5 Years of Blogging: Highlights & Thanks

Next month (July 2017) will mark five years of writing this blog. In that time, I’ve published more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters, on a wide range of topics, from marriage equality to anti-discrimination laws and plenty in between.

 

For reasons I will explain at the end of this post, now is an appropriate time to take a quick look back on what have been some of the highlights of the past five years, as well as to express my gratitude to the support I have received during that time (and from one person in particular).

 

  1. #NoPlebiscite

 

One of the things I am proudest of was my contribution to the campaign to stop the unnecessary, wasteful & divisive plebiscite on marriage equality. While obviously the #NoPlebiscite campaign was a group effort, and I was only one of many people involved, I think I managed to play an important role – from refining the arguments against the plebiscite, to producing effective social media messaging/materials, and conducting one of the community surveys which established that the LGBTI community would rather take the risk that marriage equality might be delayed rather than accept the certainty of young and vulnerable LGBTI people being harmed.

 

For more of my thoughts on the campaign against the plebiscite, see Pride, Pressure & Perseverance.

 

  1. #ItsTimeToBind

 

Another campaign in which I played something of a leading role was the push for the Australian Labor Party to adopt a binding vote on marriage equality at its 2015 National Conference. Unlike the campaign against the plebiscite, #ItsTimeToBind was only partially successful: ALP MPs and Senators will only be bound to vote for marriage equality after the next federal election (to be held in late 2018 or early 2019).

 

Nevertheless, if there is a change of government (which seems more likely than not at this stage), this rule change means there will be no further delays on a reform that has been delayed for far too long already – a newly-elected Shorten Labor Government will be able to pass marriage equality in a matter of months.

 

For more on this campaign, see What ALP National Conference Delegates Should Hear About Marriage Equality.

 

  1. ALP National Conference 2015

 

One of the things I have tried to do with this blog – and sometimes I have done this more successfully than others – is to ensure that my LGBTI activism and advocacy is about more than just marriage equality. In the lead-up to that conference this meant pursuing a broad LGBTI agenda (see 15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015), beyond simply achieving a binding vote.

 

As a result, I drafted at least 13 different amendments to the ALP Platform that were ultimately successful, helping to contribute to the most progressive major party manifesto on LGBTI issues in Australian history. This included policies on youth suicide, homelessness, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools, rainbow families and inter-country adoption, consideration of an LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission and the introduction of vilification protections, LGBTI inclusion in foreign aid, and three amendments on intersex issues (including an end to involuntary medical procedures).

 

Perhaps the two reforms I am most proud of were a commitment to remove out-of-pocket medical expenses for trans people, and a declaration that “Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum-seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them.”

 

  1. Diversity of Issues

 

This approach – writing about a diversity of LGBTI issues – is something I have attempted to do beyond just the 2015 ALP National Conference. And, while it has been easy at different points to be distracted by the fight for marriage equality, I am happy I have managed to focus on a broad range of other topics.

 

This includes posts on everything from anti-vilification laws to the homosexual advance defence, the age of consent and expungement for historical homosexual offences, rainbow families (including adoption, assisted reproductive technology and inter-country adoption), relationship recognition, gender identity and access to legal documentation, intersex autonomy and involuntary medical procedures, and LGBTI refugees and people seeking asylum.

 

Perhaps the only high-profile issue over the past five years that I haven’t written about (both because it has been written about extensively elsewhere, and because I didn’t have much original to add) was Safe Schools. But, at the same time, I was one of only a few people to focus on the issue of LGBTI inclusion in the National (and later NSW) Health & Physical Education Curriculums.

 

  1. Focus on LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Law

 

Possibly the main issue I have written about over the past five years – and especially over the past 18 months – has been anti-discrimination law, and how well, or poorly, it protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

This includes a specific focus on how LGBTI anti-discrimination law interacts with, and is undermined by, special rights to discriminate given to religious organisations (aka ‘religious exceptions’). I have also written about the strengths and weaknesses of current LGBTI anti-discrimination laws at Commonwealth level, and in every state and territory, in a series called ‘What’s Wrong With…’

 

To see all of my posts on LGBTI anti-discrimination law, including the issue of religious exceptions and the ‘What’s Wrong With…’ series, see: LGBTI Anti-Discrimination / #NoHomophobiaNoExceptions.

 

  1. The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey

 

One of the more recent highlights of this blog was The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey, which I conducted at the start of 2017, the results of which I have published in a series of six posts from March to June.

 

These articles explored the discrimination experienced by (far too many) LGBTIQ Australians in terms of verbal harassment and abuse, physical abuse or violence, where discriminatory comments occur and their impact, discrimination in education, discrimination in employment, and discrimination in health, community services or aged care.

 

I encourage you to read these posts in full, including the many heartbreaking personal stories of discrimination shared by survey respondents. You can find them all here: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia.

 

  1. Personal Stories

 

Some of the posts that I have found the most difficult to write (particularly as someone who is generally an introvert) are the ones where the subject matter has been deeply personal. These include several articles that discuss the ongoing inability of my fiancé, Steven, and I to marry under Australian law. On the other hand, I think they are probably some of the most powerful posts I have written, because they are personal in nature. You can judge for yourself, here: Personal.

 

  1. Feedback Received

 

One of the best things about writing a blog – of putting your thoughts down in ‘black and white’, and sharing them with the world – is the feedback you receive in return. This includes the many, many comments received via social media on my posts, some of which apparently aroused strong views (both for and against), but with the vast majority generating thoughtful responses from other passionate members of the LGBTI community.

 

Having said that, two particular pieces of feedback received over the past five years stand out in my memory:

 

  • The great Martina Navratilova tweeting that my piece In search of the elusive gay or bisexual male tennis player was “very well put” (it also happens to be the most popular piece I’ve ever published, by far), and
  • A comment from inspiring ACT UP activist Peter Staley on my review of the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague’ in which he features (the review itself was far from best thing I’ve written – but his engagement made it worthwhile).

 

Martina

 

  1. Audience Reach

 

Another satisfying part of ‘blogging’ is seeing what you’ve written reach its audience. Admittedly, writing a blog that primarily concerns itself with LGBTI law reform and policy, in Australia, is the definition of a ‘niche’ endeavour.

 

Nevertheless, over the past five years my blog has received almost 90,000 views, and (as of 11 June 2017) has been visited by people in 189 different geographic regions. In fact, there aren’t many countries where someone hasn’t clicked on something I’ve written (although I am still waiting for first-time readers from North Korea, Turkmenistan, Liechtenstein, Greenland, Cuba, French Guiana, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, in our own region, Samoa and the Solomon Islands).

 

Obviously, choosing to write about the things I do means it is never going to be ‘clickbait’ – but it is still pleasing to know some people have found what I’ve written to be informative, or enjoyable (or hopefully a combination of both).

 

  1. Thanks

 

Which brings me to the most important part of this post – and that is to say thanks. Thank you to you, the readers, who have clicked on, read, liked, commented on and shared the more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters I have published here.

 

I have genuinely appreciated your interest, your views (including where you thought I got something wrong) and your support. Writing this blog has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, and being read by people who are passionate about the same things I am has definitely made it worthwhile.

 

But of course there is one person who deserves the most thanks of all – and that is my partner of almost nine years, and fiancé of more than seven, Steven. His support, encouragement, patience and, above all, belief has allowed me to devote my time and energy to this blog, and to the campaigns I have run here – I literally could not have done any of this without him. Thank you my beautiful man.

 

And that brings me to the underlying reason for this post. After almost five years of writing this blog, it is time to take a step – maybe even two – back and to focus on other things. This reflects an understandable desire to spend more of my available time with my fiancé. It also coincides with changing jobs (my new role will consume much more of my focus, especially in the next year or two).

 

At this stage, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will stop blogging completely, or whether it will simply be far less frequent (every couple of months, rather than three or four posts per month) or perhaps even about other subjects. Whatever the future holds, I’d just like to say that I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written so far, and that I hope it has made a difference in some way, shape or form. Thanks very much for reading.

Pride, Pressure and Perseverance

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And that trade-off was unacceptable to us.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hon Bill Shorten MP Official portrait 20 March 2013

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We will persevere. Until it is finally done.

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.

 

**********

 

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/

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.

 

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Accept it, and fight to win

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Worried about harassment of LGBTQI people.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Other Comments

 

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

 

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Wait to see the details

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Wait & See – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And two final pleas:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Block it, if possible – General

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The fear of vilification is widespread:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And two simple pleas to conclude:

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block – Other Comments

 

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Block it, if possible – LGBTIQ parents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block LGBTIQ Parents – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Block it, if possible – Trans respondents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Trans – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Trans – Other Comments

 

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Block it, if possible – Non-LGBTIQ respondents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Conclusion

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Methodology

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Demographics of respondents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Their relationship statuses were relatively diverse:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

All respondents were asked for their age, with:

 

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

 

Overall result

 

The overall result of the survey was unambiguous:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Results by Category

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There was even less difference according to relationship status:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Concluding Observations

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nick Xenophon

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

 

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

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Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[x] A full comparison:

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

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

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

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

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

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