The Dreadful Dilemma
This morning I kissed my husband goodbye on the doorstep as he left for work. I know, right? Kitschy, suburban, Darren & Samantha, Bert & Ernie…
I do it every morning, without fail. Because you never know, especially now we’re in our sixties. It might be the last kiss. It might be the last memory.
It’s especially important today, because it’s been a turbulent few days. I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m afraid of what’s coming at us. I’m angry and upset. Yesterday things came to a head, and we argued. Not like they do in the Liberal party. It was loving, respectful, calm, even though we were arguing about (cue threatening music) The Plebishite. Do we Boost or Boycott or even Vote No?
Hubby says it doesn’t matter how bad the campaign gets, how compromised the outcome, how limited the law we end up with. So long as it establishes, in law, the principle that a man can marry a man, and a woman can marry a woman, that’s fine. All the rest, he says, is noise.
I see this argument, or some variant of it, all over my Facebook feed. Boycotting would hand the No vote a win. It would take marriage off the agenda for a generation. (That’s the polite version, of course. Being the net, people feel free to tell me I’m a fuckwit, stupid, traitor, and worse. Nothing new there.)
Others are urging a boycott, saying their “integrity and beliefs were being severely compromised by voting in a deeply flawed, divisive process” or “pride and dignity are more important than winning a farce.” Even Michael Kirby has urged a boycott. And, I think we can all agree, whichever side we find ourselves, “It’s a nasty wedge.”
It’s Hobson’s Choice: throw myself into the Yes campaign, exhaust myself (again), and hope I can survive if we lose (or we win, only to get nothing worthwhile – which would be worse); or stand in the middle of the road like some wild bearded old prophet, yelling “It’s a trap! Fly, you fools!”, only to be run down by a succession of rusty rainbow trucks. And then, to quote Sondheim (Into The Woods), “Suddenly. You know what your decision is. Which is – not to decide!”
YOU GET TO DECIDE
PFLAG & just.equal, with Shelley Argent, Rodney Croome and Ivan Hinton-Teoh (who are currently trying to block the ‘plebishite’ in the High Court) will, if necessary, run a public consultation asking:
Shall we fight?
Shall we boycott?
They have pledged to be guided in their advocacy by the outcome. I will do likewise. If the community say fight, I’ll fight. But before that, here are my reasons why I’m currently leaning towards boycotts, bonfires and shredders.
The question is “Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?”, the same question George Brandis wanted to put when the plebishite was first mooted. And what’s so bad about that?
Let me explain. Here’s the game the government is playing. They hate the term ‘marriage equality’. Because that makes equality the issue, and equality is hard to argue against. That’s why all our activists and advocates use it, and Tony Abbott won’t. He prefers “same sex marriage”, instantly shifting the picture. Now you’ve got people thinking about sex, and gay sex (eugh, icky) in particular. Support for ‘same-sex marriage’ is lower than support for ‘equal marriage’. It’s a rigged question designed to suppress the Yes vote.
When they tried this before I pointed out that this left out some of the alphabet people: intersex people (who, as I’ve explained elsewhere, have no right to marry at all under current law) and others of indeterminate gender. It’s a rigged question designed to split the LGBTI community.
THE BILL: WE WON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE VOTING FOR
It’s a travesty to be asked to vote without knowing what you’re voting for. IF there is to be a plebishite, 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.
Mathias ‘Terminator’ Corman yesterday refused this request. He stuck rigidly to the government formula that if there was a Yes vote, the government would ‘facilitate’ a private members bill: since it isn’t a government bill, he has nothing to release (cue smug grin).
THE BILL: WE’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES CONCERNED
Even the Anglican and Catholic churches have taken time out from their busy child raping and priest protection program management schedule to express their disquiet.
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, and leading Catholic officials have written to Malcolm Turnbull demanding that any proposed bill on same-sex marriage be released before Australians are asked to vote on the issue.
Opposing forces in the debate are lining up against the government, with church and Christian schools lobby groups demanding religious and freedom-of-speech protections, both during the public debate and in any bill on gay marriage that is put to the parliament should a “yes” vote be returned.
Religious figures have raised concerns directly with the Prime Minister about voter fraud, religious protections and public funding for the campaign.
THE BILL: EVEN IF WE KNOW WHAT WE’RE VOTING FOR, WE WON’T GET IT
My understanding is that the bill, like the question, is the same one as last time: the exposure draft released by George Brandis. I think this is it -> On a quick glance it has more ‘exemptions’ to anti-discrimination law than Dean Smith’s recent effort (it’s not worth more than a quick glance, yet).
Even if this were the bill introduced into parliament, there’s no guarantee it’s the bill that would be passed by parliament. It wouldn’t be a government bill, it would be on a free vote, so it could be amended to death. It might not even pass.
THE BILL: THERE’S A (SLIGHTLY) BETTER WAY – WYVFIWYG
If the government really has to have a public vote, there is a way to do it: this option has been canvassed within the LNP and been turned down.
- Government introduces, debates and passes a Marriage Equality (not “same sex marriage”) Bill.
- Including a clause which says “this bill will not come into force until a majority vote yes in a plebishite.”
- Then we’ll know that What You Vote For Is What You Get (WYVFIWYG)
But the government says no.
THE METHOD: SNAIL MAIL
I’m not too worried about this: people who don’t know how to post a letter are probably too dim to vote anyway. But I am worried that there will not be an online option.
I’m much more worried about:
A DIRTY CAMPAIGN WITH NO PROTECTION FROM HATE & LIES
Dr Kevin Bonham, a Tasmanian psephologist, pointed out that because this is being run via the ABC and not under election rules, the campaign could get very dirty and even corrupt.
A serious oddness of any kind of fee-for-service plebishite would be the lack of normal electoral enforcement protections.
For starters, there would be no enforceable requirement to authorise electoral material, and hence nothing to prevent the letterboxing of unauthorised gay-hate material (though in some states this would be a breach of state law).
There would be no offence of publishing false or misleading material about the mechanics of the vote (such as incorrect voting dates or wrongly telling people voting was compulsory).
There would be no legal process for challenging irregularities or errors and having an official correction declared (though that said, the result would not be binding anyway, but some politicians might base a conscience vote on who “won” or “lost” either nationally or in their electorate).
There would be no parliamentary oversight of the question wording to ensure neutrality, so the question might either not be neutral or might not be perceived (by either side) as neutral.
There would not even be any clear mechanism to prohibit vote-buying, though there would be protection in laws related to postal services against stealing votes to engage in ballot-stuffing.
A LESS ACCURATE TEST THAN AN OPINION POLL
Bonham also points out that a postal vote would be significantly LESS representative of the Australian public’s true views than a properly run opinion poll.
As an indicator of what Australians generally believe, a postal plebishite would be unscaled, and therefore much less reliable than many of the polls conducted on the issue. An unscaled sample of, say, seven million is less reliable than a scaled poll with a sample of 1000. So, unless there was a very high participation rate or a landslide win to one side or the other, a postal plebishite wouldn’t tell us whether Australians support same-sex marriage. Not that we should need to be told, since polling – whoever the sponsor, whatever the question – has so persistently showed that they do.
BOOST, BOYCOTT, OR VOTE NO?
All excellent arguments for not doing the vote like this is the first place, but do they add up to a case for a boycott? Or a no vote? The bottom line is, do we do as Sally Rugg of GetUp says, glitter it up, turn it into a party, work for the biggest possible Yes.
Or do as the Scots did, hold big public bonfires of voting papers, with maybe an added Aussie twist of ballot shredders at every Qantas counter?
Keep an eye out for the PFLAG & just.equal public consultation asking
Shall we fight? or Shall we boycott?
And let them know
WE CANNOT WORK DIVIDED: GET TOGETHER
PFLAG & just.equal are trying to knock this over in the High Court, so we are never forced into this horrible decision. They are raising funds to pay the legal bills here: click through to donate->
The Human Rights Law Centre (aka Anna Brown) will be running their own case ditto, with the support of Alex Greenwich and Australians for Equality They are also fundraising, but have much more money and some wealthy backers, like the gay son of the owners of Canberra Airport, Tom Snow.
Why two cases?
It’s no secret that there is bad blood between these two sides, ever since Rodney Croome took what he described as ‘the hardest decision of my life’, and left the organisation he founded, Australian Marriage Equality. I have documented some of the history of that split here on the stirrer: just search on AME.
Since then Croome has made numerous overtures, direct and indirect, pleading with Alex Greenwich and Australians for Equality for them all to put the past behind, and for everyone to get working together. So far he has had no response. That, in my view, is churlish, and childish, and a split we cannot afford right now. You need to be burying the hatchet, not in each other’s heads, but in the plebishite monster.
Alex sent out a fundraising email this morning. In it he said
“Marriage equality can and should be a unifying moment for our country. But rather than doing their jobs and voting in Parliament, this Government has decided to delay, distract and divide Australia.”
I agree. Don’t use the same tactics. Pick up the phone, say whatever it takes to heal the split, unify the community, and work together. Please.