The sky is not falling: How marriage has changed in Australia over the last two and a bit centuries

The people have spoken, the Parliament has done its job, and marriage equality is finally law in Australia.  For my LGBTIQ friends – I am so very pleased that we are finally doing the right thing by you.  And you know that I am just *itching* to make wedding cakes at the earliest opportunity.  (Just don’t all get married on January 9, because there really are only so many cakes I can make in one day…)

Back when this whole debate started, a friend of mine commented that the Marriage Act had certainly changed plenty of times before, and it would be interesting to see how, and who had objected. I started compiling a list of changes (objections were harder to research), but the whole project got so enormous that I never did manage to finish it before I went overseas, and then I came back and was sick for weeks, and by the time I had any brains to speak of, the vote was over and done with.

Still, with Marriage Equality finally signed into law, it seems to me that the time has arrived to take a quick look at all the ways marriage has changed in Australia since European settlement. This is not going to be as carefully referenced as my usual post (December is bedlam when you are a singer, an event organiser, and the person who organises the charity drive and the choir at work), though I will link to all the articles that informed this list at the bottom of the page, so that you can delve further if you are interested (I’m sorry, but referencing often takes longer than the post itself, and December is a busy month for me).

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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.

Marriage Equality: Have you received your survey? Plus a book review

If not, you have until Friday to ask for a replacement.

To request a new ballot, please visit the ABS website and fill out their replacement ballot form.

And if you have received your survey?  Now would be a good time to return it.

(I suggest voting yes.  You will be glad you did in twenty years time.)

And now, for something completely different, a book review…

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Marriage Equality: What this survey isn’t about

Lots of people seem to be afraid right now.

My friends who are gay or lesbian are afraid of being attacked for who they are.  They are afraid for their children, for their friends, for young people who are LTBGIQ who are watching this debate and seeing it as a referendum on their humanity.

My friends (and yes, I have a few) who are on the no side are afraid too.  They are afraid of being attacked for what they believe. They are afraid for their children, for their friends, for young people who are vulnerable who they fear will be harmed if the law changes.

Fear seems to be something that both sides have in common.

There are some important differences though.  For my gay and lesbian friends, these fears are not new and they are, by and large, grounded in experience; the experience of being rejected and hurt – sometimes physically – for who they are.  And that experience is a lot more intense right now.  It’s not a coincidence that psychologists and support lines are being overwhelmed by calls from young LGBTIQ people at present.

For my friends who are against marriage equality, it’s a bit different.  While we Christians love a good persecution narrative (“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake”, after all), most Christians in Australia are not in the habit of feeling actively threatened in their daily lives.  If I wear a cross to work, I’m not going to get weird looks or comments.  And while, yes, certain atheists of my acquaintance do love to tell us how stupid we are for believing the things we believe (often without taking the time to actually establish whether we believe the particular things they are discussing), I can’t say I feel particularly persecuted by this. Persecution requires someone to actually have the power to make my life worse, after all.

I think it is important to acknowledge that for no voters, their fears are not grounded in the past, but in the future.  Yes, marriage equality has happened in other countries, and there have been a lot of scare campaigns around what happened in these countries as a result, but most of us have not grown up in a world that rejects and physically attacks us for our beliefs.  The fears of no voters are not imaginary – I won’t claim that yes voters are perfect snowflakes who never behave badly – but they are largely about things that have not yet come to pass – and which may never do so.

I’ll be talking mostly about and to my fellow Christians in this blog post, because the people I know who are against marriage equality have, by and large, reached that conclusion because of their faith.  I’ve reached the opposite conclusion because of my faith – and I’ll write about that elsewhere! – and it’s very possible that you are shaking your head at me right now and thinking that I’m clearly not saved, and that’s fine.  But I hope you will keep reading, because I think that as Christians we do owe it to ourselves to act with integrity and with honesty, and that includes being honest with ourselves.  And a lot of the no campaign that I have seen has been based on conflating things that are true with things that are either not true or have nothing to do with this vote.

I don’t think this does anyone any favours, and I don’t think it’s a good look for Christianity.

If you are a likely no voter reading this, I’m going to assume that you are acting in good faith.  I’m going to assume that you are not a hateful person, or a cruel person, or someone who wants gay people to suffer.  I’m going to assume that you really do believe that voting Yes will be detrimental to society.

I’ll be honest – I think you’re terribly wrong.  But I’m not here to yell at you or be mean.

I’m here to ask you to separate out what is really true from what is still a matter of conjecture.  I’m here to ask you to vote for or against the measure being put before us, not a random collection of things that tend to get associated with that measure,  I’m here to ask you to vote with love and integrity, not with fear.

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But what about all those terrible things that happened in other countries after marriage equality?

What about them indeed?

I’ve been seeing a bunch of lists doing the rounds recently of how legalising Same Sex Marriage in other countries has led to the abridgement of free speech and a loss of rights in those countries for Christians and other people who believe that human beings come in two immutable flavours, pink and blue, and that marriages should contain one of each colour.

Now, I’m not 100% that this argument is relevant, because we do, in fact, have a pretty socially conservative government, and the draft legislation that has been circulated at various times recently has all contained quite significant protections for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  But I also know that there are some people who are genuinely afraid that marriage equality will lead to drastic and negative social change – that it will be the start of a slippery slope into a world where we are forbidden to talk of gender or notice differences between the sexes, and where religious organisations will be forced to bow to secular laws of this nature.

So let’s see what’s really going on in these countries, shall we?

The list below is not comprehensive, and it is far from the only one out there, but it had the advantage of coming with links to articles supporting its statements, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Warning: this is super long – 8,000 words – and I wrote it in one sitting.  There will be typos.  And sarcasm, because I really, really regretted ever starting this before I was done.  Also, I will probably switch off comments after a few days, because I’m heading off to Europe, and it’s difficult to moderate conversations across timezones.  And I really feel like I’ve said all I can possibly say about this article at this point (8,000 words, remember).

Good luck.  And don’t say I didn’t warn you. Continue reading

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.

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Marriage Equality: Enrol by 6pm tomorrow to be eligible to vote in the Postal Survey

You can do that here.

If you are already on the electoral roll, you will have a copy of the survey sent to you at your electoral roll address.  So no, you do not have to register separately for this survey.  But you really do want to make sure it gets to the right place, so please, check your enrolment with the AEC, and if necessary, change your address.

If you are likely to be away from home during the period of the survey, you can register a separate address with the ABS by calling the ABS Information Line on 1800 572 113.

If you will be overseas during the period of the survey you can ask for a Secure Access Code to complete the survey online. You can do either of these things by contacting the ABS Information Line on 1800 572 113 between September 25 and October 20.

Incidentally how cool is this news from the Australian Electoral Commission?


If we have to have this survey, at least we are getting more young people politically engaged.  That is an absolute good, in my opinion.

Speaking of ‘if we have to have this survey’, there are currently two challenges sitting with the High Court, which I understand are due to be decided on the 5th and 6th of September.  So it’s entirely possible that the only effect of this postal survey will be to increase the number of voters in the next election… I wonder how many of them will vote for the current government?

On another note, I’ve read a lot of people asking about what the actual survey will say.  According to the ABS website, the question that the survey will ask is: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?

I’m not sure how to analyse the wording.  From my (mostly straight, cis perspective), it looks pretty good.  I understand that the trans community has been concerned about being excluded by the wording, and I can see that being an issue.  However, this wording does have the advantage of clarity for voters who may not be versed in queer theory.  It also has the advantage of being difficult to deliberately misconstrue as allowing people to marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge (thanks, Eric, for that fascinating flight of fancy, and concerning insight into the way your mind works.) (Incidentally, if you really believe that people might be able to marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge under marriage equality laws, I have a bridge I could sell you.) (Thus giving a whole new meaning to Procurement…) (Sorry).

Silly bridge jokes aside, I’m not sure how you weigh the concerns of trans people against the importance of a question that is crystal clear and not open to weird interpretations.  My inclination would be to favour clarity at the survey stage, and then petition fiercely for proper inclusion once we reach the point of actual legislation, but I realise that I’m not directly affected by this one, so may not be the best person to comment.

(And yes, I’m afraid that this is going to be quite a one-note politics blog over the next few weeks.  It’s not that Marriage Equality is the only issue I care about, or even that it is the most important one.  But it is an issue where there is a limited amount of time in which to make a difference, and one where I think change in the short term is really possible.  It’s also an issue which directly affects the people I love, so I think it is a good place to pour my political energies right now.  I shall go back to beating my head against the wall of political obduracy over asylum seekers once this is over. God knows, that issue isn’t going to go away any time soon.)

No, seriously, make sure you are enrolled

This is your helpful reminder that there are only a few days left to enrol to vote if you want to have your opinion registered in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Enrolments will close at 6:00 pm on Thursday, August 24th.

Here is the link to enrol or change your details.  You should use this link if you have never enrolled, or if you have moved recently.

Here is the link to check your enrolment.  I strongly recommend using this link to make sure that your enrolment is correct, even if you haven’t moved in a while.  I do think the AEC is extremely competent and has a lot of integrity, but mistakes can happen, especially if you have a common name.  It takes just a few seconds to make sure you are enrolled, so please do it.

There is more information on the process on the ABS website.  In particular, there is quite a bit of information around how they are going to make voting universally accessible, including for overseas voters and silent voters. Quoting from their website:

The approaches include:

  • Provision of the Translation and Interpreter Service (TIS) to provide translation support to non-English speaking Australians in engaging with the Information Line;
  • Instructions on the reverse side of the letter sent with the survey form in 15 languages spoken by Australians on how to contact TIS.
  • Use of National Relay Service for those who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.
  • Use of simple, common language to support people with lower levels of English comprehension.

In addition to delivering survey materials by post, the ABS will advertise locations in every capital city, and some regional and remote locations, where eligible persons can collect and/or return survey materials from or to an ABS officer. Locations, dates and times for where forms can be picked up will be advertised on the ABS website.

In limited circumstances, a person will be able to respond to the survey through a paperless method. This method will be made available only to Australians overseas or who cannot reasonably receive their material via post, Australians with blindness, low vision or other disability that makes the paper form a more difficult option, or those in residential aged care. Eligible Australians in these categories will be able to request a secure access code from the ABS. The secure access code is then used to provide a survey response.

There are also provisions for authorising someone to vote on your behalf.

In other words, this may be a terrible, no-good- faux-plebiscite, but the ABS does seem to be doing their level best to make sure everyone has a chance to participate in it.  Which is a good thing.  I’m particularly pleased that one can personally collect or deliver one’s survey – the ABS themselves acknowledge the potential problems around surveys being stolen, and acknowledge that solutions really do require people letting them know that their survey hasn’t arrived.

And now, for something completely different…

I’m probably going to be banging on about this postal survey a fair bit over the next few weeks.  That’s because I have a lot of friends who are directly affected, both by the issue of marriage equality and the sort of nasty rhetoric that comes out whenever it comes up on the agenda.  As a very dear friend of mine said this week, “It just takes a toll to have the same hate and inequality thrown at us every few months. It certainly has an impact on many of my friends and it requires a lot of energy to keep in good spirits when faced with so much divisiveness. No matter how much I tell myself that it is just politicians doing what they do best – encouraging hatred and toying with people’s life for their own gain – it still stirs up a lot of unpleasantness.”

There’s not a lot I can do to fix the prevailing rhetoric, at least beyond my immediate circle, but I thought it might be nice to share some links to things that might be soothing to read if, for example, one has had the terrible misfortune to have watched Sky News or listened to Cory Bernardi recently.  It’s a really random mix of things based on what has crossed my path in the last few weeks, so I hope you find something here that appeals!

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