Lazy Luddite Log

15.12.17

Same-Sex Marriage Victory

Around the turn of the century I was sitting among a group of progressive campaigners discussing whether there was any way of making same-sex marriage a legal fact. If only Labor would adopt a supportive policy and bind its parliamentarians to that while the Coalition allowed its parliamentarians a conscience vote then we may just have a chance of getting the numbers. A lot has changed since then.

Last week the Governor-General rubber-stamped legislation making same-sex marriage legal in Australia. This followed a decisive victory for the Senator Smith private members bill in both chambers of Federal Parliament. And this in turn had followed on logically from a majority result in the same-sex marriage postal survey that I discussed here. I was confident of the consensus across major parties to support change but it is nice to see it become an historic fact following decades of campaigning.

In this entry I will expand on some of the arguments I made in my pamphlet and discuss some of what passed during the campaign. I made that pamphlet as a 'do-it-yourself campaigner' but there was more to it than that. The official Yes campaign had a very simplistic three word message of 'Love Is Love' intended to resonate with the elusive 'average' Australian. This message was delivered in a professional and respectful manner but it was too wishy-washy for my tastes. I wanted something more nitty-gritty and so decided to become part of the large and amorphous unofficial Yes campaign.

I focused on rights and this was apparently also utilized by specialized affiliates of the official Yes campaign targetting recent migrant demographics. I feel vindicated in that the neighbourhood I letterboxed is very much a migrant area. I cannot ever be sure my few hundred pamphlets had an impact but I think it was important to try methods others were neglecting in this era of electronic echo chambers. I also did it because I discovered those electronic methods can be counter-productive.

On Facebook I had stated my position and invited disparate friends into discussion with me if they felt differently. This overture was almost instantly undermined by friends quipping that they too supported a Yes response and considered a No response to be stupid or nasty. Who is likely to engage with me if they see the dogmatic company I keep? I differed from much of the unofficial Yes campaign in my focus on respectful debate and my desire to change minds. This task has gotten harder in the past decade and that was amply demonstrated in the hours following the announcement of a nation-wide Yes majority in the well-attended postal survey.

Very quickly punters could see that some of the few electorates that showed only minority support for a Yes response were working class areas of diverse migrant populations. Soon I was countering all manner of comments on Facebook that were expressing opposition to homophobia by betraying borderline racist, creedist and classist attitudes. How can we switch so rapidly from humane to inhumane stances at the glance of an electoral info-graphic?

Part of the problem was the simplisitic notion that the campaign was defined only by 'love' and 'hate'. This dichotomy excludes the possibility of other conditions such as ignorance, confusion, fear or indoctrination. I met a lot of resistance to my advocacy for a more nuanced take and it was only on the following morning that antagonists started to back down.

The thing that made them step back (other than the passage of time in this fast-paced world) was the circulation of a long and well-crafted post by a queer campaigner of recent migrant background giving us a reality check and confirming that it takes time and work to change the minds of those who have been conditioned by particular traditions. It seems we trust personal anecdotes more than expert or even common sense arguments. This frustrated me because of my hours of effort the preceding day. There were many ways of thinking that had been sidelined. Here are a few:

* Any understanding of the facts will tell you that every electorate in the nation harbours thousands of both Yes and No respondents. It will also tell you that our citizenry excludes permanent residents and minors who cannot vote. Characterizing entire swathes of suburbia on the basis of one voluntary survey at one moment in time is beyond stupid.

* The concept of Pluralism tells us that society is composed of many overlapping interests whose political allegiances shift and change from issue-to-issue. The person you oppose today over same-sex marriage will be the person you side with on refugee rights tomorrow. With that in mind it seems emotionally vexed to demonize someone for any one stance.

* Historically, progressives like me have embraced universal notions of our common humanity and thus had understanding for those who think differently. Such a stance also allowed us to find common ground and change minds. Possibly this philosophy is too reminiscent of the utterances of some religious philosophers and therefore deemed hackneyed by many. But it works if we let it.

Any one of these concepts would have prevented the profiling of whole electorates but only the demand to back off from campaigners of particular demographics worked. In this sense identity politics proved ineffective. You would think the concept of 'Intersectionality' would have done the trick but it seems too difficult a concept to digest. Many were so stuck on the one track of opposing homophobia that for that moment all other forms of prejudice were forgotten and only personal anecdotes from particular activists could prompt a switching of tracks. Embracing our common Humanity would have done it automatically and allowed a 'privileged' person like me to get the job done. But I find I cannot use the power I supposedly have in online settings. Hence I stepped away from the computer and onto the streets.

Within the word limit of my pamphlet I defended 'Political Correctness' (PC) as a contemporary form of manners. That seems to contradict my criticism of identity politics in this post. However a distinction needs to be made. Few if any adverse effects of PC fall upon ordinary members of the public. Only its own adherents are hampered by the constant peer-driven behaviour management it engenders. This is a problem for progressives rather than for society as a whole. As such I can happily defend PC to the public.

The No campaigners made reference to lots of other tangential issues besides PC. My pamphlet summarily dismissed ludicrous notions like marrying animals or objects but I skirted the issue of Polyamory. I support the notion of a society that recognizes and accepts the practice of non-exclusive relationships between consenting adults. However it is also a debate for another day. Society needs time to consider this issue and polyamorists ourselves will have to decide exactly what it is we want from society.

Another distraction was the Safe Schools program but I never bothered to reference it. I have been on both sides of the educational fence and as such can be rather sceptical of ever-changing educational trends. But I also see the wider context of a society in which pragmatic teaching staff, family members, friends and popular culture all serve to ameliorate the shortcomings of theory. Overall, any education program that helps children have a better grasp of reality is one I support.

I argued for laws that conform to the way society is today. This by itself could result in problems but such laws need to also meet the test of minimizing harm and maximizing quality-of-life for all. Harm Minimization is also why I supported the consensus bill that accommodated some religious concerns. This is far better than a zero-tolerance driving of such resistance-to-change underground. Let them openly stand apart and have the public walk away from them in droves. Growing religious diversity will allow for the ability to shop around.

The one novelty of my pamphlet was its argument that same-sex marriage improves religious freedom by allowing those religious supporters of same-sex marriage to celebrate it. This even seemed to surprise progressive religious persons I shared it with (it is almost as if the truly compassionate among them are so focused on the needs of others that they forget that they have needs too). It was only once I sent this message to a number of religious groups who support change that I saw them starting to use the same argument. Possibly this straight agnostic had a small impact on how they saw themselves but you rarely can say for sure with campaigning efforts.

And now it looks like we are to have a public inquiry into religious freedoms. This is a last-ditch effort by the moral conservative minority within the Federal government to claw back some of what they feel they lost with the Smith bill. However inquiries tend to take on a life of their own and I think we will find this grows into something that represents all variations of religion in Australia rather than just those who called for it. So for instance what works for Christians will also have to apply to Muslims and this will limit how much any group pushes its case.

The moral conservatives have tested the concept of the 'moral majority' and found us wanting. I wonder what impact this will have on them. I suspect that it will embolden the moderates (across the major parties) to understand that Australians are far more permissive and accepting than they had imagined. I think it will also benefit parliamentary democracy at the expense of populist alternatives like plebiscites. And most importantly I think it will give confidence to queer Australians themselves to enter more fully into all aspects of society.

The survey was a divisive one but in reality any debate would have been. We still cling to the notion promoted during the Enlightenment that rights are innate but in practice they only exist because we make and maintain and refine them. A lot of work has been done by brave and tenacious queer campaigners. The result of same-sex marriage is far more than just a gesture. Existing marriages conducted overseas were instantly recognized and many more will soon be entered into. The legal rights associated with marriage will tangibly benefit many. Lives and even livelihoods will be improved as the economy gets a boost to wedding-related services. And there will be some very festive celebrations.

I have spent too many words in this post on whinging. I should remember that something I have actively supported for over two decades has now succeeded. This is a victory to be savoured and it is worth noting that nothing like this has ever happened in our history. We have done better than just win back lost ground. Rather it is new ground and better ground at that. Bring on the Summer of same-sex marriages galore.

Pamphlet

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