Coming out of Conservatism – Australian Marriage Equality

Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” – A piece of paper put in my letterbox which determined the course of LGBT+ history in Australia

On the 14th of November at 11pm, I was refreshing both a live-updates page on The Guardian, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics website. I hadn’t known until a few hours earlier that the survey results would be getting released that day, and I’m thankful that I hadn’t. I’d have been a nervous wreck for even longer beforehand.

News of the postal survey on marriage equality received mixed reactions. Many people preferred parliament to have a conscience vote, and while it might have saved time and money, I personally wasn’t confident enough that it would pass with our conservative government. If it didn’t, we surely wouldn’t be seeing marriage equality within the next ten years.

I was more confident in the voluntary postal vote – a watered down version of the initially proposed plebiscite – but it meant more money spent, and months of slander and fear mongering at the expense of the LGBT+ community. Some of my most confident queer friends were torn down and, selfishly, I’m glad my closeted self was frolicking in Asia when all this happened.

When we finally got our results, the 61.6% ‘yes’ majority was conflicting. On the one hand, it was a pass, which finally ripped away the seed of doubt which had grown into weeds within me. As the Coalition for Marriage’s campaign rampaged on as the loudest voice against marriage equality, I realised that there was actually a chance that ‘no’ would be the majority answer. The survey was designed to fail, after all, intentionally undertaken on a medium which would suit the older and more conservative generation: the postal format. Meanwhile, its voluntary nature meant that disenfranchised young people – typically more accepting about LGBT+ matters – may not bother voting.

Despite this, we won a majority. Our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has announced that marriage equality should become a reality through legislation before Christmas, and that is an absolute victory, especially given that the survey was not legally binding.

However, the result was much closer than it should have been. Rather than filling me with confidence, it felt off-putting. Having confirmed statistics about your country’s hate towards you is surreal, even more so when you can break down those figures by electoral division. At least mine is slightly more accepting than average, with 70% of people voting ‘yes’. It looks like I only have to be wary of 30% of the people I live near.

Even with the recent triumph, it feels like Australia is, at its core, rigid and unwilling to move away from discriminatory traditions. I’ve made leaps and bounds with my own sexuality in the past few months I’ve been out of the country, but I wonder whether that progress will suffer when I finally return home. I can only hope that when conservatives realise that marriage equality has not crumbled the ground beneath them and swallowed their children into the abyss, there will be a permanent cultural shift that allows LGBT+ individuals to breathe at last.

At the time of writing, marriage equality is not yet legalised in Australia.

Madeline Luke