Let’s Face It: Australia Could Vote “No” On Marriage Equality

This is more than an unlikely hypothetical.

Australia is probably going to vote No to marriage equality.

Just hold the emotion you felt after you read that sentence. Now imagine how you’ll feel if you wake up on November 15 and read the headline: Australia Has Voted “No” To Marriage Equality.

I hope Yes wins, I really do. I’ve been working very, very hard for a Yes vote. It’s a vote that’s intentionally weighted against us. It’s a vote where our opponents are wilfully lying about what a vote represents. It’s a vote where men like Barnaby Joyce, a man who advocated for a plebiscite, condemns people for actively campaigning. It’s a vote where our rights are in the cross hairs and our opponents insist that they are being bullied.

It’s a vote that represents political failures, years and years of failures on both sides of politics. It’s a vote we shouldn’t have to go through — but we are and we are losing it.

At least that’s how you should be campaigning. Because I’ve been involved in the campaign for weeks now, talking to everyone I know about how they think it’s going, and there’s a dangerous complacency amongst Yes voters seeping in.

The warning signs are there, despite the favourable polls and declarations of support from corporates, celebrities and politicians. The No campaign outspent Yes by five to one in the opening weeks. Polling, released by the Yes campaign, has suggested that support for marriage equality dropped by six percent after the opening weeks of the campaign.

The truth is no one knows how many people will vote or how they’ll vote. People often say things to pollsters and then vote differently. It’s called the Bradley effect and it’s something the No campaign is relying on. If they frighten enough people with conspiracy theories about Safe Schools, and gender fluidity, and religious discrimination against decent Christian bakers who just can’t tolerate the thought of putting two men on top of a wedding cake, then a substantial number of Australians who say to friends or family that they support marriage equality will, in the privacy of their own home, tick “No” on their postal survey form.

We could lose this campaign and gay Australians can’t win it by ourselves.

Tony Abbott began this campaign declaring that marriage equality was a totemic issue, and the No campaign has made it one. Many Yes supporters don’t see it that way, reasoning that it’s just about marriage equality and equal love but surely if we’ve learned anything from the last year it’s that we’re often not very good at understanding the psychology of our fellow citizens.

Remember the emotional sledgehammer blows of Brexit and Trump’s election. Both occurred, in part, because of complacency amongst those who believed that society’s march towards progress is inevitable. That things always get fairer, and friendlier, and more open. That complacency led to a lot of people not voting because they didn’t think about the result or they presumed the best in people. Well a lot of people right now are working very hard to bring out the worst.

I’ve performed stand up as a gay man for ten years in this country and I can tell you there aren’t pockets of homophobia in Australia, there’s wide swathes of them. If you are surrounded by Yes voters, there are things you almost certainly aren’t seeing. Like the Facebook ads targeted to no voters. Like the frustration with the Yes campaign that we glimpsed this week in Barnaby Joyce’s outburst when he condemned campaigners trying to tell him how to vote.

If Australia votes No it will be a shattering blow. It will delay marriage equality, undermine efforts to shore up the mental health of LGBTIQ+ youth, and devastate a lot of people. Some of them will take their own lives. I know that because people are quite openly saying it. Read posts online about the postal survey and read the response from LGBTIQ+ Australians.

If you want marriage equality in this country, it is not enough to repost on social media and share positive articles. You need to actually do something. Donate to the campaign. Join a phone bank. Door knock. Whatever you do, don’t antagonise or attack no voters — it doesn’t change minds. Instead, do the one thing we do know can change minds: talk to your family and friends to get as many of them to vote yes as you can.

You need to do this, because we could lose this campaign and gay Australians can’t win it by ourselves.

The truth is we don’t know if we’re going to win. In a world of echo chambers and skewed polls, we have no way of knowing. But if you really support marriage equality, if you really want to see your gay friends and relatives recognised as equal citizens, then you should be campaigning as if a No vote is more than an unlikely hypothetical. Otherwise, it’ll become a reality.  

Feature image: Flickr/CC.

Toby Halligan is a comedian, writer and LGBTIQ+ activist from Melbourne. He’s written for Mad As Hell, The Project, Legally Brown and The Weekly.