A step forward via a step back
You’ve probably heard a lot about same-sex marriage over the past couple years.
Depending on your lifestyle, friends, family, and even your career, the legality of same-sex marriage might be a thought or dilemma that crosses your mind every day, or it could be something you feel doesn’t affect your life in the least.
Though it’s still a highly contentious subject across the world, marriage equality was written into law in the Netherlands in 2001, and since then, similar laws have been passed to legalize it in nearly two dozen more countries. Polls and popular opinion indicate that more countries will soon support gay marriage either federally or regionally, but the continents of Africa and Asia are still lacking any such legislation or indications.
One country that’s usually quick to support and adopt liberal trends is Australia, and yet the island nation still hasn’t approved any of the 21 bills related to gay marriage that have been introduced in parliament over the years.
Although Australian citizens were preparing for a nationwide plebiscite in February which would have let them determine the legality of gay marriage in their country, the vote was cancelled by parliament this week. Even though this means gay marriage could be postponed in the country for years to come, the LGBT community and their allies are happy about it.
The Gay Marriage Debacle
Currently, same-sex unions in Australia are recognized as being totally legitimate and have many of the same benefits and rights as married couples. They can come in the form of civil unions, civil partnerships, and domestic partnerships, depending on which part of the country a couple lives in.
Gay marriage, however, was prevented in 2004 by amendments to the Marriage Act of 1961. Australia’s ruling government traditionally refuses to acknowledge these relationships as a “marriage.” In 2008, former prime minister Tony Abbott wrote,
“The love and commitment between two people of the same sex can be as strong as that between husband and wife… There is more moral quality in a relationship between two people devoted to each other for decades than in many a short-lived marriage. Still, however deeply affectionate or long lasting it may be, the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman… Let’s celebrate all strong relationships, whether they are between a man and a woman or between people of the same sex but let’s be careful about describing every lasting sexual bond as a ‘marriage.'”
In fact, it was Tony Abbott who brought the idea of a national plebiscite, or vote, to reality several months ago. At surface level, this looked like he was giving the public the power to determine who they could love and how. But critics argue that this was just a stalling tactic.
Though Parliament is traditionally the only body with the power to determine something such as the definition of marriage—and can do so at virtually any time—allowing the public to vote on the subject automatically pushed back any potential progress by several months.
Originally, the vote was scheduled for February 2017. But to even have the vote in the first place, the government needed the opposition party in parliament to approve it. Even if the opposition party approved the vote, and even if a majority of Australians voted for gay marriage in February, the government would still have the final say in the matter. Still, the equality is worth the risk, right?
When the opposition party voted against the plebiscite this week, however, LGBT couples and families—as well as allies and those against gay marriage—across Australia rejoiced. And really, it’s pretty simple.
Worth the Wait
Though it could have been a step towards equality, many people are happy that the plebiscite won’t be taking place.
From a practical side, the vote would have cost Australians a lot of money. In total, it could have cost upwards of $200 million, with $7.5 million of that coming from taxpayers. Also, as previously stated, after all the time, money, and effort put into voting, Parliament could still choose not to legalize gay marriage.
But perhaps the worst effect of a national vote would have been the divisiveness it could have caused among Australians themselves.
Though governments are created by the people in order to represent the citizens of a nation, they also serve an important role in taking power away from dangerous majorities or any populist, tyrannical rule.
For LGBT families, it can already be difficult to stay strong and proud in a society where so many people are against the most basic tenets of their lives and relationships. Months of national debate leading up to a vote could have meant turning someone’s private sentiment regarding homosexuality and gay marriage into actual conflict and daily challenges for LGBT families and their children.
So when the vote was cancelled, people rejoiced.