Marriage equality: we need a ‘yes’ vote to push back the bigots

The postal vote proposal is a desperate attempt by the right to delay marriage equality. But if it’s on, we can’t abstain. We have to pull out all stops to ensure that Tony Abbott and all the other right wing bigots get put in their box by a victorious “yes” vote, argues National Union of Students LGBTI officer Chris di Pasquale.

“If you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote ‘no’. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote ‘no’, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote ‘no’ because voting ‘no’ will help stop it in its tracks.”

With those words, conservative former PM Tony Abbott fired his opening salvo on behalf of the homophobes and the bigots. The battle lines are now drawn, and the 13-year struggle for marriage equality may finally find its resolution.

Assuming it survives a High Court challenge, from 12 September everyone on the electoral roll will receive a ballot paper to take part in a postal plebiscite for marriage equality. The postal vote is the brainchild of odious hard-right immigration minister Peter Dutton, after prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s two failed attempts at ramming a marriage equality plebiscite through the Senate. It is an act of 11th-hour desperation to delay the granting of equal rights and appease the hard right of the Liberal Party.

And it is in defiance of the longstanding demand of the marriage equality campaign to allow a free vote in Parliament.

Because Turnbull’s original plebiscite proposal was defeated, the postal vote can’t even be administered by the Australian Electoral Commission. It can’t even officially be called a plebiscite! Instead, the Australian Bureau of Statistics – you know, the folks who brought us #censusfail last year – will administer the “Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey” to “request statistical information”.

Therefore, even if this survey concludes what every single opinion poll shows – that a clear majority of the population support marriage equality – it won’t be binding. But if “no” wins? According to Turnbull, “We will not facilitate the introduction of a private members’ bill on the matter unless the Australian people have given their support”. Talk about a double standard.

Evidently, Turnbull’s postal vote is not just a delaying tactic but an underhanded and undemocratic move to disenfranchise the section of the population who record the most enthusiastic support for marriage equality: young people. While two-thirds of the population support marriage equality, the figure is 81 percent support for 18 to 24 year olds.

At the last federal election, one-quarter of those not enrolled were 18 and 19 year olds. Also, young people are twice as likely to be moving house as the rest of the population, increasing the risk that their details with the electoral commission are out of date and that they won’t receive their ballot.

No matter how you slice it, this postal survey is a move designed to stymie any reform on the question and to placate the hard-right ideologues within the Liberal Party as well as the bigots outside of government.

Bigots such as Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby, who along with his troglodyte mates, staggered out of his cave, knuckles dragging behind him, to announce that he had already started the ACL’s “no” campaign. This is the same Lyle Shelton who last year compared same sex marriage and the Safe Schools Coalition, an anti-homophobia program for schools, to the Holocaust.

Shelton and Co. have already mocked up their propaganda, ready for distribution and chock-full of good Christian values, with statements such as: “Married biological parents have a better record for providing safety and development of healthy, well-adjusted adult children. They minimise abuse and neglect of children”. Their pamphlets also suggest that children of same sex couples will be more likely to use drugs, be unemployed and experience depression.

The fact that Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Lyle Shelton are calling the shots on marriage equality is akin to your racist, homophobic uncle who you avoid sitting next to at Christmas lunch every year, making decisions about what rights are afforded to a section of the population, based on who we choose to have our relationships with.

These cranks are utterly shameless in their attempts to stop progress on this question. They see marriage equality passing in country after country around the world; they see people forcing society to change; they know the majority is against them; they know they’re defeated and yet they cling on like a stain that won’t wash out.

So while the demand of the movement and marriage equality activists remains the same, i.e. a free vote in parliament, now that this vote is being imposed on us, we have to take up the fight.

Some prominent LGBTI people, such as former High Court judge Michael Kirby, have announced that they’re boycotting the vote. However, in the current context, a boycott is a dead-end strategy and will in no way bring us closer to marriage equality. Abstaining from the vote will not only confuse the outcome (they won’t be recording spoiled ballots, so there’s no way of differentiating active abstentions from those who simply couldn’t be bothered to vote), but a boycott leaves the field open for the right and the anti-equality bigots to run their well-oiled and well-funded campaigns.

By mobilising the millions of marriage equality supporters around the country in a campaign for a “yes” vote, we could win the ballot; that would add even more pressure on parliament to pass marriage equality.

Back in 2005, only one-third of the population supported marriage equality. It’s taken 13 years of protests, rallies and ruckus by ordinary LGBTI folk and our allies to turn that around.

Last year, when the plebiscite was first defeated in the Senate, the Liberals told us we had blown our shot at marriage equality until the next election. But as much as they’d like to ignore us, we continue to be a thorn in the side of the government and we continue to make this issue one that won’t disappear.

The marriage equality campaign has involved hundreds of thousands around the country and has helped focus the spotlight on other LGBTI issues such as trans rights, homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, queer youth homelessness and so on. And the grassroots campaigning that has won marriage equality in other countries – such as Ireland, the United States and, most recently, Taiwan – has been like an extra burst of wind beneath the sails of the marriage equality campaign here.

The fight for marriage equality is not about political correctness. It’s not symbolism. Winning legal equality for queer people in Australia has a raft of positive ramifications to do with everything from migration law to visitation rights if your partner is ill. But the struggle for equal rights has always been about more than that: this has become a struggle for the kind of society we want.

Do we continue to allow a society that purports to be a liberal democracy to discriminate against its LGBTI members? Or do we fight for marriage equality, for legal recognition, for an end to discrimination and oppression in all its forms and, ultimately, for our liberation?