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Marriage Equality: Why A Postal Vote Is Worse Than A Plebiscite

It's a platform for hate and fear-mongering.

28/07/2017 10:51 AM AEST | Updated 28/07/2017 10:51 AM AEST
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"We're talking about a survey with about as much democratic legitimacy as voting for the Logies."

What is the point of Peter Dutton's proposed postal vote on marriage equality?

From the perspective of those advocates who support marriage equality there's no good reason for it at all. We fear a postal vote will be a platform for hate and fear-mongering just like we feared last year's proposal for a plebiscite would be.

Also, like last year's proposed plebiscite, a postal vote won't be binding on politicians. The list of Liberals who say they'll ignore the result has grown with the new Liberal Senator from WA, Slade Brockman, saying he will vote however he wants regardless of the result.

But a postal vote is even worse than a plebiscite. Because it will be an opt-in vote, it will be people with strong views on either side who are most likely to return their ballots. The 30 percent of the population who nominally support marriage equality but don't care much about it will be much less likely to vote.

Among the 40 percent of Australians who strongly support marriage equality many are young people, who are also less likely to participate in a postal vote. Already, you can see that a postal vote is rigged against the 'yes' case.

Opponents of marriage equality want to delay the reform for as long as they can and a postal vote is a great way to do just that.

On top of this, the Government doesn't need Parliament's approval for a postal vote so it gets to set the question itself. No wonder the only people who want a postal vote are those against marriage equality.

But even worse than this, an opt-in postal vote will carry so little weight it won't resolve anything. We're talking about a survey with about as much democratic legitimacy as voting for the Logies.

Is that the right way to make such an important decision?

In fact, it's possible whichever side loses will challenge the whole process in the High Court.

If Australia Post fails to deliver or return ballots on time (which has occurred in recent times during other elections); if there is uncertainty about who was eligible to vote; if there is no processes for scrutineering the vote or resolving disputes over it; if there is no strategy to ensure remote communities, including Indigenous communities, have an equal opportunity to participate; if any of these problems occur the result could be tied up in the courts for months.

So, what is the point of having a postal vote if it won't mean anything or lead anywhere?

That IS the point.

Opponents of marriage equality want to delay the reform for as long as they can and a postal vote is a great way to do just that.

Some genuinely believe marriage equality will make the sky fall in and want the reform delayed in Australia until evidence of calamity emerges from other countries (for the record, it won't). Others just want it off the table before the next election by pretending they have done something when they have actually done nothing at all.

Then there are those who are just itching for a platform for their hate. They don't care what the platform is or what the collateral damage will be. They just want their whacky ideas about slippery slopes and 'rainbow ideology' to be centre stage after decades of people not taking them seriously.

There may even be some who simply enjoy putting barriers in the way of equality for LGBTI people. It boosts their sense of power and superiority over us.

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Advocates for equality have a duty to do all we can to stop a postal vote. That is why we are seeking legal advice about how we might prevent it happening, and will act on that advice if there is a possibility of success.

We also have a duty to determine exactly how the LGBTI community wants to respond to the postal vote if it happens. That is why we have launched a survey looking at the various options.

But the importance of resisting a postal vote goes well beyond the LGBTI community. It is a direct attack on the idea that human rights are above politics and above the whim of the majority. It is an example of the kind of populist authoritarianism that is making headway across the western world.

I urge every Australian who values our system of Government and believes in human rights to speak out against this obnoxious proposal.

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