If That’s The Question, I’ll Vote No


Nick Xenophon: pic by Bill Doyle

Both Nick Xenophon and Bill Shorten are refusing to commit to opposing a plebiscite on equal marriage until they see the details of Turnbull’s proposals, expected to be revealed at the Liberal party meeting on the 18th September. This implies that an acceptable compromise might be found.

I urge these two fine gentlemen to block the plebiscite, and commit to using their positions to continue to harry the government with obstruction on everything else until Turnbull brings on a free vote. Don’t just sit on your hands and say “next government”. Here’s why:


The proposed question to be put to the Australian people has been revealed, and its a stinker. Apparently the government wants to ask us:

“Do you approve of a law to permit people of the same sex to marry?”

Let me say here and now, IF we are forced to have a plebiscite, and IF that is the question, I’ll be voting NO, and encouraging everyone else to do likewise.


That question limits marriage reform to same-sex marriage, excluding intersex people (who, as I’ve explained elsewhere, have no right to marry at all under current law) and others of indeterminate gender. So NO: I do not approve of a law that just “allows” marriage between people of the same sex. That is too restrictive.


Secondly, the question appears to leave open the way for a new law to “allow” people of the same sex to marry. We do not want two laws and two kinds of marriage: an apartheid system. It must be the same law for all, regardless of sex or gender. So, once again, NO. I would approve amending the existing Marriage Act, but not making additional ones.


The Irish amended their law to say that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”, and that seems to cover all the bases in a fine and neutral manner.

The “in accordance with the law” bit covers age of consent, incest and other restrictions. Note, these are the same for all marriages. That’s fair and equal. And it gets rid of that nasty patronizing ‘allowing’ business.


I have been ‘assured’ by people in the Liberal backrooms that there is no intention to have a ‘separate but equal’ same-sex marriage act: I place no faith in that. They tell me I’m jumping at shadows. Of the intersex problem, they say nothing, which speaks volumes.

The question as proposed leaves far too much wriggle room for argument over what the result of the vote meant. Which means it’s a bad question.


IF there is to be a plebiscite, people need to know

  • Exactly what they’re voting for: the actual text of the amendments to the Marriage Act and any other Acts affected by the change. Otherwise there will be endless arguments over what people ‘thought’ they were voting for.
  • That what they have voted for will be what becomes law: the result must be made binding on Parliament. Otherwise the whole exercise is a complete waste of time and money.

The only way to achieve both these essential things is to have ONE omnibus bill, which enables the holding of the plebiscite, sets out the changes in detail, and applies them immediately as soon as a YES vote wins, or which lies dormant until such time as a future YES vote wins.

That way we have efficiency and clarity. To review:

  • We’ll know exactly what we’re voting for
  • We’re guaranteed to get exactly what we voted for
  • We don’t have to have a protracted second debate on the meaning of the result, and further delays
  • We don’t get a whole raft of unnecessary extraneous stuff smuggled in at the bill stage, such as yet more religious privileges, get-outs for over-sensitive bakers and florists and teeth-whiteners etc.

In short, it’s all over once the vote is over.


Naturally, the lunar right of the Liberal Party doesn’t like this idea. This is where our allies, and our LGBTI party members, staffers and MPs need to flex their muscles, even crossing the floor if necessary.

We would be horrified if an Aboriginal member of either house colluded in an attack on their own people: we should react likewise to any Coalition MP who does not put their community before party and career.


IF a plebiscite is to be forced on us, the government has to do one more thing before a plebiscite can be safely held: pass comprehensive nationwide anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws covering LGBTI people, with no special get-outs for the allegedly religious.

They could of course, legislate a total blackout in the plebiscite legislation: a complete ban on media coverage, all public actions and discussion, campaigning, leafleting, polling, rallying, sermonizing, online petitions, pages etc. (other than strictly factual information, such as the date of the vote, the question, and the polling places), from the moment the bill passes parliament till the moment the polls close.

But somehow I think anti-discrimination law will be easier, don’t you?

See also:

Something Wicked

Unnecessary Complications

Irish Hatred

Unfunny Vote

PS Senior conservatives agree with me that the question has to be about what is being proposed:  

A senior conservative MP last night confirmed the majority grouping would veto any form of question proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis referring to “marriage equality” rather than “same sex”.

“That would be waving a red rag at a bull. The question has to be about what is being changed. This is the only way it can be fair,” they said.


About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)