Plebiscite Almost Dead

Pantibar’s YES poster – William Murphy

Labor is on the brink of blocking the enabling legislation for a plebiscite. Together with the Greens, Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch, it’s as good as a done deal. Part of the reason is the shattering of the lie that there will be ‘respectful debate’, thanks to the latest news from Ireland.

William Murphy

After all the sunny delightful stories of how the Irish tripped happily along to vote for our equality, the truth is now emerging. Far from all being sweetness and light, with the whole nation falling in love with Panti Bliss and her magnificent speeches, the process was “brutal”. Grainne Healy, co-director of the Irish Yes Equality campaign, said

“Some LGBT canvassers who were out asking for rights for themselves suffered greatly from the hateful comments they heard on doorsteps and in train or bus stations while canvassing.”

This despite the Irish question being far fairer and less slanted than the leaked proposal we saw this week. Irish voters were asked whether to change the Constitution to say

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”.

William Murphy

Substitute that for John Howard’s amendments to the Marriage Act, add “or gender”, and I reckon that does the job in fine style.

It’s no secret that I am absolutely opposed to a plebiscite. I am incensed at the suggestion that I should crawl from door to door, cap in hand, to beg for something that is mine by right. But it will take courage – by us, and our allies in Parliament – to win a free vote. A constituent went to see her local MP, who, coincidentally, is mine too:

“[Jenny Macklin] was clear that Labor wants to do what the LGBTIQ community want, but they want to be clear that the gov’t will not support a free vote. Which means – if we want them to block the plebiscite (a very real possibility of success) they will, but on the clear understanding that we will likely have to wait for a change of government in order to see marriage equality happen.”

That does not mean we have to sit back and wait for three years or longer. If enough of the right kind of pressure is applied, we can still get a free vote next year. Don’t forget that the government has a majority of only one. It only takes one scandal, one resignation, one serious illness, or even a death, for the picture to change completely. A lot can happen in three years.

Just how soon the government changes also depends on just how obstructive Labor, Greens, Team Xenophon, Derryn Hinch and others choose to be on everything else the government wants to pass. If they are true allies, and have the courage, they can do much more than just block the plebiscite: they can make life very difficult for Turnbull and force an early election.

If you agree with me that we should not have a plebiscite at all, even if it means a delay, follow this link for Four Ways In Five Minutes to let your MPs and Senators know what we expect of them.

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)