Culture

Australia Is Fundamentally Better Than The No Campaign Gave It Credit For

The No campaign was built on lies and fear, and in the end, it didn’t make a difference.

In the end, not a lot changed. 61 percent of the people who voted in the marriage equality survey, voted Yes. 39 percent voted No. A minority — smaller than anyone expected — chose not to vote at all.

Give or take a few digits here and there, those numbers line up exactly with the polls we saw when this whole thing began. And we’d been seeing those numbers for years before that. When asked, around 60 percent of people thought same-sex couples deserved the dignity of equality, around half of that number disagreed, and most people said the issue wasn’t a huge priority at all.

For all the talk, all the ads, and all the pundits, the mail-outs, the phone calls, the door knocks, the text messages and the skywritten “No”s, nothing much changed at all.

Fear And Loathing

The No campaign knew it had to change millions of minds if it was going to win this thing. And so on day one of the campaign it dispensed with the idea that this was ever about marriage. Instead, they had to make us feel fear.

In order to win, they were going to have to lie, distort, and misrepresent. They told us Australia’s social fabric would be torn apart if marriage equality became legal, that children would be harmed, and that people of faith would be persecuted. None of it was true, but that didn’t matter. Truth is the first casualty in war, and the No campaign wanted to run a holy war for the soul of the nation.

The lies were egregious and harmful. They called same-sex parents child abusers and said their children were a new Stolen Generation. They called us “fascists” and said we were “disordered”. They declined opportunities to disavow violence and intimidation, while doing everything they could to link every person acting badly on the Yes side to the official campaign. 

The No campaign was built on lies and fear, and in the end, it didn’t make a difference.

They said that a Yes vote was a vote for compulsory radical gay sex education, and that equality meant an end to free speech. A little research proved many of their claims to be nonsense. They were petty, like when they tried to shut down a singer they disagreed with. And they told small lies, even about the size of their crowds at rallies. Sometimes their silence was most deafening of all — like when they declined to condemn a man who praised Hitler for murdering gays.

We saw the final manifestation of their hatred and fear in the bill presented by conservative senator (and Yes voter) James Paterson this week. It’s a nasty bill designed to divide Australians and create the worst form of “equality” possible: separate but equal. It would create an Australia where some business owners could hang a “gays not welcome” sign in their window. Unsurprisingly, the No campaign has embraced the bill wholeheartedly.

Is that really the Australia we want to live in? Thankfully, we know today that it is not.

The No campaign was built on lies and fear, and in the end, it didn’t make a difference. Those who supported equality before, still do. And those who didn’t, don’t. Ultimately, the No campaign’s tactics were a reflection on the people who ran it, not on the millions of Australians who just didn’t buy it.

Australia Is Better Than The No Campaign Thought

The Yes campaign’s emphatic victory should be seen for what it is: A full-throated rebuke of reactionary conservatism in Australia. Tony Abbott was wrong when he thought he could trick Australians into voting No. He was wrong when he thought he could ride the “sleeping giant” of Aussie conservatism all the way back into The Lodge.

John Howard was wrong when he thought his old tactics of using the culture wars to divide Australia would still work. People figured him out long ago. The big churches were wrong when they thought they could mobilise the “silent majority” sitting on their pews into a campaigning force. It turns out those pews are full of people more decent than the church hierarchy.

The Conservatives in parliament were wrong when they thought that a nasty, divisive plebiscite on marriage equality would stop the march towards equality in its tracks. They may have succeeded in delaying the inevitable, but today it’s clear that they won’t succeed in their ultimate goal — and history will judge them for trying.

Most of all, Lyle Shelton and the rest of the goons that made up the Coalition For Marriage were wrong to think that they could mobilise fear and loathing in order to hoodwink the Australian people into voting against equality. 

Love Really Did Win

The credit for today’s result must go towards the leaders of the Equality Campaign. From day one they vowed to run a relentlessly positive campaign, and they never once wavered, even when some within the LGBTIQ+ community (including in Junkee), called for them to change tack.

They had faith in the Australian people. They ran a campaign based on love, acceptance, respect and equality. They told us all that Australia would be a fundamentally better place if people voted Yes. They were right, and the people listened to them.

This isn’t just a victory for same-sex couples who want to get married. The No campaign wanted this to be a referendum on Safe Schools. Now they must assume Australia has endorsed the program. They wanted to re-define free speech to allow discrimination. The Australian people have rejected that.

So now we turn our attention back to where it has always belonged: the parliament. The message from this result is clear. There was no asterisk next to that “Yes” box. Australia voted for equality. It did not vote to repeal anti-discrimination laws. It did not vote to shut down the Safe Schools program. It did not vote for gay apartheid.

Australia was better than that, and now the parliament must be too.

Rob Stott is the Managing Editor of Junkee Media. He tweets @rob_stott.