This week a wise friend cautioned that the language of permission is very powerful. She suggested that, if a plebiscite occurs at all on this issue of ‘allowing’ same sex marriage’, the question should only be ‘do you agree with an amendment to the Marriage Act 1961’, or ‘do you agree with the removal of changes made by the Marriage Amendment Act 2004’. It should not be ‘do you agree with same sex marriage’. She said it better and probably didn’t say that exactly, but that is all I remember.
It is subtle isn’t it? There is no need to ask anybody what their views of same sex marriage are. And frankly, none of us have the power to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ a marriage. We are not given marriage police licences.
So the ‘should they have your permission to marry’ business is silly. This is not the question. If you consider it an issue of removing the changes that came about in 2004, it is really not about changing anything at all, but it is about removing an inequality that was inserted into it, in 2004. I do not care, nor do I want to hear, what anybody thinks about my sexuality. Ever.
The language of permission is not subtle at all. It is heavy with expectation. The expectation is, that the person being asked, must have some kind of power or authority to decide. Most importantly, it is giving Australians the power to decide something that the country has voted people called parliamentarians in, to decide. We have told you what we think, by electing the people we did, to represent us.
The Marriage Act 1961 was amended to exclude same sex unions, explicitly, by parliament. The process of this involved the elected members passing a Bill. Parliamentarians, voted in by Australians, did this. It was accepted, as appalling as it was, that the change had been, as they say, mandated.
The people of Australia were not asked their opinion about this change, nor their permission. The process happened as all legislative change happens, by the elected members putting a Bill to parliament, and a majority voting for it. It is more complicated and multi-staged than that, but the main gist I am interested in here is this: it was not a process by which the people of Australia all ‘had a say’. They were assumed to have ‘had a say’ in the polling booths.
What has changed? Absolutely nothing. Where is this drive for a plebiscite coming from? the far right. What can we do? Hope that those of us who voted Labor, Greens or other parties and independents supportive of same sex marriage, do their thing and stop the plebiscite.
I am bitterly disappointed that not more of us had the foresight to put the Equality Party first and get some queer representation in Parliament last election. I am relieved, however, that the Australian people did not hand Turnbull a massive majority. In fact, we now have a parliament, elected ‘by the people’ who have ‘had our say’, who could make marriage equality happen.
In simple terms, a plebiscite is a referendum that does not change the constitution (i.e. because marriage is not governed by the Australian Constitution). The types of issues where they have previously been utilized have been matters affecting all people. Like military conscription.
Australia’s current recognition of same sex marriages that have been performed overseas, is hit and miss. Some states recognise it, others do not. My same sex marriage in Canada is recognised in Victoria. And in being so recognised, I have not, to my knowledge, endangered anyone’s lives or forced anyone to go to war. So I would really love to hear any compelling argument as to why, having democratically voted, the Australian public should give their ‘permission’ about what can and should be a simple, legislative process.