 

“I’m not saying that gay feelings are not very, very powerful. They obviously are. But I don’t believe they’re innate. And the fact many people have periods of their life where they feel attracted one way sexually and then another way. And the fact that you have “LGBT…I…” the whole range [of letters in LGBTIQ], the whole gamut. I don’t think that it’s something that you could say is innate. And certainly there’s been no scientific evidence to that effect.

 

“We all have strong and powerful desires. All of us. I think if you accept that argument, [that sexuality is innate] then yes, the debate would essentially be over. But I don’t think that’s right at all. And the fact that it is so fluid for so many people, then that isn’t the basis on which to make public policy which affects children.”

 

Based on this view – that sexual orientation and gender identity is not innate – it seems Lyle Shelton would prefer that children and young people be ‘protected’ from receiving any information about diverse sexualities and genders, for fear that more of them might come to the (perfectly reasonable) conclusion that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is entirely natural.

 

It appears that, in Shelton’s warped worldview, if we don’t expose children to this type of information, maybe some of them can avoid becoming one of them[xii]. Which, to put it lightly, is complete and utter bollocks – all it achieves is to increase the isolation already felt by many young LGBTI people, leading to greater risks of depression, self-harm and tragically suicide, the exact things that the Safe Schools program is designed to address.

 

**********

 

An emerging target in Lyle Shelton’s sights, both in the context of Safe Schools and more generally, has been transgender people (like any bully, it seems he will try to intimidate what might be considered a politically weaker and therefore more vulnerable section of the LGBTI community, rather than take on the more established, and comparatively powerful, gay or lesbian communities).

 

As with the comments above, this includes a February 2016 opinion piece suggesting that trans and gender diverse children should be ‘protected’ from accessing information and services to support their gender identity:

 

“…[T]here is no scientific evidence that anyone is “born gay” or that little boys and girls have been born in the wrong body and that surgery, hormones, tucking or binding are the solution. Yet Safe Schools teaches gender theory as fact – even to primary school children.

 

“What Safe Schools doesn’t say is that most gender dysphoria subsides before puberty. It is likely the program could be doing more harm than good, particularly if kids later regret their sex change, as many transgender people do.”[xiii]

 

Again, it seems Mr Shelton would prefer that children and young people not receive appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive health education in the hope that some might be ‘spared’ from becoming trans (which, at least from his perspective, appears to be an outcome best avoided).

 

Added to this policy of ‘invisibilisation’, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby has also imported the tactics of his North American extreme-right/religious fundamentalist counterparts, deliberately and repeatedly misgendering trans people, as well as raising the spectre of ‘bathroom panic’. From the same opinion piece:

 

“Women and girls should feel safe in their toilets and change rooms from male-to-female transgender people who have not undergone a sex change…”

 

And in a longer, more recent article:

 

These resources tell schools to allow boys identifying as girls to use the girls’ toilets and provide schools with step by step guides on “Supporting a Student to Affirm or Transition Gender Identity at School”. Imagine an 18-year-old man identifying as a girl using the same toilets, showers and change rooms as your 13-year-old daughter. This scenario is now envisaged via a Turnbull Government-funded website. Special facilities for transgender students are okay, the Safe Schools hub says, but they should never stop a student from using the toilet facility of their ”gender identity” as this would be demeaning”.[xiv]

 

Both of Shelton’s assertions here – first, that trans people are not trans unless they have ‘undergone a sex change’ (here’s a simple rule Lyle: if someone identifies and lives as a woman, or a man, or neither, then it is not up to you, or me for that matter, to decide that they are not), and second, that male-to-female transgender people are potential predators from whom cisgender women need to be protected – are disrespectful and, particularly in relation to the latter, downright disgusting.

 

But, instead of shying away from making this type of outrageous statement, Mr Shelton has decided to double down. In a media release just last week, responding to the Victorian Government’s long overdue moves to reform access to birth certificates, the ACL said the following “Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said radical changes that would allow men identifying as women to enter women’s private spaces such as toilets and change rooms needed wider public discussion”.

 

It went on to note “Mr Shelton said Mr Andrews [sic] new laws would make many private spaces unsafe for women” and then included the following quote:

 

“Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter?

 

“Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?”

 

The obvious answer is that, if they are a trans woman then they are not a man – and Shelton’s refusal to acknowledge this, and deliberate choice to continually misgender them, is the opposite of ‘respectful’ debate. And his repeated inference that trans women are a threat to cisgender women is nothing less than the worst kind of scare-mongering.

 

There is another type of mis-representation that Mr Shelton has engaged in with respect to trans people, and that is potentially implying (or, at the very least, encouraging people to draw the conclusion that) gender affirmation procedures lead to an increase in suicides.

 

He has referred to this issue on multiple occasions – including on the ABC’s QandA program earlier this year:

 

“Studies that have been done of transgendered people who have had sex reassignment surgery, people who have been followed for 20 or so years have found that after 10 years from the surgery, that their suicide mortality rate was actually 20 times higher than the non-transgendered population. So I’m very concerned that here we are encouraging young people to do things to their bodies… like chest binding for young girls… [and] penis tucking… Now this is taking kids on a trajectory that may well cause them to want to take radical action, such as gender reassignment surgery.”[xv]

 

He also repeated it in May:

 

“Never mind that 10 years after a sex change operation, a person is 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the non-transgendered population.”[xvi]

 

Fortunately, The Conversation’s Fact Check examined these claims after Mr Shelton’s appearance on QandA. They found that, rather than multiple studies, he was referring to a single study, from Sweden. Further, while

 

“Shelton was correct to say that research shows that transgendered people who have had sex reassignment surgery had a suicide mortality rate later in life that was roughly 20 times higher than the non-transgendered population… it is also possible some viewers may have been left with the impression that the study showed sex reassignment surgery causes a higher risk of suicide later in life. That is not what the Swedish study showed. In fact, the researchers wrote that things might have been even worse without sex reassignment.”[xvii] [emphasis added]

 

One of the authors of the study, Mikael Landen, went further in refuting Shelton’s use of the study:

 

As Mr Shelton phrases it, it may sound as if sex reassignment increased suicide risk 20 times. That is not the case. The risk of suicide was increased 19 times compared to the general population, but that is because gender dysphoria is a distressing condition in itself. Our study does not inform us whether sex reassignment decreases (which is likely) or increases (which is unlikely) that risk… [emphasis added]

 

“We have known for a long time that [gender dysphoria] is associated with other psychiatric disorders (such as depression) and increased rate of suicide attempts. Sex reassignment is the preferred treatment and outcome studies suggest that gender dysphoria (the main symptom) decreases.”

 

All of which is to suggest that Lyle Shelton has publicly mis-used the outcomes of a study of trans people to suit his own intolerant agenda – implying (or allowing people to infer) that gender affirmation procedures increase the risk of suicide among trans people, when it is likely they instead decrease it. And, despite being publicly corrected by one of the authors of the study in early March, he made the same discredited inference again in May as part of an argument to ensure trans and gender diverse children are denied access to an inclusive and supportive school environment.

 

That’s not just disrespectful, it’s totally disingenuous too.

 

**********

 

At the start of this post, we saw that Lyle Shelton was unafraid to employ, time and time again, completely inappropriate comparisons with the worst domestic policy of the 20th Century (the Stolen Generations) as a rhetorical weapon against rainbow families, marriage equality and LGBTI rights in general.

 

Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising to observe he has also felt no shame in linking marriage equality, and the Safe Schools program, with some of (if not) the worst international atrocities of the 20th Century, by comparing the increasing recognition of fundamental LGBTI equality with the rise of Nazism:

 

“That Labor leader Bill Shorten can promise during an election to fund the so-called ‘Safe Schools’ program which teaches children as young as four that ‘only you can know if you are a boy or a girl – no one can tell you’ and there be so little push back is a failure of those of us who know better.

 

“Changing the definition of marriage to entrench motherless and fatherlessness in public policy and teaching our kids their gender is fluid should be opposed. The cowardice and weakness of Australia’s ‘gatekeepers’ is causing unthinkable things to happen, just as unthinkable things happened in Germany in the 1930s.[xviii] [emphasis added]

 

Yes, he actually went there, he ‘Godwinned’. In Shelton’s view marriage equality and Safe Schools are ‘unthinkable things’, in the same way that ‘unthinkable things’ were done by the Nazis.

 

This is obviously completely disrespectful, and offensive, to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. And, just as his Stolen Generations claims were offensive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, his Nazi analogy is also hurtful to the people affected by the Holocaust, and their relatives and descendants, including (but not limited to) Jewish people, Polish people, Romani people and disabled people.

 

Oh, and in case Lyle Shelton genuinely has no understanding of what happened in Germany during the 1930s and first half of the 1940s (and, based on the above comments, that seems a distinct possibility), that included thousands of homosexual men and women who were prosecuted, persecuted and executed in the Holocaust.

 

Anyone who is able to, without shame, draw comparisons with laws and policies designed to increase LGBTI equality and acceptance today, with a regime that murdered thousands of LGBTI people 70 years ago, is, in my view, unable to participate in ‘respectful’ debate about these issues[xix].

 

**********

 

I mentioned earlier that, for the most part, Lyle Shelton has been careful in his public statements, largely avoiding ‘off-the-cuff’ mistakes (which were far more common under his predecessor Jim Wallace). There is, however, one instance I can think of where the current Managing Director of the ACL let his guard down and revealed exactly what he thinks about marriage equality (and, in doing so, about LGBTI people more generally).

 

That occasion was his Sky News appearance debating Jason Tuazon McCheyne of the Australian Equality Party earlier this year. When challenged by Tuazon McCheyne to explain how recognition of his relationship could possibly affect that of Mr Shelton, Shelton responded with this:

 

“Well if the definition of marriage is changed it’s not assumed that millions of people like myself who are married, it’s assumed that I’m married to a woman. That affects me straight away, if people no longer assume that I’m married to a woman then I’ll have to explain myself.”

 

When “[h]ost Patricia Karvelas asked Mr Shelton if he was worried that people might think he was gay, Mr Shelton said they may or may not, but the terms of his marriage would have changed, alongside those of every other married Australian.”[xx]

 

More than six months later, and this remains an extraordinary, and extraordinarily stupid, answer. His only response about how marriage equality would affect his own marriage is that he might have to declare that his spouse is a woman? That he could be forced to say ‘she’ or ‘her’ at some point during a conversation in order to differentiate his marriage from marriages between two people of the same-sex? That’s it?

 

How utterly, utterly petty (some might say pathetic). To argue for the denial of equal rights under secular law because he can’t be bothered to use a pronoun. In doing so, he severely undermined any argument he might make against marriage equality in the future.

 

Of course, the real question here is why it should even matter – unless there is something wrong with a partner being of the same-sex, there is no inherent requirement for him to clarify gender-neutral comments someone might make about his spouse [as an aside, if Shelton had empathy this would have been an opportunity to understand that the mis-gendering of partners is something many LGBTI people already experience, frequently – with people making heteronormative assumptions about our relationships – but clearly it doesn’t appear to have occurred to him].

 

The implication we are therefore left with is that he would be forced to declare his spouse was a woman primarily to differentiate himself from us, as if being LGBT or I, or simply being perceived as LGBTI, were something to be avoided.

 

All-in-all, to use this as an argument – “if people no longer assume that I’m married to a woman then I’ll have to explain myself” – to reject our claims for equal treatment under the law is at best, dismissive, and yes, I would argue, disrespectful.

 

**********

 

From everything we have seen, it is apparent Mr Shelton shows no hesitation in making remarks that are disrespectful to Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, especially in the context of marriage equality and Safe Schools.

 

At the same time, exceedingly hypocritically, he has repeatedly called for the debate around these issues to be ‘respectful’. Sometimes this call for respect is made in the very next breath after making an offensive comment about us or our rights. Take the ACL media release, already mentioned above, responding to Victoria’s proposed new birth certificate laws, which said:

 

“Mr Shelton said Mr Andrews [sic] new laws would make many private spaces unsafe for women.

 

“Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter?

 

“Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?

 

“It is time to re-think the rainbow political agenda and the marriage plebiscite is the ideal time to have a respectful debate about the consequences of redefining marriage.”

 

That is exactly how the release was written, word-for-word. In the first three sentences, Shelton deliberately misgenders transgender people, suggests trans women are a threat to cisgender women, and imports the abhorrent fear-mongering ‘bathroom panic’ campaign from his North American extremist counterparts. And then, seemingly without any self-awareness whatsoever, he calls for ‘respectful’ debate in the fourth sentence.

 

Well, I call bullshit.

 

It is not ‘respectful’ debate to compare the mere existence of rainbow families with the attempted genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

 

It is not ‘respectful’ debate to continue to use this offensive analogy even after being called upon to cease and desist, and apologise (to Aboriginal people, and to the gay community), by a Stolen Generations service for Indigenous men and their families.

 

It is not ‘respectful’ debate to try to ‘invisibilise’ LGBTI children and young people, by denying them their right to appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive health education.

 

It is not ‘respectful’ debate to deliberately misgender trans people, to imply that trans women are a threat to cisgender women, to incite ‘bathroom panic’ and to misuse a study to imply gender affirmation procedures increase the risk of suicide when it showed no such thing (and to continue to do so even after being directly contradicted by the author of the study).

 

And it is not ‘respectful’ debate to argue for LGBTI people to be denied equal treatment under secular law because he might have to say ‘she’ or ‘her’ when referring to his spouse.

 

Of course, given all of this it is highly unlikely Mr Shelton is ever going to ‘change his ways’, and stop denigrating LGBTI people and our families. And this post is not aimed at achieving the impossible.

 

But it is designed to show to those media commentators who are seemingly unaware why so many LGBTI Australians are sincerely and genuinely concerned about the prospects of a plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Because, if a plebiscite goes ahead, Shelton (and Francis, and van Gend, and the Marriage Alliance, and countless other homophobes and transphobes) will be given a megaphone to make similar outrageous, offensive and disrespectful comments, every day, for three-to-six months, with the media feeling compelled to report on each and every one, and with these comments likely becoming more and more extreme as the vote approaches.

 

Lyle Shelton et al have already shown, quite comprehensively, that a ‘respectful’ debate is beyond them. In that context, maybe those commentators will finally understand exactly why the majority of LGBTI Australians have thought long and hard about a plebiscite on marriage equality and come to the conclusion ‘thanks, but no thanks Malcolm’.

 

**********

 

Footnotes

[i] Buzzfeed Australia, This is What a Non-Respectful LGBT Rights Debate Looks Like, 1 September 2016.  https://www.buzzfeed.com/lanesainty/heres-what-happened-in-australias-ugliest-lgbt-debate?utm_term=.cp0oo5z8KQ#.uhV33QojNg

[ii] Brisbane Times, Christian Lobby analysis reveals strong gay focus, 9 June 2012. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/christian-lobby-analysis-reveals-strong-gay-focus-20120608-2017g.html

[iii] Huffington Post, Jim Wallace, Australian Christian Lobby Head, Claims Smoking is Healthier than Gay Marriage, 5 September 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/jim-wallace-australian-christian-lobby-smoking-gay-marriage_n_1858227.html

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald, Senator Wong condemns Christian Lobby’s stolen generations comment, 21 May 2013. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/senator-wong-condemns-christian-lobbys-stolen-generations-comment-20130521-2jyn3.html

[v] Buzzfeed Australia, Meet the man determined to prevent marriage equality in Australia, 24 April 2015. https://www.buzzfeed.com/robstott/meet-australias-biggest-marriage-equality-roadblock?utm_term=.qba11XBknA#.nfmpp9yNYO

[vi] ABC QandA, Transcript, 29 February 2016. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4402548.htm

[vii] The 21st century equivalent would likely be the indefinite imprisonment of people seeking asylum on Nauru and Manus Island, by successive Governments.

[viii] Gay News Network, ‘Dehumanising’: Christian Lobby must apologise for Stolen Generation comments, 21 May 2013. http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/news/dehumanising-christian-lobby-must-apologise-for-stolen-generation-comments-11050.html

[ix] To some extent, Shelton could even be considered the ‘moderate’ ACL voice with respect to the Safe Schools program, while Wendy Francis has taken more of the ‘attack dog’ approach.

For example, more than 12 months ago, Ms Francis was quoted on news.com.au saying the following:

“Our society is already over-sexualised without extreme sexual material and gender theory being promoted in schools… Children have the right to their innocence. The political ideology carried by this program denies children this right… Girls’ toilets should always be a safe place for them and should be off limits to a boy who might be transitioning into a girl. No-one should be bullied at school, including children grappling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion. But promoting radical sexual and gender theories to children without parental consent is not the role of the federal or state governments.” News.com.au, Christian Lobby groups claim radical sexual experimentation is being promoted in schools, 25 July 2015. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/school-life/christian-lobby-groups-claim-radical-sexual-experimentation-is-being-promoted-in-schools/news-story/39c64a960b2d112875848c4f337de433

And early in 2016, The Australian reported on the issue in this way:

“Australian Christian Lobby spokeswoman Wendy Francis said the Safe Schools material pressured kids into accepting LGBTI concepts and ‘confuses them about their own identity.’

“She said forcing students to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship was a ‘form of cultural bullying’. [emphasis added]

“Ms Francis said the material was not age-appropriate, as 11-year-old children were too young to be taught about sexual orientation and transgender issues. ‘A lot of children are still pretty innocent about this stuff – these are adult concepts’.

The Australian, Activists push taxpayer-funded gay manual in schools, 10 February 2016. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/activists-push-taxpayerfunded-gay-manual-in-schools/news-story/4de614a88e38ab7b16601f07417c6219

All of the usual ACL tropes are present and accounted for, including that trans women and girls are a threat to cisgender women, and that children and young people are ‘innocent’ and need to be protected from radical concepts like that being LGBT or I is perfectly normal.

Probably the only unique argument Francis presents is that an LGBTI anti-bullying program that encourages all students to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship is a ‘form of cultural bullying’ – perhaps not realising that she is making an excellent argument for Safe Schools (to overcome the heteronormative pressure that young same-sex attracted people feel from literally everywhere – families, friends, schools, pop culture, the media – to imagine what it is like to be in a mixed-sex relationship).

[x] Mamamia, Teaching tolerance in schools is deeply dangerous, apparently, 5 November 2015. http://www.mamamia.com.au/safe-schools-program/

[xi] Online Opinion, Children are never too young to learn about rainbow sex, 9 May 2016 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18217

[xii] Shelton is not alone in making this type of argument. Mr David van Gend, from the Australian Marriage Forum, recently provided a submission to the Queensland Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, legislation that will, if passed, finally equalize the age of consent for anal intercourse in that state. He was the only person to argue against equalization, claiming that:

“Schoolboys are vulnerable and often sexually confused. Multiple lines of research confirm that around two thirds of schoolboys aged 16 who identify as homosexual will no longer identify as homosexual within a few years. Their sexual identity is immature; the situation is fluid.

“Permitting older, established homosexual men access to schoolboys who are in a stage of uncertainty and sexual fluidity is likely to have the effect of establishing those schoolboys in a homosexual identity and subculture which they might otherwise have avoided.” Submission 10: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LACSC/2016/21-HealthOLAB16/submissions/010.pdf

Of course, Mr van Gend here is going one step further, by invoking the completely unfounded ‘male homosexual as paedophile’ stereotype, but it still fits within the overall philosophy, which I believe is shared by Lyle Shelton, that young same-sex attracted and gender diverse people must be shielded from information that tells them they are okay, presumably in the hope that they might ultimately ‘grow out of it’.

[xiii] Herald Sun, Safe Schools transgender awareness program could do more harm than good, 8 February 2016. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/safe-schools-transgender-awareness-program-could-do-more-harm-to-kids-than-good/news-story/93f16a43ddb61881fd613c47fbf542db

[xiv] Online Opinion, Children are never too young to learn about rainbow sex, 9 May 2016 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18217

[xv] ABC QandA, Transcript, 29 February 2016. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4402548.htm

[xvi] Online Opinion, Children are never too young to learn about rainbow sex, 9 May 2016 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18217

[xvii] The Conversation, FactCheck Q&A: Was Lyle Shelton right about transgender people and a higher suicide risk after surgery?, 4 March 2016. https://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-was-lyle-shelton-right-about-transgender-people-and-a-higher-suicide-risk-after-surgery-55573

[xviii] Pedestrian TV, Australian Christian Lobby compares Safe Schools to rise of Nazi Germany, 31 May 2016. https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/arts-and-culture/australian-christian-lobby-compares-safe-schools-t/2114fa3a-c2e8-4f04-be10-582088364131.htm

[xix] In Lyle’s ‘defence’, he is not the only anti-marriage equality campaigner to draw an analogy between LGBTI people campaigning for equal treatment under secular law and totalitarian regimes – as this infamous tweet by the Marriage Alliance makes clear (which also overlooks the fact it is young LGBTI people who are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, but that is an argument for another day):

160906 Marriage Alliance Noose Image

[xx] OutinPerth, Lyle Shelton admits he’s worried people will think he’s gay, 15 February 2016. http://www.outinperth.com/acls-lyle-shelton-admits-hes-worried-people-will-think-hes-gay/

Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In Your Own Words

 

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

 

Specifically, the survey asked whether we should:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

**********

 

Accept it, and fight to win

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Worried about harassment of LGBTQI people.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Other Comments

 

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

 

**********

 

Wait to see the details

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Wait & See – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And two final pleas:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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

The More Things Change…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The choice is yours. Please make the right one.

 

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

 

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

 

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