On 2017, national identity, fear, and hope

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting year?

I don’t think I’d even know where to begin with a proper recap of all the madness that has appeared on the Australian political scene in the last twelve months.  And really, why would I need to?  We’ve all lived through it.  Most of us have no desire to relive it.  And if we do, well, there are many excellent blogs that can help you with that (did you know that Andrew P. Street now has a blog on Patreon?  It’s pretty fantastic, and this post here seems like a good place to start, though he’s pretty reliably witty and interesting at all times.).

So I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I want to write about something that has raised its head in a variety of ways this year, and has, I think, almost been a defining theme of politics in this country.  It’s a question which has been around for a while, and which seems to be being asked a lot at present – or perhaps it would be truer to say that it is a question that is continually being answered, with great forcefulness, even when nobody is asking it.  And it’s a question which I think is going to be part of the political discourse for a good long while yet.

That question is, of course, what it means to be Australian.

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The sky is not falling: How marriage has changed in Australia over the last two and a bit centuries

The people have spoken, the Parliament has done its job, and marriage equality is finally law in Australia.  For my LGBTIQ friends – I am so very pleased that we are finally doing the right thing by you.  And you know that I am just *itching* to make wedding cakes at the earliest opportunity.  (Just don’t all get married on January 9, because there really are only so many cakes I can make in one day…)

Back when this whole debate started, a friend of mine commented that the Marriage Act had certainly changed plenty of times before, and it would be interesting to see how, and who had objected. I started compiling a list of changes (objections were harder to research), but the whole project got so enormous that I never did manage to finish it before I went overseas, and then I came back and was sick for weeks, and by the time I had any brains to speak of, the vote was over and done with.

Still, with Marriage Equality finally signed into law, it seems to me that the time has arrived to take a quick look at all the ways marriage has changed in Australia since European settlement. This is not going to be as carefully referenced as my usual post (December is bedlam when you are a singer, an event organiser, and the person who organises the charity drive and the choir at work), though I will link to all the articles that informed this list at the bottom of the page, so that you can delve further if you are interested (I’m sorry, but referencing often takes longer than the post itself, and December is a busy month for me).

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What a day.

I am so, so relieved for my LGBTI friends right now.  I am so glad that after all the nastiness of the last few months, we got a Yes.  I hope that Turnbull is able to live up to his promise of getting marriage equality legislated by Christmas.

I am also deeply, deeply relieved that the majority was substantial.  I didn’t want a No, but in some ways a Yes with a margin of 51% to 49% or similar would have been worse – we would then have spent the next year re-hashing the whole debate and arguing about who was suppressing whom. A Yes vote of 61.6% isn’t as high as I’d hoped for (though, interestingly, it’s in line both with our polls and with polls in other countries), but it is unarguably a majority.

And 133 out of Australia’s 150 electorates voted yes, including the 14 of the 15 regional electorates held by Nationals MPs! I love that result, because it underlines the fact that this is what the majority of Australia wants, regardless of which part of the country they live in.  And it is heartening to see that there isn’t a huge divide between rural and city electorates in this respect.  (Also, if I can be a petty Melbournian for just one moment, let me just note that we had a much higher Yes vote across greater Melbourne than across Sydney, which amounts to statistical proof that Melbourne is better than Sydney.  I think it’s the climate. More variable weather means more rainbows.)

One thing about this survey that makes me unequivocally happy is that 79.5% of eligible voters participated in the survey, even though it was non-compulsory, non-binding, and entirely lacking in Democracy Sausage.  Compare this to the Irish Referendum on Marriage Equality, which had a turnout of 61%, or Brexit, where the turnout was 72.2%, or the recent US election, where it was just over 58%.  Whatever else you may say about Australians, we are *absolute bloody legends* at turning out to vote.  Seriously – this is something worth celebrating, whatever you think of the result.  We may be losing one senator per week to the citizenship debacle, but our democracy is in good shape.

(Also, with a turnout of nearly 80%, we once again find ourselves at a point where we can say that this result is a pretty good reflection of the will of the Australian people.  61.6% of 79.5% is 49.0% – which means, effectively, that every single person who stayed home would have had to have voted No in order to reverse this result, and even then, the margin would have been slight.  And, while I am not a statistician, my brief look at the numbers earlier suggested that there was a fair correlation between high voter turnout and a high Yes vote.  I don’t think it was the No voters who were staying home.)

Was it worth it?

In one sense, it was.  If it gets us to a place where we can get a decent marriage equality law onto the books, where people can marry the people they love and have it recognised by the state, then, well, the value of that is incalculable.  Looked at that way, it would be worth it whatever the cost.

But something can be worth the money and emotion and time you put into it, and still be more expensive than it needed to be.

This process has hurt people, sometimes badly.  It has made people afraid of their fellow citizens.  It has divided communities and families, and has eroded goodwill between progressive organisations and religious ones (which is doubly wasteful, because these are two groups that can do amazing things when they work together).  Some of this – much of it, even – is down to individuals, but it could easily have been predicted, and avoided.

This survey has cost Australia in time and labour. The ABS could have been doing a lot of other things with the time and personnel it spent on this, as could the politicians, the LGBTQI charities, advocates, and churches who devoted time and resources to the debate.  The process has put added strain on mental health services.  And let’s not forget that it cost $122M in actual money, money that could have been spent on health, or refugees, or medical research, or schools, or, really, anything that would help Australians rather than making everyone miserable.  (I mean, seriously, has *anyone* on either side of this debate enjoyed the last two months?  Other than Tony Abbott, perhaps, and we shouldn’t be encouraging him anyway.).

Don’t get me wrong – I am thrilled for my friends who will be able to marry.  I am one Christian baker who absolutely cannot wait to make wedding cakes for the people she loves.  I am glad beyond measure that Australia is finally taking this step forward for equality.

If we get marriage equality, it will be worth it, absolutely.

But we will still have paid too much.

Yeah, we’re being terrible to people again

OK, then.  I’ve been sick for weeks and weeks, and haven’t had the brains or the energy to write about politics, not even the enduring delight that is the ongoing citizenship drama surrounding our elected leaders.  Also, being sick for so long is making me depressed, so apologies if this post is rather more cynical than usual.

But this stuff on Manus Island is awful.  Even for us, it’s awful.  As far as I can tell, the goal is to starve asylum seekers into agreeing to go back to their countries of origin so that they can be killed out of sight.

And yes, that sounds melodramatic and awful, but when you actually have people saying that they are choosing to stay because they would rather die here than elsewhere… well, that’s pretty horrific.  I’d say it was calling the Government’s bluff, only I don’t think they are bluffing.  I have a terrible, terrible feeling that if we woke up tomorrow to learn that the 606 men left on Nauru had died, either of untreated illnesses, or infection, or by violence, or of thirst, our Government would make noises about country-shoppers being misled by evil refugee advocates and be quietly satisfied that *now* the boats would surely stop coming.

Only I’m not sure that the boats would stop coming, because when the house is on fire, people tend to jump out the window, even if it’s a long drop to the ground.  Boarding up the windows doesn’t fix the problem, it just means you don’t see the people burning to death inside.

Anyway.  There really isn’t much I can say here that I haven’t said many, many times before, so I’ll keep this brief, and then hand over to others who can speak to this better.

I will say, though, that this time?  I’m not saying #BringThemHere.  I don’t think we can be trusted with them.  I think we should take New Zealand up on its offer and support sending these poor men to a country that will actually look after them, and not change its mind and send them back to prison or to their countries of origin when the political wind changes again.  Though that still leaves 450 people un-housed…

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Marriage Equality: Have you received your survey? Plus a book review

If not, you have until Friday to ask for a replacement.

To request a new ballot, please visit the ABS website and fill out their replacement ballot form.

And if you have received your survey?  Now would be a good time to return it.

(I suggest voting yes.  You will be glad you did in twenty years time.)

And now, for something completely different, a book review…

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Marriage Equality: What this survey isn’t about

Lots of people seem to be afraid right now.

My friends who are gay or lesbian are afraid of being attacked for who they are.  They are afraid for their children, for their friends, for young people who are LTBGIQ who are watching this debate and seeing it as a referendum on their humanity.

My friends (and yes, I have a few) who are on the no side are afraid too.  They are afraid of being attacked for what they believe. They are afraid for their children, for their friends, for young people who are vulnerable who they fear will be harmed if the law changes.

Fear seems to be something that both sides have in common.

There are some important differences though.  For my gay and lesbian friends, these fears are not new and they are, by and large, grounded in experience; the experience of being rejected and hurt – sometimes physically – for who they are.  And that experience is a lot more intense right now.  It’s not a coincidence that psychologists and support lines are being overwhelmed by calls from young LGBTIQ people at present.

For my friends who are against marriage equality, it’s a bit different.  While we Christians love a good persecution narrative (“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake”, after all), most Christians in Australia are not in the habit of feeling actively threatened in their daily lives.  If I wear a cross to work, I’m not going to get weird looks or comments.  And while, yes, certain atheists of my acquaintance do love to tell us how stupid we are for believing the things we believe (often without taking the time to actually establish whether we believe the particular things they are discussing), I can’t say I feel particularly persecuted by this. Persecution requires someone to actually have the power to make my life worse, after all.

I think it is important to acknowledge that for no voters, their fears are not grounded in the past, but in the future.  Yes, marriage equality has happened in other countries, and there have been a lot of scare campaigns around what happened in these countries as a result, but most of us have not grown up in a world that rejects and physically attacks us for our beliefs.  The fears of no voters are not imaginary – I won’t claim that yes voters are perfect snowflakes who never behave badly – but they are largely about things that have not yet come to pass – and which may never do so.

I’ll be talking mostly about and to my fellow Christians in this blog post, because the people I know who are against marriage equality have, by and large, reached that conclusion because of their faith.  I’ve reached the opposite conclusion because of my faith – and I’ll write about that elsewhere! – and it’s very possible that you are shaking your head at me right now and thinking that I’m clearly not saved, and that’s fine.  But I hope you will keep reading, because I think that as Christians we do owe it to ourselves to act with integrity and with honesty, and that includes being honest with ourselves.  And a lot of the no campaign that I have seen has been based on conflating things that are true with things that are either not true or have nothing to do with this vote.

I don’t think this does anyone any favours, and I don’t think it’s a good look for Christianity.

If you are a likely no voter reading this, I’m going to assume that you are acting in good faith.  I’m going to assume that you are not a hateful person, or a cruel person, or someone who wants gay people to suffer.  I’m going to assume that you really do believe that voting Yes will be detrimental to society.

I’ll be honest – I think you’re terribly wrong.  But I’m not here to yell at you or be mean.

I’m here to ask you to separate out what is really true from what is still a matter of conjecture.  I’m here to ask you to vote for or against the measure being put before us, not a random collection of things that tend to get associated with that measure,  I’m here to ask you to vote with love and integrity, not with fear.

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