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/

Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In Your Own Words

 

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

 

Specifically, the survey asked whether we should:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

**********

 

Accept it, and fight to win

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Worried about harassment of LGBTQI people.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Accept – Other Comments

 

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

 

**********

 

Wait to see the details

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Wait & See – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And two final pleas:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Block it, if possible – General

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The fear of vilification is widespread:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And two simple pleas to conclude:

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block – Other Comments

 

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Block it, if possible – LGBTIQ parents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block LGBTIQ Parents – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Block it, if possible – Trans respondents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Trans – Reasons

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download: Survey Results Part 2 Block Trans – Other Comments

 

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Block it, if possible – Non-LGBTIQ respondents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Conclusion

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

To Plebiscite or not to Plebiscite?

To plebiscite or not to plebiscite? That is the question confronting us right now.

 

Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government won re-election on Saturday July 2, albeit by the narrowest of margins in the House of Representatives. According to their election policy, they will introduce legislation in the second half of 2016 to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, either in November this year or (more likely in my opinion) in March 2017.

 

Nevertheless, the picture in the Senate remains less clear, where, with counting continuing, there is a possibility the ALP, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team will collectively hold 38 Senators. All three parties formally support marriage equality and, based on those numbers, would be in a position to block the legislation required to hold the plebiscite.

 

The question is whether we – the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community – want them to block the plebiscite or not.

 

For regular readers of this blog, that question might seem somewhat unexpected. Since it was first announced by then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in August 2015, I have consistently, and often vociferously, opposed the plebiscite on marriage equality, including by:

 

 

As someone who has been engaged for more than six years, but who doesn’t want Steve and my right to marry to come at the expense of potential harm to young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people, my personal view would be that we should continue to oppose the plebiscite.

 

But this issue, whether to block the plebiscite or not, is much bigger than any one individual, or couple – it will affect nearly all members of the LGBTIQ community in some way.

 

From older couples for whom time may be running out, to younger people who have grown sick and tired of waiting for our politicians to catch up to public opinion, there may be valid arguments to ‘accept’ the plebiscite – if that is indeed the only option now on the table.

 

On the other hand, many rainbow families legitimately fear the damage that the anticipated homophobic and transphobic campaign by opponents of marriage equality may cause to them and their families. Meanwhile, other members of the LGBTIQ community for whom marriage equality is not a high priority may experience the harms of a plebiscite without enjoying any of the benefits.

 

For all of these reasons and more, I have decided to conduct a survey of the LGBTIQ community’s opinions about the plebiscite, and what we, as a community, should do next. It will be open from today (Sunday 17 July) for two weeks, closing on Sunday 31 July, and I would really appreciate it if you could take five minutes of your time to express your view:

 

This survey is now closed. 

 

As you will see in the survey, as well as asking for some optional demographic information (which will help to identify whether there are different opinions within the community on the basis of whether people are LGBTI and/or Q, their relationship status, age and whether or not they have children), the primary question (indeed the only mandatory question) asks participants to choose between the following three options:

 

  1. To block the plebiscite, if possible

 

The ‘if possible’ is added here because the Senate numbers might change in late counting, meaning the plebiscite may proceed regardless of the community’s views. However, assuming Labor, the Greens and Xenophon together reach 38 seats, this option would involve asking these parties to demonstrate their stated support for marriage equality by blocking the plebiscite and instead continuing to push for a parliamentary vote as quickly as possible.

 

The obvious benefit of this option is it would avoid holding a public vote costing at least $160 million, and almost inevitably preceded by a bitter and nasty campaign against LGBTIQ Australians by the Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Marriage Forum, Marriage Alliance and others.

 

Nevertheless, there is also a real chance that, once the plebiscite is blocked, Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues refuse to hold any parliamentary vote, meaning the equal recognition of our relationships is delayed until at least 2019 (or beyond). Blocking the plebiscite would also be open to mischaracterisation by our opponents (who could claim we are ‘afraid of democracy’ rather than being genuinely concerned about their hate-mongering).

 

  1. To accept the plebiscite, and fight to win

 

This option doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing that a plebiscite on this issue is desirable. Nevertheless, it would involve pragmatically acknowledging that, following the re-election of the Liberal-National Government, a plebiscite might be the best chance of achieving marriage equality during this term of Parliament.

 

As discussed earlier, there are risks in this approach. I’m not sure anybody believes Malcolm Turnbull’s naïve statements that the plebiscite debate will be ‘respectful’. As a result, it is highly likely young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people will experience real harm. And, even if we ‘win’ the plebiscite, there is still no guarantee Coalition MPs will actually pass marriage equality (or do so promptly, noting it took seven years for the national anthem plebiscite to be implemented).

 

But, we also need to consider the fact that there are many couples for whom waiting until 2019 (or beyond) is simply not feasible – a plebiscite might be their only option to legally wed in their own country before one or both passes away. It is, undeniably, a ‘big call’ to block what could be the only way that people who grew up in a different time, and a much less accepting country, might finally be allowed to marry.

 

  1. To wait to see the details of the plebiscite

 

Despite being announced as Liberal-National Party policy more than 11 months ago – and forming part of Turnbull’s re-election platform – there is still a lack of clarity around several key aspects of the proposed marriage equality plebiscite.

 

151222 Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, but – even after July 2 – still can’t tell us key details.

 

For example, it is uncertain what the exact question will be, and it may be more, or less, acceptable depending on the language used (such as whether it refers to same-sex marriage, or marriage between any two adults, or whether it even includes a reference to ‘traditional marriage’?).

 

The recent election campaign also revealed that there remains internal Coalition disagreement on the measure of ‘success’ – whether a simple majority will be sufficient, or whether it will also be required to be passed by a majority of voters in a majority of electorates (which will obviously be more difficult to achieve).

 

Finally, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis have both so far refused to answer questions about the breadth of religious exceptions that may be included in any subsequent Bill to amend the Marriage Act – whether they will only apply to ministers of religion, whether they will also allow civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTIQ couples, or whether they will attempt to include new ‘special rights’ to discriminate for wedding-related small businesses (eg florists, bakers and photographers etc).

 

For these reasons, some people might be willing to accept some plebiscites (asking a straightforward question, only requiring a simple majority, and not expanding religious exceptions) but not others, and these people may wish to see the details of any plebiscite before deciding whether it should be blocked or not.

 

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To choose your preferred option, out of the three presented above, please complete the survey here before Sunday 31 July:

 

This survey is now closed.

 

I will publish the results of the survey on Sunday 7 August (prior to the return of Commonwealth Parliament). They will inform the advocacy that I undertake on this issue from that point forward. If a clear majority of respondents favour blocking the plebiscite then I will continue to strongly campaign against it.

 

On the other hand, and despite any personal misgivings, if the majority of the LGBTIQ community believes this is something that, while not desirable, is ‘the pragmatic choice’, then I will turn my energies and efforts toward helping the ‘Yes’ case to succeed. [Of course, if the community is almost evenly divided on this question, then that decision becomes much more complicated].

 

Finally, I expect some opponents of marriage equality may query whether, by conducting my own survey of LGBTIQ community opinion about this topic, I am in effect endorsing the Turnbull Government’s proposal to hold its own national opinion poll. Pre-empting this criticism, I would note the following:

 

  • This survey will not cost more than $160 million to hold (or the equivalent of charging every Australian voter $10 to take part)

 

  • There is no easily-identifiable alternative to conducting this survey (unlike the plebiscite, which could be avoided by Parliament simply doing its job and voting on – and hopefully passing – legislation, potentially within a matter of weeks)

 

  • Conducting this survey will not lead to community division, and will not cause substantial harm to young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people, and

 

  • This survey poses a question of process – asking LGBTIQ people, who are the group with the most to win (marriage equality) and lose (through the expected homophobic and transphobic campaign by our opponents) from a plebiscite, for their preferred way to achieve equal relationship recognition. It is not asking all Australians – many of whom will not be significantly affected by marriage equality either way, and none of whom will experience any adverse impacts due to its passage – whether the relationships of LGBTIQ people are valid or otherwise.

 

This survey is now closed.

 

 

 

 

A Referendum, a Plebiscite & an Inheritance

There are only a few possessions that hold sentimental value for me.

 

Like most people, there are some photos that have a special place in my heart because they remind me of people or moments that have been significant to me. Then there’s the engagement ring Steve gave me (of course). And the unit we bought together too – well, the small part that isn’t currently owned by the bank – not because it is our dream home by any stretch of the imagination, but because it is the home we are making together.

 

One other object I am sentimental about is actually a copy of the Australian Constitution. No, I’m not that much of a nerd – it’s because it once belonged to my grandfather, Alexander Greig Ellis Lawrie, a Senator who represented Queensland from 1 July 1965 to 11 November 1975, and who passed away in the same year I was born.

 

For people who know me, and where I sit on the ideological spectrum, the fact he was a member of the Country Party might come as a bit of a surprise. But, as well as inheriting his physical appearance (or so I’m told), he also passed down – through my father who was once a National Party candidate, too – a keen interest in contributing to politics and public life.

 

Which meant that, when his wife – my grandmother – died early last decade, the Constitution he was provided with when he was originally sworn in, in Senate red and with his name etched on the front cover, was given to the most ‘political’ of his grandchildren.

 

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My grandfather’s Senate copy of the Australian Constitution.

 

One of the things I love about his copy of the Constitution is that, given he started his first term before the successful 1967 referendum on Aboriginal issues (amending the races power, and including Aboriginal people in the population of the States and Territories for the first time for the purpose of allocating seats in Parliament and determining Commonwealth grants), he has actually crossed out, in pencil, the words “other than the aboriginal race in any State” in section 51(xxvi) and struck a line through section 127 entirely.

 

As a consequence, it feels like I own a piece of history – an object that is connected to a special moment when Australia took a small step forward from its past, and in too many cases present, mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

 

I’ve been thinking about that 1967 referendum quite a bit of late. Not just because today, May 27, is the 49th anniversary of that historic vote. But also because it is the last time the Australian people came together to formally vote on the rights of a minority group.

 

At the moment there is a serious chance there will be a similar public vote at some point between November of this year, and the 50th anniversary of that referendum in May 2017. This time, however, the minority group whose rights will be decided in this way are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.

 

That’s because, as you’re probably well aware by now, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised that, if his Liberal-National Government is re-elected at the July 2 federal election, they will hold a plebiscite to decide whether to finally introduce marriage equality.

 

In light of this possible plebiscite, I’m sure I’m not the only person reflecting on the 1967 referendum, both as a source of inspiration – because it shows that Australia can change for the better – but also to learn some of its lessons, including how to present a vision of what a more equal country could look like.

 

Nevertheless, while there are some obvious similarities between these two public votes, we shouldn’t overlook the fact the marriage equality plebiscite will be a fundamentally different challenge, in at least three key ways:

 

First, unlike the referendum on Aboriginal issues – which was required to amend two sections of the Constitution – a plebiscite on marriage equality is entirely unnecessary. The High Court has already found that Commonwealth Parliament has the power to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to remove discrimination against LGBTI couples – it’s just that Coalition MPs and Senators are refusing to pass such legislation. In this way, the marriage equality plebiscite can be seen as a political choice rather than a legal necessity.

 

Second, the changes approved by the 1967 referendum enjoyed such clear political and community support that there wasn’t even an official ‘No’ case put before the people. That provides at least part of the explanation for why more than nine in ten Australians voted Yes – which remains the highest affirmative vote in any Commonwealth referendum or plebiscite.

 

Unfortunately, we already know there will be a well-funded and well-organised campaign against marriage equality in any upcoming plebiscite. The recent attacks on the Safe Schools program – by ‘the three Australians’ (Christian Lobby, Marriage Forum and The Australian newspaper) – is just a small foretaste of what an anti-marriage equality campaign would resemble. As a result, the Yes vote for marriage equality will be significantly lower.

 

Third, the decision to hold a referendum in May 1967 had the support of the community whose rights it would affect – from the accounts I have read, it seems most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were in favour of holding such a vote.

 

In marked contrast, it is not the LGBTI community putting forward the option of a plebiscite – indeed, the overwhelming majority of LGBTI organisations strongly oppose this proposal. Instead, a plebiscite is being advocated by the opponents of equality – not just the Australian Christian Lobby, but also by some conservative members of the Government who would prefer equal marriage never happened. This obviously creates a different dynamic for this particular public vote.

 

In short, a marriage equality plebiscite is a fight we have not chosen. But, if it does proceed, it will be a fight we must engage in, with all our collective efforts.

 

And it’s a fight that we must win, because there is simply too much at stake. Not just for the tens of thousands of couples, like my fiancé Steve and I, who are growing tired of waiting for the simple right to get married, in our own country and in front of our families and friends.

 

But also for the children of rainbow families, who deserve to grow up in a country where their parents are treated equally, and have the ability to get married if they so choose – surely those are the kinds of ‘family values’ that most people would support.

 

We must win because of the impact this change will have on literally hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children and young people, both now and into the future, who will learn that most Australians believe who they are, or who they love, is now accepted.

 

And I sincerely believe we must all fight, and hopefully win, a plebiscite on marriage equality because of what it will ultimately say about our country – about who we are and the values we hold dear.

 

Is Australia an accepting, generous and inclusive nation, the home of the ‘fair go’, willing to treat people equally no matter who they are? Or are we exclusive and unequal, denying the right to get married solely on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

 

The experience of the May 1967 referendum on Aboriginal issues shows us that we can get the decision right. The Senate copy of the Constitution I inherited from my grandfather demonstrates that we can ‘cross out’ the discriminatory provisions that exist in our laws.

 

So, if we wake up on the morning of July 3 and a plebiscite on marriage equality remains squarely on the public agenda, then we must all make sure we do everything within our power to leave our own inheritance, for LGBTI people and indeed all Australians – a better, fairer, and more equal country.

 

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Things you can do right now:

 

Malcolm Turnbull’s Proposed Marriage Equality Plebiscite is Truly Extraordinary

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s policy – that, if re-elected, he will hold a plebiscite to determine whether marriage equality will finally be introduced in Australia – is truly extraordinary.

 

Unfortunately for him, and even more so for us, it’s not extraordinary like Adele’s voice (or, if you’re not a fan, at least her extraordinary ability to sell music).

 

Instead, it’s extraordinary in a ‘Donald Trump is in with a real chance of becoming President of the United States’ kind of way: unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent and radical.

 

Unprecedented

 

The Commonwealth of Australia is now in its 116th year. A significant number of national votes, other than elections, have been held over that time, including 44 referendums (although only eight of those were successful).

 

But there have only been three plebiscites since Federation in 1901 – and, given the High Court has already found that Commonwealth Parliament has the power to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to introduce marriage equality[i], any national vote on marriage equality would be a non-binding plebiscite rather than a constitution-altering referendum.

 

Of those three plebiscites, only one has been held since World War I: the 1977 ‘multiple-choice’ vote to select a new national anthem (for the record, the options were to retain God Save the Queen, or to change to Advance Australia Fair, Song of Australia or Waltzing Matilda, with Advance Australia Fair ‘winning’ with 43.29% of the ballots cast).

 

With a voting age of 18 (having been lowered from 21 in 1973), only people born before April 1959 were able to participate in that symbolic decision[ii]. To put it another way, nobody born in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s has ever voted in any Australia-wide plebiscite.

 

To find a plebiscite that was used to consider a substantive issue of public policy, we have to travel even further back in time – to almost a full century before the present day. In the depths of the so-called ‘war to end all wars’, the Billy Hughes-led Commonwealth Government conducted the only other two plebiscites in our history, to determine whether to introduce military conscription.

 

These votes – held in October 1916 and December 1917 respectively[iii] – are in effect the only precedent of any kind for the holding of a national vote on a policy issue that did not require constitutional change.

 

But, with the voting age then set at 21, and the most ‘recent’ of these votes a mere 98 and a half years ago, in order to participate in a plebiscite of this kind you needed to be born in 1896 or before – or older than the current oldest person in the world[iv]. In other words, nobody alive today has ever voted in an Australia-wide plebiscite to decide a substantive policy issue.

 

The fact that there is literally no-one around who has participated in a policy-based plebiscite confirms that Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed public vote on marriage equality is essentially unprecedented in modern Australia.

 

As for ‘the Donald’, well, you don’t need to be Nate Silver to understand that his Presidential candidacy is unprecedented in contemporary American history too – there hasn’t been anything like him over the past 50, or even 100, years either.

 

Bizarre

 

One of the strangest things about Turnbull’s policy is that he wants to hold the first substantive plebiscite in almost a century on an issue like marriage equality. Think for a minute about all of the significant changes that have occurred since December 1917 without the need for such a vote.

 

We’ve been through multiple wars – World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and more recently we’ve followed the United States into seemingly endless wars in the Middle East (a somewhat terrifying aside: who knows how many more we would enter at the behest of President Trump?) Australia even had conscription during WWII, and again for the conflict in Vietnam – yet none of these wars, nor the introduction of conscription, required a single plebiscite to be held.

 

We’ve experienced the Great Depression, the post-War boom, the major challenges of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, economic rationalism, and the Global Financial Crisis – still no plebiscite.

 

We’ve seen massive social changes too – including the rise of the women’s movement (imagine for a second the reaction of someone from 1917 to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard), and the recognition of Aboriginal land rights (to some extent anyway), as well as substantial LGBTI law reform, such as decriminalisation, anti-discrimination legislation, parenting rights (in most states and territories) and de facto relationship recognition. Not one of these social reforms needed a plebiscite either.

 

There has even been revolutionary change to the institution of marriage itself – with the 1975 introduction of ‘no fault divorce’ having a much greater impact on a much larger number of families than something like marriage equality could ever hope to achieve. And, once again, it was done without Commonwealth Parliament derogating from its primary responsibility to pass legislation by instead calling a national vote.

 

In this context, it is downright bizarre that, of all the possible issues that could have been the subject of a plebiscite over the past 98 and a half years, Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National 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.

 

Although, admittedly, it’s possibly still not quite as bizarre as the fact someone who is perhaps best known as the star of a reality-TV show, and who has never held public office of any kind, is the presumptive Republican nominee for what remains the most powerful job in the world.

 

Inconsistent

 

One of the things many people find most frustrating about Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite is that it is entirely inconsistent with recent political history. Or, if you’re being less charitable, that it is hypocritical given the actions of the Liberal and National Parties over the past 12 years.

 

Then-Prime Minister John Howard did not hold a public vote before introducing his Marriage Amendment Act 2004 that legislated to deny the right to marry to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians. There was no push for a plebiscite on the issue by anyone in the Liberal and National Parties during the many failed attempts to repeal that ban in the years between 2004 and 2011, either.

 

During the September 2012 debate, and (sadly unsuccessful) vote, on the most recent marriage equality Bill to be considered at length, then-Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his Coalition colleagues did not use the opportunity to describe the process of Parliament voting on marriage equality as inappropriate – they simply used the votes that they held as MPs and Senators to help block it.

 

All of a sudden, however, in August 2015, just as it appeared that the numbers in Parliament might finally have caught up to existing majority community support for this reform, the Liberal-National joint party-room decided to ‘backtrack’ on more than a decade of practice, and refused to use their own votes on this issue, either for or against marriage equality, altogether.

 

Instead, they chose to embark upon a process that we have already seen is essentially unprecedented in modern Australia – before they hold any further parliamentary votes on marriage equality, they will first conduct a $160 million Australia-wide public vote.

 

It is difficult to see this dramatic change in process – from MPs and Senators voting on an issue, just like all other legislation, to holding a nation-wide plebiscite – as anything other than unfair, given that it moves the goalposts on people, and campaigners, who have been working to effect this change for the past decade.

 

But, irrespective of whether you think a plebiscite is ‘fair’ or not, it is impossible to deny that the policy Malcolm Turnbull is taking to the July 2 election – to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality – is fundamentally inconsistent with what he, and his colleagues, have done since John Howard’s ban on marriage equality in 2004.

 

Donald Trump could be described as the King of Inconsistency (although he might upgrade himself to Emperor). As his recent embrace of the National Rifle Association – after previously supporting gun control measures[v] – demonstrates, there is no position he won’t change, and no principle he won’t sacrifice, in order to become POTUS.

 

Radical

 

The one defence that Liberal and National MPs – including both former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – regularly make with regards to holding a plebiscite is that it is ‘the most democratic way to make this decision.’ After all, how much more ‘democratic’ can you get than letting the people decide via a public vote?

 

And I’ll readily acknowledge, holding a plebiscite on marriage equality does fit with certain conceptions of ‘participatory’ democracy. But it is also a very different approach to determining matters of public policy from our usual modus operandi, one that does not sit particularly well with our more traditional ‘representative’ democracy.

 

For example, Tony Abbott has said that holding a plebiscite “is the best way to decide something that’s so important but so personal… It’s to let the people decide so that the decision, whichever way it goes, will have their authority”[vi] [emphasis added].

 

Implicit in describing a plebiscite as the best way to resolve controversial issues is a criticism of our Parliamentary system as an inferior, or clearly ‘second-best’, option.

 

This is actually an extremely radical view of how our democracy should operate – and it’s coming from precisely the same people who usually like to describe themselves as ‘capital C’ conservatives (as an aside: we’ve grown accustomed to a Liberal Party that is not liberal, a National Party that isn’t national, and even an Australian Christian Lobby that isn’t very ‘Christian’, but we should also be highlighting that contemporary ‘conservatives’ are actually nothing of the sort).

 

The logical conclusion of statements such as these is that Australia should be holding more plebiscites, and on a wider range of subjects, rather than simply ‘letting the politicians decide’.

 

In fact, this argument neatly complements the first point of this post – while a plebiscite like this is unprecedented today, by conducting a public vote on marriage equality Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National colleagues would be creating a precedent to hold plebiscites on all sorts of other topics.

 

It is a radical shift that even WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith has identified, while warning of its potential consequences[vii]:

 

“We must also bear in mind the precedent being set as we embark on this latest democratic experiment. After all, if Parliament is to send the nation to a plebiscite to determine the question of same-sex marriage, what is to be done the next time an overseas military commitment is needed?

 

“Into the future, shall we defer to popular vote the question of euthanasia? What of changes to family law and child custody arrangements? These issues are informed by people’s moral views and impact upon people’s personal lives just as much as same-sex marriage.”

 

We could add to Senator Smith’s short list an almost limitless range of possible plebiscites: from abortion to assisted reproductive technology; action on climate change and even access to health and education services – all are influenced by people’s moral views, and all would have an impact on people’s lives.

 

More worryingly, you could easily imagine the same types of people currently agitating for a plebiscite on marriage equality subsequently calling for public votes on – or rather against – immigration, refugees and ‘flag-burning’. You could even see public votes to reintroduce the death penalty or to officially declare Australia a ‘Christian’ nation.

 

The fact that ‘conservatives’ within the Liberal and National Parties are willing to risk these consequences by holding a plebiscite, in what is a fairly transparent attempt to delay or defeat marriage equality, shows just how little they are committed to Australia’s traditional system of representative democracy. Theirs is a genuinely radical agenda, and it should be resisted.

 

It almost goes without saying that Donald Trump’s agenda as a Presidential candidate is genuinely radical too – from building a wall between the US and Mexico (and then making the Mexican Government pay for it – WTF?) to banning all Muslims from entering the United States, he’s more parts radical than conservative.

 

Trump

Just like US Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite is extraordinary, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent and radical.

 

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There are of course several other aspects of Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite that are truly extraordinary. As I’ve written elsewhere[viii], holding a national public vote on this issue would be:

 

  • Extraordinarily unnecessary, given the High Court has already found Commonwealth Parliament can introduce marriage equality,
  • Extraordinarily inappropriate, because the human rights of a minority group shouldn’t be determined by a popularity contest,
  • Extraordinarily wasteful, with a cost of at least $160 million that would be better spent on other priorities[ix], and
  • Extraordinarily divisive, with a real risk that the next six to 12 months will witness extreme attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

But what I have attempted to show in this post is that the process is extraordinary in and of itself. Just like Donald Trump’s candidacy to become US President, the proposal to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality is unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent and radical.

 

Thankfully, there is another similarity between these two otherwise disparate phenomena: neither is inevitable. In the same way we hope (and for the religious among us, pray) the American people choose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump come November 8, we can also choose not to have a marriage equality plebiscite via our election on July 2.

 

If we elect Bill Shorten and Labor at the upcoming poll, then not only will we avoid a plebiscite, we will also most likely have marriage equality within 100 days[x]. Even if the Liberal and National Parties are returned to Government, the proposed plebiscite could nevertheless still be rejected by the Opposition, Greens and minor parties in the Senate. There’s even a much slimmer chance that 2016 Malcolm Turnbull might remember pre-2015 Malcolm Turnbull’s principled stance against a plebiscite.

 

But none of this will happen if we don’t make our voices heard, telling anyone and everyone who will listen: We don’t want a plebiscite. We don’t need a plebiscite. All we want is to be treated equally under the law – and we shouldn’t have to negotiate an extraordinary, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent and radical process to do so.

 

 

Footnotes

[i] The Commonwealth v Australian Capital Territory [2013] HCA 55.

[ii] The result of the 1977 national anthem plebiscite (‘Anthem-vision’) was treated with so much importance it wasn’t even implemented for another seven years.

[iii] The October 1916 plebiscite voted narrowly against conscription 51.61% to 48.39%, while the December 1917 margin was slightly larger: 53.79% No versus 46.21% Yes.

[iv] The older person alive at the time of writing, Italian Emma Morano, was born on 29 November 1899.

[v] The Guardian, May 21 2016, “Donald Trump endorsed by NRA despite history of gun control support”.

[vi] The Guardian, 30 January 2016, “Tony Abbott will back result of plebiscite on same-sex marriage”.

[vii] Dean Smith, Sydney Morning Herald, December 21 2015, “Marriage equality plebiscite would set a precedent for when we defer to a popular vote.”

[viii] No Referendum. No Plebiscite. Just Pass the Bill.

[ix] 7 Better Ways to Spent $158.4 million.

[x] If Shorten wins, start planning those weddings for Monday 10 October.