August 10

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What is a Plebiscite?

Same-sex marriage is legal in the following countries: Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Uruguay, New Zealand, France, Brazil, England, Wales, Scotland, Columbia, Luxembourg, United States, Greenland, Ireland, Finland, Slovenia and Germany. However, same-sex marriage is not allowed in Australia, even though a huge majority of Australians support it.  Australia has made some progress as it is unlawful to discriminate against lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Australia, with exceptions in religious schools and hospitals.  Same-sex couples are allowed to adopt and are recognized in various federal laws related to taxes, veteran affairs, social security, health and immigration.

Same-sex marriage has been long debated in Australia for a number of years already. A high court ruling in 2013 stated that same sex marriage could be enacted by the federal government and the Constitutional term “marriage” includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.

This week, the Australian government has decided to kick the can further down the road. Instead of allowing a free vote in parliament, a plebiscite will be conducted.  This is a non-mandatory, non-binding postal vote using the Australian Electoral Commission to gauge the public feedback on same-sex marriage.  This estimated cost to tax payers is $122M.  Even worse is that the plebiscite alone will not legalize same sex marriage.  Parliament will still need to vote and are not bound to make a decision consistent with the plebiscite results.  The results of the plebiscite will be available by Nov 15th.  If there is a majority “yes” vote, then a bill will be introduced in parliament allowing the members of parliament to “free” vote (non-party affiliation) before the end of the year.  If there is a majority “no” vote, then a government vote will not occur.

Today, I re-enrolled to vote in Australia so I can participate in the plebiscite to support same-sex marriage for fellow Australians. This is an issue that I feel extremely passionate about for obvious reasons.  Anne and I had a commitment ceremony before same sex marriage was legal in the US.  It was as traditional as you get – a rehearsal dinner (NC-style pig pickin’) on Friday night with speeches, a wedding in a church on Saturday afternoon, the wedding reception with 80 guests and a 10 piece R&B band, followed by a Sunday brunch the next day.  We have now been married for 10 years and have an 8 year old son.  When our son was born, I was not included on the birth certificate because same sex marriage was not legal.  We were legally married a few years later after various states recognized same sex marriage.  Our marriage was still not legally recognized in the state where we live until same sex marriage to become legalized throughout the US.  Federal recognition of our marriage enabled me to adopt my son.  In order to do this, I had assessments from a social worker and to provide recommendation letters from friends to ensure that I was a “good” parent.  We were fortunate to have financial means for the various legal proceedings.  Our story is not unique.  Many of our friends have similar experiences.  In general, it’s been an inconvenience and hassle because we have supportive families.

Where this same-sex marriage / LGBTI discrimination issue really has an impact is for young people who may feel isolated, marginalized or rejected from their peers, families and communities. LGBTI people have significantly higher rates of mental illnesses (eg. depression, anxiety) and self-harm / suicide than the general population.  And even higher rates of suicide are observed when other risk factors are added, such as living in remote / rural areas, or being indigenous, migrant or a refugee.  Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex itself is not the problem.  Discrimination and exclusion are the causal factors and lead to further issues like alcohol / drug misuse, disengagement from schools, homelessness and poverty.

So, there is a significant potentially harmful impact of the Australian government’s decision to conduct a plebiscite. Even though I don’t support the process of the plebiscite, I strongly urge any eligible Australians to enroll to vote and vote “YES” in support of same-sex marriage.

Lastly, even though same-sex marriage is legal in US, there is still much work to be done in terms of LGBTI equality.

For further resources – see:

http://www.australianmarriageequality.org

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

http://www.hrc.org/

http://equalitync.org/