It was an ugly birth and an even uglier baby.
In 2015 there was global momentum to legalise same-sex-marriage. Tony Abbott, Prime Minister and midwife-in-charge, was under sustained pressure to follow suit. The UK, USA, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, all culturally aligned countries, had said I Do. Public opinion in Australia was becoming more favourable to the idea.
Tony and his fellow dinosaurs, the Liberal Party’s Christian Right, had to come up with new, creative ways to block social progress. They would use all means necessary to preserve their fictional 1950s-family-values version of Australia.
And so it was, in August 2015, in his bloody midwifery robes, Tony emerged from the party room. A unified position had been agreed, he announced. Australia would have a Plebiscite on Marriage Equality.
The stated rationale?
Marriage Equality is an issue of such importance, of such constitutional significance, the public must have their say.
The unstated rationale?
A delay. Time for the pressure to pass. Kicking the issue into the long grass, political commentators called it. Enacting a Plebiscite would take time.
Tony’s superpower, we’re told, is sensing the mood of the silent conservative majority. A public vote would kill the issue stone dead.
A survey not a plebiscite?
Fast forward 2 years (Tony got the delay he wanted). The Plebiscite failed to get through the Senate. To much derision, a Plan B was unveiled. The non-compulsory, non-binding public survey. Price tag $120m.
There were many reasons why the survey was a bad idea (emboldening bigots etc), but it went ahead anyway. The result showed Australians are better, fairer, kinder people than the politicians that represent them. They voted emphatically in favour of allowing gay people to marry the person they love – every state and territory voted Yes.
The result, I’d guess, would have been different had the survey been conducted a decade ago. But why? What’s changed?
I suggest the following 8 reasons, in no particularly order:
1. Greater tolerance
Society is now more accepting. Gay people are visible. To use a biblical metaphor, the ghetto walls have come tumbling down. Demonizing strangers is easy. Demonising your gay friends, workmates and family members is not. The claims of the religious right no longer resonate. The public know gay people and see they want the same things as them; good friends, a career, to be loved and to find the perfect avocado.
To scare the pants off us, the religious right rolled out the same tired old doomsday scenarios we‘ve heard before. Marriage Equality is the thin end of the wedge. Terrible, societal changes are afoot. And the always popular, and spurious, ‘but won’t you think of the children?!’
Australians saw this for what it it was – hypocritical twaddle. For the Catholic Church, historically an institutional enabler of child sex abuse, to claim moral authority over the welfare of children betrayed an astonishing lack of self-reflection. They just don’t get it. Arrogantly they trotted out the same old porky pies as if the Royal Commission had never happened.
2. Gay celebrities and other allies
George Clooney is the face of Nespresso because, to varying degrees, celebrities attract attention and influence public opinion. The support of likable, high profile celebrities, gay and straight, helped to create a positive, feel-good aura around the Yes campaign.
Actress, author and national treasure, Magda Szubanski, proved a potent weapon. Her authentic, articulate, and deeply personal appearances on The Project and Q&A moved the country (but not, I assume, Margaret Court – see below).
To my knowledge, no celebrities publicly supported the No campaign (except Margaret Court – again, see below).
3. Sheer bloody frustration (at Parliament)
The country was sick and tired of hearing about Marriage Equality. Both sides of the debate. Blame lies with Tony Abott for this. He kicked the can down the road.
The large turnout for the survey was a clear message to Parliament – if you won’t sort this out we will. Now get on and do your job.
Margaret Court. Winner of grand slams, national hero, devout Christian, diehard anachronist, also opted for scaremongering. Marriage equality, she claimed, will mean ‘… no more Christmas, Easter, Mothers Day, or Fathers Day…’. What? Oh Margaret, if you’re attempting to scare us, at least come up with something faintly plausible.
Margaret seemed unaware that same-sex-Marriage has existed in other countries for quite some time. Real, bonafide evidence is available. But that’s not what’s needed here. Common sense tells us her claims are baloney. Mothers in New Zealand, the UK, the USA are still spoiled on Mother’s Day. There was no tumble into a moral abyss.
Interestingly, there were claims in the press that Margaret was bullied by the Yes campaign. ‘She’s entitled to her opinion’ they said. The crucial point here is that Margaret, a public figure, chose to express her opinion through a letter to a newspaper and radio interviews. The government wanted a public debate so the public has a right to reply. That’s the way these things work.
5. Not a fair go
The gay community have suffered at the hands of conniving, hypocritical, politicians. Australians bared witness to a minority denied that most basic Aussie right – a fair go. They used their votes to right that wrong.
6. The character of the campaigns
The Yes campaign was creative, positive, energetic and witty.
The No campaign, by contrast, was negative, doom laden and sometimes absurd. At the launch Tony Abbott was up to his old tricks. Muddying the waters. A No vote will stop political correctness in its tracks. Public reaction? Well, not much actually. Tony has become white noise.
7. Non-celebrity power
Engaging, articulate campaigners emerged who’s power lay, with the greatest respect, in their ordinariness. Good people you’d happiliy chat with at the pub. Prepared to put themselves out there for the cause. My old work buddy Nathan and his dad, Geoff, for example. Geoff confronted PM Tony Abbott on the ABC’s Q&A program. Describing his personal journey from intolerance to acceptance of his gay son. Concluding with the question: ‘I overcame my prejudices Mr Abbott. When will you?’ Abbott, paused, gave his customary I’m looking into the middle distance to convey sincerity look, then dodged the question. It didn’t matter. Geoff had skillfully skewered him before he even opened his mouth.
Geoff has been a high profile campaigner for years. Recently branding his blue ute with Yes slogans to travel the country. Having as many Marriage Equality conversations as possible.
8. The silent conservative majority
Abbott’s spidey senses failed him – big time. Not only did he misjudge the mood of the nation, he misjudged the mood of his own electorate. The national Yes vote was 61%. The Yes vote in Abbott’s electorate of Warringah was a whopping 75%. A huge miscalculation. Quite a shock for him I imagine.
There were other surprising results too. Traditionally conservative Queensland voted Yes (60.7%) in higher numbers than New South Wales (57.8).
What do you think?
The 8 reasons above are my personal thoughts only. I’d like to hear what you think. Use the comments below.
Is the country becoming more liberal? Or is pick n mix the new brand of politics? Whereby voters remain staunchly conservative on some issues but nudging liberal on others?
Tony Abbott mural: http://www.news.com.au/
Magda Szubanski on Q&A: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/