Can you smell that? A whiff of relief mixed with an overwhelming sense of ambivalence? Must be about time for a Federal election. How delightful.
There’s no denying that this year’s election has been particularly yawn inducing. But one issue that has been chalking up a fair bit of attention in the last few weeks is the potential for a plebiscite to decide the issue of gay marriage. So far it’s all hypothetical and will only eventuate if the Coalition is re-elected. But few people actually know how the plebiscite will actually eventuate in real life. The last plebiscite occurred way back in 1977 so many are asking what it would involve and more importantly, how would people campaign against gay marriage? Just how bad could it be?
Before we get to that, let’s get a few things straight. There’s no denying it, a plebiscite is a completely pointless and irresponsible waste of money. There have been stirring speeches and eloquent articles breaking down the issue so I’ll merely provide a summary of the main arguments against a plebiscite (of which there are many):
1) It’s fucking pointless
Regardless of the outcome, a plebiscite isn’t legally binding. This fun little fact means that politicians can simply ignore the will of the people and vote according to their own views. A ploy to give MPs and senators express permission to vote “no” if their electorate votes against gay marriage has already been uncovered. Others politicians such as Zed Seselja have said they will abstain from the vote regardless of the will of their electorate. Some of the Coalition have said they will honour the result and vote accordingly, but that forces us to trust politicians which is frankly a ludicrous proposition and far too much to ask of us. So basically, it’s just a really pointless, expensive opinion poll.
2) Why do we elect leaders if they can’t even make decisions?
We elect a parliament to make informed decisions on our behalf. As Alan Jones (of all people) so eloquently put it on Q&A; “There are 23 million people in Australia. They can’t all sit in the federal parliament. We select 150 to sit in the House of Representatives to represent those 22 million people on critical issues such as this.” This vote puts the rights of a minority in the hands of the majority who are largely uninformed about the intricacies of the concept and emotion engrained within the issue precisely because it doesn’t concern or affect them. Politicians are elected to be better informed than the general public and make decisions accordingly. We don’t hold a plebiscite every time the Government wants to make an economic decision for example, so why start now with gay marriage?
3) G’day homophobia
A plebiscite provides an unrivalled platform for homophobes and those opposed to gay marriage to air misinformed and extremely damaging views regarding the LGBT community. The stats regarding the mental health of the LGBT community are already dismal – LGBT people are 14 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. While everyone is entitled to their views, this isn’t an impersonal debate about the economy or infrastructure, it’s a deeply personal, targeted question about whether LGBT people deserve the same rights as everyone else.
It’s this last issue that has people most concerned. Penny Wong summed it up nicely in her passionate speech condemning the plebiscite: “My Twitter feed already foretells the inevitable nature of an anti-equality campaign – and it does it in 140 characters or less. As a public figure I’m familiar with the slings and arrows of political debate. I’m not immune from the hate thrown my way. But I’m resilient enough to withstand it. Many are not.”
But to some extent, this all seems a little abstract. What would a plebiscite actually look like? How would those opposed to gay marriage present their views? Would they really be that offensive? Luckily, we have recent history to delve into to find these answers. Malcolm Turnbull has assured the LGBT community that any debate would be “respectful”. But anti-gay marriage campaigns have been running for years – so we thought we’d delve in and see what could happen.
What would a plebiscite look like?
Conveniently, Ireland held a referendum (note Malcolm that in Ireland a referendum was legally essential, as opposed to Australia) and despite the “yes” vote eventually prevailing, the “no” camp had plenty of time to dish out their own campaign.
Sick of those nasty ads everywhere on the streets? Never mind, sit back and relax in front of an anti-gay marriage TV ad:
Frankly I’m quite glad the previous ad exists because it gave birth to this parody video:
Back in Australia we may not have had a plebiscite or referendum, but that hasn’t stopped anti-gay marriage campaigns from getting a head start.
This next ad has already stirred a fair helping of controversy after it appeared on Foxtel, using the tired metaphor of an iceberg which is the real crime here.
They’ve got plenty more where that came from. This ad is a montage of sad kids wishing they could celebrate Father’s Day – that wonderful day where kids begrudgingly whip together an inedible breakfast for their Dads and present them with a different variation of the same shaving kit. I can really see why they’re so devastated.
The rest of the world
This video is just made for Scott Morrison. Spoiler: it features a bunch of straight people literally crying over how persecuted they feel because they oppose gay marriage. Poor lambs.
This next outlines the other serious “consequences” of gay people getting married. Like a photographer being fined for refusing to participate in a gay wedding. Good point. It’s so damn easy to forget that wedding photographers are the real victims here.
And finally, an ad featuring some more not-so-subtle imagery of storm clouds and lightning, so dark it was eventually taken down but old mate YouTube preserved us a copy.
While it’s easy to laugh at these ads, the reality is that they sadly speak to many people and bolster their discriminatory views. Of course it’s important for people to be able to express their views – that’s the nature of democracy. But with an issue as delicate as same-sex marriage, involving a community that suffers from alarmingly poor mental health already, a plebiscite isn’t the right way to decide. Lining the streets with anti-gay marriage posters and advertisements is constructing a platform for the homophobes to stand on. If Brexit has shown us anything, it’s that the public is easily manipulated by uninformed, bigoted views. As Steph Harmon recently tweeted: “Imagine this, but instead of the UK, it’s all of your gay friends watching to find out if Australia thinks they deserve equal rights.” And what the hell happens if Australia votes no?
With the election on Saturday, just remember that voting for the Liberal Party is also voting for a plebiscite and all the consequences that come with it.