Blocking A Plebiscite Is The Best Way To Achieve Marriage Equality

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I remember my first ever Gay Pride march. I was in my mid-20s at the time. Trying to get into the after party on the streets of Adelaide, I had to negotiate my way through angry preachers waving placards linking homosexuality with murder and rape.

Even though I’d been out of the closet for a few years, the experience left me feeling shocked, angry and scared. Fast-forward nearly a decade and I shudder to think what would happen if this kind of hate was amplified by a national plebiscite on marriage equality. If these preachers weren’t just waving placards but were armed with the powerful megaphone that a plebiscite would provide.

Any LGBTI person who has experienced homophobic or transphobic bullying or abuse knows the impact this can have. For someone struggling on their journey with sexuality or gender identity – a young person feeling scared and alone – this can be catastrophic. A plebiscite on marriage equality would unleash a tidal wave of homophobia and transphobia and put lives at risk. It’s for this reason that I oppose it and believe that the Senate should vote against any enabling legislation.

Some supporters of marriage equality may well argue that defeating the plebiscite plan puts that reform in jeopardy. They are wrong about this. Ethically, I believe it is irresponsible to support a measure that will cause great harm and damage lives in order to potentially achieve a desired policy outcome.

I support marriage equality and I want to see it achieved but I don’t want to jeopardise the health and wellbeing of my community to get us there. The lives of LGBTI people are simply too important to gamble with.

Senate backing for a plebiscite would also represent poor politics. Despite strong support in the community for marriage equality, there is no guarantee that the “yes” case would win. While a plebiscite might appear an attractive strategy for resolving parliamentary deadlock and finally repudiating the homophobic minority, plebiscites (particular optional ones) produce unpredictable outcomes.

And if you doubt this, consider the Brexit fiasco. We know that the Christian Right would do everything they can to marshal their troops in any national vote in Australia. If the “no” campaign wins the day, triumphant conservatives would ensure marriage equality is kicked down the road indefinitely.

And the nation would pay a very high price, legitimising ugly homophobia. If the “yes” campaign succeeds this may not necessarily lead to a victory on the floor of the Parliament and conservative senators such as Cory Bernadi and Eric Abetz have already indicated they would flout public opinion and vote according to their own consciences anyway.

Voting down the plebiscite’s enabling legislation would open up a more certain pathway for marriage equality. Far from being game-over, the Senate’s rejection of the plebiscite plan would intensify pressure for a vote in the Parliament. And in such a finely balanced Parliament, there is an opportunity to finally get this passed. The marriage equality campaign has been dragging on for what feels like an eternity in Australia.

In that context, it’s easy to understand why some proponents of reform are attracted to the plebiscite as a means of achieving a resolution. But this is fools’ gold. After all, this was a plan hatched by Tony Abbott in a last ditch effort to delay marriage equality further. It’s an idea that should be consigned to history, like its architect. I support marriage equality and I believe that the Parliament can and will deliver it. In my view, the Senate blocking a plebiscite represents the best way to achieve that objective.

This piece was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald under the title, ‘I’m Gay And I Don’t Support A Plebiscite On Same-Sex Marriage,‘ 18 August 2016. 

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