It has been 13 years since the Howard government changed the Marriage Act to explicitly disallow same-sex marriage, and this postal survey might be the way Australia finally changes the Act again. If the overall result is yes, the Government follows through and lets a bill be debated in Parliament, and enough MPs follow through and vote yes. It doesn’t need to be this complex.
In Germany recently, there was a one-week turnaround between an acknowledgement that the issue need to be resolved, and the passage of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage – the law will come into effect on October 1st. On October 1st, Australia will be 20 days in to a 57-day survey period to determine if majority public support exists (a question already answered in the affirmative by opinion polls from all sides of politics many times over the last few years).
It’s true that this postal survey will – if it survives the two High Court challenges – probably provide Australia’s first real political pathway to same-sex marriage. It’s probably true that without this, the law wouldn’t change at least until the 46th Parliament in 2019 or later. However, there’s a point where even if it is the only politically feasible way to same-sex marriage, it isn’t worth it.
The absolute hatred and vitriol that the LGBTI* community would be exposed to throughout a debate is very real, and already happening. It’s targeted, misleading, disgusting, and dangerous, often with no actual connection to the notion of same-sex marriage, and often denying the humanity of LGBTI* people altogether. It’s true that this doesn’t stop without the postal survey, however the survey intensifies the opposition.
No person, whether they’re young or otherwise, whether they’ve been dealing with the hatred that gets thrown at LGBTI* Australians for months or decades, deserves to have voices like that amplified against them. There is a way to argue against same-sex marriage without being cruel, but it doesn’t take much to predict the ‘no’ campaign won’t do that. They’re calling themselves a silent majority. They aren’t silent, we know who they are. We know their arguments. We know they’re hurtful, and upsetting, and misleading. We know that giving them a reason to push those arguments even further into the public arena is harmful to LGBTI* people.
This postal survey shouldn’t happen, but if it does, we know what the debate is going to look like. That’s why it’s so important that – even if we think the whole idea of a postal survey on minority rights is ridiculous and offensive – those in support of same-sex marriage vote, and campaign for others to vote, yes. Boycotting the survey won’t make the worst opposition disappear, and nor will supporting LGBTI* people. However, support does so much more to help reduce the impact of harmful debate than silence.
Rebecca is a second year Law/Political Science student.