As an Australian living in California, there are plenty of things about the American way of life that confuse me. Inches and miles? Baffling. Using Fahrenheit to measure temperature? Ridiculous. Overconsumption of foods with names like “The Heart Attack Burger”? Confounding. But Australia lacks one facet of American life that makes sense to me – same-sex marriage.
It seems simple enough, given that about twenty-five countries in the world have legalized same-sex marriage. Australia’s a progressive country. We established gun control in 1997 after a mass shooting at Port Arthur, and have had no mass shootings since. We still have a long way to go on immigration and refugees, but at least there’s been no talk of a travel ban (hint hint). But we draw the line at two men or two women getting married. Still. In 2017.
At constant hounding from LGBTQ+ activists, the government has put forth their ‘solution’ – a non-binding postal survey asking one question:
Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
The heartbreaking truth of this survey is that even if 100% of Australians vote yes (which they won’t; more on that later), the government doesn’t have to do anything about it. Let’s think about that for a second. Brexit happened exclusively because it was put to a vote and the ‘yes’ party won. But apparently same-sex marriage takes more deliberation than deciding to leave the European Union.
Something that particularly rankled me is that Sydney Archbishop Glen Davies – who worked closely with my Anglican high school and often delivered speeches and sermons – recently donated one million dollars to the No campaign. That I am in any way associated with the xenophobia and bigotry which spurred this decision disgusts me on a personal level.
ABC News estimates that by now, 10 million people have cast their votes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that approximately 63% of surveys have been returned. The results won’t be out for another month, but when they do come out, (pun intended) we’ll get a look at how the society of Australia views queer people.
What does this mean for queer people in America? For one thing, it’s a sobering reminder that homophobia still exists in even the most ‘progressive’ of nations. The belittlement of LGBTQ+ people can be found no matter where you are. Additionally, now that LGBTQ+ people are getting a chance to fight for their rights, the conservative population of Australia feels threatened. They’re worried for their children, themselves, and the future of their country.
One of the TV advertisements for the No campaign features a woman who says her son’s school “told my son he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it.” Not only is this false, and incredibly offensive to transgender, non-binary, and other gender non-conforming people,but it also has nothing to do with marriage equality.
Aside from the constant degradation of the LGBTQ+ community by the No voters, there have been instances of specific hatred which are particularly saddening. A lot of Australians, myself included, will remember when the words “VOTE NO” appeared in skywriting over Sydney. Every queer person in Australia has experienced some form of homophobia, despite growing up in a country which is supposed to be accepting of everyone (we come from convicts, after all), and this incident was no exception. The skywriting hurt me primarily because someone paid actual money to literally hang a cloud over the LGBTQ+ community.
Several voters have declared that they’ll be voting “no” due to the hatred and intolerance displayed by the Yes campaign. And to those voters, let me explain: I’m not trying to change your vote. You will have submitted it already. All I want to say is this: What you perceive as hatred and intolerance is the LGBTQ+ community finally having a platform to fight back, to try and gain some equal rights after years of being degraded, mocked and bullied. I can’t emphasize to you how alienating, depressing, and potentially dangerous it can be to grow up queer in Australia. Now we have the chance to feel like equal members of society. We just want what straight couples already have: the ability to show our love for each other in the way our culture has deemed the highest declaration of love. Furthermore, legalizing same-sex marriage would be the first step in what can hopefully become equality, and Australia can finally become the accepting nation that we expect it to be.
To ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott (homophobe, racist and misogynist extraordinaire) – Your lesbian sister deserves better than you. Your daughters deserve better than you. The people of Australia deserve better than you, and I’m not sure why you still think anyone takes you seriously.
To current PM Malcolm Turnbull (and all Australian MPs) – you have a choice here which will define our country going forward. Do you want us to be the country that brings its citizens into a world of greater equality (albeit dragging your feet), or to be known as a nation on the wrong side of history by denying a marginalized community its right to be recognized?