Critics of the federal government’s twice blocked marriage equality plebiscite – which has now morphed into a non-compulsory postal vote – have long warned that such a move would unnecessarily subject the LGBTIQ community to a hateful and discriminatory ‘no’ campaign.
On Monday morning, the ugly side of the debate reared its head in Melbourne. Posters containing the slogan “stop the fags” appeared in a city laneway. These posters depict a cowering child with two adults on either side brandishing rainbow belts.
Statistics cited on the poster from a widely discredited 2016 study by Reverend Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America claim that children of same-sex marriages suffer high levels of abuse.
Spokesperson for the just.equal campaign Rodney Croome condemned the posters. “The hate displayed in these posters will shock and disgust the overwhelming majority of Australians,” he said in a statement.
The long-time LGBTIQ activist called on prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to follow suit. He said Turnbull should “set out the parameters” of the debate, as the PM “assured us of a respectful” one.
Mr Croome pointed out that the “Australian Institute for Family Studies has found children raised by same-sex couples have the same outcomes as other children.” The government research body into family well-being states these children “do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as” others.
On Turnbull’s conscience
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten described the posters as garbage in a Facebook post. He said his party had opposed the postal vote “because we feared exactly this kind of hurtful filth would emerge.” He wrote, “This… isn’t ‘debate’, it’s abuse,” and apologised to the LGBTIQ community.
The opposition leader previously stated that he’d be holding the prime minister personally “responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash.” He further said that if a no vote was successful, his party would continue its promise to legislate same-sex marriage.
Turnbull announced that the nation would be holding a national vote on marriage equality by post, after the senate rejected legislation to enable a plebiscite for a second time on August 9.
However, the estimated $122 million voluntary postal vote is rather biased in its approach. A no vote guarantees parliament won’t legislate for same-sex marriage. But, if the majority of Australians vote yes, it’s not assured. The proposal still has to be voted on again in parliament.
Grow a spine
This is all despite Turnbull personally supporting a conscience vote in parliament, along with the majority of Australians. The PM also supports same-sex marriage. However, he said due to time restrictions, he wouldn’t be able to actively campaign for the yes vote.
A group of Sydney-based LGBTIQ activists converged on Canberra last week calling Turnbull out for not standing up to his party. Led by DIY Rainbow and Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), the activists presented the PM with a makeshift spine on the lawns of parliament house.
Cat Rose, co-convenor of CAAH, told Gay Star News that Turnbull was “in desperate need of a spine to help him pass marriage equality.” She also announced that the yes campaign would be launched starting with a rally at Sydney Town Hall on September 10.
At the gates
And in a rather misguided development, Nick Folkes, chairman of the right-wing group Party for Freedom, announced on Facebook that the group would be holding the Straight Lives Matter rally on Oxford Street to say no to marriage equality.
“We believe tradition is important, and the biological institution of marriage should not be redefined to suit a minority sexual orientation,” Folkes wrote in a post, whilst misappropriating the event’s name from the Black Lives Matter movement.
That movement originated in African-American communities in the United States. It’s a campaign against the nation’s systemic racism, which has led to the deaths of large numbers of black people at the hands of police.
Reports of heterosexuals being systematically killed by LGBTIQ people in Australia are few and far between. And members of this party, who have recently been bragging about covering Lithgow with anti-Islamic flyers, might want to reflect on who’s actually being persecuted here.
A challenge is mounted
As far as members of the legal profession are concerned, it’s definitely the LGBTIQ community. Michael Kirby said the postal vote was treating the community like they were second-class citizens. The former High Court judge declared he would take no part in the vote.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights outlined that deciding human rights issues via a postal vote is in no way respecting those rights. And for this reason, the association is in support of the High Court challenge that has been launched against the vote.
It was announced on August 9 that Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie and marriage equality groups were launching a High Court challenge to the postal vote claiming that it’s unconstitutional. They’re seeking an expedited hearing before the vote begins in mid-September.
However, pro-marriage equality and pro-conscience vote PM Malcolm Turnbull has ruled out the possibility of the government conducting a vote in parliament on same-sex marriage if the challenge is successful.
Holding on to the past
Unsurprisingly, conservative stalwarts and former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard have spoken out in support of the no campaign. Abbott strangely suggested voting no was in line with standing up for freedom of speech and religion.
Howard, well, he was the politician who made sure that same-sex marriage was outlawed in Australia. In 2004, he amended the 1961 Marriage Act so that it defined marriage as a “union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others.”
But, not all conservative politicians are against marriage equality. Just days prior to the announcement of the vote, Liberal senator Dean Smith released a private members’ bill on marriage equality, and along with the support of four other Liberal MPs, pushed for a conscience vote.
It’s bound to happen
The postal vote is set to begin on September 12. On November 15, the outcome will be announced. And then federal parliamentarians will know if they’re to take the vote on whether to allow ordinary citizens the right to marry the person that they choose to.
If the results of a Newspoll released on Monday are anything to go by, then same-sex marriage could be on its way, as 63 percent of respondents said they’ll be voting yes. Then Australia would no longer be the only English-speaking western democracy not to have passed laws allowing for marriage equality.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.