The Consequence of No

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

One thing that has only occurred to me in the past couple of weeks is the very real possibility that in the debacle that is a non-binding postal vote survey to provide feedback to the federal government about whether the Australian voting public think people in same sex relationships should be allowed the same right to marry as people in heterosexual relationships, the response might actually be “no.”

I had been operating solely on the assumption that people would vote yes. However, the archaic gesture of a postal vote will inevitably skew the results in favour of those who are older, and more geographically stable (despite reports of last minute enrolment by a cohort of mostly young people – and yay for that). But, you know, Donald Trump was elected, and Brexit is happening. So all bets are off, and the prospect of ‘no’ is a real one.

This parody of a democratic process crushes and flattens the ways in which difference is experienced in our culture, and how those experiences affect us in uneven, unequal ways. In responding to this question, the straight man archetype of suburban middle-aged comfort gets the same say as a lesbian who has lived with this question her entire life.

In terms of a general election, this is how it should be. We each vote on the aggregate of a number of policies, according to what is most important to each of us.

This postal survey is different. This is asking those who have rights to say whether or not they’d like to have them extended to those who don’t.

This is crushing to the already less powerful, to those who are affected by and subjected to discrimination and violence.

The people whose rights are in question, and whose lives are affected by this vote are being directly impacted by a majority who really have little interest in the matter. We are crossing our fingers pathetically for the benevolence of the disinterested to be bothered to decide on the future, because this isn’t just about marriage.

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The expressions of hatred and homophobia that have appeared as a campaign against marriage equality would be legitimised by a “no” response. If the result is “no” the outcome will most likely be an expansion of this kind of discourse, with no end in sight.

Once homophobia (or any kind of hatred) is given oxygen, it spreads. The legitimacy that a ‘no’ vote lends to the people who spread this hatred has the potential to provoke and support all manner of homophobia and violence.

A ‘no’ result broadcasts that the majority of people in our society view same-sex relationships as inferior, or less legitimate than heterosexual relationships, and that as a consequence, they don’t deserve the same rights, as human beings, that they expect to have access to. The systemic violence implied by this position makes the community less safe for everyone.

It provides a platform not simply to deny one right, but as a starting point from which to erode the rights that have already been fought for, and won. Contrary to appearances, history is not a straight line (ha ha) and the maintenance of rights requires vigilance and energy as well.

This non-binding survey is stupid. It is a placating gesture to a hateful minority that most of us would prefer to think doesn’t exist in the contemporary Australian parliament. But it does. And the ludicrous “no” ad campaign is clear evidence of this (and side-note, why can’t children wear what they want?). So before you ignore it, or refuse to participate on whatever grounds you object to it, think carefully about the consequences of ‘no,’ because while a “yes” result really only affects those in same-sex partnerships who wish to marry, the consequences of “no” has the potential to damage our social aspiration to egalitarianism itself.

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