AUSTRALIA HAS DECLARED that it is ready for change. Over 60 percent of eligible Australians have voted yes to changing the law so that same sex couples can get married.
It is hard not to feel affirmed in the face of such a landmark victory. That victory is a popular declaration that tells me I’m okay. It tells me that I’m accepted. And part of me is incredibly thankful. Marriage equality is about more than just marriage. It is about dignity and respect and inclusion and the right of LGBT people to be equal before the law.
In a country where the law has always been used as a tool to discriminate against LGBT people, the effect of a resounding yes cannot be understated. It marks a watershed moment.
But if marriage equality is about more than just marriage – and it is – it was not so much my right to get married that the Australian people were asked to adjudicate as it was my humanity. And so while part of me is thankful, and while in some ways I feel affirmed, another part of me is indignant.
My rights should never have been the subject of a popular vote. No matter the defences postulated in Canberra, the popular majority should never be vested with power to vote on minority rights. That is not how democracy works. It is why we have the law. And it is why we have lawmakers.
By putting my rights, and the rights of LGBT people, to the public, our Government has entrenched a powerful fallacy: that minority rights are debatable. This is simply not the case. Or at least it ought not be. True rights are not negotiable. They vest in all people equally by virtue of our shared and irreducible humanity.
It follows that no public poll on the rights of LGBT people could ever have been respectful. To put our rights and our humanity up for debate was the greatest disrespect.
And it licensed an onslaught of abuse. It gave naysayers from across the country carte blanche to express their homophobia and their bigotry; naysayers who no sooner than their bigotry was called out cried foul, and accused LGBT advocates of drowning out the debate; as though they were entitled to that debate, to some discussion about the lives of LGBT people and their relationships.
The poll was, in reality, a demeaning farce. And it is only a small consolation that a majority of eligible voters have now endorsed the right of LGBT people to be treated as equal citizens. This was not an endorsement that I requested. I didn’t ask for affirmation.
I asked for equal rights. And the shape that same sex marriage legislation will take is not yet clear. Indeed, we cannot be sure that same-sex marriage legislation will be introduced at all. It is now, as it were, that the great work begins. It is now that we must change.