Australia recently held a plebiscite for equal marriage. This means that everyone who’s registered to vote in Australia, got a poll card in the post asking them if they would like the Australian government to hold a vote on marriage equality. It’s a way for the population to indicate what they want their government to do, but it’s not ideal. The LGBTQ+ community in Australia has been shouting for a vote on marriage equality for years now, so it feels a little ridiculous that the government’s solution is to hold a plebiscite.
As with most discussions regarding marriage and marriage equality, there are strong opinions on both sides, and the debate has got a little heated. Sydney held its biggest ever political rally in favor of marriage equality (which looked like SO much fun), whilst on the other side, adverts discussing “what gay marriage will do to the children” were broadcast on TV, and billboards were put up around Australia with a peculiar choice of phrase: “it’s okay to say no”. To be honest, many people weren’t really expecting anything tactful from the “No” campaign, but they managed to reach new lows with their harmful adverts. Superficially, their “it’s okay to say no” posters imply that voting against marriage equality doesn’t make you a bad person and that it’s okay to vote against it. This is problematic for so many reasons, most obviously, voting in a discriminatory way is actually a bad thing because you’re throwing so many people under the bus for no reason, but it goes much deeper than that.
The familiar phrase “it’s okay to say no” is most often used when discussing consent, and is used in an attempt to empower women to have agency over their bodies and exert that. It’s a phrase that has insultingly been co-opted by a homophobic movement, playing on the emotionality of the phrase to elicit a response from the “No” campaign’s supporters that will make them feel like they’re operating for the benefit of the people. It’s making them think that they are fully justified in their decision that gay people should not marry, because “it’s okay to say no”. Using such an ordinarily empowering phrase in a homophobic advert is further validating homophobes to continue down such a spiteful and frankly embarrassing path.
The plebiscite has already been harmful enough as the LGBTQ+ community across Australia has had to watch their colleagues, friends, and families vote on whether to validate their relationships or not. But for the “No” campaign to then lull “No” voters into a sense of security by using an overwhelmingly, feminist phrase to validate that homophobia is just cruel and unfair. And of course, to further the harm and messiness, they’ve turned it into a discussion about honour, about what Christ would’ve wanted, and about the sacrament of marriage. Religion has been brought into the debate despite the fact that religion and equality can very easily co-exist. It’s such a huge shame that “No” campaigners are hijacking people’s need for faith in order to peddle hatred for the sake of getting in the news. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t long ago when marriage meant a woman lost her name, property, and money and her becoming the property of a man, yet this changed for the better, so the definition of marriage can expand and change, especially to include the LGBTQ+ community.
However, it has been funny to see what a mockery the world has made of the adverts. One pizza restaurant saw the opportunity to spray paint “…to pineapple on pizza” after the phrase projected on the billboard. Humour and positivity are often the best way to deal with and respond to violent ideologies, and it’s nice to see people not bowing down or putting up with such adverts, especially with pizza. Most countries’ “No” campaigns are awful, because there are no real reasons why you should not want two consenting people who are in love to marry. It seems that many “No” campaigners are only campaigning for their side because they want things to stay the same, in keeping with traditional values, rather than because they actually believe that LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t be allowed to get married.
The Yes campaign has brought together people of all backgrounds and types to campaign for a fairer Australia. The group Australian Christians for Marriage Equality has been a welcome addition to the campaign (especially amidst all the claims of God hating the LGBTQ+ community), as has indigenous media group IndigenousX, where on their website can be found a 91-year-old man describing his experience as a member of the indigenous community in Australia. He says, “As a child, we were called boongs, n*****s, darkies, and we had restrictions on us … I was 40 years of age when I was allowed to become an Australian citizen.” He continues, “I was treated differently because I was aboriginal. We’re going to treat gay and lesbian people different. For why? Because of something that has nothing to do with them. The same as I had nothing to do with being Aboriginal.”
Amidst all the sadness and hateful rhetoric, there have been equal amounts of courage, and endless support for the LGBTQ+ community, that we can only hope as impacted and influenced the Australian government into actually voting for its citizens to be able to marry whomever they wish. There’s a vested interest in the same old programme, but there’s a lot of love in Australia and hopefully, the government down under will witness it and make the change towards equality.
Written by Rochelle Asquith