Marriage Equality: The case for returning your survey (and marking it yes!) if you don’t really care about this issue

This is a post for people who really don’t feel very strongly about marriage equality, and are thinking of maybe not filling in their survey.  Perhaps it doesn’t affect you, or perhaps there are other issues that affect you more, or you perhaps think this whole debate is a waste of time and a big distraction from the business of governing (I’m with you on the last two, by the way).  Perhaps you don’t have a problem with gay marriage, personally, but you don’t feel strongly enough about it to do anything active to promote it.

Perhaps you are just really, really, REALLY tired of people going on about it and wish that everyone could forget about the whole thing.

I do get that, actually.  Right now, there are a lot of people who *do* have strong opinions about marriage equality – on both sides of the debate – and they are all expressing them at the top of their lungs, and without ever stopping.  If marriage equality isn’t something that you feel particularly strongly about, it’s very tedious, often insufferable, and sometimes just plain mean.  Especially as this is – what, the third time? the fourth time? – that we’ve had this conversation in the last couple of years.  It never seems to end.

For me, it’s personal.  I have friends who are directly affected by this issue, and you can bet that I want to do anything I can to help them.  But even I can see how incredibly annoying it must be.  And I can understand the temptation to just wash your hands of the whole thing and throw your envelope in the bin when it arrives.

I’m not going to try to convince you that marriage equality is awesome (even though I think it is!).  You’ve heard all those arguments already, and if they’re not inspiring you, I’m unlikely to change that.

Instead, I want to convince you that if you are sick and tired of this whole debate, the absolute last thing you should be doing is throwing your vote in the bin.

There are five very good reasons to select ‘YES’ on the survey, even – perhaps especially – if you don’t care about this debate.

1. Select ‘YES’ because the only way people are going to stop talking endlessly about marriage equality is if it becomes law.

Now, I realise that this sounds self-serving.  To an extent, it *is* self-serving.  But that doesn’t stop it being true.

The thing is, the endless, endless chatter is not just about the left being sore losers, or about gay people being determined to impose their gay lifestyle on everyone else, or even about the church trying to assert its moral primacy in our society.  It’s about where we are in history.  At the moment, same sex marriage is recognised in 24 countries, including our nearest neighbour, New Zealand, and our cultural siblings the UK, Canada and the United States.  And these countries seem really close to us now – it’s an era when everyone is on social media, and the English-speaking world is talking to itself more than ever.  We seem to be moving towards a more global culture in a lot of ways.  Certainly, more people than ever before seem to be moving overseas for work or to study.

I think, too, that this is not a trend that is going to reverse itself any time soon.  The numbers of countries that recognise same sex marriage is rising, and even more conservative countries, like Mexico, South Africa and Taiwan have joined the trend.  In this context, Australia’s laws around marriage stand out as regressive compared to those of other English-speaking countries.

Marriage comes with a whole raft of legal rights and protections, for which there is no real equivalent, especially in an international context.  The biggest one, and the one which other laws really don’t cover adequately, is the right to be recognised as next-of-kin to one’s spouse wherever one goes.

As long as LGBTIQ Australians are looking at their brothers and sisters in other countries enjoying a security that they do not have, and as long as same sex couples visiting Australia can find themselves at risk of harm from laws that do not fully recognise them as married couples, the conversation isn’t going to stop.

In fact, the only way to stop it is to select ‘Yes’ on the survey, and make our government have a free vote on marriage equality in Australia.

2. Select ‘YES’ because it will make the 2018 election infinitely less annoying.

Do you want the next election to be fought about something other than marriage equality?  I know I do.  But if we don’t have marriage equality by then, you can just about guarantee that marriage equality is all we are going to hear about from Bill Shorten for however many weeks the campaign runs.  I can’t even blame him for that, really.  The economy is tricky, and nobody ever believes that the ALP are good it it (whether they are or not is a whole different question.  The point here is perception.).  The environment is even trickier, especially in our science-skeptical nation.  Employment and education make people think of unions, and Labor certainly doesn’t want that.

But marriage equality – marriage equality is easy!  It costs nothing!  It’s popular with the ALP base.  It’s a lovely legacy policy to have, no matter how terrible the rest of your government may be (Note: I’m not saying a Shorten government would be terrible.  I have no idea what a Shorten government would be like.  And I want him to spend his campaign telling us what it will be like, rather than expressing his moral superiority on the subject of marriage equality.).  It’s a great stick to beat Malcolm Turnbull with!

The only votes Shorten can lose with such a policy are the ones from the religious right, and those votes were really never his to lose.

On the other side of the aisle, do you really want the next election to be haunted by the Ghost of Tony Yet To Come opining on how the Coalition would be better off under his (right) wing?  I’m not saying that passing marriage equality will cause Tony Abbott to stop playing his reindeer games, but I think it’s safe to say that a ‘no’ vote, or a poor turnout for this postal survey, will only encourage him.

And nobody, not even my dyed-in-the-wool Liberal father-in-law, wants that.

I want the next election to be about the ALP’s policies, not the Coalition’s internal fighting.

And the only way for us to have any chance of that, is to select ‘Yes’ on the survey, and make our government have a free vote on marriage equality in Australia.

3. Select ‘YES’ because it is the kind thing to do

You knew I was going to go there, didn’t you?  You knew I was going to appeal to your sense of empathy and kindness for others.

Look, I’m a bleeding heart lefty.  That’s what we do.

But seriously, there are some very nasty things being said about and to our LGBTQI neighbours right now.  (And no, I’m not talking about the usual ‘it’s against God’s plan’ rhetoric – which is damaging enough – I’m talking about comparing loving relationships to bestiality and the abuse of children.)  Some of these things are being said by our elected representatives.  And some of them are being plastered in poster form all over schools, or dropped into their letterboxes.

I have friends who are fundamentalist Christians, who think it is sinful and wrong to be gay.  I think they are completely and utterly wrong, but I don’t think that makes them terrible people.

But if you tell slanderous lies about people, and especially if you put these where children will see them and be hurt by them, then I think that does make you a terrible person.

(I also don’t think you are a terrible person for not caring much about this debate, or for being sick and tired of it.  I wish you did care, but we all have things that are closer to our hearts than other things, and that’s what makes us human and interesting.)

One of the best and kindest things we can do for our LGBTQI neighbours in the face of all this is to make sure the YES vote from the Australian people in this plebiscite is gigantic.

And it is so easy to do.  You don’t need to know anyone who is LGBTQI to do it.  You don’t have to spend any money on it.  You don’t have to step outside your comfort zone.  And it only takes a very small amount of time to tick a box and post a letter.

But that small amount of time will have a big impact.

So please, select ‘Yes’ on the survey, and make our government have a free vote on marriage equality in Australia.

4. Select ‘YES’ because democracy is important.

This one is long, because I have Opinions about democracy, but bear with me.

We live in a country where voting is compulsory, and I think that’s a good thing for a three reasons.  First, when everyone votes, the best political strategy is to appeal to the centre of politics.  When voting is not compulsory, however, the people who tend to show up to vote tend to be the ones with very, very strong opinions, and this tends to push politics towards extreme policies that will appeal to that opinionated base.  I’ve read the comments on newspaper articles online, and these are not the people whose opinions we want running the country.  And the lunar left, with its penchant for conspiracy theories, is not significantly better.

Second, compulsory voting makes it much harder to disenfranchise a group of people (or just accidentally lose a whole box of votes from a particular booth) without it becoming obvious.  If voting is compulsory, and an entire demographic or geographic region doesn’t vote, then this immediately raises questions about what might have happened to prevent them from voting.  If voting is not compulsory and the same group doesn’t vote, you can’t easily discern whether something has stopped them from voting, or whether they just don’t care.

Third, compulsory voting obliges the Government to actually make voting possible for everyone, and this is something they do quite well, by providing postal voting, early voting, accessible voting, and mobile polling stations, to take some examples.  There are still some people for whom voting is onerous, but on the whole, a pretty good effort is made to ensure that people have the chance to fulfil their democratic responsibilities.

Contrast this with the situation in the US, where voting is not compulsory, takes place on a weekday (which is not a holiday), and is generally less accessible.  Voter turnout typically hovers around 55%, and the Republican party has been known to openly advocate voter suppression as a political strategy.  Incidentally, voter suppression isn’t necessarily about directly stopping people from getting to polling booths.  It’s about making it a little bit harder – shortening the hours when booths are open in areas where you expect to do badly, or creating onerous ID laws.

It seems to me that the Postal Survey is an experiment in voter suppression along these lines.  By making the survey non-compulsory, you immediately reduce the number of people who will complete it and send it back.  And if you don’t believe me, here’s Barnaby Joyce speaking on the subject in 2013:

“Let’s have a reality pill here, if voting wasn’t compulsory, a lot of people just wouldn’t bother voting.  It’s tough to get half of the people in America to vote and in Australia I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up with 30 to 40 per cent of people turning up to vote.  I don’t know whether that would be a good outcome.”

Accessibility is reduced further by making the survey entirely postal.  Now, I personally think that Millennials are more than capable of using an envelope and a stamp (though I suspect the government believes otherwise), but as soon as you rely on the postal system, you introduce two opportunities for a survey to go astray, and give people who fill in the survey no way to be certain that their survey has been received by the ABS.

Finally, the results of the survey are non-binding, but only in one direction.  A ‘no’ vote means no Parliamentary vote; a ‘yes’ vote means that the Parliament will vote on marriage equality, but they are still free to vote against the wishes of the electorate.  This is also likely to discourage some people from filling in their survey.

In addition to stinking from a pro-marriage-equality standpoint, I believe that this also sets a very dangerous precedent.  By making this survey non-compulsory, non-binding, and less accessible, the government is manipulating voter turn out, and I don’t want any government, on any side of politics, learning that they can get the result they want by making it harder for certain people to vote.  That’s not democracy.

The best way to make sure nobody ever tries voter suppression as a tactic in Australia again is to make sure it doesn’t work this time.  So please, fill in your survey and send it back.

And if you are going to fill in your survey anyway, you might as well select ‘Yes’, and make our government have a free vote on marriage equality in Australia.

5. Select ‘YES’ because it’s about time our government started doing its job

One argument which I’ve heard repeatedly over the last few years is that Australia has more important things to worry about than marriage equality.  Things like the economy, or education, or the environment, or employment or other things that start with an E.

My friends, I have SO MUCH sympathy for this argument.

Yes, marriage equality is important to me, but I also like having a population that can access good healthcare and education, that is gainfully employed at a living wage, that can afford secure housing and healthy food, and that has the time and money to spend on family or hobbies or entertainment.

Ideally, I would like that population to live in a climate that isn’t going to fry us.

There are so many really important things that the government could be doing.  Can we find good ways to reconstruct the economy in WA after the mining boom?  How about all the workers in the La Trobe Valley who are losing jobs as the power stations close down?  Can our children afford dental care?  Can our disabled people actually access the NDIS, and if not, why not?  Should we be subsidising education, and to what degree?  How do we fix the housing market?  What do we do about domestic violence?  And please, there must be a better way to treat asylum seekers than this – how about we spend some time thinking about that?  And hey, while we are talking about foreign nationals on our shores, could someone please tell our politicians which countries they are citizens of so that we can all stop worrying about it?

Now, it might be the news I’ve been following, but I feel as though a lot of really important debate has been lost to this obsession with marriage equality.  It’s a great distraction for the government when they aren’t having much luck with their other legislation, or when something else horrible happens on Manus Island.

Just think of all the time and energy our politicians could be spending on coming up with solutions to the big problems if they weren’t playing silly political games around marriage equality.  Marriage equality is important.  If we get it passed, it will change lives for the better, and that will be a wonderful thing.  But realistically, it’s something that could be legislated in an afternoon, and at no cost to the electorate.  We really do not need to be spending this much time debating it.  It’s time we just got it done.

So please, select ‘Yes’ on the survey, and make our government have a free vote on marriage equality in Australia.

One last bonus, especially for regular readers of this blog!

Imagine a world in which I stopped writing endless blog posts about marriage equality!  Wouldn’t you like to live in that world?

Well, you can!  All you need to do is select ‘YES’ on your survey, and get your friends to do so too, and make our government have a free vote on marriage equality in Australia, and I promise, I’ll stop.

I really will.  Because I want marriage equality to happen, but oh, I am so very tired of writing about it all the time.

So please.  Do this for yourselves, and do this for me.

We will all be so much happier.

In conclusion: when you get the survey, select YES. 

Select YES because you want us all to shut up. 

Select YES because it’s good for Australia to have parties with actual policies.

Select YES because it is the kind thing to do. 

Select YES because your voice is important and democracy is important and we must preserve it.

But above all, select YES on your survey so that our elected government can stop wasting everyone’s time and money on this stupid, harmful debate, and can get back to doing what we pay them for – running the country.

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