'We had our rights pinned on a postal vote'
The last few months in Australia the LGBTQ+ community have been both emotional and tumultuous. All due to our freedom being pinned on a postal vote. “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”.
The fact that I had less rights than those of a different sexual orientation baffled me. The campaign for change had existed for as long as I can remember, with generations of the LGBTQ+ community dedicating their entire lives to the campaign, with no legislative success.
Australia frequently ranks as one of the world’s most socially progressive nations whose values and political system place huge emphasis on freedom of speech, individual rights, universally free healthcare and ultimately and “a fair go” for all of its citizens.
As a young gay Australian the issue of marriage equality was extremely relevant and important to me and once it was made clear the government was administering the postal plebiscite over a free vote in parliament, the concerns from senior members of corporate Australia and members of the community itself, were evident. The postal survey is not legally binding, which means that despite taking the opinion of all eligible Australians, the government has no legal mandate to pursue the alteration of the law. This was also my greatest concern and I really fear that despite all the hard work to achieve a ‘YES’ vote, there may still be no change. It would mean that all the marginalisation, discrimination and segregation that occurred throughout the process would have been completely futile.
Despite all the hate and negativity around the survey, I – along with many other of my fellow LGBTQ+ community members – were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming level of support that was shown for the ‘YES’ campaign. From the moment of the announcement of the survey, I was seriously concerned for the well-being of the already marginalised members of our community, whose mental health could have been severely impacted by the divisive nature of the survey.
The sense of caring from a corporate level was so important during this campaign, knowing the company I work for and the people I work with, are fighting for equality alongside me. The message of solidarity and importance of the issue permeated conversations throughout the process. I found people who I never thought would have an opinion on the issue, let alone support the change, were amongst the strongest of allies.
However, there was still a lot of support for the ‘NO’ campaign, with people relatively close to me being advocates for a no vote, despite clearly knowing my predicament and stance on the issue. One family member made it very clear they did not believe I should have the right to marry, in their eyes marriage is simply between a man and woman. This was a prime example of the division the survey created at such a personal level. The vote created segregation and desperation reminiscent to the loneliness many LGBTQ+ people experience growing up. The feeling we are different, not equal and that something is wrong with us.
''Why should I have to ask permission from those completely unaffected by my ability to marry the one I love?''
The process gave people who already had the right to marry, the ability to discriminate and ridicule who I am and the way I live, based on my sexual orientation. It mandated them to be bigoted and join in the vitriol spread by the ‘NO’ campaign. TV ads run by the ‘NO’ campaign were the most divisive and hurtful to myself and my community. Messages included scenes which tried to emulate a gay family as completely against nature, that it simply couldn’t be possible that a same-sex couple could raise a family. The irony to me is that most, if not all States in Australia, already permit same-sex couples to adopt and it was thus an invalid point. The notion that Australia could continue to not accept the LBGTQ+ community as a part of an equal society, made me feel enraged, our progressive nature had fallen short on such an important issue.
Despite my nerves, sadness and rage that I felt while debating the matter with people, the conclusion of the survey and announcement of the results was nothing short of pure relief. The landslide ‘YES’, showed that Australian’s do support the love I share and that I should, in the eyes of the law, have equal rights to my heterosexual counterparts. The survey was divisive and the ‘NO’ campaigning was run through fear-mongering, but the end result has still been one of excitement and a jubilant day for all those within the LGBTQ+ community here and around the world. Celebrations started immediately from the announcement to mark the historic day, Australia has once again been united. I feel completely accepted for who I am knowing that the majority of my fellow citizens, believe I should have equal rights and live once again in a nation of “a fair go” for all.