The political reality of marriage equality

There's a lot of activity in social media from people signing petitions in favour of marriage equality but opposed to the plebiscite. I urge caution if you want to see marriage equality delivered in this term of parliament, or possibly at all.

I'm personally in favour of marriage equality. I think there are some solid reasons for it including;

  • Progressive. It's not my place or yours to tell people who they can love
  • Libertarian. Government needs to stay out of people's homes and personal life
  • Conservative. Family is the core building block of society, we should reinforce that structure
  • Realist. LGBTi folks are members of our community deserving of respect and they aren't going away

The plebiscite has received criticism as the mechanism to achieve marriage equality, some justified, but some is driven by political rather than ideological strategy.  Labor claim to be champions of the Yes case, but they have not historically demonstrated any more leadership on this issue than the Liberals. If they had, why isn't it resolved? During the last Labor Government, as recently as 2013, multiple bills were brought before the parliament on the issue that either lapsed or were defeated.

The real risk of the plebiscite is not that it will stir up an ugly and hurtful debate. Yes, that is possible. The real risk is the No vote will win. You may think that is not possible, but I would urge you to reconsider. Brexit was not possible. Trump was not possible. Your self-reinforcing bubble of friends on your social media feed is not representative of the voting public. You under-estimate the risk of a No victory at your peril.

The plebiscite will happen. There is no prospect of any other path to marriage equality in this term of parliament, and possibly the next. Participating in online petitions or advocating for a parliamentary vote will deliver nothing. All you are doing is allowing your personal information to be harvested by interest groups who are using the issue for data collection. The public will get only one consultation on this matter, the plebiscite. That is now decided. Any belief that you can influence a parliamentary vote or prevent the plebiscite plays into the hands of the No vote.

How so? The narrative against the plebiscite is a wedge campaign initiated by Labor. I admire the political strategy of it, and it has legitimacy for those who believe it. Moreover it has gained sympathy from those within the LGBTi community as a legitimate concern that the plebiscite will incite an ugly debate.

I respect that concern but Labor knows it will not be decided in this term of parliament by a vote without a preceding plebiscite. They are fine with that, because it means they win single issue advocates to campaign for them until the matter gets resolved, people who will then provide a loyalty vote, regardless of other policies. All the while they are wedging the Yes vote within the Liberal party against the No vote within the Liberal party. It's a very clever strategy.

The problem is, while this strategy works for Labor, it doesn’t work for the issue. Arguably Labor benefits more and for longer if the No vote wins the plebiscite. How likely is that? More likely if the people who should be advocating for the Yes vote are instead buying the argument that the vote shouldn't be happening at all. Especially when it is certain to happen. The No votes in Labor are quiet right now because they are in opposition and it's all about wedging the Liberals. Your memory is very short if you believe there aren't any No votes in the Labor party.

If you believe in marriage equality, you should be making the case for it. Loudly and publicly. If the No vote wins, the outcome will be one side of politics bound into respecting that decision, just as they would be bound into respecting the Yes vote if it wins. The claims about the plebiscite vote being non-binding misses the point of what the result will deliver. A mandate. A Yes vote allows religious conservatives the ability to permit the law to change because they can tell their communities of interest that they were against it but they had to respect the public vote. A No vote will result in the opposite outcome and a disaster for any bi-partisan vote in future.

Kudos to the individuals and companies who have gone out hard on supporting the Yes vote. Please think twice about buying into the arguments around forcing a parliamentary vote, or arguing against the plebiscite.  You may be right about your concerns, but we're past that now. The only thing you're achieving is confusing the issue and supporting the No vote.