Lost in the Post(al Survey): Part III

We claim to live in a society that is diverse, fluid, vibrant and made up of a variety of social identities. We claim that this society is one which upholds the notion of ‘giving it a fair go’. We claim that everyone has equal: rights to ownership, access to media, ability to participate in political and public life, and rights to love. We cherish and reinforce equality – we preach it. Yet, in this society, there’s a conflict you’d think we wouldn’t think twice about: a conflict over the basic right to marry.

Sarah is a fourth-year law student at ANU who voted ‘Yes’ in the same-sex marriage plebiscite. We sat down with her for a wide-ranging interview to find out the rationale behind her vote.

When asked what the postal vote meant to her, Sarah looked at us and smiled. “Fundamental rights”, she said, “it’s not a plebiscite about Safe Schools, not about education, it’s about gay marriage.” The leaves rustle as she tosses back her hair and continues: “It’s about sticking it to the man. Being against our conservative government.” Ultimately, Sarah views political participation in the postal survey as crucial for young people.

Sarah’s brother, who recently came out as gay, has changed the way she views the world. It’s the labelling, being called the ‘other’, and the constant reminder that ‘you’re different’ that makes Sarah so frustrated. In a world of fluidity – a label-less world – she knows these claims are merely a fallacy. She says: “Gay has a negative connotation. It’s the biggest insult to say you’re gay”. In addition, she highlights that the whole process of ‘coming out’ – where individuals must ‘undergo a process’ which situates them in the realm of the other – is bizarre. She asks: “Why can’t it just be considered normal? Why does it need a label?”

In a broader sense, Sarah sees the postal survey as a poor attempt by the Australian Government to address this unfairness. Although the survey has brought the topic to the forefront and made citizens more active, she ultimately believes that “having envelopes is time-consuming and expensive – definitely a poor way to deal with it.”

When asked what influenced her decision to vote ‘Yes’, Sarah smiles. She said: “Look at all the people around you. If you’re hetero, you’re allowed to do things. So why can’t everyone else? Why is there a need for a label?” She went on to point out that politics and the public discourse surrounding the survey are intruding on individuals’ private lives. Nevertheless, she hopefully remarked: “We are more progressive in our hearts, even if our politicians aren’t.”

Sarah lives by a strong and optimistic. She says: “I think that it’s your own way of seeing the world. We should be able to live freely – of course with some constraints, criminal law for example – [but] we should be happy”. Sarah admits that Australia has long been, and to a certain extent still is, a “homophobic nation” which has denied happiness to many by denying everyone the rights to marry whom they choose. When asked how she would feel if the result didn’t favour her position she looked at us and shook her head. “I’m scared. I really am”, she said, “the ‘Yes’ campaign plays on love and the ‘No’ campaign plays on manipulation and fear – it can get into your mind.”

Ultimately, Sarah believes that ‘No’ campaigners are afraid of change. Even in a progressive society, legislative change is feared as it can bring about cultural change. Sarah glances in the distance and her positive mood suddenly disappears. She said: “My heart sunk when I saw the words ‘Vote No’ appear in the sky in Sydney. I mean you’re in a space where you can’t escape. It’s above you.”

As we thanked Sarah for her time, she laughed and said: “If it doesn’t go well, it’s important we don’t give up. Reconvene, don’t give up.”