Ross Golden-Bannon

„Plebiscite will cause damage“

A plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia might not be a good idea, says Irish activist

by Ross Golden-Bannon

Our contributor is a board member of Marriage Equality Ireland

It’s a date: the plebiscite on marriage equality will be held on February 11, 2017

The idea of a plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia may seem like a good idea, indeed in some ways a romantic echo of Ireland’s Referendum. But there’s the difference: we knew precisely what we were voting on. We voted on clear wording for a change to the Irish Constitution, however the Australian vote is not legally binding on Parliament. This means people will be unsure what they are voting on and it’s unclear what will happen after a vote or indeed what wording will be used if legislation is finally enacted. I say this despite all the political promises being made, we all know what they are worth.

 Such a plebiscite will cause damage and trauma

Possibly more importantly is the damage and trauma such a plebiscite will have on a vulnerable part of the community. In a campaign where each side will get some Aus$7.5 million to spend on highly public campaigns (and possibly more in individual donations) the LGBT community will be under siege. Any who choose to canvass door-to-door will find themselves in the deeply traumatic position of coming out, over and over again, every night, often in the face of the vilest abuse. This can be easier to take if you are campaigning for a political party but was deeply psychologically damaging for many LGBT people who found the very core of their humanity under attack on a daily basis.

 The positive result of the Irish Referendum on marriage equality has created some unhelpful myth

The positive result of the Irish Referendum on marriage equality has created some unhelpful myths (read more – MÄNNER-Archiv). Certainly the historic images of celebrating crowds across Ireland on the 23 May 2015 had a global impact but they hid a cruel and gruelling canvassing campaign. They also ignored the truth that the 10-year long Marriage Equality campaign never wanted a Referendum in the first place.

 The last thing we wanted was a Referendum

Our strategy was legislative change: the last thing we wanted was a Referendum. Putting the rights of a small minority to the entire population is against all international human rights best practice. We sadly lacked any politicians brave enough to legislate for equality and so we explored every possible avenue for change. From amending civil marriage law to seeking new rulings from each Attorney General, at every point we were outmanoeuvred. We were painted into a corner which the political elite thought we would never step across into the maelstrom of a Constitutional Referendum. We had no other choice and so the LGBT community embarked on a deeply scarring canvassing process.

 Legislative change on our civil and human rights would have prevented the deeply scarring campaign we were forced to endure. It now seems that Australia is as lacking in politicians willing to lead as Ireland was.

Photo: private

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