Survey Says…

I’ve been speechless for a few days.

(This will come to a surprise to my Uber driver last night, who heard me wax at length about the five year survival rate of pancreatic cancer (eight percent); to my mother, who heard all about the significance of a senate race in Alabama; and to the rest of my Dungeons and Dragons party.)

This has been an incredible rollercoaster of a campaign, as our nation did its best not to tear itself apart whilst holding a divisive and public survey about same-sex marriage. I’ve written about the topic several times on this blog since I began it as an opinionated year eight student, all the way up to and including as an opinionated third year university student. The inertia after having pushed for this reform for so many years and having it (almost) fall in my lap has been a bit jarring. I am unused to having a moment thrust in front of me and not knowing exactly what to say about it.

Few moments will surpass for me the one I had on the morning of Wednesday, the 15th of November. Standing in Prince Alfred Park in town, my arm around one of my oldest friends, I nervously turned my eyes to the film screens. For the past two weeks, I had expressed with conviction and confidence that the Yes campaign had pulled off a win, joking that soon – to borrow a turn of phrase – gay weddings would be “widespread and compulsory”.

Five minutes before the announcement of the results, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure.

This was a campaign of many difficult moments. It has often been said that one of the features of our modern world is that it brings politics into our homes through more platforms and formats than ever before, that it makes the politics personal. The politics of this issue were already deeply personal, and there was no way to avoid them. Vote Yes flags flying through Martin Place. Coalition For Marriage ads spouting lies about radical gender theory education on every third commercial break.

I decided at the start of the campaign that I would have a big party to collect survey responses and donations to support at risk LGBTQI youth. But as the weeks went on, I felt battered by the constant, repetitious nature of the campaign’s intrusions into my life. Within the space of any given day, I felt like we were headed for a win, a bruising defeat, and then a win again, and then absolutely no idea. I felt tired out by it, worn down, and tired.

One morning my friend next door called me and asked whether I’d looked up at the sky yet. Slightly puzzled, I walked outside and saw it, in big white letters; VOTE NO. My immediate response was a four letter word. (So was my instagram caption.) I was angry, certainly. But on another level, my heart sank. This was expensive, and it wasn’t likely to change a single vote. All it would do is tell people like me that we aren’t welcome to express our love in the same way as others. It wasn’t long after the skywriting that I cancelled the party, deciding against inviting the debate into my home again.

Obviously, I couldn’t avoid it completely. On many levels, I did not want to. I lived my life with a rainbow watch strap from June onwards, sending a signal to people about what my views were. My family and friends know my thoughts and feelings on this topic. Much as it came up every week on Q&A, it came up every week around the Shabbat dinner table. Being openly gay often means being the ambassador for the community wherever we are; everybody wants your take on the latest dip and dive, the latest nuance and controversy. There were so many; the Pansy Lai debacle, the Tony Abbott headbutting, the infamous mass text. I had to have a take on all of them, and be prepared to defend that take for hours ad nauseum.

I was fortunate to have parents who were of the same mind on the issue. Parents who are kind, understanding, and thoughtful. I know that there are many out there who did not have the luxury of leaving the fight beyond the boundary of their front door.

I did try persuading a couple of people to come around to the Yes side; not No voters per se, but those on the fence. For the most part, I stuck to rational arguments about fairness and equality and secular society. Eventually, I got exasperated. Behind the wheel of my car, dropping a friend home, as the question remained unclear, I finally went to the place I hadn’t wanted to go; “how would you feel if you voted no and I could never get married?”

There were highlights of the campaign as well, few and far between. The elected roof body of my community, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, voted to endorse a Yes vote as a matter of secular policy. I knew at the time that this was unlikely to change a single vote, but it spoke to me so deeply and powerfully about the level of acceptance in my community.

Many told me throughout the campaign that it didn’t matter to them how I loved or who I loved, that it was an issue for me alone. One particularly thoughtful friend gave me his ballot paper and said it was mine to do with as I wished; he didn’t feel he should have a say on my right to marry. (He voted yes, in case you were wondering.) The people must have their say, the refrain rang out throughout the campaign. So many of my straight friends wondered when they ever gained the right to have a say about how I lived my life and who I loved.

Slowly the debate grew dimmer and dimmer, and it appeared we were rushing headlong into a foregone conclusion. The Paterson bill stirred up some more outrage for the sake of it. I mused to my mother that sometimes one sees legislation that would be just perfect if a couple of things were removed or tweaked; this bill was rotten in even the section that would have given us the right to marry.

I vacillated about going to the Prince Alfred Park announcement event. What if things weren’t so great? Would I want to be at home, in a safe quiet place where nothing could go wrong? In the end, I did what I’m often petrified of doing and took the risk. And so we waited, as David Kalisch explained what exactly the ABS does. And waited, and waited.

The moment he said the words “seven million”, I began to cheer; a fair few of the people around me awaited the actual percentage to express joy. (I learned later that the same thing happened to Bill Shorten.) I felt elation, and just so much joy. JPY took the stage, to my utter amazement, and had us all dancing along to Love is in the Air, which for us it was. In my arms, one of my oldest friends could not stop crying. I could not start. Not even the sight of Penny Wong bursting into tears burst the dam. (Okay, maybe a little.)

Until today, pulling into my driveway, and the first strains of Same Love rang out of my car speakers. (Remember when they tried to ban it?) I teared up. Because suddenly I could see the future.

I could see myself filing notice with births, deaths and marriages that I was to become a we. I could see joint tax returns. Co-signing a lease. Introducing him to colleagues as “my husband”. Him allowed into my hospital room. My parents’ grandchildren, waking us up in the middle of the night, getting spoiled endlessly by doting grandparents and a beloved great aunt, making us proud and making us smile. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, nursing homes, funerals.

Before, I could see myself spending the rest of my life with someone I loved. Now, I can see myself getting married.


Judged on its Merits

Judged on its Merits

In 2013, our High Court provided an opinion on whether the ACT could make same-sex marriage legal. It was a particularly contentious decision at the time, but constitutionally there was only really one clear path. I remember how often our Prime Minister at the time – Tony Abbott – pushed for Justice Bell, who is a lesbian, not to hear the case. It was a clear conflict of interest, he said. She’s biased against our case, he said. We’re safeguarding traditional marriage, he said, that’s what you have to understand.

Except he didn’t. (I know it was believable, but it wasn’t true.)

Right now in the States, controversy is swirling around Donald Trump for saying that a judge can’t hear a case involving him for a detailed, legal reason.

He’s Mexican.

(Excluding the part where he isn’t, but that’s neither here nor there.) On the surface, Donald Trump appears to be mounting an extremely racist campaign against an independent member of the judiciary. I don’t think he’s doing that at all.

That’s not to say that the comments themselves aren’t a reflection of hideous racism – they absolutely are. But that’s all that they are – a reflection. A reflection of the worst parts of a society lurking in the corners. There’s more to this than just trying to say that because someone has a certain heritage, they can’t do a job.

The rulings in the Trump University case are not going Donald Trump’s way. Everyday, new information is being unsealed by Judge Curiel, and he has come to the decision to unseal it not because the Donald wants to build a wall, but because that is the legal decision that he has arrived at.

As the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump has a huge platform from which to plot his moves. He can sit behind a veneer of policy and political gamesmanship in order to disguise true intentions – in this case, he intended to have Judge Curiel recused from the case.

It’s easy if you have such a platform to create controversy that inevitably biases someone against you. Whether or not Judge Curiel cared about the wall before this, some will argue, he likely does now. A number of people will decide that even though Judge Curiel did nothing wrong, he shouldn’t sit on the case anyway – because of Donald Trump’s actions. And that is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. (That’s probably a very good summation of Donald Trump’s whole campaign, actually.)

This glorious chapter in what’s proven to be a carnival funhouse of an election campaign has been an all-out assault on the independence of the judiciary, hidden behind a veneer of racism. Do we want to create a situation where the powerful in the political class can create bias against judges they don’t like, sufficient enough to subvert the whole trial? Make no mistake, this is what Donald Trump is doing. His criticisms have nothing to do with genuine opinions on race and everything to do with the notion that the judge might be construed to be, and I quote:

He is a hater. A hater of Donald Trump.

If this were racism, it would be easy to write off. But do not make the mistake of shoving it into the same pile as the rapists and drug dealers speech, or the blood coming out of her wherever interview, or the time he called someone “my African-American”. This is substantively different: it’s an assault on the independence of the judiciary from a person who wants to be able to decide who the judiciary is.

Not even Tony Abbott on his worst day would suggest that a judge isn’t able to do their job because of a personal characteristic. This is mostly because reasonable people understand that when this election is over, and Donald Trump is not the President, the judiciary will still have to keep doing its job. It cannot do that if powerful people are able to subvert the rule of law by pretending to be racist.

Tackling the #qanda-ry

A truly reprehensible thing happened on Q&A this week and we really do need to talk about it. I refer, of course, to the moment on Thursday when a post-operative transwoman was told that she had deliberately mutilated her genitals in having a procedure that went against all concepts of “good medicine”. Julia Doulman parried that question with grace and a not insignificant amount of bluntness; “I’d rather have twisted mutilated genitals than a bullet through my head or lie on a railway line.” I did not hear a single minister in this government criticize that questioner for exercising a right to say something so rude to another human being.

On the eighth of June, a member of the audience in Studio 22 asked whether the Human Rights Commission, a necessary independent body that oversees whether or not an Australian government perpetrates human rights abuses, and one that the government regularly demonises, should be disbanded. Another asked what protections she would receive were it the case that she should be asked to create wedding invitations for a same-sex couple and wished to refuse to do so on religious grounds. An audience member on the 23rd of March asserted that allowing foreign ownership in this country was “selling ourselves down the river”. A video question on the 27th of April asserted that binding on marriage equality would “lose votes for the Labor party”. Those examples are just limited to the last three months.

Today Immigration Minister Peter Dutton referred to the audience and panel of Q&A as “stacked”, in response to comments made by convicted criminal Zaky Mallah on Monday night’s edition of the program. This was only one of the latest in a series of condemnations by the government of the program – Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and the Prime Minister, derided the program for having little editorial oversight. Well, Mr. Turnbull did. The Prime Minister said something very different, which I’ll return to in a moment. But, and I don’t know that I’ve said this often and I doubt that I’ll say it again, I do agree with Peter Dutton.

The audience of Q&A, its panel, and its points of discussion, are regularly stacked. This is done so as to inflame public opinion and provoke conversations on difficult topics. In an episode of the program exclusively featuring Joe Hockey, 50% of the audience declared support for either the ALP or the Greens. The questions are deliberately selected to challenge the panelists – and the ones that are usually attacked by the government involve panelists from the government. That is, however, the function of having a program like Q&A – to challenge views and opinions, particularly those held by the sitting government.

Zaky Mallah’s comments are reprehensible and irresponsible. They are being used, however, as a political tool by a government that has displayed an alarming lack of tolerance for any sort of dissent. In the last budget, millions of dollars worth of funding was redirected away from the independent Australia Council for the Arts and placed directly in fund controlled by the Arts Minister. Funding was cut for the ABC and the SBS (despite election promises that this would not be the case), and the Prime Minister regularly criticises the public broadcaster as not “on Team Australia” whenever it dares contradict the government’s policies. The only praise he could find within himself to give the ABC was to congratulate it on its airing of The Killing Season, which is admittedly compelling, but the PM and I probably think so for different reasons. The government’s campaign against Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs is ceaseless and a disturbing series of political attacks against an independent official attempting to highlight human rights abuses.

Q&A made an error of judgement by allowing Zaky Mallah a platform on Monday night – but that does not mean that its necessity as a part of the Australian democratic system should be understated. I can think of few developed democracies where members of the government are put in a position to be so directly accountable to the everyday citizen. The government clearly only has issues with the instances where the program allows direct challenge to their political positions; by all other accounts, they rarely deign even to watch it.

The last time the Prime Minister was on Q&A was the 27th of August, 2009. At the time, not even Leader of the Opposition, he said this: “I think honesty is terrific, but there are some things that you have no right to be honest about.” Suggestions today have called for tighter screenings of audience members and a more controlled studio audience – which all sounds very democratic indeed. We have need of programs like Q&A, programs that actively encourage us to critically engage with government policy and ask ourselves questions about its legitimacy, more than ever under this government.