A rift has opened in the marriage equality movement over support for a referendum.
Until now the two wings – the moderate, sedate and respectable Australian Marriage Equality (AME), and the more raucous direct action-oriented Equal Love – have pretty much marched in lockstep. But no longer.
Ali Hogg, the widely admired figurehead of Equal Love, said, “We have waited too long for the major parties to change the law.”
“They have shown nothing but contempt for LGBTI people and the Australian public by refusing to end discrimination in line with public attitudes and wishes. A referendum represents our chance to compel them to do the right thing, and so we welcome it.”
Rodney Croome, the gay rights veteran and AME leader, countered, “Marriage equality supporters are understandably frustrated that Australia is falling behind other countries, but a referendum is not the quick and easy fix some assume it will be.”
“A plebiscite on the Marriage Act would not be binding and a referendum would simply clarify the constitutional provision dealing with marriage, not change the Marriage Act itself, so in both cases the nation would end up exactly where it is now, with the issue in the hands of parliament.”
And he feared the social consequences of a lengthy referendum campaign. “With one major party still against marriage equality and with extremist groups keen to use a referendum to propagate fear, a referendum campaign will inevitably polarise the nation and inflame prejudice.”
There are many other arguments against a referendum: as out gay US TV anchor Rachel Maddow put it, “But here’s the thing about rights. They’re not actually supposed to be voted on. That’s why they’re called rights.”
And as I pointed out in a previous post, minority rights cannot be entrusted to a majority vote. As Benjamin Franklin reputedly put it, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”
Both Croome and Hogg clearly have an eye on what happened in France, with violence on the streets, a vicious anti-gay campaign whipped up by the church, a rise in attacks on gay individuals and businesses.
I take the view that a referendum to enshrine our equality in the constitution is a fine idea – but that’s the next campaign. After we win equality.