To tell this story properly I have to take you back to my first day at uni, in 2015. My first lecture was at 4pm on a Monday. But on that specific day, I decided to make my way there at 11am. Why?
UNSW had decided to raise the rainbow flag in honour of Mardi Gras, which was that weekend. Attending that flag raising, as the guest of honour, was former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. To set the scene; I am a big Michael Kirby fan. Australia’s first openly gay High Court Justice and I do not see eye to eye on every issue, but as my Legal Studies teacher put it back when I was in high school, for the most part, “if Michael Kirby says that the sky is green, there’s probably something wrong with my eyes.”
Which puts a fine point on my abject disappointment today after reading his public statements suggesting that the best course of action is to abstain from the upcoming postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
To be candid, I do not support the idea of putting this question to a plebiscite. Not solely because of the kind of awful rhetoric we’ll see in this campaign – the type we’re starting to see already, courtesy of Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop, among others – but also because the fundamental notion of our parliamentary democracy does not give our politicians a free pass on hard questions whenever they feel like it.
At the same time, the Commonwealth Government, in their wisdom, has decided to put my fate into my hands. And I don’t intend to let it go by resting on my laurels, content in how wonderful my principles are and how smart I am not playing the Government’s game.
Yes, there is a chance that a yes vote will not lead to a yes outcome. But by my estimation, there is a much greater chance that a yes vote will inspire our politicians to do the right thing. (Maybe. Just the once.)
It’s disheartening to see this position being taken up not just by Justice Kirby, but by the leadership of marriage equality campaign groups. I understand and agree with Australian Marriage Equality and the Equality Campaign’s principled opposition to the plebiscite. I understand their decision to go to court and challenge it. But on the 12th of September, more likely than not, ballots will go out in the mail. We have 14 days to ensure that the more than 200,000 young people who are eligible to vote and are not registered get their name on the roll. Tony Abbott is on television telling people to vote no if they want to take a stand against “political correctness.” The Prime Minister, when asked if he would campaign for the Yes vote, would only say that there were many demands on his time.
The No campaign is out ahead. There is no Yes campaign.
So here is what I propose to do:
- In the next two weeks, pester all of my friends to ensure that they are on the electoral roll. Get them registered, and get them ready.
- Once ballots are out in the mail, I will organise a big party to collect my friends’ ballots – and the ballots of their families and friends and everyone they know – and raise money for Minus18, so that LGBTQI young people have someone to reach out to, and so that they know that they don’t have to feel alone.
- I will make an effort to collect a ballot from every single registered voter I know. No ifs or buts about it. Every single one.
There is, I’m sad to say, no leadership on the yes side of this debate. We all need to be leaders in the next three months. There’s no two ways about it.
Get registered. Get voting. Get ballots. Get equality.