Shortly after the Australian government decided that the issue of marriage equality would be put to a non-binding postal plebiscite, the Global Moderator (Interim) of Metropolitan Community Churches, the Rev Elder Rachelle Brown, posted on Facebook that this was a ‘step forward’.
Well, yes, I can see that. I also know that polling in Australia indicates a majority of the population are in favor of marriage equality, considerably so. The latest poll to come in indicates that 70% of those planning to vote in the plebiscite intend to vote ‘Yes’ in answer to the question ‘Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?’ Apparently, this is a relief for the ‘Yes’ campaign after seeing and earlier poll indicating that support for ‘Yes’ was beginning to slip.
The scare was in, though, and even these numbers, in my opinion, are no cause for complacency or for the ‘Yes’ side to think they have this ‘in the bag’. I’ve seen enough political campaigns in my life to see that one event, one quote, one perceived slip can change the momentum considerably.
And make no mistake – this question of human rights has been transformed into a political campaign. That in itself is troubling enough. It creates the misguided idea that ‘rights’ are something which are granted by the majority population to minorities. I get enough of that flawed thinking here in the country where I live, South Korea, where the remnants of neo-Confucian philosophy are still strong enough that the patronage of seniors to juniors, the dominance of men over women, and the expectation of reciprocity between friends are very real forces. This mindset is inevitably linked to the appalling rates of violence in male-female relationships, and the strong collusion between politicians and business empires, as well as politicians and their associates, which led to the impeachment of the president of this country earlier this year.
I’ve been a follower of politics from a very young age, so I can remember a number of events from campaigns in my native Canada which have reversed the trends in political campaigns:
- The leader of the Progressive-Conservative Party of Canada, Robert Stanfield, threw around a football during an airplane refueling stop. It was the picture of the pass he dropped that made the front pages on Canadian newspapers the next morning. That picture didn’t help his election campaign, and his second-party leader status was weakened.
- In 1980, the province of Québec held its first sovereignty referendum. The ‘No’ campaign, standing against sovereignty, was running a boring campaign, and some polls suggested the ‘Yes’ side could win. Then, Lise Payette, a minister in the Parti Québecois, compared women who supported a Québec fully inside Canada to Yvette, a cartoon character of the past who represented the stereotypical demure, deferent, obedient girl. Many women in Québec protested against this, and the ‘Yes’ side went to a resounding defeat.
- In 1992, the government of Canada negotiated with the provinces to amend the Constitution so that Quebec would be included (its government had not agreed to the repatriated Constitution in 1982). The resulting ‘Charlottetown Accord’ was put to a referendum in the autumn. At the beginning of the campaign, the Acord was popular in English Canada, with a statistical dead-heat in Québec. However, steady opposition from separatist leaders in Québec and the Reform Party in Western Canada, not to mention the desire of many Canadian voters to stick to the then-unpopular Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, led to its defeat.
- In 1995, there was another referendum in Quebec. After a lackluster beginning for the pro-sovereignty camp, a change of leadership, as well as an apparent complacency on the part of federalists, led to a ‘No’ result with a difference of only one percent.
Those are only my own recollections of a few events from my own country. I’m sure you can think of many from your own. The point is that any one event can lead to a sudden shift in momentum in any political campaign – and now Australia is in the middle of one.
There have already been events which could have been that ‘tipping point’, and it’s accurate to say that no side is completely innocent:
- One poster that has been distributed by ‘No’ campaigners has made a series of wildly inaccurate claims that the majority of children who have same-sex parents suffer abuse;
- A group of campaigners for the ‘No’ side were confronted by counter-protestors at the University of Sydney, and things apparently became very tense;
- A comedian openly mused about what it would be like to ‘hate-f**k’ opponents of marriage equality as a form of revenge.
None of these are forms of discourse I’d consider particularly helpful in this debate.
- People are allowed to disagree with the concept of same-sex marriage. Australia, like any other nation which allows freedom of expression, allows people to disagree on different issues. It seems to me that the appropriate response is to challenge the positions of these people, especially on religious grounds: ‘Why should your interpretation of your religion be given the privilege of denying civil rights to members of this society?’
- Assume nothing. As noted above, momentum can shift at any time. The ‘Yes’ campaign needs to be calm and dispassionate (not un-passionate), yet relentless in its work to make sure the majority of Australians are convinced of the rightness of their cause, and that they send in their mail-in ballots.
To coin a term using rugby terminology, it’s no sure try, this. A constant, sustained effort will be needed to ensure this plebiscite is successful in guaranteeing marriage equality. But as I wrote earlier, why is this being decided through popular vote, anyway? Aren’t rights rights?!
 Reported in Brook, B (2017, 12 September) New same-sex marriage poll a relief for yes campaign. In news.com.au [online]. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/new-samesex-marriage-poll-a-relief-for-yes-campaign/news-story/20e7f8adf655f7346420080dd6ac609d.
 Kim, D S (2017, 17 August) 8 in 10 Korean men admit abuse of girlfriend. In Korea Herald [online]. Retrieved 20 August 2017 from http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170817000805.
 (2004 2 June/2017). An unforgettable fumble for Robert Stanfield. In CBC Digital Archives [online]. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/an-unforgettable-fumble-for-robert-stanfield.
 (2013) 1980 Referendum. In Canada History [online]. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/an-unforgettable-fumble-for-robert-stanfield.
 Sparkes, D (2017, 29 August (updated)). Same-sex marriage advocates say anti-LGBTI poster inaccurate, distressing. In ABC News [online]. Retrieved 1 September 2017 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-21/advocates-slam-anti-lgbti-poster-on-melbourne-street/8828566.
 Heated scenes at the University of Sydney over same-sex marriage (2017, September 14). In news.com.au [online]. Retrieved 15 September 2017 from http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/heated-scenes-at-the-university-of-sydney-over-samesex-marriage/news-story/310c30b97385e4a582c0443318e19c9c.
 If you’re unaware of what that is, it’s having sex without someone you dislike, often containing roughness, name-calling, and immediately kicking them out of your bed afterwards.
 Coalition MPs lash out at ‘vile’ tweet by same-sex marriage advocate (2017, 11 September). In news.com.au [online]. Retrieved 18 September 2017 from http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/coalition-mps-lash-out-at-vile-tweet-by-samesex-marriage-advocate/news-story/9aa68a1b5dd19bd9e29015bae099d80c.