The meaning of YES…and NO

Australians have voted YES by a bigger margin than the 2PP vote at any recent federal election. This is a cause for great celebration, of course, but what happens next?

There is a lot more to be gleaned from the success of the YES vote — “survey response” — than simply the command to Parliament to legislate for genuine marriage equality. Why? Because the NO campaign claimed time and again that the survey was about many other things than marriage equality; it was an attack on our fundamental way of life, religious freedom, and the safety of our children (think of the children!) By voting yes in such numbers, the Australian people have rejected those claims, each and every one.

The public saw through the lies, misrepresentations and red herrings of the NO campaign. Of course, some were distracted or scared off by the deceitful claims of the NO campaign, and so the majority was smaller than it might have been. But we should be proud of such a resounding success, particularly given that the very survey was itself designed to minimise the YES voice. 

First of all, it was postal, to bias against young voters, among whom support for marriage equality is known to be much higher than among the elderly. It was voluntary, to add to the bias against young voters, and to maximise the number of those for whom the issue was not particularly relevant and who could therefore be discouraged from voting. There was great confusion and uncertainty about eligibility to vote (could 17 year olds vote? Could New Zealanders with permanent residency?) The very question was framed not by statisticians but by anti-equality politicians, so it used language that subtly biases toward the negative, such as “change the law” and “same sex” rather than more universally comfortable terminology around “equality”.

Indeed, the whole point of the original Abbott Government plebiscite idea, and its morphing into a postal survey, was to delay or frustrate the public desire for equality in the marriage law. 

The public, however, has overcome these biases and pressed through these headwinds and shown us the very essence of that quintessential Australian value: the fair go.

Much of the NO case was misleading, mendacious and unrelated to the actual issue of marriage equality (which the NO campaign studiously avoided, knowing that they had long ago lost the argument). They had to bring their battle to other terrain. Right-wing NO warrior Tony Abbott announced that the vote was about more than marriage. In stating as much, he made it so.

While the YES campaign stuck to the only issue (the need for fairness in marriage law so that people can marry the person they love regardless of sex or gender), Abbott and company wanted the people to make their vote about a raft of other things. Abbott said: “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 to stop political correctness in its tracks.” Other leaders of the NO campaign put other red herrings up for the public to accept.

So taking them at their word, the people did vote on those other things. They rejected, emphatically, the claim that marriage equality would harm children. They rejected, emphatically, the attacks on safe schools, the unwinding of anti-discrimination laws, the pretence that freedom of expression means the right to hurt the vulnerable and vilify less powerful minorities. They saw through the lazy invocation of “political correctness”, the sneering term that Abbott and his ilk use as a gossamer-thin veil for their contempt for common decency, for human rights, for the fair go. 

In so doing, the Australian public has condemned the NO campaign’s wanton disregard for the wellbeing of LGBTQI+ people. It has rejected the poisonous attacks on LGBTQI+ families and young people. It has dismissed the fallacious scare campaign, and demanded that the Parliament remove the Marriage Act’s discrimination against LGBTI folk. 

At the same time, it empowers this Parliament, and future governments, to strengthen anti-discrimination laws, to regulate harmful speech and the vilification of the vulnerable, to curtail the unjustifiable special privileges of religious institutions to discriminate in the public sphere. Religious bodies must not be exempt from the ordinary laws, and the strong majority in this postal survey have clearly rejected their claim to such exemptions. It was perhaps the main plank of the NO campaign, and it was rejected. 

It now befalls us to wait and see what will happen.  Whether those who sought the popular opinion will now reject it, dodge and weave around it, ignoring the people’s 122 million dollar verdict. They want to stack the Marriage Act with the same hateful nonsense the people have rejected, as if the people had not clearly given their view in favour of marriage equality.  But we will not stand for it. They lost. The time has come.

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Footnote reference:

“Obviously I will be voting no but in the end this is not about the politicians, this is about the people – it’s about your view. 

“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, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.” 

A Yes result in the same-sex marriage postal survey would represent an endorsement of the controversial Safe Schools gender and sexuality education program, according to Australian Christian Lobby head Lyle Shelton.

Rachel Baxendale, THE AUSTRALIAN, 26/9/2017


Image Copyright Semmick Photo, 2012