What a day.
I am so, so relieved for my LGBTI friends right now. I am so glad that after all the nastiness of the last few months, we got a Yes. I hope that Turnbull is able to live up to his promise of getting marriage equality legislated by Christmas.
I am also deeply, deeply relieved that the majority was substantial. I didn’t want a No, but in some ways a Yes with a margin of 51% to 49% or similar would have been worse – we would then have spent the next year re-hashing the whole debate and arguing about who was suppressing whom. A Yes vote of 61.6% isn’t as high as I’d hoped for (though, interestingly, it’s in line both with our polls and with polls in other countries), but it is unarguably a majority.
And 133 out of Australia’s 150 electorates voted yes, including the 14 of the 15 regional electorates held by Nationals MPs! I love that result, because it underlines the fact that this is what the majority of Australia wants, regardless of which part of the country they live in. And it is heartening to see that there isn’t a huge divide between rural and city electorates in this respect. (Also, if I can be a petty Melbournian for just one moment, let me just note that we had a much higher Yes vote across greater Melbourne than across Sydney, which amounts to statistical proof that Melbourne is better than Sydney. I think it’s the climate. More variable weather means more rainbows.)
One thing about this survey that makes me unequivocally happy is that 79.5% of eligible voters participated in the survey, even though it was non-compulsory, non-binding, and entirely lacking in Democracy Sausage. Compare this to the Irish Referendum on Marriage Equality, which had a turnout of 61%, or Brexit, where the turnout was 72.2%, or the recent US election, where it was just over 58%. Whatever else you may say about Australians, we are *absolute bloody legends* at turning out to vote. Seriously – this is something worth celebrating, whatever you think of the result. We may be losing one senator per week to the citizenship debacle, but our democracy is in good shape.
(Also, with a turnout of nearly 80%, we once again find ourselves at a point where we can say that this result is a pretty good reflection of the will of the Australian people. 61.6% of 79.5% is 49.0% – which means, effectively, that every single person who stayed home would have had to have voted No in order to reverse this result, and even then, the margin would have been slight. And, while I am not a statistician, my brief look at the numbers earlier suggested that there was a fair correlation between high voter turnout and a high Yes vote. I don’t think it was the No voters who were staying home.)
Was it worth it?
In one sense, it was. If it gets us to a place where we can get a decent marriage equality law onto the books, where people can marry the people they love and have it recognised by the state, then, well, the value of that is incalculable. Looked at that way, it would be worth it whatever the cost.
But something can be worth the money and emotion and time you put into it, and still be more expensive than it needed to be.
This process has hurt people, sometimes badly. It has made people afraid of their fellow citizens. It has divided communities and families, and has eroded goodwill between progressive organisations and religious ones (which is doubly wasteful, because these are two groups that can do amazing things when they work together). Some of this – much of it, even – is down to individuals, but it could easily have been predicted, and avoided.
This survey has cost Australia in time and labour. The ABS could have been doing a lot of other things with the time and personnel it spent on this, as could the politicians, the LGBTQI charities, advocates, and churches who devoted time and resources to the debate. The process has put added strain on mental health services. And let’s not forget that it cost $122M in actual money, money that could have been spent on health, or refugees, or medical research, or schools, or, really, anything that would help Australians rather than making everyone miserable. (I mean, seriously, has *anyone* on either side of this debate enjoyed the last two months? Other than Tony Abbott, perhaps, and we shouldn’t be encouraging him anyway.).
Don’t get me wrong – I am thrilled for my friends who will be able to marry. I am one Christian baker who absolutely cannot wait to make wedding cakes for the people she loves. I am glad beyond measure that Australia is finally taking this step forward for equality.
If we get marriage equality, it will be worth it, absolutely.
But we will still have paid too much.