TO BE or not to be married to the same sex, that is the question.
At least it is in Australia, with a postal ballot now reaching households across the nation posing the question, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
This postal vote will close on Nov 7, the results of which will then determine if the question is posed before parliament.
Despite other urgent issues such as increasing energy costs, housing affordability, immigration and terrorism, the same-sex marriage debate has polarised the nation more. This has been one of its criticisms given it only affects a small population, 3.1 percent in 2011, and generally four to six percent in any nation around the world.
Despite this, rallies, meetings, advertising and discussion have been heated with both sides accusing the other of harassment and misinformation.
Asian Correspondent conducted a poll in an inner city Brisbane neighbourhood to gauge local sentiment, the result being roughly equal of those in favour and those against. While not a large sample or representative of the nation, the commonality of issues raised on both sides was interesting.
Of those in favour, most agreed it was a waste of money and irrelevant as they had no religious beliefs and knew no gay people. None presented the notion there would be any consequences to changing the constitution. One man said, “Let them be as unhappy in marriage as the rest of us.” Another retired family lawyer was in favour, but said same-sex couples already had the same legal rights as married couples.
For those against the change, most had religious beliefs and were not noticeably older. They tended to focus on consequences of a change that remained unknown, as other nations that had altered their laws, such as Canada and Ireland, could not be compared to Australia.
Those voting “no” said the “yes ” campaign was often slicker, more youthful, and better presented and generally, it was more socially acceptable to support rather than oppose the issue.
Sales consultant and mother of two Dana Morrissey, 40, said she would vote no, but dared not voice her opinion to same-sex couples she knew who were “obsessed with the topic”.
“People voice their opinion for YES and it’s not challenged. Yet those who voice their opinion for NO are criticised, victimised and ridiculed. Freedom of speech and right to vote either way, no? Interesting times.”
Morrissey said she was tired of being bombarded with the yes campaign advertisements. She said:
“I’m sick of the yes campaign being shoved in my face.”
“I went to see a movie with my two boys yesterday and it was advertised there. I just wanted to chill out with my boys and eat popcorn! Made me want to vote no more than once!”
Another mother of two, Rachel, 45, said she would vote no.
“Man and woman marriage predates our constitution in Australia! I am concerned that change to this fundamental foundation in our society will lead to a cascade of other changes as it has in other countries where this has occurred,” she said.
“I worry that it will impact on the teaching that my children will be exposed to at school and that it will lead to impacts on freedom of speech and religious freedoms.”
“I don’t trust the current government or the Labor party to uphold their seemingly off-the-cuff comments that nothing else will change and that it won’t impact on freedom of speech and religion. That may be the case in the first instance, but I have my doubts it will stay that way.”
Gay sculptor Chip Hedges, 73, said same-sex marriage should be approved, “because all people are equal and to treat them otherwise is to minimise them. I don’t think other people have a right to say how my life should be led. I’m not harming anyone and I don’t think they have a right to decide what I should be able to do.”
Hedges said former Prime Minister John Howard had not asked public opinion when he changed the marriage status several years ago, so it should just have been passed without the need for a postal ballot as there “is enough approval out there.”
He was encouraged by the yes campaign rally he attended and the heterosexual friends that had come to support him, one of whom was retiree Karen McColm, 62, who will vote yes as she had seen the love and care gay friends had for one another.
She said the postal vote was well-intentioned, but had “given rise to a significant schism within our society with obfuscation of the central message, that being the change of the definition of marriage, not whether it is a religious or moral question.”
McColm said political leaders had “shirked their responsibility” in deciding themselves and the money, time and effort could have been better spent. She said the misinformation, lack of knowledge and inability of the no campaign to understand the issue for the gay community had angered her.
“The extrapolation of the narrative to such repulsive outcomes as bestiality, child abuse and marrying inanimate objects is just fear mongering and does their argument a disservice.”
However, Brisbane Pastor Charles Newington, 63 years, said the no vote was “not just a campaign of the ignorant and reactionary” nor was the vote about the right to identify as homosexuals, have relationships legally and equitably recognised, or to define attitudes towards them as friends, associates or human beings.
“It is about the appropriateness of the institution of marriage being redefined and the door it opens to political radicals who want to ‘de-authorize’ (to quote former PM John Howard) the historical Christian influence upon cultural values and understanding of marriage, family and nationhood.”
Pastor Newington said he will vote no primarily because Christian Scriptures were clear marriage was between one man and one woman for life, and did know several same-sex attracted people and some couples.
He said countries that had legalised same-sex marriage had resulted in the erosion of freedoms of conscience and religion, rights of parents, and the rights of religious schools and institutions to uphold their conviction about traditional marriage.
Newington said national and religious leaders such as former Prime Minister John Howard, former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, a number of Catholic and Anglican archbishops, former leaders of Australian Medical Association and Law Societies and professors have all spoken out against the yes campaign.
However, there has been some division amongst church leaders. One Uniting Church minister said he would vote yes as Jesus’ message was one of inclusion. He had been impressed by a relative in a same-sex relationship that had raised two children.
He said the language used in the campaign was important as those in favour tended to call it marriage equality. He said most young people couldn’t see the need for the discussion and just like the issue of slavery we would look back in 50 years and wonder why there was even a debate.
With postal vote counting still weeks away, the question of to be or not to be married to a same-sex partner, and the debate surrounding it, will continue for some time to come.