Time To End The Cat & Mouse Game

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No fun being the mouse: pic Luke Hayfield

Australian Marriage Equality, along with everyone else campaigning for equal rights, has long rejected the notion that people’s rights should be subordinate to public opinion.

AME national director Rodney Croome repeatedly said such a vote would be

  • Expensive and divisive, fuelling hatred and fear-mongering, a platform for the worse kinds of hatred.
  • Lead to an increase in the level of anxiety, depression and suicide among gay and lesbian people
  • A pro-equality campaign would suck up millions of dollars that could better be spent on LGBTI support services, community education or any number of other urgent priorities.

And in the end, a vote would not change anything.

A referendum is a vote on what the constitution means by the term marriage, then it’s put back on Parliament to vote to change the law. A plebiscite is non- binding, so it also comes back to the politicians’ final decision.

(In the Sydney Morning Herald and Queenbeyan Age)

De Facto Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson agrees. Last year he wrote:

Human rights are not up for vote, they are sacrosanct principles about the rights of individuals.

Both now back a plebiscite. Their new mantra is TINA: There Is No Alternative.

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Ambushed? by Kal Hendry

The argument runs that, with the Coalition party room strongly against a conscience vote, the parliamentary road is closed. That won’t matter if Labor wins the next election, but it’s by no means certain that that Labor will win, and even if they do, can we trust them?

Indeed, if AME can cave on a plebiscite: what’s stopping Labor?

This defeatist stance has not gone down well in the LGBTI community. Maeve Marsden writes.

I want to be represented as a whole person. Yes, I want my community to have the right to marry, but I also want full adoption and fostering rights, protection against discrimination, support for diverse families, and sex-positive safe-sex education that includes all genders and sexualities. I want to see thousands march through the streets in support of my transgender brothers and sisters.
I want to see an end to religious exemptions in discrimination law. I want fully funded support services for youth at risk and victims of domestic violence. I do not want LGBT asylum seekers locked up in offshore detention, human beings I consider community who have traveled across oceans in the hopes of living in a country where they won’t be killed for who they love.

As Abbott no doubt intended, we are divided. For many years now we have politely gotten out of the way to leave the field clear for AME to get gay marriage done and dusted .We have managed an impressive degree of unity over an impressive period of time.

But what has this bought us? Again and again AME have failed, while other pressing issues have been drained of oxygen, funds and attention.

This was acceptable for a time, because, the argument ran (and I subscribed to it), once marriage equality was achieved, the rest would be much easier to obtain. Our opponents would have a major plank of their argument permanently removed.

That strategy now lies in ruins. Marriage equality continues to recede into the distance, with no guarantee that our opponents won’t continue to yank it out of reach whenever we come close. Perhaps it is time to stop playing this cat and mouse game.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” John Maynard Keynes.

AME have presented us with a fait accompli, and left us with little choice but to unite behind their support for a plebiscite: the genie is out of the bottle and we can’t now stuff it back. The latest Essential poll in Crikey would seem to support that view.

Nearly two-thirds of voters support a national vote on same-sex marriage, while just 22% support the matter being resolved by Parliament, as the opposition proposes. There’s little difference between supporters and opponents on the issue — 69% of supporters want a national vote and 68% of opponents. Overall, 60% of voters support same-sex marriage compared to 31% who oppose it.

It remains, however, a very dangerous road. Lisa Daniel, formerly of Melbourne Queer Film Festival, wrote on Facebook:

So apparently there’s growing support for allowing/forcing the public to vote on the rights of their fellow citizens to equal marriage, rather than just have our elected officials get it done. My straight friends: can you imagine having a bunch of strangers vote on your right to marry the person you love? I find it abhorrent, and frankly terrifying.
And the issue will no doubt be hijacked by cashed up God-bothering bigots who may have more sway/influence than marriage equality groups in bombarding feeble minded conservatives with fear mongering about people marrying pets, having sex with alpacas, the world ending and our curtains fading.
The public wasn’t asked to have a separate vote on sending our troops to wars in the Middle East, changing the national currency and a huge variety of other major decisions. So stay the hell out of my personal life!!

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Run! Hide! by Luke Hayfield

Is AME right? Are there no alternatives? Up to now we have played it their way. We have been very nice and polite and respectful to our overlords. Perhaps it’s now time to take off the kid gloves and start talking back, as I have written elsewhere.

  • De-legitimise a plebiscite: organise a boycott by LGBTI people and our supporters, calling on everyone not to vote, to deface ballot papers, provide stickers to be placed on ballot papers, etc. etc.
  • Undermine every sitting MP opposing marriage equality, targeting their seats at the general election.
  • Support our supporters: Sydney LGBTI Liberals have already organised a fundraiser for Warren Entsch, who apparently has good reason to fear being starved of campaign funds by Liberal Party HQ for refusing to back down in the face of Tony Abbott’s intransigence.
  • Carry the fight to the enemy, attacking the special privileges granted to religions and mega-churches: their exemptions from rates and taxes, their special rights to ignore discrimination law and so forth.

This would be a better use for any money we could raise.

(Incidentally, I don’t know how many of the companies that appeared in the AME ads supporting equality have tipped in four, or five figure cheques to support the cause, but I’m betting very few, if any. And that’s what they should be doing if their stance means anything other than lip service. But as AME don’t seem to publish detailed accounts, we’ll never know.)

Then there’s the problem of firing up the troops to put in the time and effort. Most Australian LGBTI are apathetic. As a friend put it to me today, we don’t mind turning out for the odd forum or demo, so long as there’s a decent restaurant and a nice bottle of red after. We rely heavily on a few dedicated individuals – like Rodney Croome – to carry the banner. The failure of his long-followed strategy was a crushing disappointment, and he must by now be very battle-weary.

“Support the plebiscite” isn’t going to energise anyone to put in the hard yards. Fighting it might.

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The cat is playing: the mouse is dying. pic by G Champeaux

Blogger Tara Gimpel writes:

The Australian government should be doing what is in the best interests of all of its citizens, right now. Why are same-sex couples being forced to wait another year to get other people’s opinions on how they, as private citizens, choose to conduct their private lives? At the end of the day, that’s what this vote will come down to. It won’t be about the protection of the sanctity of marriage, but a poll about who likes and doesn’t like the idea of gay and lesbian couples leading functional, legally recognizable, everyday lives with kids and shit; in public.

In other words, a plebiscite is a crock. AME should change their mind and have nothing to do with it. We should all denounce it at every turn as a cynical waste of taxpayers money, an anti-gay propaganda exercise fuelled by prejudice and bigotry. And go on the attack.

Playing nice hasn’t worked. Patience and goodwill hasn’t worked. Backroom negotiations and political plotting haven’t worked. Time to shut down negotiations and go on the attack. If our allies come with us, so much the better. If they don’t, well, then what good are they?

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. And now he's been nominated for LGBTI Journalist of the Year 2017, which is great news, as he hasn't won any of these things for years! If you want to nominate him too - the more the merrier - you can do it here http://www.australianlgbtiawards.com.au/public-nominations.html "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)