Idle Hands Are the No-Vote’s Playmate

Disclaimer: these views are entirely my own.

We all have gay friends, colleagues, peers, teammates, work friends and classmates. Some of us might even have gay brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, sons or daughters. I’m no statistician, but these days when you tell someone you’re gay, the response is more often than not usually met with a shrug, a “cool”, or – if you’re lucky – an invitation to a blind date with a friend-of-a-friend a few days later. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that in 2017, being a gay person is Australia is pretty stock-standard.

Until it’s not.

Until you realise that your relationship (assuming the blind date went well) isn’t legitimate in the eyes of your country. It’s a peculiar feeling for a relationship not to have the natural next steps that straight relationships have. Under the current law, the usual expectations and pressures that allow a relationship to evolve and grow need not apply – never mind the fact that they are also lacking in the legal entitlements, responsibilities, and protections offered to couples in married, straight relationships.

We have arrived at an unprecedented point in Australian politics. We are subjecting the basic legal rights of LGBTIQA+ people to the result of a national opinion poll with a very expensive price tag. The forthcoming non-binding, voluntary, postal survey on whether Parliament should legislate to allow persons of the same sex to marry is probably not the most efficient or rational means to achieving a long-awaited change. Some call it keeping election promises, and others call it an abdication of Parliament’s responsibilities. Nevertheless, something is finally happening.

If you’re enrolled by the end of next week, you will get a ballot paper in the mail on 12 September. You have the choice to either fill it out and send it back, or totally ignore it. I doubt the latter will prevail. As a country, we love a yarn about big picture political issues. We also love to argue, in that slack jaw, “yeah, but — no, but –” kind of way. We also all know someone who loves to be stubborn in that “call me old fashioned but …” kind of way. And therein lies the danger.

We all spat out our tea in horror as Britain voted to leave the EU. We were even more surprised when self-proclaimed ‘winner’ (among other things) Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. Pictures of protests flooded television screens, and disbelief rang out across campuses and cafes. We cried: “How could that happen!” Easily, I suppose: we took the popular opinion for granted. Those without the modern mentalities of city-based voters, those furthest away from the opinions espoused on television studios and Twitter feeds felt ignored, isolated, and fed up, opting for the institutional course of action, rather the cultural one.

A voluntary poll often means that the battle is fought at the fringes, with those able and willing to mobilise around the poll often being the ones who also harbour the strongest opinions. Not surprisingly, they also turn out to vote in droves. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a strong correlation between those who are proficient at mailing letters and those who are against same-sex marriage.

So, a word to the wise for Australians young and old who support a common-sense change to the law. Do not refer to those voting “no”, discussing “no”, or campaigning for “no” as bigoted, stupid, ignorant, intolerant or medieval. Do not call them dumb, old or small minded. Do not shut down their arguments with epithets, claiming that their race, gender and age predicates their supposition for opposing the change. They are educated in a certain way, at a certain time, in a certain context, and are entitled to just as much of an opinion as the “yes” campaigners. That is one of the beautiful things about this country – not many around the world share this same luxury.

Instead, think of it this way: the plebiscite process will give you a chance to change the minds of the “no” voters. Doing nothing about it and sitting idly by is worse than voting “no”. Engage. Campaign. Discuss. Debate. Win hearts and minds. Force people to articulate why they oppose same-sex marriage, then develop a counter argument. We all know that this change is the logical one – let us not be proven wrong again.

Enrol to vote here; enrolment closes on 24 August 2017.