The Socialist Party is campaigning for the biggest possible ‘Yes’ vote in the postal plebiscite on equal marriage rights. While a postal plebiscite is not the preferred means to achieve marriage equality, it should be used to send a strong message to all those who advocate discrimination against LGBTIQ people.
Given that the Turnbull government clings to power by a single seat, it was always going to be difficult to pressure them to hold a free vote in the parliament. The Liberals have already seen the defection of Cory Bernardi since the election and several other conservative MPs have threatened to walk if changes to the Marriage Act are put forward without the question first being put to a public vote. This would threaten the government’s very existence.
From Turnbull’s point of view a plebiscite was always about trying to avoid damaging splits in the Liberals and within the Coalition. Like Prime Minister Billy Hughes did 100 years ago with the issue of conscription, Turnbull is attempting to use a plebiscite to settle the debate within his own ranks. With that being the case, the plebiscite presents an opportunity to strike a blow to the conservatives (in both the major parties) who have held back this basic reform for so long.
Polls have consistently shown that upwards of two thirds of the population support equal marriage rights. If these people are mobilised there is no doubt that a successful result can be achieved. In fact, if the plebiscite was a regular attendance voting exercise this would have been even easier as it would have resulted in a much higher turnout and less people, especially the young, being disenfranchised.
As we go to press some equal marriage advocates are pursuing legal challenges to the postal plebiscite in an attempt to get it stopped. In our view, their efforts would be much better spent signing people up to the electoral roll and mobilising for a ‘Yes’ vote. A big ‘Yes’ vote will put the government under immense pressure to finally legislate for marriage equality before the end of the year. It would also make a bold statement to society that LGBTIQ relationships are as legitimate as those of heterosexuals.
If the legal challenges succeed this will only delay the matter further resulting in yet another setback. For similar reasons, the Socialist Party also opposes the idea of boycotting the plebiscite, which is a proposal being put forward by some advocacy groups. In the first instance, it would be impossible to measure the people that boycotted the plebiscite as opposed to those who did not vote due to disinterest. Most importantly though a high abstention rate would be a boost to those who oppose equal marriage rights and it would be used as an argument to put the matter off indefinitely.
While it is technically true that the postal plebiscite is “non-binding”, in that a ‘Yes’ result does not formally compel the government to put forward legislation, an already-fragile government is extremely unlikely to risk going back on its word and defy a public vote. This would only spur on public protests and further inflame the divisions in the government’s ranks.
The Socialist Party understands the concerns of those who worry about the potential for a vile propaganda campaign waged by conservative MPs and fundamentalist Christian groups that support a ‘No’ vote. The ‘No’ arguments are not just differences of opinion– they cause real damage to LGBTIQ people. Many of those who oppose marriage equality insinuate that LGBTIQ people are lesser, deviant and can’t be trusted with children. With arguments like this is it any wonder that young LGBTIQ people are the subject of bullying, and why they are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers?
That said, homophobes have been waging a damaging campaign against LGBTIQ people for years. The plebiscite at least gives those who support LGBTIQ rights the opportunity to express their support en mass. We look to the example of Ireland where a victorious marriage equality referendum in 2015 resulted in a huge boost to the morale of the LGBTIQ community and a diminishing of homophobic ideas.
In an attempt to try and position themselves on the right side of history, the Labor Party has come out in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in recent weeks. This change of heart is welcome but far from sincere. When in power between 2007 and 2013 the Labor Party refused to support marriage equality. Similarly, they voted for John Howard’s reactionary changes to the Marriage Act back in 2004.
While Labor says that if the plebiscite fails they will still put forward legislation to reform the Marriage Act if they win the next election, they refuse to bind their MPs to a vote for the party’s policy in favour of equal marriage rights. Just like the Liberal Party, a hardcore of right-wing fundamentalists hold sway within Labor. This, along with the duplicitous record of both the major parties highlights why neither of them can be trusted to deliver even basic rights for ordinary people.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has suggested that Turnbull will be responsible for “every hurtful bit of filth this debate will unleash”. Shorten however says nothing of the homophobic Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) who are Labor’s largest affiliate and have for decades campaigned against equal marriage rights as well as other progressive social reforms. The SDA leaders, and many Labor Party members themselves, are complicit in the filth that has been unleashed and they just as responsible as Turnbull.
Labor have wheeled out the openly gay Senator Penny Wong to help bolster their new pro-marriage equality image but they conveniently keep hidden the fact that until recently Wong herself supported Labor’s stand against gay marriage. She was labelled a hypocrite by LGBTIQ rights activists but today, in an opportunistic attempt to outflank the Liberals, Wong has reinvented herself as a champion of social justice. These people have no shame and hope that voters have short memories.
There is no doubt that this issue has been used as a political football by the major parties for years. The potential to win this reform has only been put on the agenda thanks to the tireless work of thousands of activists who have campaigned and rallied for change for well over a decade while the major parties have consistently lagged behind the public mood.
While frustrating, this itself shows that real change does not come from within parliament but when ordinary people mobilise. That lesson needs to be absorbed by all those fighting for change in their lives.
A victory for marriage equality in Australia would be a huge step forward but unfortunately, we must note that it would not mean the end of all LGBTIQ prejudice. Homophobia, just like racism and sexism, is deep-rooted in society and it will take a fundamental change in the way society is organised to end it.
Capitalism is a system organised to enable big business to amass profit. It perpetuates inequality and relies on ‘divide and rule’ tactics for the capitalists to maintain their rule. Bigotry of all sorts will continue as long as capitalism is allowed to continue.
Socialists oppose homophobia in all its forms, but ultimately, we campaign for working class people of all backgrounds to fight for an alternative to the capitalist system. We fight for a system that uses the wealth in society for the many, not the few. On this basis, human solidarity and cooperation would be encouraged and bigotry would be undermined.
This type of socialist society is at odds with the views of the major parties who put big business profits before all else, including the basic rights and wellbeing of LGBTIQ people. A significant way to strengthen the LGBTIQ struggle, along with the struggles of all ordinary people, would be to break with these pro-capitalist parties and build a political alternative that genuinely represents the interests of those that capitalism seeks to exploit and oppress.
The Socialist Party will put it’s all into the campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote but we will not stop there. We will continue to fight for a society where real liberation for LGBTIQ people, for workers, and for young people can be realised.
The Socialist Party says vote ‘YES’, but also demand:
*Immediate investment into public housing sufficient to wipe out waiting lists. Invest in safe and LGBTIQ-friendly crisis accommodation services.
Young LGBTIQ people are at a disproportionate risk of experiencing homelessness. We need to ensure that they have access to secure and affordable housing.
*Raise the minimum wage and don’t slash penalty rates.
The pay gap between LGBTIQ people and straight people currently sits at around 15%, with many young LGBTIQ people working in low paid, insecure work.
*Oppose cuts to Medicare and invest in safe and accessible healthcare services. Defend and extend the Safe Schools Coalition program in schools right across Australia.
Many young LGBTIQ people find it difficult to access safe and non-judgmental health services. LGBTIQ people are three times more likely to experience depression and young LGBTIQ people are five times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
*Build a grassroots LGBTIQ movement with young and working class queer people in the fore to fight for marriage equality and an end to all discrimination.
The real reason marriage equality has been stalled is because neither of the major parties really represent the interests of ordinary people. They are big business parties whose primary concern is pleasing their conservative backers. We need to build a new political force that can fight for these demands, but also a force that fights for a socialist society where real equality and rights are guaranteed.
Editorial comment from the forthcoming September edition of ‘The Socialist’.