Like most other Western countries there is increasing support for legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. We are about to have a national postal vote, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), to discover whether or not Australians support legalising same-sex marriage. Officially the ABS has been asked to collect “statistical information about the proportion of participating electors who are in favour of the law being changed to allow same-sex couples to marry” because the Government wasn’t able to get a national plebiscite through parliament and so it doesn’t have the authority to run an official vote. It argues that it can request the ABS to collect “statistical information”.
As a strong advocate for community engagement, you might imagine I believe that involving the public in this way is a good thing. That is not the case. Even though I am a strong supporter of marriage equality (notice the blog background is rainbow coloured), I do not think the idea of a national postal vote (or survey) is a good idea.
There are three main reasons I am opposed to the postal vote (but will still vote in favour of marriage equality and strongly urge others to do so).
Social justice and equality should not be subject to a popularity contest
The definition of marriage as being “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life” was only inserted into the Marriage Act in 2004 with the expressed purpose of making it “absolutely clear that Australia will not recognise same-sex marriages.”
This change was made by an Act of Parliament based on the claim by the Attorney General that the “vast majority of Australians” supported a traditional definition of marriage. At the time, a national Gallup Poll found that 42% of Australians supported the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, 55% opposed it and 3% were undecided.
Since 2012, all the Gallup polls, however, have found that at least 50% of Australians now support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, with the latest poll (May 2017) finding that, 64% of Australians supported it, 34 % opposed it and 2% were undecided.
The postal vote sends the message that it was fine to for the Government to prevent same-sex marriage, but they now need the nation’s permission before accepting that a fundamental human right (the right to marry as identified in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) applies to people in love with somebody of the same sex.
Protecting the rights and interests of minority groups should not be subject to the agreement of the majority.
The LGBTI community will be subjected to needless pain and hate
The debate will get ugly. Despite the Prime Minister’s belief that we are “perfectly capable of having a respectful discussion and debate” and Senator Corman’s calls for “campaigners on both sides of this debate to express their arguments with courtesy and respect,” the LGBTI community is going to be hit hard by the debate.
The debate leading up to the postal vote will intensify claims that gays and lesbians are immoral, dangerous, bad parents and a threat. The children of same-sex parents will be told their families are not genuine families, their families are a threat to society, they will not do as well as children from “normal” families and they run the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Australian Marriage Forum quotes the American College of Pediatricians (who believe “the basic father-mother family unit, within the context of marriage, to be the optimal setting for childhood development”) in suggesting:
The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science. (Australian Marriage Forum, emphasis added)
Chris Miles, a former member of parliament, acknowledges he is preparing to distribute more leaflets making the outrageous claim that:
For adult children raised by gay or lesbian parents, what are the Social Outcome?
- Government assistance
- Sexual victimisation
- Sexual transmitted disease (sic)
- Drug abuse
Much of the opposition to marriage equality is based on the belief that homosexuality is unnatural, immoral and even evil. The barrage of such messages is painful, harmful and unloving.
The Postal Vote will not encourage thoughtful discussion
There will be some thoughtful discussion about the nature of marriage and the implications of allowing same-sex marriage, but most of the debate will be based on irrational arguments, marketing and slogans.
For example, former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is linking same-sex marriage to political correctness:
And I say to you, if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom, and freedom of speech, vote no. If you don’t like political correctness, vote no – because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks. (The Conversation)
Linking the same-sex marriage to “political correctness” is an attempt to tap into some people’s fear that things have gone too far. It is nothing to do with the issues at the heart of the debate.
It isn’t just the opponents of marriage equality that I’m concerned about. Supporters of marriage equality will also rely on slogans, make unsupported or wild claims, and be involved in hate speech. Take for instance the following examples on the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Facebook page.
[Let me be clear, I find the ACL, and the style of Christianity they represent, abhorrent but I recognise their right to participate in public debate and do not believe they should be subjected to threatening or violent language or actions.]
Mainstream and social media are likely to focus on sensational and outrageous claims. If we wanted to seriously engage the community in discussion, we would organise well facilitated community conversations (e.g., world cafés and citizen juries) or provide other means of promoting meaningful dialogue.
I am interested in what opponents fear about legalising same-sex marriage and what their concerns are, but I’m not at all interested in hearing slogans and misleading claims. Labelling the children of same-sex parents as being “the stolen generation” is not helpful.
I have more sympathy when people are concerned that it is the start of a slippery slope and could undermine traditional values. But in the environment of campaigning rather than thoughtful dialogue, this argument can lead to offensive, hurtful claims. In a speech in parliament Cory Bernardi claimed that same-sex marriage is “another tear in the fabric of our social mores” and its supporters “seek to tear down our institutions that have been built and have sustained our civilisation for thousands of years”. He even linked same-sex marriage to bestiality:
There are even some creepy people out there—and I say ‘creepy’ deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union?’
I can understand that some people are worried that marriage equality will lead to people needing to act against their conscious. We need to take these concerns seriously, explore how to address their concerns and consider to what extent people should be able to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality. It isn’t fair, however, to deny some people the fundamental right of getting married because we are worried that people who don’t like homosexuality might need to bake them a wedding cake.
The postal vote will not promote meaningful community engagement. I would much prefer the Government to have the courage to take a stand for marriage equality and legalise same-sex marriage. As we do face a postal vote, I can only hope there is a resounding “YES” and that the supporters of marriage equality will work together make it happen.
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- Why I’ve gone rainbow-coloured
- Marriage equality (and a song for Sunday – Same love by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis)
- Some good articles/links – same-sex parents
- What are complex problems?
- Ethics and community engagement
- 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.