Time to be happy and gay


A post-mortem of the postal survey on Same Sex Marriage

After the result of the postal survey on the Same Sex Marriage (SSM), for the question, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couple to marry?” was announced on 15 November, the dust is slowly settling on the battlefield of the SSM debate. The air still looks a bit hazy though and a few eyes are smarting from the gunpowder smoke. Some people are over the moon and others are licking their wounds.

Of the eligible Australians who expressed a view on this question, the majority indicated that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, with 7,817,247 (61.6%) responding ‘YES’ and 4,873,987 (38.4%) responding ‘NO’. Around 79.5% of eligible Australians expressed their view. All states and territories recorded a majority Yes response; 133 of the 150 Federal Electoral Divisions recorded a majority Yes response, and 17 of the 150 Federal Electoral Divisions recorded a majority ‘NO’ response.

This expensive survey (costing approximately A$122 million) could have been avoided, of course, if the elected parliamentarians had shown some leadership and settled the matter on the Parliament floor but instead they decided to wash their hands of it and passed the buck to the voters.

The debate is not dead and buried yet. The postal survey results will now have to presented to the Parliament. A debate / discussion needs to be conducted to take into account the consequences of changing the Marriage Act in relation to religious freedom, freedom of speech, discrimination etc before the enactment of the Marriage Act. Until then, the two camps (Yes & No) will have to hold on to their horses. It is still early days for the Yes camp to say “I do”, formally.

So, what now, from here? Let me indulge myself in a spot of post-mortem and introspection.

The Rainbow/ LGBTIQA community is in a state of euphoria over the result on their long-standing demand for SSM. In 2015, there were 113,595 marriages registered in Australia, a decrease of 7,602 (-6.3%) from the 121,197 marriages registered in 2014. About one-third of the marriages ended in divorce. So, it is heartening and encouraging to note that the Rainbow community believes in marriage and wishes to uphold this dying/declining institution.

Marriage is a legal/moral commitment and it comes with its own set of risks and problems; separation, divorce, extra-marital affairs, child custody battles, alimony, will and property contests, inheritance issues etc. The community will now have to face up to these situations, which will be a huge learning curve for it. So it will be interesting to learn how these issues will be dealt with for the LGBTIQA community in the Law. Would they be covered under the same Marriage Act?

From an economist’s point of view this could be like another mining boom in the making. They believe that once the same-sex marriage bill passes parliament, it has the potential to generate between $500 million to $1 billion for the economy, and put a rocket under the wedding industry and other associated businesses. There is definitely a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

Another matter of interest will be—what percentage of LGBTIQA relations will eventually end up in marriages? Now that they are on the verge of achieving marital bliss, the pressure is on the LGBTIQA community members to get married. The relationship will now be tested when a partner pops the question. Will there be break ups? Cold feet? Wet eyes?

The one industry that’s definitely thrilled with the SSM verdict is the wedding industry and its ancillary businesses. They are waiting in the wings rubbing their hands in anticipation. Businesses and corporate have generally been supportive of the SSM debate. We may, in the future, see products and services designed with LGBTIQA clients in mind and TV ads aimed directly at them. Wedding anniversary celebrations will open up more opportunities for businesses. Every business will become creative and come up with marketing ideas with the aim of tapping into this emerging market. Travel, tour and fashion industries will adapt to cater to this new class of clients. Will we see a separate aisle for gays and lesbians in the fashion stores? LOL. We can expect an upswing in child adoptions and fertility centre businesses.

From an economist’s point of view this could be like another mining boom in the making. In short, every business will put on its thinking hat to get a bite of the Rainbow dollar. According to some economists, once the same-sex marriage bill passes parliament, it has the potential to generate between $500 million to $1 billion for the economy, and put a rocket under the wedding industry and other associated businesses. There is definitely a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow!

One interesting fact that the postal vote has exposed is that Western Sydney is not in favour of SSM. Of the 17 electorates that voted ‘No’, 12 of them were in and around Western Sydney, including north-western and south-western Sydney suburbs. Nine of them are represented by Labour MPs, while three are held by Liberals.

The highest ‘No’ vote in the whole country came from the seat of Blaxland, where 73.9 per cent of respondents to the survey rejected legalising same-sex marriage.

A number of questions, both real and hypothetical, crop up when we analyse this scenario.

Was this due to conservative religious and social attitudes of the voters, who predominantly belonged to the immigrant communities from certain countries and religious groups? Will this drive a wedge and slow down their assimilation process in the Australian community? If communities cannot come to accept this national verdict, will this create a social problem?

Where do the politicians, who strongly supported SSM, now stand with reference to the No vote delivered by their constituents? Did they truly represent their communities? Will they face a backlash in the upcoming elections?

Will these suburbs be hostile to the gay community? Will these suburbs be no-go zone for them? Will some suburbs get to be labelled as “gay-lesbian” suburbs and result in segregation? Will Sydney’s demography be re-drawn?

The ‘NO’ camp must be feeling a bit jittery and apprehensive right now. The verdict has dealt a mortal blow to their belief system in marriage being only between a man and a woman. Their definition and perception of marriage now stands modified and turned on its head. How will they react and cope? Will they hold a grudge, feel bitter and lash out in moments of weakness?

The ‘NO’ camp is already voicing their concerns about losing their religious freedom and the freedom to practice their beliefs. Should they be allowed to refuse certain services—wedding ceremonies, baking cakes, etc to gay people, if they want to? They are worried about Safe School sex education program in classrooms that may be taught to their kids encompassing LGBTIQA lifestyle and sexual fluidity

Families have actually split apart on topics such as Brexit and the Trump elections. We may hear about such anecdotes in the days to come regarding SSM. Will we see a sharp palpable division between the 62% Yes & 32% No groups?

Kunal Mirchandani, a member of Trikone, a South Asian LGBTIQ social support group, is elated with the national result but is concerned that Western Sydney has gone in the opposite direction.

He laments, “In the electorate of Parramatta, with its large migrant population coming from my homeland of India, the results were the exact opposite of the national tally. And I felt the first sting of betrayal. These were, after all, my people. They were my tribe. More than ethnic background, there was a stronger correlation between a NO vote in the survey and how ‘religious’ a person considers oneself. And we Indians are certainly a pious lot. Self-righteous outrage is our middle name. I think that there is a whole lot more that I could be doing to cut through, and I welcome any suggestions for partnerships, outreach initiatives and advocacy opportunities within this community. Nothing harms queer young people more than bias and discrimination, and I look forward to the day when a young Indian girl or boy could readily come out to her or his family without any fear of being ridiculed, punished, or ostracised. Until that day, I hope to remain busy.”

Any disruption to the norm creates an initial phase of confusion, distrust and fear, as has this polling done. I think, as a country, we need time to come to terms with the majority verdict and start on a healing / understanding process between the two camps, allaying any fears and misunderstandings that each group may have.

Let’s play straight bat on this gay matter! Live and let live!


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