A year ago today, people gathered in parks and pubs around the country to hear the outcome of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.
I was in Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park when the announcement was made: all states and territories recorded a majority yes response to the question “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”, resulting in a 61.6% Yes result nationwide.
The response from the crowd when the Yes vote was announced was instantaneous and invigorating. People screamed, and cried, and hugged strangers, and proposed to their loved ones, all in the space of a minute after the result was announced. It was a fantastic moment to be a part of.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of that announcement, I returned to that same park for a more subdued celebration. Lord Mayor Clover Moore announced that the part of Prince Alfred Park where the announcement took place would now permanently be known as the Equality Green. There were still drag queens involved, of course.
Looking back, while that historic announcement on November 15, 2017, put me in a good mood, I know it came after a long and unpleasant campaign – and I can’t help but think that my ability to associate positive memories with that day is because of my relative privilege.
My immediate family is incredibly supportive (we won’t talk about my extended family – considering most of them live in the Blaxland electorate, which voted No, and are all pretty religious, I can take a guess): they all voted Yes, and were wonderful and kind when I came out a second time earlier this year.
Most of my friends are in some way LGBTQ, and my straight ones are great allies. I don’t ‘look’ like a stereotypical lesbian, so I avoid abuse in public, and the most I had to interact with homophobes during the campaign was when I cold-called people with GetUp in an effort to encourage them to vote (it consisted of two people telling me they were voting no because being gay was wrong, so I just thanked them for their time and hung up).
That isn’t the case for many others. Others are kicked out of home after coming out, and in the US (Australian statistics are harder to come by), LGBTQ people make up 40% of homeless young people.
In addition, LGBTQ people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely to attempt to take their own lives compared to the general population (for trans people over 18, that increases to eleven times more likely).
A lot of these LGBTQ people don’t have access to the resources, support and care they need, and while a plebiscite might not be as immediately awful as being homeless, constant reminders from the media and public figures that your right to love is up for debate would hardly boost your self-esteem.
LGBTQ activist Sally Rugg tweeted some important reminders ahead of today’s anniversary, namely that the LGBTQ community fought to stop the plebiscite for an entire year.
Sally’s tweets remind us that the majority of the LGBTQ community didn’t want it to come to a public vote in the first place. The campaign showed us Australia at its worst – divided, spiteful, and determined to deprive others of happiness.
While that part of Australia proved to be a minority, knowing that nearly 40% of people who bothered to vote voted against your right to marry the person you love hurts.
Writing for the ABC, Joshua Badge reminds us of the worst things to come out of the postal survey, which includes the fact that the survey literally took a toll on the health and life satisfaction of LGBTQ people living in electorates that voted no. It also gave us Bronwyn Bishop comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality and infanticide, and Archbishop Mark Coleridge comparing it to paedophilia.
Nobody should have to endure hateful messages like that, and if someone is already vulnerable as a result of enduring lifelong homophobia or transphobia, messages like that from prominent public figures can be hard to shake off. Doubly so if your family and friends are receptive to those messages and treat you differently as a result.
Essentially, this anniversary is a bittersweet one. The announcement itself came as a relief after a drawn-out campaign very few LGBTQ people wanted to endure, and while the result was a good one, it didn’t have to happen the way it did.
Writing for The Guardian, activist Rodney Croome said of the plebiscite:
“The postal survey was the result of political failure, the cause of great grief and isn’t what delivered marriage equality.”
He’s right – marriage equality wasn’t won overnight, nor was it the result of the short campaign ahead of the survey itself. It’s taken decades of work on the parts of activists to get Australia to a point where a majority support same-sex marriage. Tasmania didn’t decriminalise male homosexuality until 1997.
And it’s not like achieving marriage equality solved everything. It didn’t even achieve full marriage equality – trans people in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory still have to get divorced before they can change the sex on their birth certificates.
I, like many LGBTQ Australians, have mixed feelings about today’s anniversary. I’m glad that Australia voted Yes, but I’m not glad that the postal survey happened. I’m grateful to the work done by countless activists, but I’m sorry that the work had to be done at all.