Celebrations broke out in Australia earlier today when 61.6 percent of the population voted ‘yes’ to the question ‘Should the law be changed to allow same sex couples to marry?’ via postal survey. An overwhelming 79.5 percent of the total eligible people participated in this voluntary plebiscite, taking a historic first step towards marriage equality.
The results of the referendum do not guarantee marriage equality per se — it only paves the way for a debate in the Australian parliament. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had announced that if the ‘yes’ responses were in majority, then the issue would be discussed in parliament, and it would be put to a vote. The results of the referendum — a process that estimatedly cost Australia over $122 million — now pave the way for the issue to be debated in parliament.
While there seems to be general rejoicing over the development, there’s something about it that angers me. Because this could have easily swung the other way too. A plebiscite relies a lot on campaigns from either side. Imagine a minority group mobilising funds for ads and demonstrations and failing because they fall short on the campaigning? How dare someone puts the rights of minorities at the mercy of a plebiscite? While the referendum is an overwhelming victory for LGBTIQ persons — and this includes many of my queer friends who have settled in Australia — it seems incredibly dangerous to put the rights of any minority at the mercy of public voting by a majority. What if the result had been a disgraceful ‘no’? It would have given impetus to homophobic elements desperately looking for validation for their regressive ideas. We don’t even need to look that far. What happened during the Section 377 judgment here? I’ve been part of debates where the matter ended with: “But the law doesn’t support you”.
Referendums are a thing in the queer world though. While Ireland had a thumping victory for marriage equality, in Slovenia, a gay marriage law was done away with by a 2012 referendum, although they eventually legalised gay marriage this year. That’s the thing with referendums: the rights you have could be taken away by a majority voting against it at any time. It is difficult to live an authentic life when you have the fear of your freedom being taken away. You might want to please people all the time, just to prove you’re not a misfit of some kind. Meanwhile, the other side would be constantly engaged in magnifying the flaws of queer people.
The LGBTIQ community is itself is divided over the issue of same sex marriage — many consider I to be an adaptation of a heteronomative style of living. However, any progress in furthering equal rights is a win for the community the world over. It is an overwhelming wave of positivity and happiness and equality that everyone would want to ride on. In India we may still have Section 377 that criminalises non peno-vaginal sex, but I hope that the ones who keep saying "We are not Saudi Arabia where gays are killed" realise that they demean our nation with such unjust comparisons. The hope is that one day, they would compare India with Ireland, which has a queer prime minister of Indian descent.
LGBT lives are not a ‘cause’. We are individuals with emotions and with longing in our hearts of belonging to someone we love. Love doesn’t need the validation of a bill or the contract of marriage. Here’s newfound hope that what’s right for one would not be seen as wrong for the other. It is easy to be noticed as ‘the other’, and for a minority be singled out. It is easy to gain attention and stand out, but it takes a lifetime of work to be just one in the crowd.
On that note, cheers to the invincible LGBTIQ persons of Australia.
Long live the Australian queens!
Updated Date: Nov 15, 2017 17:52 PM