THE QUEST FOR EQUALITY IS ALMOST COMPLETE

THE QUEST FOR EQUALITY IS ALMOST COMPLETE

In September this year the Australian people will be asked a simple question: “Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?” following a decision by the Turnbull Government to conduct a postal survey to poll community views on same-sex marriage reform, prior to allowing any vote in the parliament.

Despite not agreeing with the decision to conduct the postal survey I will be voting ’yes’ and I will vote ‘yes’ in any parliamentary vote. I want to see same-sex couple enjoy the same legal rights that I do when it comes to marriage and I want to see it happen as soon as possible.

I don’t for a moment think it is right or fair that the legitimacy of the relationships of same-sex couples or their family should be subjected to a popular opinion poll or a survey.  It will be divisive, expensive and has been specifically crafted by those in the government who ultimately want to ensure that marriage equality never happens.

The reality is this is a debate that should be had in the parliament not via a voluntary snail-mail survey. We live in a parliamentary democracy where MPs and Senators are elected to make decisions on behalf of their fellow Australians. Decisions are made every sitting day on national security, on healthcare, on education and on the economy. Indeed when amendments to the Marriage Act last passed the parliament in 2004 they too were achieved through a parliamentary vote.

In 2013 the High Court of Australia, when considering the constitutionality of the ACT Legislative Assembly’s Marriage Equality Act, found that legislating for marriage equality was exclusively a matter for the federal parliament. Some four years on from that decision the Government has refused to allow a free vote in the parliament to progress equality and same-sex couples have instead had to endure more years of delay and discrimination. 

So here we are in 2017 with broad community support for same-sex couples to be able to marry and we are having a voluntary postal survey forced upon us to poll community sentiment. This survey will have no binding effect on any subsequent parliamentary vote and it will cost $122 million of tax payer funds to conduct it.

However, unless the pending High Court challenges against the postal survey are successful it will go ahead and I believe we have to roll up our sleeves, campaign strongly and respectfully and win the vote.

Over the next few months it will be very easy to get lost in the debate with the arguments that will be put by both sides of the debate by politicians, lawyers, religious leaders and social activists.  It will be important to remember that at the centre of this process are people and the families that love them - people who love each other and who simply want to have their relationship recognised by marriage. That’s it. It really is that simple. 

There are no reasonable or rational arguments to oppose marriage equality. The usual lines about the sanctity of the “nuclear family” and concerns over children will no doubt get a run but that is not what the survey is about.

The nuclear family, if it ever really existed, certainly doesn’t now and thousands of same sex couples have children who are much loved and cared for as they are in any other family. Malcolm Turnbull’s survey is not about any of these issues. It is simply about allowing one section of our community, who are currently denied the legal right to marry, to be able to do so.

Whilst we should never have been placed in the position to be surveyed about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry that is where we find ourselves today and those who support marriage equality need to stand together and get involved.

We must support those who are having their relationship scrutinised in this unprecedented way, we must continue to call for a free vote in the parliament and we must continue to campaign for equal treatment under the law for every Australian citizen.

I will be voting yes and I will be doing everything I can to promote the "yes" campaign. Over the next three months the responsibility falls to every one of us who supports marriage equality to join together and use all of our strength to win the argument and the vote.

This opinion piece was first published in The Canberra Times on Friday August 18, 2017.