Marriage Down Under

Like the Republic of Ireland, Australia went for a referendum on same-sex marriage. We caught up with Lanei from Australian bi organisation BiView and asked about the marriage referendum story down under.

First, congratulations! A good clear referendum win and a sense of momentum with legislation following so rapidly after.
Well, one of the interesting things to note about this is that it wasn’t actually a vote, it was an official opinion poll run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
So even during the whole thing, there was an undercurrent of fear that regardless of the outcome things wouldn’t change.

How was the campaign on the ground?
Sadly the whole process became very divisive, with campaigns that spread a whole load of misinformation about what this poll was about, and generally what same sex marriage would mean. It was very psychologically hard for the LGBTI community during the process.
The moment that really capped it off for me personally was, I was on a ferry and I looked up at the sky and saw “vote no” slowly being spelt out in the sky. It was long and drawn out seeing the words form and knowing someone had spent a lot of money to specifically propose denying equal rights across the sky. There was a pause, and then again the cloud started to form and I realised it was being written again, and again. I was really hard to see this repeated sentiment spelt out all over the sky, on what would have otherwise been a lovely boat trip.

The referendum in the Republic of Ireland saw some bis saying they had to keep quiet, let it be talked of as a simple matter of gay and straight. Was it a similar story there or was bisexual experience part of the debate?
Bi people were largely swept under the rug during the process, as were trans people – who in many ways had more at stake in this whole thing, not only for being able to marry who they loved, but also not being forced to divorce who they already loved and committed to.

That sucks though I can understand the motivation of people who thought a simpler model of the world was easier to ‘sell’, gritting your teeth and focusing on the prize. And when it was all over?
There was a lot of relief when the results came through, although they also broke down the results per electorate, which gave many the heart breaking news, that while the overall poll was in favour, in their neighbourhood, the majority of the neighbours voted no.
One thing that has been delightful though, is how quickly the actual legislation has moved through the political system. The proposals to amend the bill to add in that people can object on religious grounds, or refuse to teach the legal definition of marriage (as opposed to a religious one) were thankfully shot down, as enshrining discrimination into law is not a good look.
We’ve also seen quick moves to update other policies in line with the law change for example visa laws.

What happens next?
In practical matters, you have to give one month’s notice to marry, and so the first fully Australian same-sex marriages to occur in Australia will be on Jan 9th, 2018.
What’s the story beforehand – was this the first attempt to reform marriage law?
No – indeed back in 2004 our parliament suddenly added a “one man and one woman” clause to the marriage law, which they didn’t feel the need to do a big expensive opinion postal poll about! Since then a few bills to undo that clause have been brought forward but all failed; what is great is this time the bill was drafted with cross party support and all the knee-jerk amendments got shot down.

Well, it’s a brilliant start to Pride season down under. Thanks for talking to us!