Today at 9am my time, Australia said Yes.
This was the result of the $122 million non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey inflicted on the country by a conservative government that refused to do its job in Parliament.
In 2004 the then-PM John Howard amended the Marriage Act to specifically say marriage was between a man and a woman. It could have easily been changed back years ago.
Besieged by ultra-right-wing religious elements from within the Liberal Party (yes, I think we can start saying it’s a joke name), the PM Malcolm Turnbull sent us all down this dreadful path and declared that “the people” should get to have a say on the basic human rights of a minority. Thus, we had months of a hateful “No” campaign giving us their “respectful debate” with vast amounts of money spent trying to convince people that Teh Gayz were carrying out their dreaded “Agenda“. Boys would wear dresses to school! Children might not have a mother and a father! People were going to start marrying horses and include strap-ons in primary sex-ed classes. Horror of horrors, people might start thinking that it was OK to be different!
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Things got nasty: there were assaults and vandalism and death threats.
Through it all, many queer people said they were living with increased anxiety and stress. No doubt those still in the closet were not in any hurry to out themselves in such an oppressive environment. And many people said that even though they felt they’d moved beyond it all and had been accepted by the community, they were now feeling emotionally fragile. The survey had empowered bigots to freely express hatred on TV, in newspapers and on social media and suddenly everyone was back in high school with the bullies running unchecked. It was utterly cruel and utterly unnecessary. It should never have happened.
And now, today, Australia said yes. 61.6% of us voted to allow same-sex couples to marry. 79.5% of the population responded.
It’s a good day. A victory for equality and fairness and love. It shows that the majority of people in this country are tolerant and accepting.
It’s also a sad day in many ways.
It’s sad because we all had to go through this shitshow in the first place.
It’s sad because 38.4% (over 4 million people) are willing to deny their fellow Australians their human rights. Over a third of us don’t think that LGBTIQ people are equal and that’s not good enough.
It’s also sad because this result is still non-binding and the “No” side is already maneovering to try and sabotage any laws that emerge from this.
It’s sad because marriage is only one part of a much larger whole and the fight is far from over. Many queer people aren’t interested in marriage; this issue has only been a rallying point in a wider struggle for acceptance, equality and social justice.
That said, I’m feeling good about the result. The shadow of Trump and Brexit hung over this vote; we were determined not to let complacence and negativity overwhelm the vote and everyone chipped in and worked hard and we got there. It’s not an overwhelming majority but it’s a solid result nonetheless and it’s a huge step away from the conservatism and religious bullshit that has become par for the course in Australia.
And hopefully, six months from now, we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.
For now though, I just want to express my love and support to all my queer friends and family. It’s been awful and I’m sorry, but I’m also glad that we’re having this moment. Australia said YES.
Edit: Now I need to direct your attention to my friend Helen Vnuk’s piece which is brilliant: Celebrate the yes win. But there is one thing we must not forget.
The Government spent about $100 million on the survey process. Let me list a few ways that money could have been better spent: mental health funding, anti-bullying programs in schools, support for victims of domestic violence.
No. The Government chose to spend that money on a survey that basically legitimised homophobia.
It wasn’t just the Government. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney spent $1 million funding the “no” campaign. That’s staggering. That a church could spend that much money trying to stop people getting married – not inside their church, but in civil ceremonies.
That $1 million is gone, totally wasted, in a campaign they lost.
To hold a postal vote was to say that marriage equality is an argument that has two sides. It was to say that it’s okay to be homophobic. But it’s not. That caused terrible emotional damage that will take a long time to heal…
The yes campaigners were advised to be nice on social media. To not attack people who were voting no, or who claimed they hadn’t made up their minds. I think we shouldn’t have gone so easy on them. Homophobia should not be tolerated, in the way it was during the survey. Never again.”
PS. This image is from the short film that I hastily shot in Berlin. After inspiration hit me on the plane on the way to Europe, I’ve cobbled together a film inspired by the Yes vote, one that celebrates consent and acceptance. I hope to have it finished soon. I’m not going to say who it is in the photo; you’ll find out soon enough.