Marriage Equality Plebiscite: A stupid waste of time, money and lives

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I’m genuinely befuddled by the Federal Government’s plan to hold a plebiscite around the issue of marriage equality. It’s a waste of money in every sense that won’t solve the issue for any side of the argument.

Image: Bodie Strain
For the record and to keep things level from the get go: I have no issue whatsoever with the issue of same sex marriage. Marriage is defined by the government, and we live in a society with a secular government that fully recognises the rights of same LGBTI individuals to be LGBTI individuals… except one.

Were it up to me, it would be legal tomorrow, if only (and it’s not the only reason why) so that we could live in a society of equal rights. I kind of like that sort of thing. For the record, I’m a middle aged straight white man, which I think means I’m meant to have all the power. Happy to put whatever power I have behind the push for marriage equality. Equally, I’m trying to present my view on it, not push a view that’s meant to be for a community that I have friends within, but I’m not part of in that way. Make of that what you will.

Still, it’s a divisive issue in the community that the plebiscite is “meant” to fix, and today we’ve had Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accuse the Labor party of “playing politics” by not offering to support the bill that would get the ball rolling for a February 11th vote. A mandatory vote, cost somewhere in the range of $150 million to run, along with $15 million in the PR kitty to be split amongst the pro- and anti- sides to put their case to the people of Australia. It’s been pitched as being very democratic, but I can’t see it working in any way at all.

I suspect my friends group is largely (but perhaps not exclusively) in favour of marriage equality, but I’ve been mulling over how I’d try to convince others that the plebiscite is a bad idea. You may have a view, religious or personal on what allowing couples other that heterosexual couples to marry. I guess you’re entitled to that, although a lot of the rhetoric I see either tries to conflate it with other issues with a heaping dose of hyperbole (“We’ll all be forced to marry lesbian hippopotamuses!“), or essentially seems to be a smokescreen for their own tastes or dislikes.

Nobody's going to be forced to marry a horse. Of course.

Nobody’s going to be forced to marry a horse. Of course.

Image: Davitydave

To borrow the classic line usually associated with Beatrice Campbell, I don’t really think it matters what folks do in the bedroom as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses. And when was the last time you saw a horse walking down the street?

(Actually, I don’t think that’s either true or fair either. Don’t frighten horses, but if hetero couples can cuddle and kiss in public (and they can) why shouldn’t everyone?)

However, it doesn’t really matter whether I can convince you on the bare fact that marriage equality is a fair thing. It matters that the plebiscite isn’t the solution for it in any way.

It’s a stupendous waste of money

At least $150 million, on a vote that we’ll be compelled to vote in, which means the economic impact will be larger than that, even for a vote on a Saturday. All that money, burnt away on a vote that isn’t even binding on the government. If they seriously wanted to gauge the population they’d hold a referendum, but naturally, this thing’s designed to fail every possible way, and that might be risky with a referendum (as I understand it), so that’s a no-go.

Still, $150 million could fund all sorts of things. Education. Health. Arts. Defence. Anything you like, even fixing fictional budget emergencies that only seem to crop up when they’re needed to whip the populace into a frenzy.

It’s built for failure

Unless I’m much mistaken, it would need to pass both houses of parliament, if voted in the affirmative, in order to actually pass into law. Willing to be corrected on this kind of thing, but I believe that’s how laws are passed and amended in this country, no?

This pretty much won’t happen, I think.

Not that it won’t pass — the polls seem clear enough that enough people support the idea — but given the precarious numbers the coalition has in parliament, and some of the far-right types (Hi Pauline!) in the senate, the odds of a bill legislating for marriage equality seem very slim indeed.

Although I would be impressed if Malcolm Turnbull actually (effectively) crossed the floor against his own backbenchers (Bernardi et al) to vote for it, as he’s publicly stated he would. Somehow, I suspect it won’t even get that far, because he seems to like power much more than principle. I’ve seen more than one pundit argue that the whole issue is being pushed in order to push Turnbull out, and while I’m interested in politics and how it is played, not when it hurts people. And that’s what this will do.

The funding for the anti side will actually hurt people

Those on the anti side aren’t exactly subtle about this. Why on earth should $7.5 million of public money be handed over to people in order to attack the choices of other people that, if passed will not affect them in any way whatsoever?

Nobody’s forcing you to marry someone of the same sexual orientation, or for that matter some random strawman creature, but demonising people and their lifestyles with public money when those groups are already statistically more likely to be bullied, attacked or commit acts of self-harm, up to and including suicide.

Why the hell should we fund that? Funding it almost inevitably will lead to an increase on both the psychological pressure on LGBTI individuals and couples, but also the instances of abuse, verbal and physical on them as well. Again, that’s a losing proposition unless you’re a genuinely abhorrent human being.

It’s also pretty clear that many of the opponents of marriage equality will shovel some of the funding into other anti-LGBTI propaganda. Yes, that would be a misuse of the funds, but if you think it won’t happen, you really do have your head in the sand.

It won’t “solve” the issue (even if you’re opposed)

Here’s the thing about a non-binding plebiscite. Even if you do think that the marriage definition is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be messed with (and if so, you might want to have a word with ex-PM Howard, who quite happily changed it via the Marriage Amendment Act 2004, no plebiscite required), the reality of a non-binding vote is that it won’t change anything in terms of the push for marriage equality.

Because really, why should it? It won’t “settle” the issue for either side, even if you are opposed to it, because it has no legal weight behind it. The rest of the world, even in places that are seemingly staunchly conservative (the US, Ireland, for example) has already shifted on the issue, and it doesn’t seem like they’ve totally collapsed to speak of.

Indeed, I wouldn’t even expect if the stupid plebiscite was passed that those opposed to it would “accept” that either. I’m quite certain that if they were outvoted, they’d spin and spin and pressure MPs to vote against it anyway. At which point, as outlined above, it all falls over anyway.

At that point, millions of dollars will have been spent vilifying same-sex couples, many more millions of dollars will have been spent on a pointless vote, and essentially speaking, everyone loses, even if you think the “anti” side has “won”.

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