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Can Australian politicians deliver Marriage Equality before Christmas?

Nick Karvounis via Unsplash

Australia’s national survey has closed and the results have now been announced.

Shocking no one, Australians have overwhelmingly said YES at a rate of nearly two to one.

While this result wasn’t shocking, the process certainly was. Not only was it entirely unnecessary to achieve the reform, unlike Ireland, the result also doesn’t legally compel the government to act.

It subjected an already oppressed community to a campaign of national judgement where opponents frequently painted us as dangers to society & family. We were called “bullies” for campaigning for our right to be equal while our community simultaneously experienced violence, intimidation and vilification.

Using national media the nation was told we were responsible for silencing the majority. All the while opponents to reform were critical of any individual or organisation that spoke out in support of reform.

Industry leaders were told to “stick to their knitting”, organisations were pressured to remain mute in case it offended staff, peak medical and legal organisations were told to stay on the sidelines and our community was told, rather than be concerned for the mental health of LGBTQ Australians, we should “grow a backbone” and suffer in silence.

The irony.

Like Ireland, you will have seen footage of celebration in Australian streets, in parks and homes. I was among hundreds of people in our nation’s capital who gathered to celebrate or, potentially, commiserate.

The footage shows joy. It masks relief from fear and terror experienced for the last two months, culminating with the anticipation of either being rejected or embraced by a nation.

We should celebrate the win but not the process.

No government should ever ask the nation to define the place or determine the access to civil law of a minority group, particularly when it’s entirely unnecessary to achieve the reform.

Related: Australia’s oldest gay couple plan to finally marry after 50 years together

Australia’s national postal survey was designed by conservatives to delay and frustrate reform, not facilitate it. It was intended as a mechanism to control a minority, not liberate it. This is a dangerous precedent that, as an Australian, I do not wish to own.

Imagine, for a moment, if the Chechen authorities polled its conservative nation on the place of its LGBTQ citizens. Rather than equality in civil law it may seek to validate incarceration or worse.

If Indonesia polled its largely muslim nation it may not be LGBTQ citizens in the firing line. It could be Christians.

The place, dignity, security and liberty of any minority should never be subject to a national poll.

So, after all we have been through, where do we find ourselves now?

Supportive members of parliament have settled on “the Dean Smith bill”, named after the West Australian senator responsible for presenting this bill earlier this year, after it was developed by a cross party working group. It is now co-sponsored by a diverse range of senators reflecting a heightened level of cooperation on the reform.

The Prime Minister has repeated his belief that the reform can pass before Christmas and gone as far as acknowledging Australians would not accept “making legal, discrimination that is [currently] illegal”.

Related: It turns out that Tony Abbott’s constituency returned one of the highest Yes votes in Australia

However, opponents have different ideas.

In recent days we’ve had a second, far more conservative bill released and then withdrawn and some opponents are calling for further delay, others are talking of 60-100 amendments to the Smith bill that would enshrine exposure to discrimination LGBTI Australians have not had to cope with in years.

Beginning on November 27 we only have two parliamentary sitting weeks left in 2017 and, for the first time ever, the schedule has been largely cleared to debate marriage equality.

I know that many international observers, probably you included, don’t understand why Australia has taken so long to get to this point. We have such a wonderful reputation for being a laid back, diverse, friendly and open community, the ingredients of a nation that should have been one of the first Western nations to achieve marriage equality, not one of the last.

We have just spent $122 million on a survey that has done little but generate a result that only mirrors 10 years of far cheaper and more scientific polling.

Australians have wanted marriage equality achieved for the last 10 years, at least, yet our politicians have doggedly refused to reflect our will.

Australians have now, overwhelmingly, voted for LGBTQ Australians to be able to marry.

The nation wants action, not delay. We want equality, not new forms of prejudice.

Again, we’ve partnered with international LGBTQ advocates at All Out in what may be the last petition calling on Australia to get on with it, to resist opponents calls for delay & the addition of discriminatory new clauses.

Momentum is on our side but opponents are still working against us. You can help Australia achieve marriage equality today by signing the petition.


Ivan Hinton-Teoh is the founder of Australian organisation just.equal and former Deputy National Director for Australian Marriage Equality.

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