If it was necessary to hold a referendum to change our Constitution to enact marriage equality in Australia, I would be the first one in line to vote ‘Yes’.
That was the reason Ireland held a referendum on same-sex marriage.
However, in Commonwealth v Australian Capital Territory  HCA 55, while the High Court of Australia struck down the ACT’s same-sex marriage legislation as unconstitutional, the court made it clear that:
- ‘s51(xxi) [of the Australian Constitution] gives the federal Parliament power to pass a law providing for same sex marriage’ [at paragraph 10]; and
- ‘[w]hen used in s 51(xxi) [of the Australian Constitution], “marriage” is a term which includes a marriage between persons of the same sex’ [at paragraph 38].
The judgment of the court means that if it wasn’t for the previous Howard Coalition government, supported by the Labor Party, enacting expressly anti-LGBTI, and downright spiteful, amendments into the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) in 2004, without holding a $160 million plebiscite to do so, designed to prevent the occurrence, and even the recognition, of same-sex marriages in Australia, we wouldn’t even be talking about a plebiscite now and marriage equality would be within reach.
The proposed plebiscite on marriage equality is the superfluous, populist way out from between a rock and a hard place for a paralysed conservative, and strongly homophobic, government which only appears capable of making a ‘principled’ stand on keeping injured babies in detention, on what has practically become a prison island for Australia’s asylum seekers. A government, which on the face of it, is capable of the dirtiest of political tricks to achieve its goals.
The plebiscite is not in the interest of the LGBTI community – it serves only the Coalition government’s election year political agenda, and those who stand in steadfast opposition to the mere existence of the LGBTI community, let alone marriage equality, such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).
In the absence of a constitutional impediment, there is nothing in the nature of marriage equality that requires, or necessitates, a national public vote in Australia.
While it is nice to have the public on side in any matter of public policy, arguably it is largely irrelevant what the public thinks on the issue of marriage equality.
• Australia’s marriage equality plebiscite farce
• The Senate to Parliament: Do your job!
• The great gay plebiscite and referendum confusion of 2015
• The Coalition’s marriage equality fiasco
• LGBTI human rights and marriage equality
Equality before the law in a secular, liberal democracy is an anti-discrimination, equality, human rights, and social justice issue.
Such matters should never be the subject of the vagaries of public opinion, but rather of informed, impartial and thoughtful public policy unaffected by intolerance and uninformed human fears.
A liberal democracy is ‘liberal’ because it does not subject the protection of fundamental human rights to a collective deliberation process – such rights are recognised constant, inherent, universal and unalienable. They are not up for debate or a popularity contest.
Add secularity to the mix, and the religious position becomes flagrantly untenable, wrong and downright contrary, in fact hostile to, and utterly incompatible with, the underlying fundamental principles of a secular, liberal democracy.
The government’s idea of ‘democracy’ enables ten members of the Coalition to change the Prime Minister of the country overnight, but requires the whole nation to have a say on whether I can marry the man I loved for over 17 years or not.
Yes, Tony Abbott was on the nose, and Malcolm Turnbull was very popular, with opinion polls consistently showing Turnbull as the preferred leader. Those same opinion polls also overwhelmingly favour marriage equality, and suggest the public wants politicians to do their job and pass the required legislation. Those polls showed marriage equality was twice as popular as Abbott, and is still more popular than Turnbull.
A plebiscite is seemingly an egalitarian and democratic method to decide whether same-sex couples should be allowed to partake in the civil institution of marriage.
In reality, as things stand, the proposed plebiscite would be nothing more than an exercise in expensive pseudo-democracy by a legislature that’s incapable, or unwilling, to perform its legislative duty on this particular issue, and continues to pander to the most vile religious extremists in Australia out of a mixture of political cowardice and expediency, in circumstances where the highest court of the land made it clear Parliament has the power to pass the requisite legislation.
Even if the ‘Yes’ vote is victorious in the face of, what will undoubtedly be, a vile anti-gay onslaught from those opposing, there will be long-lasting damage caused by the ‘No’ campaign to the self-esteem of the LGBTI community, including our struggling youth, and the fabric of our civil society.
Turnbull’s announcement yesterday of a ‘review’ of the program provided by the Safe Schools Coalition, designed to protect vulnerable LGBTI youth from abuse, discrimination and vilification in our schools through education, support and the creation of safe environments, was both a shameful capitulation by him to the extreme religious right-wing of the Coalition, and an ominous sign of things to come if the plebiscite moves forward, with Coalition arch-homophobe Cory Bernardi alleging the anti-bullying program ‘indoctrinates kids with Marxist cultural relativism’ – whatever he thinks that means. The Safe Schools Coalition program has been under sustained vicious attacks by religious conservatives for over a year now.
And if the ‘No’ vote wins out, where would that leave the human rights and legal status of the LGBTI citizens of this great, secular, liberal nation?!
This all leads to one undoubtedly controversial question: should I boycott the Coalition’s marriage equality plebiscite, to deny it even a veneer of legitimacy?
Passive resistance to an oppressor’s ‘game’ is a time-honoured tradition. As things stand at the moment, a plebiscite has a strong chance of being victorious, although the rules of the game are yet to be revealed.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Desmond Mpilo Tutu
Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News : Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984) page 19
Notably, the ACL is already lobbying for public funding of its ‘No’ campaign, and the suspension of anti-discrimination laws for the duration of the plebiscite campaign. Apparently, the ACL think they can’t get their point across with sufficiently hateful anti-gay viciousness without breaking the laws – so they are asking for those laws to be suspended.
Setting aside the fact the Commonwealth government has no power over State-based anti-discrimination laws designed to protect the LGBTI community from unlawful discrimination and vilification, by the ‘logic’ of ACL’s argument racist groups could insist we suspend our racial discrimination laws while the referendum campaign for the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people will take place, lest racists be ‘silenced’ by the law.
If the ACL can’t make their arguments without breaking the law, perhaps it’s time to concede they don’t have a valid or reasonable argument?!
No one is calling the ACL, and other religious opponents, bigots because of their Christian faith.
They are called bigots because of what they say, and the manner in which they frame their arguments against the LGBTI community, and marriage equality – their own unique brand of extremist and literal interpretation of the Bible, and the Christian faith, which appears to be in stark contrast to the position of the majority of Australian Christians.
• Freedom of religion does not include a right to make things up
• Bigots upset over being called bigots
• An unhinged Marriage Alliance loses it again
• The growing fire inside me
• When Catholic voices misfire
• Catholic Church ‘warns’ businesses over public support for marriage equality
• ‘Welcome’ Marriage Alliance
I would submit that calling for a ‘debate’ on the issue of marriage equality in the context of the proposed plebiscite is disingenuous.
The ‘debate’ on the issue of marriage equality is no longer a debate of ideas – the debate has been over for a while now. The proposed plebiscite is nothing more than the latest battle in a war of attrition, in which a diminishing, but vocal, extremist religious minority, clinging to a literal interpretation of ancient and dated dogmas of faith, is determined to deny equality and human rights to their fellow Australians, by holding successive governments and the Australian public to ransom.
Sadly, in the process, they are undermining the egalitarian, liberal, secular and democratic traditions and values of our nation, and our social progress.
Ironically, the Coalition can’t even guarantee it will be capable of honouring a ‘Yes’ vote in a plebiscite.
Nevertheless, for now, I will continue to keep an open mind about the plebiscite, until all the relevant details are revealed about the proposed process.
However, if what is eventually revealed is blatantly stacked against success, or designed to favour the ‘No’ campaign in any way, I reserve my right to declare the plebiscite an illegitimate process, and boycott it loudly and publicly.